If Mister Collins were a man and not a restaurant, he'd be the kind to give red roses — but never yellow tulips or a single orchid. He'd favor ocean views and tea lights over cityscapes and Dixon lamps. He'd drink Manhattans. He'd wear black leather loafers, lavish women with compliments, and occasionally smoke a cigar. He wouldn't set trends, yet he'd be quite fashionable. Mister Collins would be a gentleman.
But Mister Collins is in fact a restaurant. On a balmy Friday evening, in a narrow entrance located at the back of the ritzy One Bal Harbour Resort and Spa, a hostess praises a lady on her choice of clothing. She gushes over the woman's tawny wedges, black silk scarf, and tight pencil skirt. She graciously leads other guests to the candle-lit outdoor patio, which overlooks the crisp waters of Haulover Inlet; or she takes them to the sleek dining room, which is painted white and has plush leather dining chairs.
The waiter is similarly charming. A boyish 20-something wearing black horn-rimmed glasses, he recommends a 25-ounce bottle of Brooklyn Brewery's Local 2, "because it's a good deal and it tastes so good." He asks whether he can pour the beer. He then apologizes when there is too much head.
Toward the end of the meal, he enthuses over the five-chocolate flan, a stout tower topped with a quenelle of lightly sweetened whipped cream, layered with rich dark chocolate mud cake, smooth milk-chocolate custard, and a ganache composed of white chocolate and Frangelico. The beer head, the beer, and the flan are all satisfactory; the last two are particularly delicious.
For nearly two years after its 2011 debut, the restaurant was helmed by Laird Boles, a toque who worked at San Francisco's Waterbar and Spire. But Boles left in early 2013. Adam Postal, director of food and beverage for the resort and a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, has always supervised the restaurant's kitchen and menu. Plans are to hire a new chef eventually. There is no rush. "Mister Collins has never been a one-chef show, nor has it been a chef-driven restaurant," Postal says. "Our identity doesn't really change with each chef. This is a team effort."
The cuisine at Mister Collins is not innovative or precisely defined. The restaurant's catch phrase is "made from scratch American cuisine" — a saying that distinguishes it little from a panoply of other South Florida joints. Most dishes are old-school resort classics; very few are original creations. At dinnertime, there is guacamole with yucca chips, chopped caesar salad, duck leg confit with Granny Smith apples and greens, and filet mignon with black truffle hollandaise and fennel-and-potato hash. There is a Jenga-like tower of fresh soft pretzels doused in melted butter and sprinkled with coarse salt that is coupled with two sauces: mustard and fontal cheese.
Though it's not the most proficient kitchen in town, Mister Collins does find ways to charm.
Part of the restaurant's appeal is its support of Florida agriculture. PNS Farms, located in southwestern Miami, supplies eggs for breakfast and brunch. Chickens arrive at Bal Harbour via Ocoee, the setting for Lake Meadow Naturals, which provides poultry to many acclaimed restaurants in town. The roasted bird, a simple rendition that couples tender, moist flesh with glistening, crisp skin, is served alongside wild rice pilaf with mushrooms and charred green beans. It may sound like a tired combination of flavors and techniques. But Mister Collins' roast chicken dish is a properly executed classic. Few complaints can be muttered about that.
The adjective local is splashed across the restaurant's short menu. The word describes the flaked blue crab in a ricotta gnocchi — a dish composed of tender dumplings, which are made daily, enveloped by a sun-hued Meyer lemon butter sauce. The liquid, a flawless balance between tart citrus and rich churned cream, cocoons a generous portion of sweet blue crab meat and also a brilliant, emerald arugula pesto.
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At times, there are errors in the restaurant's chefless cuisine. In the gnocchi dish, there is too much sauce — think more tortellini in brodo. Other times, flaws pertain to the quality of ingredients. The arugula atop our lamb meatballs, which are served alongside pickled peppers, curried tomato sauce, and a dollop of Greek yogurt, arrived shriveled and lacking freshness. There are also too many pickled peppers and too little meat. The latter is served in three teeny, bite-sized balls.
A yellowfin tuna fillet is seared quickly on the grill and arrives rare with a blushing pink flesh and no seasoning. The accompanying medley of roasted vegetables features whole red and yellow peppers, with stem and seeds intact. Coupled with green beans, capers, and sliced potatoes, the peppers proved cumbersome to eat. The fish required a heavier hand on the salt.
On a nippy weekend evening, during dinner on the patio facing Fisher Pier, the water is still and the deck is dark. Mister Collins' outdoors are lit by small tabletop lamps; soft yellow beams glare through the interior's glass doors. Our waitress swings by and collects the finished yellowtail dish. A few bites of fish and pepper are left on the platter. The remains could hardly be considered a snack. Still, she asks whether it should be packaged to go. We decline. "You'd be surprised what people ask to take home around here. Nothing shocks me anymore!" she says, chuckling to herself. She picks up the dishes and walks toward the doors.
Not much is surprising about Mister Collins either. But with its classic cooking, ocean views, tea lights, and strings of compliments, patrons might find themselves satisfied — some even pleased. Too bad there aren't any red roses. And, though it may be close, there's also no cigar.