Area 31: Fresh Seafood in Downtown Miami

The latest in haute hotel dining is sure to lure seafood fans to downtown Miami. Area 31, located on the 16th floor of the new Epic Hotel, is a great addition to the downtown dining scene.

The restaurant is named for the region where most of its menu is from. Area 31 is the marine area that surrounds Miami, as designated by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization. It expands from the Western Central Atlantic down to parts of South America.

Area 31’s décor is a mix of soothing light brown and cream colors that create a Zen-like atmosphere. Tables outdoors and by the windows offer great views of the Miami River and Biscayne Bay, and make Brickell Avenue look like Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue. The outdoor lounge, decked out in South Beach style, is sure to be packed on nice evenings.

The location and design of Area 31 make the restaurant such an appealing place to be that you really hope the food is just as good. Fortunately, Chef John Critchley doesn’t disappoint. The Mediterranean-influenced menu lets the fish take center stage. Chef Critchley uses ingredients like olives, tomatoes and mushrooms to enhance, not overpower the essence of the fish. The flavors are light and elegant. At the end of the meal you feel full but healthy, not heavy.

The wine list created by Master Sommelier Emily Wines includes a variety of organic and biodynamic wines. There is a large half-bottle list and a good selection of wines by the glass, great for matching wines with each course.

For starters, the Crudo section of the menu offers a selection of raw fish. The oysters, which our server said were harvested by Chef Critchley in Massachusetts, are served in a light vinaigrette and have a great creamy taste. My only complaint is the cost – for $9 you only get three oysters. Another appetizer with grilled octopus could have had a larger portion. Besides these two, the menu is fairly priced.

Pasta fans will enjoy the fresh pastas in the Primi Piatti section.

For the main course, there are several selections of fish in the Secondi Piatti selection. Or you can choose among the daily catches that can be prepared in a variety of ways. From the Secondi Piatti section, the red snapper served in a light red pepper sauce is delicious. If you prefer meatier fish try the wahoo, served with foraged mushrooms and cured olives.

Non-fish eaters can find chicken, beef and lamb dishes among the Secondi Piatti selections.

Be sure to order a couple of side dishes to share. The mushroom risotto is creamy but not too heavy. My favorite is the Swiss chard which has a great texture and even better taste.

For dessert you can’t go wrong with the key lime tart. My pick though is the chèvre panna cotta. The tangy goat cheese mixes nicely with the sweet rose gelee on top. It’s like having both a cheese course and a dessert. I was full at the end of the meal but the panna cotta was so good I could have eaten a second.

Area 31 is located at 270 Biscayne Boulevard Way in downtown Miami. For more information visit www.area31restaurant.com.

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