My brother sent me a link about a major new Caribbean restaurant opening in Miami, and he encouraged me to visit Zest about a year ago. I can’t believe that it took me so long to actually step into this tropical food paradise. An eclectic fusion of global cuisine, focusing on island flavors, is what awaits any hungry eater who crosses their threshold.
This time, my dining companion was Miss E. She had been here before – I was a Zest virgin.
The Cast Iron Charred Calamari was our first choice – grilled lemon, blistered shishito peppers and preserved orange glaze. I cannot express in words what this dish did to me. It affected all my senses: my taste buds were tingling, eyes were fascinated by the green shishito peppers and the brilliant orange glaze, the nose was dancing, and my soul was riveted with gladness. I have never tasted calamari like this before, never-ever. It’s ridiculous – I am crying with happiness as I write this.
I think that what got me was the texture of the calamari. It was chewy in the right way, almost “conkish,” tender and slippery – slipping and sliding down my throat in a joyride towards my stomach. The orange flavor is something that I would use at home, except that this version was on over-the-top- flavor-steroids. This dish alone was worth the trip.
West Indian Curry Crab Cake was one of the specials, and it was very special indeed. I have never had curry in a crab cake before – the cake itself was chunky, enveloped in the smell of curry, infused with the flavors of the Caribbean. I am a curry-head, anything with curry is always a winner in my book. It was Miss E.’s favorite dish – “my fav, solid meat, no fillers, yummy.”
The Pan Seared Local Snapper was served with escarole, and butter beans. It was also another special. I would never think of pairing snapper with butter beans, but it was a fantastic combination. I don’t know what exactly was in the sauce that was swirling all around the plate, it was on the sweetish side, which I enjoyed.
The dessert was epic – Orange Chocolate Cheesecake with Caramel Sauce. They make different cheesecake flavors every day, and this one was insanely delicious.
I was also fortunate enough to catch a waiter who was on the way to another table. He said to me: “you want a picture? Take it quickly; I have to serve these dishes right away.” I took the photos on the fly and was surprised that they were in focus. One of the dishes was the Baby Berg B.L.T. Salad – baby iceberg with house made lardons, radishes, blue cheese, cherry tomatoes, charred corn, 7-minute egg and pink peppercorn ranch dressing, and this one had shrimp in it. I caught another dish but was not sure what it was. It did look like something I would devour in minutes though.
Zest Restaurant also has a full bar that offers an extensive selection of wines and cocktails. There is live music too; you can check the website for days and hours.
I did not get the pleasure of meeting Chef Cindy Hutson when I visited. Her passion for cooking is reflected in the dishes she composes. She has been sharing her signature island flavors with us for a long time in Miami and has propelled the concept of “savoring the good life” with a dedication that is almost explosive. In her own words “I thrive on teaching about our earth’s bounties, edible history and utilizing indigenous ingredients that are regionally prepared.” Chef Hutson has also written a cookbook that is on my bucket list to buy.
And here is another picture of The Cast Iron Charred Calamari: just because it was so extraordinarily magnificent and I cannot get the flavor and texture out of my mind. I almost ordered one to go, but I had a long drive and was not sure how it would travel. If I were a song writer, I would compose a song, even a poem, about charred calamari swimming in orange glaze. It would be a hit for sure.
ZEST Restaurant by Chef Cindy Hutson
Southeast Financial Center
200 South Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL 33131