Eating at Seagrape, Michelle Bernstein’s new restaurant in the Thompson hotel, is kind of like eating in the Florida room of a spacious Miami home in the fifties. This retro chic restaurant, was slightly empty on a recent afternoon for Miami Spice lunch, but Ms. Bernstein herself was in the lounge area, talking to a chef and working on her computer. Seagrape filled up as the afternoon went on.
There’s a relaxed, cool tropical vibe going on at Seagrape and it’s reflected in the casual dress of the patrons. The Miami Dining Examiner sat next to a woman wearing a cover up over her swim suit; the young guys to the other side of her were wearing sleeveless basketball jerseys.
Attention to detail is vitally important in the restaurant industry, especially in Miami where restaurants change frequently with the whims of the fickle public. At Seagrape, there is attention paid. The aqua leather benches, green tinted stemless water glasses, menu design and even the coasters with the logo, make diners feel they are well being taken care of.
Service is an important part of this impression and the Miami Dining Examiner’s server was impressive. He was efficient and helpful, making spirited recommendations on dishes to order, as well as wine to go with them. On the flip side of the Miami Spice menu were recommendations of glasses to pair with the food. Each month at Seagrape explores a new region in its “sommer” school. The chardonnay recommended by the server was actually the less expensive of the two.
The Miami Spice menu, presented with the regular menu, offered a variety of options. While the appetizers of coriander roasted beets and chilled corn soup with corn beignets sounded tempting, the Miami Dining Examiner ordered the wedge salad recommended by her waiter.
Overhead Cuban salsa and reggae tunes played. Ms. Bernstein entered the dining room and sat down in a corner booth for lunch with her husband and other diners.
Seating is comfortable; service attentive and relaxed, all at the same time. The chardonnay selected was a delicious choice, poured out of a small glass carafe.
Diners can sit inside or out. The Miami Dining Examiner likes how the Thompson has been redone (82 million dollar renovation) in keeping with its MiMo roots, similar to the Raleigh hotel. Touches like the fact the white geometric screen in restaurant, has been preserved, along with the polished terrazzo floors, give diners a feeling of the Thompson’s backstory. It still feels historic, yet freshened up and hip.
The wedge salad was a large portion of iceberg, cut into three sections. It was garnished with Maytag blue cheese, chopped tomato, crispy bacon bits and fried shallots. The shallots were reminiscent of the onions used in the Thanksgiving green bean salad, only better. On top of the wedge was blue cheese dressing, gilding the lily of this fresh, crunchy, flavorful salad.
The grilled octopus ordered by the Miami Dining Examiner’s daughter came on a swirl of zucchini puree, with blistered cherry tomatoes and frisee. It was presented like a work of art, with two red swirls and the pink grilled tentacle curling out on the plate. The Miami Dining Examiner’s guest enjoyed this seasonal nod to the summer.
The agnolotti (like ravioli) the Miami Dining Examiner ordered as an entrée were stuffed with ricotta and served with a plop of pesto, sauced in olive oil and sprinkled with chives; it was served with a parmesan crisp. The tender and light agnolotti were delicious. The only thing missing was a little piece of bread to sop up the olive oil puddled at the bottom.
The Miami Dining Examiner’s daughter loved the moules frites, a diner’s favorite at Seagrape, and declared the French fries that topped them the “best French fries” she’d ever tasted. Fried in duck fat (oh my!) the skinny fries were crunchy, salty and divine. The mussels came in a white wine broth and were accompanied by a slice of rustic, grilled bread to soak up the broth.
A fellow diner’s hanger steak with chimichurri sauce and sliced potatoes looked delicious. The portions at Seagrape were healthy, but not over the top for lunch.
For dessert, the server recommended the berry sorbet, but then reported they’d run out of it. Instead, the Miami Dining Examiner got the passionfruit sorbet and vanilla ice cream. The two small scoops came out atop a crumble of what seemed to be cookie crumbs. It was a refreshing, light dessert.
The Miami Dining Examiner’s guest opted for the brulee key lime tart. It came out Picasso-like, with wedges of the tart scattered over the plate, with squares of pineapple bits, dots of passionfruit foam and curly slices of coconut artistically arranged. It was a feast for the eyes and the mouth, a deconstructed dessert.
Lunch at Seagrape was a very pleasant way to while away the afternoon on Miami Beach. Miami Spice makes it the perfect opportunity to sample Michelle Bernstein (and crew’s) twist on retro, tropical cuisine. As a parting gift, valet parking (with validation) was only five dollars. This is practically unheard of on the beach.
According to the Miami Spice website, Miami native Michelle Bernstein has invented the new “Florida brasserie”, using local bounty from nearby farmers and sourcing quality meats and seafood. The Miami Dining Examiner couldn’t agree more. Long live Seagrape.
Seagrape in the Thompson Hotel
4041 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, Florida 33140