While Italian food and steakhouses may have strongholds over the hearts and stomachs of many Miami diners, we all have certain comfort-food cravings that only a great French restaurant can satisfy. In true Miami form, we’re blessed with a range of options, from casual to high-end. Here are five of the best — plus two hole-in-the-wall joints we love — and our advice for what to eat at each. Now you can do as the French do and surround yourself all fall with good food and friends.
Onion Soup at Petite Rouge. PHOTO: Felipe Cuevas | INDULGE | firstname.lastname@example.org
Onion Soup is a staple on any French menu, but no place locally does it quite like Petit Rouge, under the careful hand of chef-owner Neal Cooper. Served in a lion’s-head bowl, the soup brings together rich beef broth, tangy sherry and sweet caramelized onions beneath a generous cap of bronzed Gruyère. Pull up a chair in this rustic, country-chic French bistro, and sop up your soup with crusted wedges of fresh baguette. Soup or not, they’re the warm, comforting start to any meal at Petit Rouge. 12409 Biscayne Boulevard, North Miami; 305-892-7676; petitrougebistro.com.
Taste French-born chef Gregory Pugin’s La Saint-Jacques — seared scallop, succotash, corn emulsion and a subtle vanilla sauce — and you’ll instantly understand why he earned Michelin stars and a James Beard Award nomination before coming to South Florida. Here, he leads the kitchen of the Biltmore Hotel’s prestigious Palme d’Or, where his scallop dish is a riff on his first taste of scallops with polenta. “The key is to place the scallops in a very hot frying pan with olive oil, add a tablespoon of butter, turn them over, and pour brown butter on them to caramelize them and give the dish a sweet taste,” Pugin said. “The corn in the United States is the best in the world, which makes it even better. I even included popcorn to give the dish a crispy touch.” 1200 Anastasia Avenue, Coral Gables; 305-913-3200; biltmorehotel.com/dining.
“Freshness is important. The rest is subjective,” said chef Craig Wallen of Bal Harbour’s hot new French restaurant, Le Zoo. If that doesn’t say something about the quality of food served at this Stephen Starr-run stunner, we don’t know what will. A perfect example is the Petit Plateau, a cold tower of oysters, Alaskan king crab, shrimp cocktail and littleneck clams. Designed to share, this dish — like most French food — is best enjoyed with good wine and good company. “Start by sneaking out of work in the early afternoon,” Wallen suggested. “Get two friends and two bottles of Sancerre. Eat, drink, and repeat!” 9700 Collins Avenue, Bal Harbour; 305-602-9663; lezoo.com.
This truffle season, partake in the gustatory treasures of Bagatelle’s Poulet Rôti Entier á la Truffe: a whole, farm-raised chicken served with country-style potatoes, caramelized cipollini, button mushrooms, thyme chicken jus — and truffles. It’s a signature dish on every Bagatelle menu around the world, and for good reason. In Miami Beach, chef Matthieu Godard starts by brining the bird for 12 hours in white wine, sugar and herbs, then sliding truffle-infused butter under the skin before cooking. “We tie up the chicken and let it rest for one or two days to make sure the chicken absorbs the truffle,” Godard said. “Before it’s done roasting, we re-pour its juices, ‘the goodies,’ all over it. If someone wants, we can even top it with fresh-shaved truffle.” Oui, s’il vous plaît. 220 21st Street, Miami Beach; 305-704-3900; bagatellemiami.com.
DB BISTRO MODERNE
When it comes to authentic French cuisine, no one does it better than Daniel Boulud. The French-native celebrity chef, restaurateur and global sensation is known for melding classic techniques with fresh, modern flavors. At his Miami outpost, db Bistro, chef Clark Bowen runs the kitchen. Bowen channels Boulud’s finesse with dishes like the Maine Lobster Salad, which pairs super-fresh Maine lobster with handpicked avocado, hearts of palm and watermelon. “The beauty of Miami is that it’s growing season all year ’round,” Bowen said. “Even in winter, we have access to fresh tomatoes, citrus, herbs and lettuces that do not have to travel far to get to our plates.” 255 Biscayne Boulevard Way, Miami; 305-421-8800; dbbistro.com/miami.
TINY SPACES, BIG FLAVORS
Wander along the arrondissements of Paris, and cobblestone streets are lined with humble, mom-and-pop spots that serve some of the best food around. Fortunately, the concept of neighborhood French restaurants isn’t lost here, where these small places are among Miami’s most magnifique.
LA FRESA FRANCESA PETIT CAFÉ
The brainchild of Hialeah native Sandy Sanchez and her love, Benoît Rablat, this cozy café fuses French-inspired food with the flavors of Miami. Grab a washed-out farm chair and order Un Cubano in Paris off the chalkboard menu. It’s shredded, milk-marinated pork shoulder covered in paprika and garlic, braised in white wine and piled on a white roll. 59 West Third Street, Hialeah; 786-717-6886; facebook.com/lafresafrancesa.
American comfort food meets French bistro fare at Frenchie’s, where locals know not to blink twice or they’ll miss this hard-to-find space. Frenchie’s black-and-white floor tiles and rose-colored walls add character, while its daily-changing menu keeps French favorites at the forefront. The Croque Monsieur is a must-try: the famous bubbling ham-and-cheese sandwich gets a lift here from Frenchie’s brilliant addition of lemon and garlic. 2618 Galiano Street, Coral Gables; 305-442-4554; frenchiesdiner.com.