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The new AltaMare is bigger, busier, and better than the old Alta Mar, which itself was no slouch. The classically elegant dining room is also better-looking. Chef Simon Stojanovic honed his craft under the tutelage of Michael Schwartz, and the influence is obvious: The daily-changing menu is more a Mediterranean mash than that of his mentor, but it showcases similar sustainable sourcing such as local organic produce, free-range and organic meats, and line-caught seafood. The chef also baits the hook with the restless worm of intelligent creativity. Whether it be sweet, papaya-colored cara cara oranges brightening crunchy palm heart shavings, chive snippets, and sprinkles of sea salt over a pink/white quiltwork carpaccio of local sheepshead fish, or yellow jack fish plunked atop a broth-based ragout of cipollini onion and artichoke, or Fudge Farms boneless pork chop wrapped in crisped, cured fatback, the flavors are fresh, vibrant, delicious. An Italy-centric wine list showcases more than 200 bottles. Desserts, such as a deconstructed tiramisu, are excellent as well. The old Alta Mar wasn't broken, but owner Claudio Giordano somehow fixed it.
I ate at Altamare last night with my girlfriend, who is a trained chef. It was one of the worst meals either of us have ever had and at the same time, it was one of the most expensive. The rest of the night she was afraid she would get sick.
We arrived at Altamare at ~730 on a Saturday night. We were seated and given menus promptly. We were on South Beach, so we ordered mojitos, which were terrible. If I had known they were $11 each, I would have sent them back then. Bread was brought to our table. It was slices of cut baguette, which was neither warm nor fresh. It was stale and after tearing a piece in half, neither of us ate any of it. At this point we should have realized the quality of the place we were at, and should have gotten up and walked out.
I asked the waiter, who barely spoke English, how big the salads are, since they are $12, and I’m used to seeing a side salad for ~$6. I asked if we could split it because we were going to be getting entrees too. He said he could not split the salad, so she ordered the mozzarella plate. The salads came out promptly. In the salad I had, only lettuce and shaved cheese were visible. After eating a bit, I realized that about half of a mushy avocado and a couple of olives were thrown on one side of the bowl and covered by the lettuce. C for presentation, but the food was ok. The mozzarella was really fresh and tasted good. The yellow tomatoes with it were also fresh and really good.
We ordered entrees sometime while eating the appetizers. The entrees for the people next to us came out well before ours, and we could smell an old fishy stench emanating from the next table. At this point we thought about cancelling our orders, but we couldn’t get the waiter to come back to our table. We sat for 30 minutes with wine orders on the tips of our tongues and empty drinks while the waiter talked to every table around us. I got cash out of my pocket and was going to drop it and leave, but that was the exact instant when our food arrived, our stinky food.
My hogfish obviously had no sauce on it, although it was supposed to come with a butter sauce, and it smelled awful. I’ve had hogfish several times at other places, and I really don’t even think this was hogfish. I was starving and I’m not a fish expert or so I didn’t call the waiter over to argue with him. The fish tasted like Gorton’s fish sticks and it made my teeth squeak when I ate it. I kept hoping the next bite would be better. I would say that the bites more central to the fillet did not make my teeth squeak, and the taste was more neutral. There was something wrong with the fish, but after eating several bites I didn’t want to send it back and look like I wanted a hand out. I did like the roasted carrots, and I might make those at home.
My date ordered the shellfish risotto. The risotto was good, and she liked it. She tried a mussel and thought it was overcooked. She tried another one and said, “It tastes like ‘feces’, I think I’m going to be sick.” At which point we stopped eating. But again, she had eaten half the risotto before trying the shellfish and I’m not a cheapskate, so we didn’t try to send it back. The seafood we were served was obviously spoiled.
I still couldn’t get the waiter to come over, so I gave my credit card to the girl who filled our water glasses and told her to cash us out. $11 mojitos? $165 for spoiled fish? I will admit that I should have spoken up more, and probably should have sent things back when they were questionable. I don’t go out to a restaurant in order to argue. This experience has changed my life and I will never again eat or pay for any food that seems spoiled.
**I just re-reviewed my receipt and realized that the waiter snuck a 16.5% tip onto my tab. No wonder he can give terrible service, he guaranteed a tip for himself. I am absolutely furious. **
I am writing this because we both read all the reviews before we went and still had a terrible dining experience. Be forewarned.
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