We have water views and beachfront dining galore in South Florida, but greenery? Not so much. When it comes to eating in parks, our options are pretty much limited to picnics or food trucks. Which is a shame, because there’s nothing finer on a spring day than to be sitting outside, sipping something light and cool, and enjoying the expanding daylight hours with a plate of cheese, cured meat and crusty bread, and without worrying about ants crawling up your leg.
Fortunately, we now have Glass and Vine. It is located in Peacock Park in Coconut Grove, a casual little garden oasis with a deck overlooking green grass, a playground and trees swaying in the breeze. Somewhere off in the distance is Biscayne Bay. This is no grand palace along the lines of Tavern on the Green, the 800-seat behemoth that once wowed diners in New York’s Central Park with its glass-encased Crystal Room. Glass and Vine, with 200 seats, is more laid-back and comfortable, a place for millennials, and families, to chill and nibble.
That’s the neat thing about Glass and Vine, which recently celebrated its first anniversary. Because of the nearby playground, it has become a popular brunch and lunch spot for families. While mom and dad are working on a nice rosé, the little ones can take a spin through the jungle gym. Two-hour meals are more bearable for all.
If I had to choose one word to describe a recent Sunday dinner, it would be “pleasant.” The food was good, the service was friendly and for the most part attentive, and the atmosphere was relaxed. I don’t know how pleasant Glass and Vine will be in August, when the air thickens and deadens, and the building that houses the dining room, bar and kitchen can be sealed off with sliding glass doors. Airboat-size fans perched strategically around the patio sat silent during my visit, but I imagine they come in handy. There was no muggy or buggy unpleasantness for my meal. If it were a Broadway musical, I’d call it “Sunday in the Park With Giorgio.”
Giorgio Rapicavoli is the well-regarded young chef who helms the kitchen at Glass and Vine. He established himself at Miami’s Eating House and earned James Beard Award recognition as a regional semifinalist, along with winning an episode of Food Network’s “Chopped.” When the Grove Bay Hospitality Group signed a 50-year lease with the city of Miami in 2013 to bring restaurants to a seven-acre parcel near the water, it enlisted Rapicavoli for Glass and Vine, the first project. The timing was ripe, as Coconut Grove is enjoying a culinary rejuvenation after a couple of lost decades. Miami’s bohemian enclave by the bay fell victim to commercialization and chain mediocrity during the Cocowalk days of the 1990s, but has rebounded in recent years with a wave of intriguing eateries and watering holes, including one that serves mead (the Spillover), gourmet pizza spots (Farinelli 1937, Harry’s Pizzeria) and cozy places that evoke the good old days, with better food (Ariete, Boho.)
Glass and Vine has joined the club, carving out a niche as an al fresco success. The cocktails are tropical and refreshing, with names such as the Ricky Ricardo, the Maduro Mai Tai and the Bay View Spritz. The menu is varied and interesting, a global mishmash of small plates and entrees grouped under “garden,” “sea” and “land.” There are sweet potatoes with Peruvian huancaina sauce, scallops in brown butter and grilled sweetbreads. Everything is meant to be shared, our server explained, and there are some reasonable nibbles to start, $6 dishes such as pickled mushrooms, marinated olives and cured meat.
There is valet parking, and an underground garage across the street, and we waltzed to our reserved table on time. The salty and vinegary nibbles went well with the sweet and tart cocktails, and the next thing we knew a parade of plates started showing up. Some featured crusty, chewy bread from Zak the Baker, the talented Wynwood-based Zak Stern, and this was a good thing. You could put almost anything on Zak’s bread — butter, Vegemite, pureed shoe leather — and it would taste good. Fortunately, the Florida stracciatella ($12), a fluffy mound of stretched buffalo mozzarella cheese that’s better known as the creamy center of burrata, was a topping that stood on equal footing to Zak’s bread. The cheese was drizzled with olive oil and spiked with garlic confit. Our table loved it.
We didn’t love the watermelon salad ($10), which featured dull fruit and crumbled Cotija Mexican cheese, lime crema, crunchy toasted corn and cilantro. Cotija is supposed to be similar to Greek feta, but this tasted lifeless. My tablemates liked the pretty beef tartare ($12), tiny cubes of raw beef with bread crumbs topped with a raw egg yolk and sprinkled with black and white sesame seeds, but I’m spoiled because my barometer has the version at KYU in Miami at the top. This was OK, served with two big, green lettuce leaves, but the flavor and vibrancy of the meat was a cut below. The kitchen rebounded nicely with housemade semolina pasta ($17) with green-pea pesto. The pasta, perfectly textured al dente tubes of gemelli, was bathed in the subtle sauce, mixed with crunchy garlic panko and pistachio bits, and blanketed with wide sheets of shaved grana padano cheese.
Main courses were all solid. The sea scallops ($28), with cauliflower and hazelnuts in brown butter, looked like a mess but tasted divine. The daily fish a la plancha ($29) featured perfectly cooked red snapper over a mound of tasty shaved fennel, but we were surprised to see it swimming in a sea of tomato sauce that wasn’t bad, just unexpected. It almost overwhelmed a fine piece of fish. Lamb loin ($32) and a 28-ounce grilled rib-eye ($55) were closer to rare than the medium-rare we ordered, but I was with a primal group that doesn’t mind meats bloody and undercooked. The rib-eye was almost too chewy for comfort, but the marvelous marrow and truffle sauce, served in a side gravy boat, made it all go down smoothly.
I’m still chewing on the desserts, in the figurative sense, because they weren’t the usual sweets. The aptly named Eton Mess ($11), featured hunks of meringue over berries and cream. I could take it or leave it. And the Olive Oil Magic Shell ($11) still has my mind marinating. It featured vanilla ice cream from Azucar in Miami with olive oil, coated in a chocolate shell. Our server said the olive oil enhances the ice cream. I’m still debating that. It certainly made for a slick finish to a pleasant glide in the park.
Glass and Vine
2820 McFarlane Road, Coconut Grove
305-200-5268 or GlassAndvVine.com
Cuisine: American and global small and large plates
Cost: Moderate to expensive. Small plates cost $6-$17. Large plates cost $18-$55. Desserts $11.
Hours: Lunch 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. Brunch 10 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. Dinner 5:30-10 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 5:30-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 5-10 p.m. Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Cocktails, wines and craft beer
Sound level: Pleasant outdoors, with the occasional children’s shriek from adjacent playground
Wheelchair access: Ramp to raised dining room and bar
Parking: Valet, garage across street, metered street