There is that moment in every gourmand’s life when he or she has that first great meal - that meal that demonstrates not only just how good food can be but how cuisine truly is art. For me, that happened on my first trip to New York City when I was in high school with a dinner at Chef Daniel Boulud’s db Bistro Moderne. For a Miami boy, that meal was far better than anything I’d had in my hometown, and the experience raised my standards when it came to fine dining. Miami’s food scene has grown up considerably in the last 10 years, and while we have yet to see any local chefs receive a Michelin star, it is comforting to know that Michelin-starred chefs consider Miami a fitting locale to open a restaurant as they expand their empires. Ten years after that first taste of haute cuisine in NYC, I was ready to revisit db Bistro Moderne, but this time it would be on my own turf.
Chef Daniel Boulud decided to open his Miami location of db Bistro Moderne inside the JW Marriott Marquis in Downtown Miami, which puts it in the middle of Miami’s financial action, giving the area’s movers and shakers a place for power lunches and impressive dinner meetings with clients. For Miami foodies, the locale is a refreshing departure from the glitz and glamour of South Beach that too often translates into superficiality and pretentiousness.
Dark, opaque glass doors conceal the restaurant from the rest of the world, and the name of the restaurant is only revelation of what lies inside from the hotel lobby. Once inside, however, it quickly becomes evident that this is a temple devoted to cuisine. One first notices the large glass wine cellar housing a table and chairs for private dinners and occasional, spontaneous wine tastings. The bar and lounge are to the right and provide a modern, airy space to enjoy a glass of wine or a beautifully crafted cocktail, such as the Aurora Australis containing pisco, watermelon water, peach nectar, and grapefruit bitters. The dining room is located to the left and is completely separate from the bar/lounge area, providing diners with a serene environment to fully appreciate one’s meal with minimal distractions.
The ambiance and décor of the restaurant gave me the same sensation as the original in NYC - grey tones with elegant flourishes - but uses something very Miami that is in short supply in Manhattan: space. While the original location is cozy, db Bistro Moderne in Miami can be seen almost as palatial. Palatial is also a good word to describe the décor, although visions of Versailles should be quickly dismissed. The main dining room has a feel of old-world aristocratic aesthetics that are paired down to reveal a more contemporary sensibility. Think of a minimalist château or Avenue Montaigne apartment and you get the picture.
The cross of Miami and New York, as well as classic French and modern aesthetics, that are found in the ambiance are a perfect allusion to the approach that db Bistro Moderne takes to cuisine. Chef Boulud is famous for fusing classic techniques with modern innovations, and this is reflected in all his restaurants. However, while the level of perfection found in anything bearing his name is evident in the Miami location, Chef Boulud has given Executive Chef Matthieu Godard creative license to incorporate local ingredients and sensibility into the menu.
Chef Godard, who started working with Chef Boulud at db Bistro Moderne as a line cook in 2006, progressed through the ranks until Daniel Boulud, himself, personally selected him to man the kitchen at the Miami location in 2012. While NYC is probably enjoying hearty winter soups and heavier preparations, Chef Godard includes Peruvian-style ceviches, cool salads, and an array of cold seafood platters that are in tune with Miami’s balmier climate.
Besides the clear nod to local sensibilities, the menu is diverse in its incorporation of impeccably prepared French classics among Chef Godard’s more creative preparations. Any dinner begins with a basket of traditional gougères - those addictively cheesy domes of baked pâte à choux with just a kick of black pepper. The meal can then progress to a dish of escargots à la persillade with potato croquettes coated in almond flour that is a perfect rendition of a French standard with plump wild-caught Burgundy snails. One can also enjoy another French classic, terrine de foie gras, that incorporates more innovative accompaniments of pickled pearl onions, candied kumquats, duck prosciutto, a paper-thin shaving of pickled watermelon, and a sprinkle of foie gras powder. The terrine, itself, is unctuous yet tangy from its contact with the pickling juices, and with a piece of candied kumquat on a toasted slice of brioche, it makes for one of the most memorable presentations of foie gras.
