The Villa by Barton G

The guy in the black suit behind the imposing wrought-iron gate makes sure not just anybody gets into Ocean Drive’s most iconic building. It may be a boutique hotel and restaurant called The Villa by Barton G now, but it will perpetually be known as the Versace Mansion. You can’t help feeling important walking up the steps, cameras flashing, where fashion mogul Gianni Versace was gunned down. Since his 1997 murder, the Spanish-style villa is said to have become the third most photographed house in the country after the White House and Graceland.

Built in 1930 by Standard Oil heir Alden Freeman to mimic the Alcazar de Colon, Christopher Columbus’ family home in the Dominican Republic, it was something of a flophouse by the mid 1980s. After buying it for $3 million in 1992, Versace reportedly spent $33 million on its renovation. The elegant setting is reason enough to book a dinner here.

Chef Jeff O’Neill’s food is a fine fit. A product of Daniel Boulud and Eric Ripert’s New York kitchens who opened L’Escalier at The Breakers, O’Neill came aboard here last summer after a stint at Grove Isle’s Gibraltar. Appealingly brief and dotted with foie gras, Dover sole, Caspian caviar and other luxury ingredients, his menu is “a tip of the hat to the old-fashioned gastronomic restaurant,” he says.

What Worked

  • Perfectly poached nuggets of Maine lobster served with slender fennel spears in an airy, curry-tinged puff of coconut milk
  • Spotted skate – a large filet with earthy brown lentils and a touch of briny capers
  • Moist and juicy barramundi in a broth of ginger and lobster rice foam
  • Soy-cured tuna with soybeans
  • Vodka-cured salmon
  • Steak tartare with smoked tomato ketchup
  • A clementine and carrot velouté dotted with bright green peas, crunchy and salty pumpernickel croutons and a dollop of mascarpone cheese
  • Exquisite heirloom vegetable salad – tiny golden beets, pale green romanescu broccoli, orange cauliflower, sweet tomatoes, exotic greens, a roasted shallot vinaigrette and a swipe of beet emulsion
  • Rosenthal china, Reidel glasses & real silver
  • Formal, but not stuffy, sevice by waiters who know when to approach and retreat
  • A broad, tasteful and appropriate wine selection encompassing Old World treasures and New World go-tos, albeit with a steep markup
  • A tiny tower of sponge cake layered with espresso
  • Bourbon-sweetened mascarpone topped with vanilla ice cream and served with a pitcher of warm, cinnamon-touched milk chocolate sauce

What Didn’t Work

  • The Villa Salad – frozen chunks of cheesy Caesar dressing nuked with liquid nitrogen and piled alongside vertical plumes of baby romaine perched in a ring of bread
  • A tiny, low-ceilinged and rather musty dining room (ask to dine outside or in one of the other rooms)