First look: Ratatouille

Tastiness at Ratatouille.
Tastiness at Ratatouille.

The goods: The owners of Cafe Maurice have opened the new Ratatouille Bistro in the former 8 1/2 space at the Hotel Clinton in South Beach. More Cote d’ Azur than downtown Paris, the new spot is less raucous than Cafe Maurice and aims to present upscale brasserie fare in a subdued setting. The relatively small 8 1/2 dining room has been updated by French designer Herve Tapin to include multi-colored light fixtures, vintage French film posters and racks of wine bottles suspended over the bar. The outdoor courtyard (featuring what must be South Beach’s smallest pool) provides an inviting setting with candlelit tables under wide umbrellas and gently piped-in music. Gallic touches, like a chalkboard menu (mostly in French) in lieu of printed copies, add to the intimate experience.

The grub: French Mediterranean cuisine with an emphasis on fresh fish and seafood. Chef Gerard Chauvet, a celeb toque in the South of France, offers up a concise menu of bistro classics like Escargot de Bourgogne (sauteed with parsley, butter and white wine), Soup de Poisson (made with a saffron-tinged broth) and shredded foie gras. Prices are in keeping with the Euro-tinged atmosphere, with starters ranging $9-$13 and mains $17-$30. An amuse buche of asparagus brulee prepares the palate for the subsequently genteel fare. Starters include an eggplant terrine, a hearty slice of minced eggplant, shallots and garlic along with a Parmesan cracker. The salmon tartar is a delicate cone of citrus-cured fish served over diced tomatoes. The pave de loup, a dish of sea bass in a sweet fennel broth comes accompanied by roasted asparagus and mashed potatoes while a roasted whole dorade fish is presented and then deboned tableside, adding an extra level of drama and ritual to the dining experience. Sides of confit potatoes and ratatouille round out the hearty offerings.

Those craving authentic French desserts have plenty to choose from with a crème brulee big enough for two, and an “île flottante” or ” floating island,” a mound of meringue on creme anglaise.

The verdict: While Ratatouille lacks the jet-setter panache of Maison D’Azur, it is a wallet-friendly alternative offering a similarly romantic atmosphere where Francophiles can get their fish fix.

Ratatouille, 821 Washington Ave., South Beach; 786-276-3580

Published: 4/08