Even the lobby of the new St. Regis in Bal Harbour let's you know that this restaurant isn't some flash in the pan. As you walk through the modern hall of mirrors known as the Grand Hall, you can't help stopping in the lobby bar with its hinged, jewel-box shelves of liquor and the gorgeous mural by Miami artist Santiago Rubino. Yes, it's meant to evoke the Maxfield Parrish mural in the King Cole Bar at the original 55th Street and Fifth Avenue St. Regis in Manhattan. Farther along the lobby, the Rosenbaum Contemporary Art Gallery has one of Louise Nevelson's iconic black pieces on display, along with an oversize hyperphoto by Jean-François Rauzier.
And then, you're at the hostess' stand, where the women who greet you wear identical dresses that make them look like members of a whimsical wedding party.
The two-story dining room is a sturdy study in gray: gray herringbone floors, gray chairs, gray upholstered banquets. If you dine as a pair, it's wonderful that many of those banquets are crescent-shaped, allowing couples to sit side-by-side while facing the resort's swimming pool and on to the magnificent ocean. At a special moonlit dinner in early April, the view was breathtaking.
Jean-Georges Vongerichten — the J & G in this grill — is very much an international chef, overseeing restaurants in New York, Las Vegas, Hong Kong and Shanghai. He partnered with the St. Regis' Starwood Hotels and Resorts to create J & G Grill.
This is the kind of restaurant you can imagine dining in night after night. The food is elegant, but not contrived, familiar but always interesting. Part French, part Asian and a big part American.
It's a grill, after all, and it serves everything from local red snapper ($28) and Maine lobster ($42) to Ashley Farms chicken ($22) and filet mignon ($38). The menu lists seven accompanying sauces: papaya mustard, bearnaise, champagne beurre blanc, black-pepper condiment, miso mustard, smoke chili glaze, and J & G steak sauce.
But I found the rest of the menu so intriguing that I didn't have time for the grill.
The menu descriptions don't do justice to an appetizer described as "Petrossian caviar, crispy poached eggs, vodka crème fraiche" ($32). The dish is magic. The eggs are lightly poached in their shells and then peeled, according to our server. They're rolled in panko and then sauteed until crisp. Be careful when you cut into them. They're served with brioche, the salty caviar and the rich cream. Oh, my!
Fresh fettuccine with Meyer lemon, Parmesan and black pepper ($12 or $19) tastes a bit Italian, a bit French and very much like Florida. The menu also takes great advantage of Florida ingredients, which I have to think is the result of chef de cuisine Richard Gras.
I tasted spring in a bowl of bright pea soup, with Parmesan sourdough croutons ($10). The same goes for a peekytoe crab cake with sugar-snap-pea remoulade ($15).
At lunch one day after window-shopping at Bal Harbour Shops, we had salads. Steamed Key West pink shrimp, avocado and enoki mushrooms are tossed with champagne vinaigrette ($18). A grill-style chopped salad is made with avocado, apple and blue cheese ($14). If you like a big lunch, try the prix fixe: two courses for $19 or three for $28.
At dinner, soy-glazed short ribs ($28) are served with perfect apple-jalapeno puree. A lovely, milk-fed veal chop comes with pistachio pesto and roasted cauliflower ($46).
Service is excellent. Servers are friendly, rather than formal. And the management seems just as eager to please local diners as tourists. This makes for a diversely attired dining room: shorts and sandals, untucked club shirts and too-short cocktail dresses, blue blazers and pearls.
Desserts also ride the line between informal and formal. It's hard to say mango-upside-down cake ($9) with a French accent, after all. It comes with basil ice cream. What about a salted caramel ice cream sundae with peanuts, popcorn and chocolate sauce ($9)? It's a reimagined version of the after-dinner sundae served at classic American steakhouses.
Can you tell I like J & G Grill?
J & G Grill
St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort, 9703 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour
Cuisine: Modern American
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Lunch weekdays, brunch Saturday-Sunday and dinner daily
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Perfect
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Menu, boosters
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free valet