I first noticed Area31 about three months ago when I attended a work function at the Epic Hotel in downtown Miami. I bought one drink at the bar and truthfully didn’t think much about the place after that. Until some weeks later, when prompted by a tweet from the restaurant’s chef, John Critchley, I dragged D over for happy hour. We returned last week.
The Epic Hotel, if you haven’t been there, is one good-looking place and Area31 is located on the 16th floor, offering a great view of Brickell, Brickell Key and Biscayne Bay from its terrace. The restaurant is named after a sustainable fishing area designated by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization that includes the Southeast Atlantic Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and South America’s northeast coast.
We sat at the bar on both visits. The happy hour menu has five ‘bar bites’ priced at $6 and drinks for $5. Those include well drinks, three choices of beer (Heineken, Miller Lite and Bud Lite), three choices of wine (one red, one white and a prosecco) and three signature cocktails. I almost wish they had their beers on tap included in the happy hour because I enjoyed the Abita Light ($7) that D ordered and quickly switched to it from my Epic Sunset cocktail.
The dishes on the happy hour menu aren’t elaborate but most make good snacks to pair with drinks. On both visits we ordered the fritto misto, a combination of fried white fish, calamari and shrimp, served with fried lemon and a caper berry, and the white fish, passion fruit and aji amarillo ceviche. The ceviche has the right balance of sweetness and acidity. The second time around, however, it seemed to have a lot more heat to it than the first time. I personally preferred the milder version. Other happy hour bites we tasted on our first visit included lightly fried sweet peppers with olive oil and sea salt and a plate of Iberian paleta, manchego and olives.
While I haven’t dined at Area31 yet, I’ve flirted with its regular menu items on my happy hour visits. And I’m glad I have for the regular menu items are obviously a better reflection of the chef’s creations. I was disappointed to see that the pulpo crudo ($10), a ceviche of octopus, snapper, hearts of palm, coconut milk, lemongrass and cherry tomatoes, is no longer on the menu. I ordered this dish the first time I was there, and though at first the marinade struck me as being too sweet, once the flavors melded together they made for a wonderful combination. On a positive note, a snapper tiradito dressed with almost the exact ingredients has been added to the menu. I miss the octopus but I’ll settle for the snapper.
Also new to the menu are the white water clams escabeche with Orvieto preserved lemons, sweetened celery, thyme and sumac ($12). In this dish, I found that the thyme somewhat overpowered other flavors on some bites. D disagreed.
White water clams
After two happy hours, it’s probably time for me to visit Area31 for dinner. If some of the dishes I tasted on my visits are any indication of what to expect, it may be a good one.
Happy hour runs Monday through Friday from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m. Area31 is also now serving a five-course menu paired with an organic wine for $50 (excluding tax and gratuity). Valet at the hotel is $4 with validation at the restaurant.
Epic Hotel, 16th floor
270 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami