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SoBe's Latest Must-Visit Resto: Eden South Beach

Color me still underwhelmed by much of the South Beach dining scene lots of flash, but frankly longer on attitude than substance. Having said that, in recent years things have started to evolve a bit in good ways. Nonetheless, when last weekend I strolled for the first time into Eden South Beach, an eatery opened at the end of October in the space once occupied by longtime local culinary darling Talula, let's just say my expectations were less than stratospheric.

The space was bought on August 11 by a gaggle of moneybags headed by Miami entrepreneur and former Wall Streeter Larry Rizzo and Kelley Jones, a former chef who besides being a Kimpton and Jeffrey Chodorow veteran is one of the partners in Todd English's P.U.B. in downtown Vegas and owner of NYC hotspots including Highbar in Hell's Kitchen. With the help of partner and chef Christopher Lee (the dude who helms Aureole New York, below left at the launch party with singer Kelly Rowland), these busy bees got Eden up and running for a soft opening a mere 80 days later. That might suggest some slapdash rush job, but when I stopped by twice several days ago (I liked it so much the first time I brought friends in for dinner five days later), not only were the green-flavored eco-chic interior and plant-fringed back patio a pleasure to hang out in for a couple of hours, but the eclectic "New American" menu was one of the best executed and occasionally inventive I've had the pleasure to experience in quite a while. The concept here is "locavore" and "garden-to-table" trendy buzzwords, for sure, but this time for once I really sense the reality rises beyond the emptily buzzy.

South Beach Dining, Global Flavors

Seated by the floor-to-ceiling front windows on my first visit, with a view of a Walgreens across the street (albeit a Walgreens tastefully done in quasi-Art Deco) and the chichi newish Gansevoort Hotel over across Collins Avenue, my dining companion and I worked our way through a repast heavy on appetizers (here called "temptations"). The Wagyu beef sliders slid down marvelously, as did the tuna tartare with mini scallion pancakes; the jerk-seasoned fries with a fab smoky tomato dipping sauce; and the main course, an aged New York strip in peppercorn sauce. The apple-chestnut ravioli, too, were a very nice surprise silky rather than gummy, and with just a subtle hint of sweetness. But the culinary orgasmatron went into overdrive with two dishes in particular – both high-end restaurant staples. The fried calamari, annointed with curry, toasted coconut, and Thai sesame dressing, were among the tastiest, most interesting versions of the breed I've ever had. So, too, the heirloom tomatoes and burrata in balsamic vinegar (below right) – said my friend, "if there is a heaven, it tastes like this." No disagreement here. From the six-item dessert menu, I went for the Key Lime Pie Sundae (certainly a new twist on the whole South Florida key lime thang) and it was both fun and flavorful. To cap it all off, our server Fabiano – Brazilian by way of Massachusetts – knew his stuff and was friendly yet not overly chummy.

The second time around, with three more friends in attendance, our group sat out back on the red-brick-paved courtyard, romantically lit and fringed with foliage, from herbs which are actually used in some of the dishes to towering trees. This time the sampling included blackened chicken quesadillas with caramelized pineapple and macadamia-crusted salmon in coconut lemongrass broth.

In between those two visits, I made yet another appearance, at the November 15 launch shindig, where in between dodging fire dancers, bodypainted bikini babes and the usual pretty SoBe resto/club-opening mugs, I got to ask co-owners Rizzo and Jones what in the world he and his peeps were thinking, opening an eatery in a recession where main courses go for $26-$40. Their explanation: yet another demonstration of why I nearly flunked econ in college. "History usually shows that businesses are built during times of uncertainty," Rizzo told me. "When the economy is strong and the market is stable the cost of doing business is great. However, during economic uncertainty, we find that everyone is much more willing to negotiate and the cost of doing business is much more reasonable."

Downsides? Well, the loudness of the music inside – even though the mix itself is an eclectic hoot, mixing golden oldies (Bob Marley's "Give Me Love," "Vicious" from Lou Reed and the Velvet Underground) with funky newbies (Timbaland's "Morning After Dark" and "I Like It" by local boys Pitbull and Enrique Iglesias). And, gee, what else... Well, OK, maybe the shape of my serving of tuna tartare made it look faintly cat-foodish. Really. Not a whole helluva lot to carp about – Eden South Beach is really that good. And Jones says they're launching another eatery in three months. Sign me up.

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