Lippi Vies for Star Status in Brickell
by jordan melnick
Lippi’s New American menu is heavy on small plates and seafood, such as Mediterranean sea bream
When a restaurant's creator cut his teeth as President of Zuma Miami, expectations can run high. Lippi, just over the Miami River, is a restaurant of small plates, big architecture, and ambitious flavors. Located on the ground floor of a 520-foot Brickell office tower, the three-month-old eatery serves New American cuisine in portions that top the typical tapas dish by a bite or two. The low-lit, high-ceilinged dining room, open save for an imposing column near the front door, evokes the Gatsby era (or at least its cinematic portrayal) with elegant dark-wood furnishings, spindly pearlstrung chandeliers, whiskey-illumined bar and, for good measure, an interior mural depicting a Roaring Twenties soirée. Guests can also dine outside, with a view of the fountain and palm trees on Brickell World Plaza.
If the décor reaches for old West Egg, the menu, as the term “New American” implies, aims to offer a fresh culinary experience to downtown Miami diners.
The elegant dining room evokes the Gatsby era with pearl-strung chandeliers and a Roaring Twenties mural.
“We’re trying to do something different from the usual American cuisine,” says restaurant President and concept developer Tunu Puri, naming two downtown competitors known for their thick steaks and jumbo seafood.
Puri is intent on distinguishing Lippi within Brickell’s increasingly crowded high-end restaurant scene, especially as the construction of Brickell City Centre, a billion-dollar mixed-use development, promises to attract even more money to an already affluent area. In fact, Puri and Lippi Executive Chef Philippe Ruiz, formerly at the Biltmore Hotel’s Palm d’Or, initially set out to create a French restaurant, but they abandoned that idea after world-renowned chef and restaurateur Daniel Boulud opened db Bistro Moderne in another downtown tower in late 2010. In the end, Puri and Ruiz crafted a menu that draws on French and Italian techniques, South American flavors, and Miami diners’ taste for seafood.
Octopus causa topped with tomato-jalapeño relish and aji panca.
No one dish at Lippi jumps out as a radical culinary innovation. Rather, it is the full dining experience, spanning scores of gorgeously presented plates, that gives Lippi a chance to make its name. Among its crudo offerings, the standout is the octopus causa. Served on a cold cube of potato confit, topped with a bright tomato-and-jalapeño relish and a sprinkle of aji panca, the dish provokes the classic “eat it or look at it” dilemma. The same goes for the Maine lobster ravioli, luxuriating in a bath of bisque foam, and the pieces of cured hamachi topped with bright-orange trout roe and served on thin slices of lemon. While relatively rustic in appearance, the homemade foie gras terrine, served on spiced brioche toast, compensates with a bite of blinding decadence.
Lippi’s emphasis on beauty continues in its heartier dishes. From the bright brush of basquaise sauce on its plate of seared black cod to the green pearls of roasted apple that accompany its jus-drizzled duck, there is a hint that the “New” in “New American” refers to a flair for culinary comeliness uncommon in traditional American cooking.
An ice-sphere maker, for one of the types of ice offered for high-end spirits.
Lippi’s food presentation, in terms of both portion size and aesthetics, makes sense when you realize that Puri is also the president of Zuma Miami, a raved-about modern Japanese restaurant located in the nearby Epic hotel, and Coya, a South American eatery in London. With all three concepts, “I wanted to do something where it’s not just a dish, but also that it looks inviting and tempting,” says Puri, who is planning to open a Coya in Brickell next summer.
“We are a high-end restaurant from the way we are structured and the investments we make,” Puri says. “This is not what you might call a family restaurant.” That distinction aside, Puri expresses a father’s love for Lippi, the first restaurant he has spearheaded from concept to opening. “This is something I always wanted to do,” he says. “Lippi is that creation.”
photography by gary james