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Lippi Service

by Jen Karetnick | Photography by Michael Pisarri | Miami magazine | December 2, 2013

Some of Miami’s hottest restaurants earn their buzz gradually, relying on the public to recognize quality and spread the word by mouth or social media outlets. Others hire hype, charging high-level public relations firms to put on splashy openings. But a very fortunate few establishments are actually born with the cachet necessary to propel them into the culinary stratosphere. Lippi, which debuted in October, is one of these rare venues. Not since Capital Grille opened has a restaurant located in the lobby of a Brickell Avenue office building gained such immediate respect and adoration.

Its thunderclap excellence relies equally on a number of players: proprietor Tunu Puri, who is also an investor in the wildly successful Zuma; James Beard-nominated chef Philippe Ruiz, formerly of Palme d’Or at The Biltmore Hotel; and a stellar staff of waiters and bartenders, who come from a variety of Miami’s other top-notch eateries, including The Dutch and The Restaurant at the Setai. Curated by Puri and his wife, the decor also garners Lippi instant attention. The Europe-meets-flapper-era design is heralded by a lovely wrought iron balcony that the owner commissioned after seeing a similar one in Paris. Chandeliers draped with ropes of pearls hang from a double-story ceiling. In one corner hangs an art deco mural painted by a pair of local Miami artists. Design aficionados will recognize a very clear vision in this indoor-outdoor space, one that is unlike any other in the city.

But ultimately, it’s the fare, some of the most opulent in town, that’s responsible for Lippi’s near-instant rise in the culinary firmament. Located rather aptly on the ground floor of the World Plaza Building, Lippi’s menu highlights the Mediterranean, which allows the chef plenty of leeway. In addition to classic elements of this regional cuisine—tomatoes, lemons, olives, whole grains, yogurt, cheeses, fish and lamb—the menu interprets Mediterranean to also mean rare, organic and high-quality, luxury ingredients from around the globe, including American oysters, Russian caviar and Japanese wagyu beef. The result is that the dishes range from a homemade terrine of foie gras with tropical fruit chutney and spiced, tasted brioche points to a perfectly seared black cod with basquaise sauce and cranberry-sunflower chutney.

The kitchen staff, headed by the ever-watchful Ruiz, who often pops out of his realm to review the dining room, handles 80-some hot and cold generously portioned tapas with equal aplomb. The menu is very simply categorized, with Crudos appearing first, followed by Oysters and Caviar, Taste of the Season and More Temptations. This is generally how the waiters will serve you as well, with the larger portions of cooked fishes and meats, sourced from Temptations and veering from grilled duck breast to bone-in rib-eye, brought out last to finish the savory part of the meal.

Each small plate, meant to be socially distributed around the table, displays its own artistry. That means the curls of smoky, intense mangalica ham (from the mangalica woolly snow pig), sprinkled with matchsticks of aged manchego cheese, may be piled in carefully ordered abandon, while miniature blinis topped with delicate Balik salmon, lemon cream and a dollop of trout roe are so precisely placed that it makes one wonder if the distances between them may have actually been measured. They’re almost a shame to disarrange, but too enticing to just gaze at.

The same applies to one of the prettiest dishes, octopus causa, with unbelievably tender petals of octopus layered edge to edge and flavored with aji panca, a Peruvian red pepper, and grated black olive crema. In the middle, shaved white potato mimics the octopus, but adds a slightly crisper texture and light, earthy flavor. Other crudos, many of which also display Peruvian elements, include cured hamachi with Amarillo pepper and trout roe, as well as gorgeously sliced yellowtail dressed with leche de tigre, the chile-citrus marinade for ceviche.

Very little pasta figures here, but one that does, Maine lobster ravioli in a foam bisque, is delectable. It’s a perfect gateway to heartier portions of fish and meat. Some of these preparations, including a crisp-edged sea bream with eggplant caviar, roasted tomato and lemon confit, are so aromatic you can almost envision yourself hanging in the air like a cartoon character, transported by the scent, as servers deliver them to other tables. They’re the kind of dishes you’d lean over to ask your neighbors about, except for the fact that tables are spaced well enough apart here that you’d actually have to get up and approach them—private conversations are yet one more thing to love about Lippi.

Admirers of rare lamb and beef can also rejoice, as this kitchen knows how to cook meat. And that meat is eminent, too. From the simply grilled rack of lamb, garnished with a head of roasted garlic, to a gorgeously appointed filet mignon, sliced and served with a variety of salts, the carnivorous choices here barely require knives, let alone teeth. I’ve very infrequently had such stellar stuff, even in the renowned steakhouses down the street. The servings are large enough, too, that you hardly need the pan of potato rösti on the side (but try and resist it).

After a feast here—figure two to three dishes per person, but expect it hard to resist ordering more—most diners are not likely to require dessert. And when the servers try to cajole you into ordering a “platter for two” by telling you it’s really just a taste of sweets, don’t believe them. But agree to sample it anyway. This platter offers a plethora of wonderful treats, from scoops of raspberry sorbet and chocolate ice cream—try them together for double delight—to homemade caramels, miniature cakes and creme brulee. I guarantee you won’t stop until your spoon touches the bottom, a place that Lippi, currently reaching new heights in Miami fine dining, is quite the opposite of scraping.

Social Network
On any given night, every table at Lippi is filled with VIPs, including owner Tunu Puri, who can often be seen hosting guests.

No Guesswork
Overwhelmed by the selections? Let chef Philippe Ruiz take over, and order any one of his three tasting menus.

Do Your Research
Do yourself a favor and bring an epicurean dictionary if you’re one of those diners that needs to know every ingredient on the menu. Some names will vex you.

Raise a Glass
More like a book, the wine list here offers selections from all over the world in prices that range from reasonable to stratospheric.

Take it Outside
Now that temperatures are kinder, opt for a table on Lippi’s patio, a beautiful space with views of Brickell’s towering glass high-rises.