The hunger game

 

If you read restaurant reviews, you've probably noticed that criticism of portion sizes and prices are mostly missing. I often break this unspoken rule, but what you're about to read is my most concentrated rag about what I'm seeing much too frequently in very expensive restaurants.

Lippi, the 2-month-old Miami spot named after the Renaissance painter Filippo Lippi, describes its modus operandi as Mediterranean-inspired small plates.

Unfortunately, most of its small plates are the size of passed hors d'oeuvres. So little food is served that it's almost impossible to taste enough to form a critical opinion. It's more like a shakedown than a meal.


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I'm thinking of langoustine a la plancha ($19 each). Each prawn, about 6 inches in length, was split down the middle and cooked with Mexican Tajin seasoning and espelette pepper. I believe the meat in each langoustine weighed less than an ounce. Certainly, the shell weighed more. Since there were four of us at dinner, we ordered two. That cost $38. We each got two bites.

I'm thinking about the wild mushroom risotto ($15) with Parmigiano, Romano and truffle oil. It's wonderfully presented in a tiny, cast-iron casserole dish. But I'm being generous when I say we were served one cup of risotto. Divided among four people, that's four tablespoons each.

I'm thinking that if we hadn't ordered enough, why didn't our waiter tell us? He was getting the automatic 18 percent service charge. And we did, after all, order almost every dish he recommended.

I'm also thinking that owner Tunu Puri might needs to reassess what he set out to do. Puri is also an investor at Miami's sensational Zuma, the transcendent Japanese small-plates restaurant, which has locations in London, Hong Kong, Dubai and Istanbul. At Zuma, the spalike dining room lets you discover the modern flavors of Japan from sushi to tempura and robata.

Lippi's menu — with more than 60 items — is much less exotic. Vegetable couscous ($12), seared Maine scallops ($24) and a mini crab cake ($18) are all on the menu.

Puri, a chartered accountant, apparently created the menu with the "help" of chef Philippe Ruiz, who left Palme D'or at the Biltmore Hotel in Coral Gables after a dozen years to join Lippi. During his tenure at Palme D'or, Ruiz piled up awards and accolades, including two James Beard nominations. Under his direction, Palme D'or was often called the best French restaurant in Florida.

Lippi's food is well prepared and presented on all kinds of interesting crockery. Much of it has a pleasantly earthy vibe. I just wish more food was involved.

Oysters are served with the formality of a French restaurant. But instead of serving the mignonette in a ramekin, the sauce comes in clear, plastic squeeze tubes. The night we dined, they were serving sweet Fanny Bays ($4 each) from British Columbia, Kumamotos from Washington ($4) as well as Golden Points and Blue Points from the East Coast.

The menu starts with a big selection of crudos, from which we ordered octopus causa ($14), six pieces of potato topped with octopus, tomato and jalapeno relish. The platter was dotted with black-olive crema and aji panca. It was a delicious riff on sushi meeting the Mediterranean.

The Med was on display again in a fresh-tasting farro salad with tzatziki, tomato and beets ($12), and in a shaved fennel salad ($12) with orange segments and pomegranate seeds tossed in mint vinaigrette.

Homemade foie gras terrine ($20) was sliced and served on spiced brioche toast spread with a layer of tropical fruit chutney. I like a sharper condiment with terrine, and I'd also like more than one thumb-sized slice. Mangalica ham ($28), on the other hand, was a perfectly sized serving of the sliced Spanish ham with aged Manchego, garlic toast and tomato relish. Truffled scrambled eggs ($16) with wild mushrooms and crostini meant a return to calorie control.

One section of the menu includes larger plates, where you'll find a grilled veal chop for $60 and a 24-ounce Dover sole, grilled or meuniere, for $98.

Then comes dessert. Pastry chef Sarah Thompson has an outrageous way with flavor layering and style in such gems as pineapple cannoli ($11) with coconut tapioca and mandarin cilantro granite. The sweet and tart elements meld perfectly. Chocolate coulant ($12) combines a round of flourless chocolate cake with salty caramel and frozen mojito marshmallows. Her Snickers Tart ($12) has peanut caramel and milk chocolate with droplets of lemon tea. Now, here's a pastry chef with an imagination.

Lippi's setting is much like the savory side of the menu. It promises more than it delivers. Sure, there's lots of high-priced natural stone, but what's with the boholeopard-print shades on ugly wrought-iron chandeliers? What's with the faux balcony? There are 102 seats in the dining room, which isn't huge. So why does the place feel like the lobby of a Mediterranean-revival condominium?

Is this what happens when you open in a neighborhood best known as Miami's banking center?

I hate to sound like a rube. But when we got home from Lippi, we had a slice of toast.