#MiamiSpiceMonday – The Restaurant at the Setai

When we heard late last week that executive chef of The Restaurant at the Setai and recent Chopped champion, Mathias Gervais, had announced Jaya, a new pan-Asian restaurant concept coming to the Setai this fall, things started to finally make sense. I say this because when I ventured over to The Setai to check out The Restaurant’s Miami Spice menu, the Asian-inspired offerings had no relation whatsoever to regular menu, considering it is described as featuring “various cuisines and traditional flavors of Europe’s ‘Sun Coast,’ inclusive of the Mediterranean regions of Spain, Italy, the South of France and Provence.”

Well, now, based on the description of the new restaurant — “conscious Southeast-Asian cuisine” showcasing “regionally-specific dishes from Thailand, Vietnam, Korea, India, China and Japan” — it seems that Chef Gervais has basically used the Miami Spice season as a preview, albeit unbeknownst to diners.

So, what might we expect from the new Jaya? Let’s take a look at my meal, shall we? While I can’t be sure that any of these dishes will make the new menu, I’d be willing to bet they won’t be too far off.

For the appetizers, The Restaurant offers three choices: an Amberjack Crudo, a Pork Belly Bao, and a Salmon Tom Yum Pla Soup.

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The amberjack was not only a beautifully-plated dish, but also a delight of brightness and acidity. The marinated fish, despite being paired with such bold-flavored ingredients as yuzu, miso, shisho, piquillos, and key lime, was not overwhelmed, but rather enhanced for a truly fresh start to the meal.

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The pork belly was another delight. The rich and fatty pork, paired wonderfully with grilled peaches, carrots, fresh herbs, and Chinese barbeque sauce, nestled inside a perfectly-steamed bao. They were light and fluffy with just the right amount of gumminess that makes these treats so special. Throw a few more on the plate, and I honestly could have just kept eating these all night.

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As the final appetizer, the Tom Yum Pla was a fiery force in a relatively unassuming package. The classic Thai soup, which is normally made with a low-fat fish, was highlighted here with salmon chunks, bird chili, kaffir lime, and Thai basil. Although the presentation couldn’t compare to the first two apps, this dish provided a power-packed flavor punch that can only be found in Thai cuisine.

For the appetizers, The Restaurant also puts forth three vastly different option: Steamed Red Florida Snapper, Short Rib Bibimbap, and Murgh Makhani (aka Butter Chicken).

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The red snapper, served in yet another exquisite plating presentation, was a great option for those looking for something on the lighter side. Steamed to perfection, the fish sat in a warm and salty ginger- soy sauce with leeks, bok choy, and shiitake mushrooms. Light on calories, not on flavor.

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The Bibimbap, in general one of my all-time favorite Asian dishes (side note: can we get more good Korean food in Miami, please???), was another hit. I mean how can you go wrong with a hot pot full of braised short ribs, gochujang, kimchee, hen egg, veggies, and rice? Need I say more?

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And last, but not least, the Murgh Makhani (or Indian Butter Chicken), was everything I want in my Indian food: a simply-cooked protein doused in a decadent sauce and traditional spices. There is nothing better than serving yourself a heaping spoonful over a bed of aromatic Basmati rice. Pure bliss.

When it came to dessert, however, the Asian concept kind of flew out the window. There are three more options to choose from here – Chocolate and Caramel, Nougat Glacé, and Summer Berries – and where the appetizers and entrees were mostly traditional, it seemed to me that these desserts were slightly more innovative.

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The Chocolate and Caramel came in the form of a cocoa pain de genes (almond cake), salted caramel ice cream, chocolate soil, and, of course, chocolate ganache. Of the three desserts, this was the most traditional for me, with classic French pastry technique and comforting chocolatey goodness.

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The Nougat Glacé was centered around a biscuit joconde (almond sponge cake) with pistachio and white chocolate ice cream, and a smoking cherry foam. The almond cake and pistachio brought a deep nuttiness that paired brilliantly with the tartness of the cherry foam. For someone who usually likes a richer, chocolatier dessert, I was very impressed by this.

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However, I must say that the Summer Berries was the dessert that most shocked me. First of all, in the real world I would NEVER order a dessert labeled as Summer Berries. Berries in my breakfast yogurt or oatmeal? Sure! But, for dessert give me a cookie or a brownie sundae or some cheesecake. That said, this dish (once again, artfully presented) straight up knocked my socks off. The ripe, juicy berries were paired with frozen lemon yogurt, strawberry meringue, and olive oil sponge cake. To me, this is kind of what Miami Spice is all about; the freedom to step outside of your comfort zone, order something you wouldn’t typically order, and allow yourself to be surprised and delighted.

The Spice price is right because: In general, The Restaurant at the Setai is expensive. So, getting three courses at $39 is a steal, but that’s not where it ends. The Restaurant also offers wine specials as part of Miami Spice, so throw in a nice bottle of wine for a reduced price and you’re even better off. Add to that the Shrimp Crackers, Amuse Bouche, and Petit Fours that are brought out for the table at no additional charge and… Well, I think you see where I’m going here. People, you’ve only got two more weeks before this deal (and this restaurant) are gone. Don’t miss out!

Shrimp Crackers

Shrimp Crackers

Amuse Bouche

Amuse Bouche

Petit Fours

Petit Fours

Standout dishes: The full Miami Spice menu at The Restaurant at the Setai is very good. In all honesty there isn’t one bad dish, so it all becomes a matter of taste and preference. If I had to choose one dish from each course as a standout, I would have to go with the Pork Belly Bao, the Short Rib Bibimbap, and the (you guessed it) Summer Berries.

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