A few weeks ago, I heard from Chef Critchley, head chef at Area 31 at Brickell's Epic Hotel, that he was revamping the Sustainable Seafood Tasting Menu. So, I gave a call to my good friend Jackie (@ktchntrvwr) and foodie power couple David (@djkmia) and Paula (@mango_lime) and suggested we check it out. It had been quite some time since we all got together and I was looking forward to catching up over a good meal.
I've dined at Area 31 a few times and have always liked what the kitchen puts out. Fresh seafood enhanced with flavorful components and sauces is what they do best though they recently have added some new dishes for the landlubbers out there. We all decided to stick with the aforementioned seafood tasting menu ($55) and also decided to go with the wine pairing for an additional $35, choosing the sommelier's option to "step outside the box" with pairing selections.
We started out with a refreshing tuna and escolar dish, the fish served raw with citrus that had a bit of a spicy kick to it. It was a great way to start the meal and also allowed me to share my funny fact about escolar. This dish was paired with a Japanese Tozai Junmai Daiginjo Sake* which was a perfect compliment to the clean tastes of the dish.
Next up were some clams sourced from our state of Florida (I forget exactly what kind they were and didn't make note of it either) that were fried crisp and served with fresh tomatoes and a Tabasco crunch. At first I was worried that the small clams would lack flavor after being fried or that they would get tough but I came around after my first bite. The chef did a great job showcasing the flavor of the whole clam even if it wasn't like the big belly fried clams I'm used to in New England. The Tabasco crunch was a nice element, starting off sweet and then finishing spicy. We enjoyed a 2005 Schramsberg Brut Rose, a sparkling wine that was ok but I say that because I'm not really a sparkling wine fan.
A pasta mirepox dish was placed before us as the third dish, it's flavor and nose reminding me of a chicken soup or a Thanksgiving dinner. I thought this was very light for a pasta dish and appreciated that with the understanding that we had three dishes to go. The sommelier paired this dish with a wonderful 2006 Bodegas Mauro Crianza, Tudela del Duero (Tempranillo, Syrah. I love tempranillo and this one was big and bold but smooth without being overly fruity or acidic.
Our fourth course of the sustainable seafood dinner was a seared cobia with chestnut puree, roasted chestnut, and caperberries. This was my favorite dish of the night. Simply incredible flavor in this dish. The fish was cooked perfectly and I liked the crunch of the roasted chestnuts countering the moist flesh of the fish. The chestnut puree was a huge hit at the table as well, so much so that Jackie asked for some extra on the side. This dish was paired with a 2003 Jacques Puffeney Melon Queue Rogue, a variety of chardonnay that I loved. It was my second favorite wine of the night, even better than the tempranillo we had tasted with the previous dish and I'm not really a chardonnay fan.
Our final dish before dessert came in the form of a dorade plated with lentils. The dish seemed to have an anise flavor to it along with a little pepper zest which helped offset it's fishiness a bit. While this dish was not my favorite, the wine certainly was. A 2008 Flowers Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast proved to be a stellar finish to the meal and the sommelier left us to have our way with the rest of the bottle because we all enjoyed it so much.
Dessert was a similar dish to the one Chef Critchley prepared at the Dinner In Paradise that I attended earlier in the year. A flexible chocolate sprinkled with a little sea salt and paired with a mango sorbet. It was a nice way to end a fantastic meal.
I'm glad I finally made it over to Area 31 to try the tasting menu and I'm happy to report my streak of good-to-great meals at the restaurant is still alive. It was nice to see the restaurant fairly busy, with service attentive and knowledgeable without being intrusive. Between their happy hour offerings, the view of the bay from their outdoor terrace, and their incredible seafood dishes (I'll have to return for some of the new landlubber fare but that will be tough because I really like their seafood dishes), Area 31 really is a terrfic spot.
*I'm not sure about this as I couldn't find any listing online for "Tozai Junmai Daiginjo". This might've been incorrectly transcribed by the sommelier when he wrote down our winelist as a favor post-dinner as I'd like to think the internet has all the answers...
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