French technique is at the heart of many cuisines, yet it's difficult to find a restaurant that executes it properly. Enter La Terrase, an anything-but-nondescript eatery in Miami Beach's South of Fifth neighborhood. Located directly across from Joe's Stone Crab, La Terrase hides in plain sight. The scent of coq au vin wafts from its charming terrace, graced with green shrubs and white linens. Chef Lisandro Sanabria is at the helm. His experience includes five years in the kitchen of Casa Tua and a year and half at the longstanding Coconut Grove French bistro Le Bouchon, as well as Café Bastille. Though Sanabria is Argentine, he admits, "I love to eat and cook French food."
More intimate parties, however, will want to take full advantage of the dreamy outdoor area, especially considering the amazing weather this time of year. (Remember, Valentine's Day is just around the corner.) Lunch and dinner options at La Terrase are the same. A prix fixe menu is available for $39. The rest of the offerings are divided into hors d'oeuvres, entrées, flatbreads, sides, and plats du jour, which change daily. On a Wednesday visit two weeks ago, the daily dish should have been oysters, but the restaurant was still rolling out the new menu, so it was dry of raw offerings.
"We don't even have a freezer," Sanabria says. "I go to the market by Jackson [Memorial Hospital] every morning to get whatever I'll be cooking that day." In other words, don't be surprised if you order something and find yourself out of luck. "I prefer to say I don't have something than to not serve fresh, especially here in South Beach and across from Joe's. We just opened and want it to be best."
Canapes change accordingly and are a nice gratis precursor to the meal. We were brought cucumber slices topped with olive tapenade and smoked salmon with anchovy cream cheese and caviar.
Mandatory French onion soup needs no explanation ($12). The broth was light yet dense. Herbs complemented and balanced the onion and cheese. Most of the usual French suspects are on the menu. Think escargots, a charcuterie board, foie gras terrine, ratatouille, moules provençale, steak tartare, coq au vin, lobster thermidor, and duck confit. But there is also black seafood linguine, gnocchi al pesto, fettuccine caviar, branzino, and burgers. Prices are high but on par with other restaurants in the area. Appetizers start at $12 and reach $24 for the foie terrine, while entrées range from $22 to $45.
No one quite roasts a whole chicken like the French, and at La Terrase major emphasis is placed on the hen. Roasted with herbs and white wine and served with beans, it's a testament to how an everyday, mundane item like chicken -- when done right -- can be memorable ($25).
Mussels are available mariniere, poulette, or Provençale style ($28). The last option brings a giant pot (serving is for two) of steaming bivalves in a herbaceous pool of tomatoes and garlic.
Finish your French meal with crème brûlée ($8). Other dessert options include chocolate mousse, a cheese plate, tiramisu, and panna cotta ($8). "La Terrase is French, but I like to do different things," Sanabria says of the Italian offerings. "If not, I get bored."