By Nicole Danna
By Sara Ventiera
By Candace West
By Emily Dabau
By Doug Fairall
By Candace West
By Laine Doss
By Sara Ventiera
My yellowfin martini was beautiful: meltingly tender pink chunks of tuna and mandarin oranges set delicately in a giant martini glass over crisp rice noodles. It was topped with a bit of seaweed salad and four chopsticks protruding like the decorative sticks in a geisha's hairdo. And scattered around on the tile beneath: wakame salad of cucumber and mandarins, a squiggle of spicy chili sauce, black sesame seeds, more seaweed, and a pile of pickled ginger. The tuna was spicy hot, lightly tossed in a ginger-wasabi marinade, tempered and sweetened by cool mandarin oranges.
The crispy calamari was also a success: huge, chewy rings, finely crisped on the outside, piled high and served with a rosemary-spiked lemon and a drizzle of pommery lemon aioli. After a quick conference, four of us concluded that these were probably the best calamari anywhere within driving distance. But we could have used more of that aioli -- the drizzle was barely enough to dab at, just a teaser.
The kabobs, also served on a big tile, were tender, fragrant filets grilled on a skewer. A fresh cucumber salad with mint, plus black olives and feta cheese were artfully scattered between two dishes of dipping sauce -- a fatty, garlicky tzatziki yogurt, and another sauce that tasted like tomato confit. If you could manage to get all these elements on your fork at once, you were nibbling at nirvana.
The only appetizer that didn't strike any major chords was the spinach dip. We decided it might have been our mistake to order it. We guessed that the dip is really meant as bar food (Michael's stays open late, serving martinis), and for late-night fare it would have been splendid -- rich and creamy, surrounded by a delightful medley of brightly colored chips (the design of this dish was a knockout, too). Before a fancy dinner, it lacked the pizzazz of our other choices, though.
We were semi-stuffed by the time we'd decimated our appetizers. Four more huge plates arrived, borne by a new brigade of waitrons and chefs. Twin boneless pork chops ($22, a single chop is $16) were tender and sweet, cooked lightly pink. We guessed they'd been brined or marinated to achieve that melting texture. They'd been slathered with a tart, winey demi-glace of Granny Smiths and cranberries reduced to their essence. A dab of mashed potatoes was sublimely creamy, offset by crunchy, curly apple chips. This dish was a study in delicious textural and flavor contrasts.
So was the whole rack of black bean sesame- glazed Asian ribs ($26, or $17 for a half-rack). These are big ribs, and the meat just falls off the bone, sweet, savory, smoky. It's served with fried rice made with applewood bacon and vegetables. The dish had the hearty heft of American barbecue married to the exotic flavors of the Orient.
We were less enthusiastic about our other entrées. Filet mignon fusilli ($27) was composed, according to the menu, of slices of filet, multicolored peppers, shallots, asparagus, and roasted garlic tossed with virgin oil, brown butter, sage, and finished with aged balsamic vinegar. But the elements were introverted, keeping to themselves -- they should have been having a party, or better yet, an orgy. The liquid was too thin to really coat the pasta -- a long fusilli might have worked better, or perhaps fresh rather than dried pasta. The asparagus was slightly bitter; the filet, cooked medium, was wasted. For the price, it wasn't a showstopper.
Neither was the Hollywood pizza ($13): smoked salmon, chives, boursin cheese, capers, and caviar. It tasted more or less like your Sunday morning bagel with lox and cream cheese. Like the spinach dip, it's quality bar food and would be dandy for a late night bite with an ice cold shot of vodka. I just wouldn't order it again for dinner.
Dessert comes as an ice cream cake, big enough to serve four -- chocolate, strawberry, or apple. They'd run out of the apple, so we went for strawberry ($10.00), layers of fresh whipped cream, vanilla white cake, and strawberry ice cream. I wasn't much impressed with this concoction, except possibly as a fancy birthday party offering for eight-year-olds. I yearned for a more sophisticated way to end such a gorgeous meal: a fancy cheese plate with fruit, an exotically infused ice, maybe a soufflé. But I was outnumbered: the rest of the table was gaga for this ice cream cake, and I was chastened.
Our final take on Michael's: For pure delectable razzmatazz, it's up there with the very best in the two counties. The service is just wonderful. Our waitress wrapped our millions of packages to take home without a crack in her cheerful good humor; she even replaced an entire order of sushi grade tuna when the kitchen inadvertently threw out our leftovers! She and the entire staff couldn't have been nicer. And the prices (around $200 for four of us including glasses of wine and tip) were beyond reasonable.
A Shakespeare professor I once had explained his grading system like this: An A- is truly outstanding work. But to get an A, you had to give him something he'd never seen before, something he'd never even conceived as possible. Michael's food is, as yet, an A-. This menu is firmly rooted in the zeitgeist; it's not even a little ahead of its time. From Jersey City to Honolulu, from Ashville to San Jose, the best restaurants are serving ceviche martinis, crispy calamari, and pecan-crusted grouper, just like Michael's. Blum is tuned into this network, and he's already proven he knows what will sell in South Florida. But you can't help but wish that a talent like his would take a risk or two with the menu, just nudge it one step higher. It's that willingness to concoct, say, a gêlée of Botrytis Semillon with lavender-infused cream (a weird and wonderful dessert I once had from Jonathan Eismann's kitchen at Pacific Time) that would turn this new kid on the Hollywood block into a star of the first magnitude.