Who wouldn't want to love Mignonette, the 52-seat charmer set in a vintage 1930s building first used as a gas station? The bay that cars drove through is now the front dining room. Miami's oldest cemetery is across the street. One of the city's oldest synagogues is up the road.
Mignonette gets its name from the sauce of red wine, pepper and shallots served with raw oysters. The restaurant's oyster menu is offered via oversized letters on a movie-marquee-style board above the eight-seat bar that looks into the open kitchen. West Coast oysters (Royal Miyagi and Kumamoto, for example) are on the left. East Coast oysters (they might include Beavertail and Riptide) are on the right. You'll do well to order them, even if you'll have to ask for a fork.
Chef and co-owner Daniel Serfer came to attention three years ago when he opened Blue Collar, where the comfort food offerings include potato latkes, cheeseburgers, pot roast and jambalaya served in a homey, diner setting. Now, imagine the same chef, who owns the restaurant with attorney and restaurant blogger Ryan Roman, turning his talents toward oysters Rockefeller ($19), seafood towers ($55-$90) and whole-roasted fish (market price).
While much of it is excellent, I wish execution at the 8-month-old Mignonette was more consistent.
One night, we started with classic oysters Bienville ($19), baked with rock shrimp, bacon, mushrooms and brandy. They were outstanding. Another night, we decided to start with the entrée-sized lobster roll ($22). I understand that lobster roll purists disagree as to whether the lobster should be served hot or cold. Here, the lobster was hot on the outside and cold when you got to the center. It was otherwise a generous portion with just the right amount of drawn butter served on a lovely Portuguese roll instead of an often too-lightly textured hot dog bun.
Lobster deviled eggs ($15) were topped with sizable chunks of lobster as well as paprika and chives. The appetizer menu runs high to low, from classic crab cake ($17) and seared scallops ($16) to popcorn conch ($14) and peel-and-eat wild Florida shrimp ($13).
If you can find a better crispy-skin snapper ($23) anywhere in South Florida, let me know. Here, it comes with simple beurre blanc and a choice of vegetable, none of which matched the high bar set by the snapper.
Sweet-potato wedges with ancho chile were too salty. I found the preserved lemon peel in wilted rainbow chard off-putting. The only citrus peel I want to eat is covered in dark chocolate. And I'm guessing that chilled macaroni and pimento cheese is something you have to grow up with.
Monkfish ($22) with broccolini, smoked trout roe and lobster sauce was similarly delicious, while whole, pan-roasted striped bass ($30) had a little too much oil in its preparation. Otherwise, it was perfectly cooked without being overdone. While the kitchen won't filet whole fish, they kindly removed the head and tail.
But then came prime rib ($29), which was highly recommended by our waiter. While it was cooked to temperature and plenty tender, it tasted bland and lacked the distinctive deep beef flavor of a standing rib roast. I can't put my finger on why. Chicken thighs ($22), served Thanksgiving-style with chestnut stuffing and cranberry stuffing, fared much better.
Like the prime rib, our waiter's dessert choice was also a disappointment. We eagerly grabbed our forks to cut into a triangle of coconut cream pie ($7) and ended up with mouthfuls of whipping cream. Where was the coconut? It was the kind of dessert best enjoyed by people under the age of 10.
It's the risk a talented chef such as Serfer takes when he cooks for two audiences: sophisticated folks with a yen for oysters and caviar and people with simpler palates who might opt for popcorn shrimp and clam chowder.
That said, there's an authenticity about the location and the menu that will have me coming back to Mignonette.
210 NE 18th St., Miami
Hours: Dinner daily, lunch weekdays, brunch Saturday and Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Can be noisy
Outside smoking: No
For kids: Highchairs
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $3 valet at dinner only