First impression: Let me first reveal my prejudice. I've avoided Juvia, open since February 2012, because I was sure it was just another South Beach restaurant with much more style than culinary substance. It's a restaurant and lounge, all right, and toward the end of our meal, the DJ was getting louder, and the cocktail crowd was beginning to invade the 10,0000-square-foot space. If you can ignore all that, you'll find exceptional food that combines Asian, South American and French traditions. Juvia is crawling with tourists, but that's the price you pay for its phenomenal setting.
Ambience: The view of South Beach doesn't get much better than this. From the ninth-floor perch, you can see the ocean to the east and the city of Miami to the west. It's a view you don't get to see unless you live in a South Beach apartment. It's no surprise that Venezuelan-based designer Alejandro Barrios Carrero won a best restaurant design James Beard Award. One wall of the terrace is given over to a vertical garden. The best seats are outside facing east. It's far too noisy inside the restaurant on busy weekends. There are 70 outside seats and 110 inside, where glass walls provide almost the same views.
Starters: Half the menu is devoted to appetizers of one sort or another: crudos, cold bar, nigiri, salads and hot. Salmon nashi ($22) features slices of gorgeous raw salmon wrapped around thin logs of Asian pear, garnished with truffle oil, dry miso and micro arugula. Rock-shrimp tiradito ($16) combines the fresh Florida crustaceans with a slightly spicy aji amarillo aioli, red onion and cilantro. The cold bar offers Maine lobster ($42); Alaskan king crab legs ($32); and oysters ($9-$12 for three) served with a choice of sauces ($2), including red-onion shiso, wasabi cocktail and yuzu soy. We had the most delicious hearts of palm salad ($18), with huge slices of fresh palm served alongside a kind of slaw made from green mango, green papaya, cucumber and red-pepper-chile threads. This is incredible food to share over Juvia's many house-invented cocktails. My favorite appetizer had a Chinese-style gyoza ($23) dumpling filled with Wagyu short ribs. Outstanding.
Entree excellence: A special crispy skinned branzino fillet ($34) was served with a finely diced cucumber salad. Milk-fed pork confit ($25) wasn't the most appetizing dish, presented in thin logs, but the richness of the meat was nicely offset by a honey-ginger glaze and a sour-cabbage side dish. Oversize prawns ($34) were served on sugar-cane skewers and plated with passable tostones and a simple yuzu vinaigrette. Our waiter discouraged ordering from the charcoal grill, where you'll find steaks ($40-$79), a tuna steak ($32), and Korean marinated short ribs ($28).
Side issues: Classic French cheesy, creamy Aligot mashed potatoes ($8) are not to be missed. Maple-glazed eggplant ($8) tastes vaguely Japanese, with a touch of Thanksgiving.
Service: It ought to match the special occasion feel of the setting, but there was very little rapport between server and diner. That's unfortunate given the fact that an 18 percent service charge is added to all checks. I wish, too, that our server had been a little more knowledgeable about the menu.
Sweet! A deconstructed Key lime pie ($10) combines meringue sticks in a tall glass with all the creamy components you find in traditional versions of this dessert. The candy bar chocolate ($10) combines rich chocolate, hazelnut and edible gold leaf in a form most of us know from Hershey. Be sure to have a Juvia shot ($6), a coconut-pineapple concoction that you drink shooter-style. It's a perfect way to toast the end of a Juvia meal.
1111 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach
Cuisine: New American
Cost: Expensive-very expensive
Hours: Lunch and dinner daily, brunch Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Very noisy inside
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, menu
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $20 valet or nearby garages and lots