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The Art of World-Class Dining

Seaspice and Modern Garden find their place in Miami

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Now in its second year, Seaspice {422 Northwest North River Drive; 305.440.4200} has many great things to celebrate. These days, the chic seafood brasserie—which debuted during Art Basel in 2013—is packed, especially on Sundays when it’s known as the ultimate daytime party in Miami. A second phase of the waterfront complex, called Modern Garden {422 Northwest North River Drive; 305.440.4200}, opened last April with a tapas-style food concept and an intimate, organic setting. Owners Carlos and Maryam Miranda are now gearing up for two more additions: a lounge on the dock with a tequila bar, as well as an exclusive, members-only club to be situated upstairs in the former corporate offices.

While there was a swirl of what could be perceived as controversy—including their name change from Seasalt and Pepper to Seaspice—the owners seem to have effortlessly turned these challenges in a positive direction by expanding their menu and focusing on creative collaboration. In fact, the cuisine has evolved from strictly Mediterranean to global in scope.

“The name change keeps our concept more flexible,” Maryam says. “It allows us to take a global approach with the cuisine.” The Mirandas have traveled the world, and have made a point to taste the local cuisine wherever they go. “With this new concept, we get to explore the Mediterranean, Asia, Latin and South America—even Afghanistan. We base our food on classic dishes, then elevate them with our own style and techniques,” Maryam says.

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Take, for example, the Seaspice version of a potato gratin, made with yuca—a popular ingredient in traditional Latin cooking. “European gratin can be traced back hundreds of years,” Maryam explains, “but here at Seaspice, we prepare it with ingredients local to Latin America and Miami.

Another example is the Aushak Dumplings, a dish inspired by the cuisine of Afghanistan. The handmade dumplings are light and savory, filled with leeks and flowering chives, and topped with feta yogurt sauce and ground lamb.

One can journey the globe with these plates, which is exactly what the owners wanted to achieve. “We’ve learned so much from eating our way around the world,” Maryam says. “We are always collaborating with our chefs with the hopes of bringing an international dining experience to our guests.” Case in point? The owners and chefs are currently perfecting a secret recipe for french fries, based on a dish discovered at a falafel stand in Hong Kong. “You never know where you’ll find inspiration,” Maryam says.

Collaboration is key at Seaspice, where a culinary team takes the place of a single chef. Leading the brigade is Executive Chef Angel Leon, closely followed by Executive Sous Chef Brad Rubano. Ben Goldman is the chef de cuisine at Modern Garden and Jill Montinola is the pastry chef. “We have a young team, and there are no egos,” Maryam explains. “These people are passionate about what they do, and everyone wants to work together to create the most amazing things possible.”

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Indeed, the menu at Seaspice demonstrates this combination of talent and global inspiration—and, befitting its Miami location, many of the signature dishes center around seafood. Seaspice is locally renowned for its Seafood Casserole—a hot and savory platter of lobster, shrimp, mussels, squid, middleneck clams, saffron, and fresh catches from the Miami River. Other popular options include the Grilled Octopus, Maine Lobster Salad, and signature hot stones—seared filet mignon, rib-eye, lamb chops, and Wagyu beef served atop 850-degree volcanic stones.

Since seafood is the cornerstone of Seaspice’s menu, the owners make a point to source the freshest selection available from both near and far. Local catches might include grouper, yellowtail, and stone crabs, while fish like Dover sole and salmon is flown in fresh from Europe. Mussels arrive from Maine, oysters from the East and West Coasts. King Crab comes from Alaska, and bluefin tuna, Hokkaido scallops, and hamachi are flown in from Japan. “It’s more expensive to source globally, but worth every penny,” Leon says. “We are all about freshness and seeking out the finest ingredients.”

