The Big Review: Area 31 ***1/2

Area 31's risotto. Photo: Adam Larkey
Area 31's risotto. Photo: Adam Larkey

On the 16th floor of the sexy new Epic Hotel, chef John Critchley is taking fin fare to a new level. None of the usual farm-raised salmon or sea bass here. One recent night, diners could choose red drum, mackerel, sepia, snapper, wahoo, corvina, mahi-mahi, lobster, dorade, shrimp, oyster, octopus or yellowfin tuna, all caught within the wide swath of waters designated as Area 31 by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.

Appetizers: Starters include raw dishes like a thinly sliced octopus in a summer frock of bright orange kumquat, flecks of juicy young coconut and hints of lemon grass accented with ribbons of fresh parsley. Salads like roasted beet with squares of avocado and earthy bits of pistachios or snappy Key West shrimp whipped into submission with Key lime and chiles are stunning.

Main course: The centerpiece of the menu is the grilled fish section, where guest pick their favorite fillet and a sauce that is then served in its simplest state. My favorite is the red drum, a rich and flavorful fish that we paired with a spicy salsa verde bursting with fresh-chopped herbs. A close second is the wahoo with a Sicilian salmoriglio sauce of lemon and oil.

Sides: Risottos are excellent, especially the side of Parmesan and wild mushroom, but also the mixed-seafood main course of shrimp, squid, clams, white fish and fresh chopped parsley.

Etc. … The wine list, chosen by master sommelier Emily Wines of San Francisco’s Michelin-rated Fifth Floor restaurant, is another highlight. The many by-the-glass and half-bottle selections include thoughtful flights like the warm weather white tasting of young Chilean sauvignon blanc, a Ruffino pinot grigio and a Michel Torino torrontes.

We were told valet parking was free with a validation but paid $5 on each of our visits. Servers were less lively but utterly professional, though not always knowledgeable. Still, all were friendly and attentive throughout a long evening on the stunning terrace that overlooks downtown and makes you feel like you’re in a real metropolis.

Area 31 at The Epic Hotel,  270 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-424-5234;; Hours: 7-10 a.m., 11:30 a.m.-2 p.m., 6-11 p.m.;  Prices: Appetizers $8-$14, primi piatti $18-$23, secondi $25-$38, sides $5-$8, desserts $8.