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Azul in Miami closing June 30 with guest chef Clay Conley

Azul, the signature restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental Miami which launched the careers of several prominent chefs, is fading to black.

After 17 years of inventive fine dining and shimmering views of Biscayne Bay from its perch on Brickell Key, Azul will close Friday, June 30. Clay Conley, a former Azul executive chef who has become one of Palm Beach County’s hottest restaurateurs, will cook the final two nights of dinner service, June 29 and June 30.

Other chefs who have made their mark in the Azul kitchen include James Beard Award winner Michelle Bernstein, Bradley Kilgore (Alter, Brava) and Benjamin Murray (Pao by Paul Qui at the Faena).

“I’m so grateful to be asked back for the last dinner services. It’s an honor,” Conley says in a press release. “Azul was my first executive chef position and allowed me to develop my culinary style.”

Conley, a past James Beard Award nominee in the South region, runs Buccan in Palm Beach and Grato in West Palm Beach.

Less than a year after Bernstein opened Azul as its first chef in December 2000, the restaurant was named one of the best new restaurants in America by Esquire magazine.

Former Sun Sentinel dining critic John Tanasychuk awarded Azul 3 1/2 stars in a 2013 review, writing, “Dinner at Azul had me wanting to order everything on the menu. Anything to make the meal last longer.”

But as time passed and newer, trendier restaurants sprouted along nearby Brickell Avenue and in downtown Miami and Miami Beach, Azul evidently could not keep pace.

In a 2015 Miami Herald review, critic Victoria Pesce Elliott was overwhelmed by the restaurant’s “foams, gels, squiggles, infusions and powders … With food this complicated, it would help if the staff were as knowledgeable as they are enthusiastic. Instead, our servers stumbled on introductions and descriptions. ‘I’ll go check with the kitchen,’ was the answer to most questions.”

By the end, Azul was eclipsed in its own hotel, with La Mar by Gaston Acurio, a restaurant from the acclaimed Peruvian chef, generating more buzz.

No word yet on what will replace the Azul space. Conley is creating a six-course tasting menu for the final meals. The cost is $105 per person (excluding tax and tip), $140 including wine pairings. Limited seating remains each night. For information and reservations, call 305-913-8358.

mmayo@southflorida.com, 954-356-4508. Follow my food adventures on Instagram: @mikemayoeats. Sign up for my weekly dining newsletter at SouthFlorida.com/EatBeatMail.

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