Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Santo Restaurant

Santo opened last year amidst a slew of new upscale restaurants on Lincoln Road including Quattro and O Asian Grill. The latter two have hogged much of the spotlight and little has been said of Santo and its sophisticated decor, thoughtful waitstaff and fine food. Now that Cory Smith, the former sous chef at Pacific Time, is in the kitchen there is much to talk about. And Santo is part of Miami Spice, a great opportunity to try the restaurant at a fraction of the price (the entrees hover around $30 so it's quite a deal). We stopped by for dinner last week and, despite a few kinks, had a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
We started with the Tuna Duo and were presented with a generous portion of fresh fish both seared and in a sashimi tower.

The Asian spring rolls, filled with crunchy napa cabbage, shitake mushrooms, and scallions, managed to straddle the sensitive line of being fried yet tasting light. The ginger chili dipping sauce added adequate fire to the rolls.

The menu veers to Asian, Italian and Mexican influences. The food is well-executed though perhaps now that Smith is in the kitchen, the cuisine will assume a more defined direction. Our waiter warned us that the mahi-mahi was very spicy, but we loved the jerk-like seasoning on the meaty fish. The rest of the dish had a sweetness overkill with sweet potato puree and a mango-heavy tropical salsa. Luckily the red snapper was nicely balanced with a roasted poblano pepper, black bean corn salsa and a rich tomato fondue. There's a lot going on in the dish (it comes topped with onion rings), but sometimes it is that cacophony of flavors wherein dining sublimity is found.
I am a fiend for side dishes, maybe it has to do with my mezze/tapas-loving side, but ordering smaller dishes always seems more exciting. The one side dish we ordered, buttery gnocchi, was absolutely lovely. The little dumplings were pan-seared to crispiness and came topped with an oregano pesto. The molten chocolate souffle won't win any awards for creativity but is nicely presented oozing with chocolatey goodness and vanilla ice cream.
Throughout the meal the chef sends out little tastes of things not listed on the menu like a sumptuous sweet pea soup with toasted baguette and a lobster tartare. Santo's servers are a magical bunch; virtually attitude-free and incredibly efficient, we never had to ask for an extra fork or wait 30 seconds before a plate was cleared. The dining room is stylish and cavernous, with 25-foot tall ceilings and space for 100 diners, yet each table feels private. There is also a massive lounge whose entrance is at the rear of the restaurant. By 11pm the space was crowded with pretty young things.
Santo Restaurant is located at 430 Lincoln Road, South Beach.

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