The second I walked into Le Zoo, Stephen Starr’s French Bistro in The Bal Harbour Shops, I was transported to quaint French bistros I experienced on my first trip to Paris with my aunt in 2002. Memories that sparked a culinary curiosity that I’ve never lost. Even at such a young age, I could tell that European food is quite literally…miraculous.
Every inch of the interior of Le Zoo intrigues guests with a collection of patterns and textures that should not work together, but somehow they are perfect. Mosaic tiles, textured roofs, a marbled seafood display, and neon marquee details create an aesthetic harmony that is utterly transportive.
Our media brunch began with cocktails (as any self respecting brunch should start). We began with The Romarin with Grey Goose La Poire, St. Germain, rosemary and pear. This was my favorite cocktail of the morning as the simplicity allowed for the freshness of the pear and the aromatic rosemary to shine.
Next, we sampled the Pimm’s Cup. This cocktail features Pimm’s liqueur, a classic deriving from the streets of London. Le Zoo’s rendition of this classic includes Pimm’s No. 1, lemon, muddled cucumber and ginger beer. The beer provides an interesting depth to the drink, while the herbiness of the Pimm’s is almost reminiscent of gingerbread.
The final cocktail offering of the morning is not for the faint of heart. The Pamplemousse Press features Combier Pamplemousse, lemon, Regan’s orange bitters, and Vin Mousseux. The bitterness brings out a dryness in the sparking wine that is interesting to the palate.
While sipping on delicious cocktails, there were dishes to nibble on at the bar. We got the party started with a crudite, nothing like your mother’s dinner party crudite platter. Fennel, cucumber, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, scallions, orange and purple cauliflower were arranged vertically on ice and paired with a fromage blanc au herbs. The fresh, crisp vegetables were a great start to the meal ahead and allowed us to pick and socialize easily.
The smoked salmon tartine showcased the often overdone brunch staple in a sophisticated yet simple manner. The flavors provided by the smoked salmon, horseradish créme fraiche, capers and salmon roe eggs are reminiscent of a classic bagel and lox…but elevated. The harsh horseradish is mellowed by the silky salmon that is all complimented by the richness of the eggs and the salty, brininess of the capers.
Our final dish presented at the bar was the lobster tartine. While I am not a huge fan of avocado, I sampled this dish for our dedicated MIABites readers and was pleasantly surprised. The avocado provided a blank canvas so the lobster, lemon, chives and (of course) French bread could shine. Delicious bread and lobster? Count me in.
Staying true to classic French cuisine, we were then presented with a cold cucumber soup and a summer rose wine as an amuse bouche. Literally translated as “mouth amuser,” an amuse bouche is meant to introduce guests to the chef’s approach to cuisine and enchant them for the meal to come.
Once we were entirely enchanted and our mouths fully “amused,” we moved on to the hors d’oeuvres. This course included mushroom tart, steak tartare du parc, and le petite plateaux de mer. Mushrooms, steak and fresh seafood are some of the finest things in life and Le Zoo exceeds expectations with each of these dishes.
As a self identified, obsessed mushroom lover, I was looking forward to the mushroom tart, which I had also heard is a top seller. I can totally see why. The flakiness from the pastry serves as the perfect vessel for delicately earthy pioppini mushrooms, truffle and pecorino cheese. I’m not ashamed to admit that I could probably eat the entire tart myself…it’s that good.
Steak tartare is a classic for a reason and Le Zoo’s rendition of this time-honored dish is proof that perfectly executed, classic French cuisine will never go out of style. One of the keys to execution for a tartare is hand chopped, high quality meat. There’s nothing worse than a steak tartare of ground beef; the meat should be fine but still have it’s textural dignity. The hand chopped filet is complimented by salty, briny capers (because meat loves salt even when prepared raw) and quail egg provides a lusciousness and serves as a subtle binder to give the dish cohesion.
Anthony Bourdain refers to the consumption of raw oysters as a culinary adventure and I could not agree more. Le petite plateaux de mer is an excellent presentation of fresh seafood and is served with a collection of appropriate accompaniments like mignonette, cocktail and horseradish. Any meal that includes passing around salty, slimy oysters is an adventure in my book, and Le Zoo is no exception.
At this point, we had consumed quite a bit of food and there was still the main course and dessert to go. For Les Entrées we were presented with classic eggs benedict, a French omelette and French toast.
As an egg lover, I was definitely excited for this course. The second I saw the gruyere omelette served with frites, it confirmed the legitimacy of Le Zoo’s culinary dedication to authenticity. As someone who practiced the art of French omelettes over and over again in culinary school, I applaud any restaurant daring to serve them in a sea of mediocre, inauthentic attempts. The omelette is simple: fluffy eggs folded delicately with melty gruyere cheese and finely chopped herbs. To me, the Le Zoo omelette alone is with a trip.
Defined as one of the mother sauces by culinary legend Chef Escoffier, Hollandaise has become popular in any self respecting brunch joint that offer Eggs Benedict. For me, hollandaise can make or a break a dish. The benedict at Le Zoo is a classic, no frills approach to a dish that’s become famous because it’s so damn good.
I believe any good brunch should feature both savory and sweet preparations. For our sweet entrée, we enjoyed French Toast. The clear pineapple influence in the custard penetrates the bread and provides a balanced sweet acidity that makes this overdone and often overrated dish stand out from the rest. Served with chantilly cream and fresh pineapple, this dish functions as a smooth transition from the main course to dessert.
Dessert expectations at a French bistro recently named Best French Restaurant in Miami by the Miami New Times are high, and once again Le Zoo exceeds every one. Profiteroles are layered with bananas and vanilla ice cream. Our server poured decadent bittersweet chocolate all over the top to create a fluidity that makes it pleasantly difficult to decipher between pastry, ice cream, and banana. Finally, we devoured a Meyer lemon tart with Meyer lemon curd, vanilla mousseline, fresh berries, and marcona almonds. I was glad I ate this after the profiteroles because the bright citrus notes from the lemon acted like an exclamation point on an already fantastic meal.
9700 Collins Ave in the Bal Harbour Shops
Bal Harbour, FL
305 602 9663