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The 'Eh' in Emeril's; Surreal, But Saucy Aracataca

This week, Lee Klein takes a break from the barrage of new Miami restaurants and checks out Emeril's Miami Beach, whose menu "of only middling intelligence was dumbed down" and "hasn't gotten any smarter" since its last chef left. Which brings Klein to the issue that "Emeril's is currently head chef-less." Also missing is that whole NoLa thing. "New Orleans has less of a presence on this menu than it had as a city the day after Katrina." Though many of the classics are missing, the gumbo du jour was "pretty good," shrimp-andouille "was pleasantly piquant," and the Creole-marinated calamari "a stimulating mix of flavors." Though the Hurricane "was the weakest I've ever had," the service was pretty weak too. "Almost all the workers carried themselves like rookies. Watching them traverse the dining room hunched over while awkwardly carrying single piles of plates . . . made it seem as though they were trained by Quasimodo." After a few more misses including the lite-on-sausage Andouille-crusted Texas redfish and a few comp desserts including crepes that were "well worth the wait," Klein deduces that because "Emeril Lagasse is one of the real good guys in the industry," it "makes the menu and execution at his eponymous restaurant so disappointing. It's understood that this is a coprorate venture using Emeril's name, but Emeril--Bam!--it's your name!"[MNT]

"Though it tumbles off the tongue like a round of machine gun fire, Aracataca," offers "surreal cooking, which combines French, Colombian and Lebanese elements," says Victoria Pesce Elliott. After being "greeted with a fresh cocktail, a mix of sparkling wine and maracuyá (passion fruit) juice," VPE was given "lots of [necessary] ordering advice," because "the menu provides only the briefest descriptions of the two-dozen items." Those items include steamed mussels in white wine and steak tartare as well as "concoctions like a terrine of melted Colombian cheese with walnuts and plantains drizzled with coffee-flavored caramel." The good: "Straightforward, aggressively seasoned fantastically juicy swordfish steak," "refreshingly clean, flavorful and simple mahi mahi steamed in banana leaf with sweet onion and served with a tangy leek sauce," and "tender and rich molasses-brown braised lamb chop with a deep meaty flavor (skip the detracting red wine gravy)." The not so good: "Coconut rice with an off-putting dusty texture," "artfully arranged but flabby hearts of palm salad," "Over-the-hill shrimp," "cold sauteed pork tenderloin overwhelmed by a sour tomatillo sauce," tough and chewy octopus carpaccio," and "a pastry cone of sweet coconut cream tasting like Hawaiian Tropic suntan oil."

Overall, "the best dishes are some of the simplest. [Owner Adriana] Fatat's culinary calisthenics might please some bored palates, but I found most of the results too saucy, heavy and over-wrought to really see the magic." Verdict: Two stars.[]