A Laid-Back Lunch at The Dutch

by arielle castillo | August 30, 2012 | Home Page

1 - A Laid-Back Lunch at The Dutch
The Dutch’s well-stocked front bar

The W Hotel South Beach is, despite the austerity of its high ceilings and the grandeur of its dark marbled surfaces, a place defined by a vibrant flow of human traffic; new guests, local tastemakers, and tanned tourists weave through the columned lobby. A central draw for all of these groups is The Dutch, chef Andrew Carmellini’s local outpost of his beloved New York restaurant. Diners there can be from anywhere, and so, too, can the dishes; Carmellini’s vision of New American cuisine incorporates a pastiche of international influences. And in less than a year, that eclectic identity, with an ambience to match, has made a mark.

Despite the buzz, the restaurant itself provides a crisp, relaxed sanctuary rather removed, energetically, from the throngs of the South Beach strip. Skipping the sort of slick, retro-glam look favored by so many other area hotel restaurants, The Dutch instead has achieved an upscale take on a hip mid-century housewife’s dream home: Baked pies and fresh fruit sit atop a zinc bar; pantry-ish white brick walls line a dining room accented with homey lake house charms. Service is attentive and overwhelmingly friendly—a rarity in the area.

All of this, plus the restaurant’s central location during events like Art Basel Miami Beach and Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Swim, has rendered it one of the hottest spots for power lunches for those who might prefer the term “style lunch.” It’s a favorite among media and artsy types looking for a place with well-executed food without the stuffy atmosphere. “It’s great in the middle of a day off,” says local artist Yuri Tuma. “It’s relaxing, especially with good company.”

“It’s trendy but not haughty,” adds Will Thompson, managing director of Hedge Fund PR, a group that specializes in finance public relations in Miami. “You can feel at home there.”

This may stem from the fact that Carmellini himself feels so at home in the city. “My dad grew up in Little River. My grandfather was a general manager at the Surf Club in the ’40s and ’50s. So I was in Miami three to four times a year before Ocean Drive was Ocean Drive and South Beach was South Beach,” he says. “I have a connection to Miami and the beach. I’ve always wanted to have a restaurant down here.”

When it came time to open The Dutch in Miami, though, he and chef de cuisine Conor Hanlon didn’t want to merely re-create the original location. They strove to give the food a distinct Miami feel. “We wanted approachable American cuisine,” says Hanlon, who came to work for Carmellini after a seven-year stint under Daniel Boulud at both Daniel Boulud Brasserie in Las Vegas and db Bistro Moderne here in Miami. “But we wanted to incorporate Miami seafood [and] produce to keep it local and fun, so it’s not just a transplant restaurant.”

At lunchtime, that means a slate of mostly light fare. Think peel-and-eat shrimp with red remoulade, or pizza topped with blue crab, tomato, zucchini, and jalapeño. Miami crowds have responded particularly well to the pork belly BELT, says Hanlon. The sandwich generously addresses the city’s current madness for all things pig with a thick hunk of the stuff on bread with egg, lettuce, and tomato.

There are also a few hot entrées for good measure and, as a Dutch signature, a daily selection of oysters that is arguably the most meticulously selected and prepared in the city. “We put a lot of time and effort into keeping them clean and fresh,” says Hanlon. “We do in-depth tutorials with our oyster shuckers.”

The fact that you might find oysters alongside both the heavily Asian-influenced BELT and Latin-tinged pizza is the essence of American cuisine, Hanlon and Carmellini agree. “The idea is to cook the best American food we can from the larders available to us as urban beings—we’re surrounded by other cultures and ingredients,” says Carmellini. “We are using the same techniques and ingredients that we used when we got three stars for my restaurant Locanda Verde in New York. The atmosphere is just dialed down, so you feel like you can come any time. It doesn’t have to be a special occasion.” When in season, another hit is the soft-shell crab sandwich, which arrives with an entire fried crab, legs and all, peeking out from a bun dressed with tart yuzu sauce. “I’ve never seen a sandwich like that, where you get the whole crab. It’s a little weird at first, but it is interesting and then appealing,” says artist Tuma. “The yuzu sauce on it is delicious—I could put that anywhere. I could drink it.”

The line between traditional and innovative has proved delicious on the drink front as well. Thompson goes back again and again for a bacon-infused bourbon old-fashioned. “It has rich, bacony undertones but isn’t overpowering,” he says. “There’s also a certain elegance lent to it by the clean acidity of orange liqueur and essential oils from orange rind.”

Beyond cocktails, though, it’s also worth saving calories for those freshly made pies that greet diners on the way in. The rotating daily selection again plays heavily on Carmellini’s South Florida connection. “I love pies,” says Carmellini. “My grandmother would make sour-orange and lemon meringue pies with fruit from her yard, and I have soft spots for that.” One of his best interpretations at The Dutch is a salted lime pie, made with a sweet and sour whipped filling on a buttery graham crust. The salt lends an unexpectedly elevated edge, but the overall effect is comforting and filling.

The point of all this, says Hanlon, is to keep things accessible but perfectly executed, for a worldly crowd that’s relatively laid-back but still discerning, with elevated taste levels. There are hundreds of diners in both the dining room and by the pool during the lunch rush, keeping the staff on their toes. “You never know who’s who. The guy with the special order at lunch could be renting the cabana, and that could cost more than my yearly salary,” he says.

At the same time, though, Hanlon and Carmellini are happy to let The Dutch reflect a sea change in South Beach dining. “People want more local restaurants where they feel comfortable,” says Hanlon. “Miami doesn’t want to get super dressed up. You don’t have to be in a suit to enjoy this dining room.”

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photography by gary james (bar, entrance, carmellini, ferrara, scallops, memorabilia)

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