It’s true that paying a higher price for ingredients can affect the menu pricing, but the owners are committed to offering options at all price points—from affordable small plates to hearty entrées. “We have a reputation for being expensive, but it depends on what you order,” Maryam says. “You can order the most expensive dish on the menu, or choose from a variety of different authentic handmade Italian pastas, wood-fired pizzettas, salads, and exquisite fare from Modern Garden to pair with a glass of wine for a great price.” At Modern Garden, exotic and delicate foods are plated in a way that delivers a satisfying taste in smaller portions without emptying your wallet. What’s more, many of the dishes are designed to be shared with a group—and that’s all part of the fun.

While the food at every price is pristine, beautifully plated, and sensationally delicious, the ambience itself is an experience. With its thoughtfully chosen artwork and contemporary nautical-themed décor (including antique lighthouse lamps and seaworthy accents), Seaspice offers much more than just a meal. The stunning views of the Miami River and downtown present an added bonus—and many people find themselves sitting in the airy courtyard for hours on end, taking it all in.

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Credit that to the owners—longtime restaurateurs and design professionals who know how set the mood. Their first restaurant, Carlos and Charlie’s, opened in the Dominican Republic 25 years ago, centered around live entertainment. Later, they opened Ciudad de Las Artes (“city of the arts”) in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico, in an 1800s-era building set up like a studio gallery. People would arrive, order a drink from the bar, and watch artists from all over the world at work.

“We always include the arts in everything we do,” Maryam says. “We believe that food is an art form, and that plating is about combining bright colors and flavors in a beautiful way.”

Music is also important at Seaspice, and contributes to the weekly celebrations that take over the weekends here. In fact, it was Carlos’ festive spirit that spurred “Sunday Funday” at the restaurant, when guests gather for a relaxed brunch, Champagne, and lively music. “Carlos knows how to connect with people and get them excited,” Maryam says. “Our guests are the VIPs of Miami, whether they are locals or visitors. And they all know Carlos. He’s the personality of Seaspice, no doubt about it.”

During these dynamic weekend events, people arrive before noon (reservations are a good idea) to indulge in an elegant à la carte brunch menu with decadent fare like Alaskan King Crab Florentine, Lobster Benedict, and caviar. With approachable prices and a welcoming vibe, people tend to bump into friends and shuffle their tables around, often sharing bottles of Champagne. As time goes on, yachts pull up to the dock and a DJ begins to spin in the main courtyard. The place becomes a party—a fabulous mix of young and young-at-heart. Inevitably, someone orders a bottle of Champagne, or maybe two, or three—and suddenly a bottle pops open to shower the courtyard crowd. “It’s a Miami thing,” Maryam says, smiling. The revelry winds down after sunset.

Of course, the rest of the week at Seaspice is buzzing and exciting, but has its quieter, romantic moments, too. During the week, the dining room is aglow with dancing candlelight, soft music, and a soothing serenity—completely the opposite of what happens here on Sundays—with the picturesque backdrop of city and sailboats on the horizon. “On any given day, there’s a lot to see here,” Maryam adds.

While Seaspice lends itself to a party, Modern Garden offers a more intimate space. Fresh orchids grow throughout, and a private terrace on the water is practically meditative. The signature design element is the wooden tree by architect Santiago Jose Palaez that canopies over the whole restaurant, cascading water-like droplets of light throughout the space.

Here, the menu features tempting tartares and delicate crudos seasoned with infused oils, sea salt, citrus, and fresh herbs. Whether seated at Seaspice or Modern Garden, guests may order from either menu—further expanding the dining options.

These days, a third chapter is in the works, with plans for a lounge on the dock with a tequila bar taking over the Seaspice deck facing the river. Plus, renovations will soon be underway for a high-end, members-only club upstairs—with VIP hospitality, a private entrance, and a vibe all its own. Both will open in 2016.

Looking back on all of the success Seaspice has achieved, Carlos believes that Miami needed a place like this—a sophisticated yet casual restaurant on the water, accessible by boat. This is the Miami lifestyle,” he says. The Mirandas looked for a long time until they found their restaurant space—a spot on the Miami River in an industrial area with a limited dining scene. Back then, he saw the potential … even though “people thought we were crazy.”

By Jacquelynn Powers Maurice | Contributor