Mandarin Oriental's Azul separated from hotel lobby
By Marilyn Bowden
Azul, a five-star restaurant offering international cuisine, has just opened in a customized restaurant building adjacent to the new Mandarin Oriental Miami on Brickell Key.
"A separate building was in the plans from the beginning," said General Manager Alain Ricci. "We don't want our guests to have to go through the hotel lobby. We want to be wide open to the local community, not part of a five-star ghetto."
Based on figures from its first 10 days of operation, he estimated up to 90% of the restaurant's guests will come from the local business and residential communities.
Although Mandarin Oriental has properties in San Francisco and Hawaii, Mr. Ricci said, the Miami hotel which welcomed its first guest Nov. 20 is the first of its US hotels to be built from scratch.
"What we do in Miami is so important for the future of this company here," he said.
Azul, designed by New York-based restaurant designer Tony Chi, is "different from other restaurants in Miami because of its simplicity," Mr. Ricci said.
The restaurant's theme of simple elegance, he said, is reflected in its rose marble floors, white table linen and plain white Limoges chinaware without logos or gold trim.
"The food should be the decoration," he said.
Prepared by Chef Michelle Bernstein, the menu features fresh seafood, meat and poultry. Appetizers, which show up on the menu as "new beginnings," are priced from $8-$21 and entrees, billed as "plates of resistance," are $18-$28.
Mr. Ricci said a $45 prix-fixe lunch has a different menu every day, as does a $75, six-course tasting menu for dinner guests.
A wine bar and wine cabinet at the entrance remind diners of Azul's "small but very rare" wine list, Mr. Ricci said bottles range from $20 to $7,999 for rare cognacs.
He said the restaurant's coffee menu offers blends from around the world, including Sumatra, Kenya, Costa Rica and Jamaica.
"We also have some fine and rare selections of tea," he said some of them said to be aphrodisiac.
An open kitchen displays all the products used for cooking.
"At Azul there's no back of the house," Mr. Ricci said, "Everybody is on stage."
The restaurant has a maximum seating of 120, but Mr. Ricci said 80 is the optimum to ensure "quality of experience." For this reason he recommends reservations.
Azul serves lunch from noon-3 p.m. Monday-Friday and dinner from 7-11 p.m. Monday-Saturday.
Details: (305) 913-8254.