3 stars for laid back seafood at South Beach's Charles St.

South Beach has a new go-to spot for locals who want fresh food at prices not meant for tourists. Charles St. is so laid back and easy that you nearly forget it is on one of Collins Avenue’s most upscale blocks. And although it’s situated in a hotel, its storefront entrance doesn’t plunk you down in the middle of a lobby.

The menu is an easy sell, with appealing and familiar but not boring favorites such as baby-back ribs with Asian slaw, branzino over fennel with lemon vinaigrette, braised lamb with pappardelle and roasted chicken with French beans. Charles St. is a collaborative effort by Maso Hospitality Group and chef Wolfgang Birk, who is making his mark as culinary director of THINK Hospitality.

Ambience: The clean, beachy design is wonderfully calming, almost spa-like with its herringbone wood floors and sleek gray marble tabletops. Heather linen booths and cool, sea-themed trinkets give it a warm touch.

What Worked

  • A meaty, almond-crusted crab cake with a sweet as summer corn puree, avocado slices and tiny smiles of tangy grapefruit
  • An exceptionally fresh and buttery spaghetti with Manila clams, garlic, shallots, chiles, white wine, parsley and plump, whole roasted cherry tomatoes as sweet and juicy as the fruit they are named after
  • Wild salmon fillet with skin so crispy it could have shattered with the touch of a fork while the tender meat beneath is as succulent and fresh as any I have had this year
  • Not to be missed sliders
  • Sumptuous short rib shreds on a toasty egg bun sprinkled with sweet, pickled red onion and a touch of melted aged Cheddar
  • Slightly garlicky sautéed kale
  • Hot, salty and crisp shoestring fries
  • A smart, kind and funny waiter
  • Chocolate mousse
  • Crepe with passion fruit
  • Picture-perfect pistachio crème brûlée with bits of toasty nuts, a sheer amber glass coating of burnt sugar and demurely sweet and perfectly smooth, velvety custard

What Didn’t Work

  • Overly acidic salads dressed more for a winter storm than our balmy shores
  • Stingy octopus salad
  • Beet salad with overcooked roots that were nearly mushy
  • A serviceable wine list that could be better handled
  • Wine prices that are four to five times retail in some cases