It is said that the same yardstick used to critique the arts can be applied to reviewing restaurants: mood, tone, theme, setting, and harmony. The Restaurant's elegant setting is defined by its sweeping arched entrance, which is flanked by palm trees, a fountain, and tropical flowers. Once indoors, you'll find a refined tone set by colored marble in shades of creamy beige, columns of textured stone, breathtaking floral arrangements, and hand-painted silk Chinese murals. A classical mood is provided by the pianist's mellifluous notes floating from the Champagne Lounge at the far end of the room. And the epicurean theme orchestrated by Hubert Des Marais is a brilliant take on Southeastern regional fare, which includes influences from the Deep South, Caribbean, and South and Central America. Marais' tendency is to start with such stirring preludes as a salad of Florida lobster with mango, avocado, plantain, and essence of truffle or seared foie gras with starfruit johnnycakes and scotch-bonnet mango caramel, then segue into larger, richer, more luxurious movements, like char-grilled veal chop with crispy foie gras potatoes and deep morel reduction or his signature guava-braised short ribs of beef with truffle-scented cress salad. A light seafood interlude of yellowtail snapper with watermelon relish, lemon thyme, and tangelo sauce shows off the maestro Marais' versatility as well as his surprising knack for being utterly original. An underlying theme is the reliance on local products like passion fruit, mangoes, goat cheese, Okeechobee frog legs, and Indian River she crabs. A big, brassy wine list hits all the right notes. The meal rises to a crescendo with the soufflé overture, soon after which the crowd offers its accolades and files out contentedly. Readers' Choice: 32 East
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