While one doesn’t typically think of pasta at a French restaurant, the French have been proving that Italians are not the only ones with a knack for noodles, and a pasta dish at db Bistro Moderne should not be missed, especially Chef Godard’s orecchiette with venison bolognese. The pasta dishes are available in entrée and appetizer portions, making it easy to incorporate one of his creations into your meal. The house-made orecchiette are nothing short of perfect: both tender and toothsome and with a pleasant density that is not found in commercial varieties. The bolognese wonderfully highlights the subtle gaminess of the venison, its meatiness further brought forward by the inclusion of porcini. An addition of cubes of butternut squash and firm bits of chestnut offer a sweet contrast and textural variety, while brussels sprouts add a hint of bitterness and a finish of parmesan foam offers its characteristic assertive bite.
While its description on the menu seems overshadowed by much more decadent and luxurious items, the steamed Florida snapper is perhaps one of the most elegant preparations of this fish I have ever sampled and a pleasant surprise to the palate. A shallow bowl is arranged with assorted diced winter root vegetables mounted by a gorgeous filet of local snapper and strewn with an herb salad. The waiter then pours a flavorful consommé over the entire composition right at the table, awakening an intense bouquet of aromas and flavors and making one wonder how a dish with the words “steamed” and “consommé” could ever taste this rich.
Other entrées include a generous leg quarter of duck confit on a bed of pommes salardaises - thin slices of potato cooked in duck fat. The umami of the duck is echoed in a fricassé of wild mushrooms, while a sweet and sour jus and bitter broccoli rabe offset the richness. A dish of wild mushroom risotto arrives with three enormous seared diver scallops, shavings of black truffle, and a few parmesan tuiles and makes for a satisfyingly rich seafood entrée.
There are more and more executive chefs successfully composing dessert menus that are both flavorful and interesting. Nevertheless, the importance of a pastry chef in the kitchen is something that should never be taken for granted, and with Chef Godard’s creations providing for such a memorable savory experience, it is only necessary that the meal’s sweet end should be just as memorable if not more so.
Pastry Chef Jérôme Maure’s innovative desserts and sweets are so exceptional that even if one cannot have an entire meal at db Bistro Moderne, any Miami gourmand deserves to at least try one of the desserts. The ever-changing dessert menu can include such innovative preparations as a lemon meringue tart with fennel pollen meringue, a pomegranate sauce and pomegranate kernels, candied fennel, and white chocolate sorbet that offers an inspired and refreshing combination. A trio of strawberries and cream on offer during my meal included a panna cotta with fresh sliced strawberries enclosed in a glass filled with hickory smoke that wafted through the room once removed and gave the panna cotta a unique flavor. The sheer audacity of any of Chef Maure’s deliciously unique desserts will garner a huge smile from anyone who appreciates playful experimentation in cuisine.
Chef Maure also offers some treats that are meant to be shared and appeal to those craving classic French confectionary. A plate of assorted bonbons, chocolate truffles, and macarons on a bed of chocolate milk crumb is a great way to end a meal. Even if one chooses to enjoy a dessert like those mentioned above, any experience at db Bistro Moderne should end with a basket of warm, homemade madeleines, even if it’s just to take back home.
It should be noted, also, that even wine novices should take advantage of Sommelier Christopher Lindemann’s expertly chosen recommendations. While most suggested wine pairings at other restaurants can be satisfactory at best, Lindemann’s selections - suggested with a bit of history and explanation that expresses a passion and enthusiasm for his craft - are unique and bring out the various flavors in each dish in fantastically detailed ways. His descriptions of each wine stray from extravagantly poetic - and often confusing - musings and stay to the point, with each sip of his selections clearly showcasing all the notes that he describes. He manages to demystify wine while still highlighting each bottle’s appeal, and a meal at db Bistro Moderne without his interaction would be incomplete.
It is quite seldom that one has a perfect meal, and even less often that one finds such a meal in Miami. We admittedly have a growing fine dining scene that is definitely something to be proud of, but being in our adolescent years, both culturally and historically, we still have a lot of growing up to do. At such a young stage, it is unreasonable to demand that Miami produce a chef the likes of Daniel Boulud right now, but it is helpful to have a chef such as Boulud grace us with one of his restaurants manned by his protégé, Chef Godard. This is just the kind of inspiration our city needs to develop itself further gastronomically, as well as develop a savvy local clientele that is well-aware of what a perfect meal is like.
db Bistro Moderne
JW Marriott Marquis
255 Biscayne Blvd Way
Miami, FL 33131