Jeff O’Neill, The Villa by Barton G.
The Villa by Barton G.’s jaw-dropping setting—Casa Casuarina, aka the late Gianni Versace’s mansion—has the potential to dwarf any cuisine served therein: Think opulent Mediterranean architecture, imported pebbled mosaics, gilded china, and solicitous butlers.
But the food manages to steal the show, thanks to executive chef Jeff O’Neill. As a young cook, he came up in a culinary world in which French cuisine was revered, and trained with its masters in New York: Eric Ripert at Le Bernardin and Daniel Boulud at Daniel. “As brilliant as the food was, what influenced me most was the discipline and habits instilled in the staff, and the respect for the craft as a whole,” O’Neill says. “I learned attention to detail from Daniel and respect for the product from Eric. Both taught me that simplicity goes a long way.”
This is definitively a special-occasion restaurant, and the ingredients are appropriately geared toward 10-carat tastes. Take the terrine of foie gras ambrosia, a play on both the classic dish and the meaning of the word: “food fit for the royals, or gods,” O’Neill explains. The dish comes seasoned with brown butter, coconut, and pink pepper, and is garnished with traditional ambrosia ingredients—mandarin oranges, pineapple, coconut, and sweet cream.
With Barton G. Weiss behind the restaurant, innovative food aesthetics abound. His namesake restaurant, Barton G., as well as his catering business, became renowned for their playful, eccentric presentations. Things are slightly more refined at the Villa, but no less creative. A duck confit crêpe, for instance, comes with “liquid coins” made from sheets of agar-gelled, pickled ginger. “The end result is crisp, refreshing coins that spike the guest’s curiosity, while staying in line with the soul of the dish,” he says. “Working with Barton has inspired me to push the limits of creativity, while maintaining the integrity of the dishes and our cuisine. Finding that balance is quite a challenge, but with the proper approach, we serve truly unique and memorable dishes.” 1116 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach, 305-576-8003