Bagatelle in South Beach feels like a scene—at one point, the waiters will get up on tables, spinning white handkerchiefs, enlisting game patrons to dance with them to the percussive strains of the Gypsy Kings. But when you’re tucked away in a round velvet banquette, sharing Executive Chef Jimmy de Almeida’s delectable Mediterranean cuisine, you’re in your own romantic world. You only need share it for a few minutes here and there, as a deft server shaves thin slices of black truffles over a dinner plate-sized circle of Piccia puffed bread. Presentation-wise, that mozzarella-topped starter opens the dinner with a bang.
Jimmy de Almeida joined Bagatelle Miami in 2021 to open the restaurant, after working in such vaunted venues as La Voile St. Tropez, Alain Ducasse’s Le Louis XV in Monaco, Le Jardin Restaurant in Geneva, Bord Eau in Abu Dhabi, Hôtel Plaza Athénée in Paris and Hôtel de Berri in Paris. He attributes much of his inspiration for Bagatelle’s dishes to his childhood in France, where he learned to cook with his grandparents, making inventive use of fresh ingredients from their garden.
His garden-to-kitchen style is evidenced in many of Bagatelle’s dishes and seasonal pairings. Throughout his childhood, De Almeida remembers his family always cooking—and involving everyone in the sampling and tasting process. The chef has brought that culture into the kitchen at Bagatelle, involving everyone in the kitchen with weekly tastings as they design new dishes and refine their current signature dishes with seasonal touches.
A recent evening brought a bounty of Bagatelle’s crowd-pleasers. Toothsome starters included tiny rolls of eggplant parmigiana, bathed in Parmigiano Reggiano cream. Somehow the size of the rolls intensified the flavor of this familiar dish. And there was tuna tartare with liberal dollops of avocado cream, and delicate slices of Mediterranean sea bass carpaccio, with tonnato sauce and Pantelleria capers. With seafood of this quality, it was a Provencal rosé type of meal—Château d’Esclans’ Whispering Angel, to be exact.
My friend was worried about portion control and blanched when I served us both the remaining slices of Piccia bread, but I was not about to let those lovingly shaved Melanosporum truffles go to waste—this type of truffle is one of the world’s most expensive. So, we were both surprised and delighted when our server soon appeared with a bowl of tiny raviolis “Del Plin,” dressed in Castelmagno, a cheese that was conjured nearly 1,000 years ago in Italy’s Piedmont region—and then proceeded to shave the rare black truffles over this dish as well.
I let my friend become distracted by the grilled duck and the wood-fired octopus, the latter served with grilled red peppers in a bright vierge sauce (olive oil, lemon juice, chopped tomato and chopped basil). I tried a little of each, and both were satisfyingly crispy. But mainly, I got romantic with secret spoonfuls of the addictive ravioli, bathed in a cheese I’d never experienced before and hoped to meet again.
By Drew Limsky