By Mitchell Nover
The scariest 12 words during Miami Spice season are: “Sample menu. Changes daily. Call or check our website for daily menu.” Well, for me anyway. In case you haven’t noticed in my previous reviews, I’m a planner. I thrive on belaboring the decision making process, especially when it comes to selecting a Miami Spice menu, and the fear of the unknown is all too real. That said, for some reason this year I’ve been throwing caution to the wind with the #FOMO winning out over the #FOTU. My most recent example of this was my Miami Spice dinner at Zest.
I’d been wanting to Zest for a while now, Chef Cindy Hutson’s highly-anticipated contemporary Caribbean restaurant in Downtown Miami. Although intrigued by Chef Hutson’s award-winning “Cuisine of the Sun,” her infamous island flavors, and Mel’s rave review, what finally drew me in to the restaurant was the tentative promise of Root Beer Braised Pork Belly listed on the sample menu on the Miami Spice menu. So, with my luck, guess what wasn’t on the night’s menu on the night of my visit?
But with every risk, comes reward and, despite my missing out on the pork belly, I was nevertheless rewarded with a wonderful Miami Spice meal. The following is a brief recap of Zest’s Miami Spice dinner menu ($39 pp):
Cast Iron Charred Calamari – with grilled lemon, blistered shishito peppers, and preserved orange glaze
I absolutely loved this take on the ubiquitous calamari appetizer. Not grilled, not fried, but charred, the calamari was perfectly tender and deliciously marinated with grilled lemon and an orange glaze. And who doesn’t enjoy the fun of shishito peppers (aka the Russian roulette of vegetables)?
Norma’s Terrace Salad – marinated hearts of palm, papaya, grapefruit and orange segments, cucumber curls, feta cheese, gourmet greens, Caribbean candied pecans, and passion fruit vinaigrette
I might have to stop saying I don’t order salads at restaurants, because once again I ordered one, and once again I really enjoyed it. This complex salad deftly brings together a long list of ingredients and is so filling (and fulfilling) that it could almost serve as an entree if you added on some grilled shrimp or fish or chicken.
Pan Seared Dorade – with mofongo roulade, sautéed arugula, and a coconut-ackee rundown
Speaking of entrees, it’s hard to pass up seafood options at a restaurant like Zest. I mean, the Caribbean is all about seafood (islands, right?). Out of the three entrees available to choose from, two were fish. And, so fish I ate. First was a dorade dish that skewed a slightly to the sweet side with the accompanying sweet plantain mofongo and coconut-ackee puree. The sides could have easily overpowered the delicate white fish, but somehow it all came together beautifully.
Pan Seared Faroe Island Salmon – with pico de gallo, cilantro crema, and aromatic jasmine rice
The second dish was the salmon. A thick, meaty serving of fish (does that even make sense?) that was delightfully freshened up with a simple helping of pico de gallo, crema, and rice. Funny how the light dorade was weighted with the sides and the weightier salmon was lightened by the sides. Coincidence, I think not!
Mango & White Chocolate Bread Pudding – with vanilla ice cream
Lemon Meringue Pie
If I’m being honest, I could have done without the desserts. They weren’t bad by any means, but I just think I would have enjoyed the sample menu desserts from the website more. As a dessert fanatic, I was supremely excited about Lemon Blueberry Cheesecake and Warm Guava White Chocolate Bread Pudding. The two desserts that I did try, unfortunately just seemed like “Plan B” options that didn’t quite work out as well.
Mitch’s take: Overall, the Miami Spice dinner at Zest was very good. If I wasn’t such a neurotic freak and hadn’t attached myself to the promise of potential menu items and subsequently been disappointed by the fact that they weren’t available on the night of my visit, I probably would even go as far as saying it was great. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is, don’t be like me. Let yourself live in the moment and go enjoy your Miami Spice meal at Zest.
Standout dishes: If you’re lucky, the calamari and salmon will be available when you head to Zest.