Vice City Party

New Uptown hotspot restaurant Miami is retro Scarface meets Go-Go's bliss: Cool like neon, hot like cuties, silly and fun as kids

"Now it's just heaving on the weekends," explained Serr. "A couple weeks ago I had to stand at the door and tell people, 'Sorry, mate, you can't get in. Come back next week.' People dress in '80s outfits; they love it. Last weekend these dudes walked in, '80s outfits, a big bag of powdered sugar, they threw it down on a table. Then they were snorting lines of powdered sugar to give off the ultimate '80s experience. The Scarface Lounge is booked out eight weeks in advance; people get in there and feel really exclusive. People can book out these super expensive packages, they get in there, everything's paid for, go wild. Sometimes people call up, we give it to them for free, we just tell them, 'Make sure you drink a lot.'"

From what I've seen, they do. In addition to the 20 signature Scarface cocktails, Miami has beers that aren't often seen here, such as Tetley lager, from the owner's native Leeds, and that French favorite, Kronenbourg 1664. Once the patrons get to drinking, they run back and forth from their tables to the street, where they smoke. They kiss, they hug, they run, they smoke, they drink, they phone up neighboring tables, they party hearty. They don't eat much. In the interests of remedying this, I offer my brief thoughts on Miami's food.

Mainly, the restaurant is trying to do way too much, and if you go there when there isn't a crowd, you'll feel like you're in the most expensive unrenovated Embers on earth, and you'll want to die. My diagnosis? The menu is almost entirely Caribbean seafood, and that's just very hard to do well. The first time I went to Restaurant Miami, I had four different seafood dishes that were all deep-fried and served with the same pinkish mayonnaise dipping sauce—but that chef got fired, thank God. The new chef, Quinton Leake, known as Q, has been there about two months. Prior to that, he put in many years in no-nonsense kitchens such as the one at the Lexington in St. Paul. And while his new menu shows promise, it would be twice as good if it were half as long.

A better way to drunk-dial: Fun cocktails and flirting abound at Restaurant Miami
Jayme Halbritter
A better way to drunk-dial: Fun cocktails and flirting abound at Restaurant Miami

The best appetizer is the tamarind calamari ($8)—fried loops of battered squid and crisp fried plantains, which have been basted with a tart tamarind sauce and tossed with a tomato relish, so that the squid takes on an almost Buffalo wing-like sweet, sour, spicy tang: It's unusual, and very good. The shrimp cocktail ($9) is fine, it's simply shrimp with a cocktail sauce improved with mango and other tropical fruit. A half-pineapple hollowed out and filled with mangoes, strawberries, pineapple, and kiwi in a honey and mint dressing ($11), is spectacular when it's fresh—but sometimes it's served long past its prime. One of the restaurant's best offerings is, of all things, the steak salad: Baby greens, small tomatoes, and gorgonzola cheese provide a bed for sliced filet mignon, and it's just a solid, enjoyable composition.

The rest of the menu is kind of a mess, including forgettably bland crab and shrimp cakes ($8) and dry, bland, deep-fried skewers of chicken made with Caribbean ingredients but little flavor or spark ($7). The expensive entrees are even worse. Hardcore halibut ($22.50) was terribly dry, despite the crab and shrimp stuffing and a weirdly sugary lemon-lime beurre blanc. The Bajan prawns ($18) were overcooked and rubbery, but worse, the two sauces on the plate, one a sweet, jam-like raspberry-lime sauce, the other a bright mango sauce, tasted like they lost their way on the road to a cheesecake. Totally '80s tuna ($15) is sushi-grade tuna on a hamburger bun, which sounds okay, but in reality was only like sushi in that it was red and cold; otherwise it was gummy, tasteless, and off-putting.

I sampled most of Miami's entree menu with increasing degrees of dismay. Probably the best one was the plain linguini with red sauce ($12), a simple, spicy version that was good in spite of the waxy Parmesan, which reminded me of the kind that comes in the bag pre-grated. Desserts like the key lime pie ($6) taste nothing but toothache-sweet, reminiscent of a generic Sam's Club-type product. And it would be so easy to succeed here! A burger, a BLT, fries, some kind of pork shoulder or beans and rice—the actual city of Miami is bursting with cheap, tasty, easily done foods, and this Restaurant Miami is so likable that any passable bar food would go over gangbusters. Why, oh why, must you try to reinvent the wheel, Restaurant Miami, when tee-ball would suffice? Oh right, I remember: That is also what it means to be young.

But don't write them off! Despite missteps with the food, Restaurant Miami is adorable and spunky, and once you're in it for 10 minutes you desperately want it to succeed. That sort of charisma is a rarity in restaurants, and often a far better predictor of success than mere correct cooking. In addition, Serr told me that they just got their license to stay open till 2:00 a.m., and the drink-emboldened after-bar crowd is unlikely to suffer bad food quietly. Plus, Robert Serr isn't done with us—he's got big plans for Minneapolis, including another place in the works, in the former 3 Muses and Emma's Restaurant space on Lyndale Avenue near 28th Street.

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