Deputy U.S. Trade Representative Miriam Sapiro was in town from Washington to tour PortMiami, highlight the new U.S.-Colombian trade promotion agreement and celebrate Colombian Independence Day.
In between meetings, she had to eat. She and her entourage, including representatives from the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce, the port and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Jose “Pepe” Diaz, headed to City Hall, the Miami restaurant that has gained a fast following among politicos, real estate brokers, judges and lawyers since opening last year.
Steven Haas, a veteran of the Miami restaurant scene who co-owned Soyka and managed the China Grill chain, opened his latest eatery which is five minutes from downtown, on the Biscayne corridor. Ironically, the restaurant with the City Hall moniker faced a seven-month delay due to red tape at Miami City Hall on the other end of downtown.
Thirteen months later, that’s all just a fading, bad memory, with City Hall a bigger success than Haas ever hoped. The ambience is modern and sleek with lacquered concrete floors, floor-to-ceiling windows, an 80-foot light-box mural created by artist Andrew Reid stretching across one wall and a mural by Miami-based artist Michelle Rojas on the other. Dark walnut and black varnished wooden tables and chairs, cushy leather booths and Art Deco accents add to the decor.
The Sunday gospel brunch featuring singer Maryel Epps has taken off in a big way, and the dinner crowd is robust, in large part due to the restaurant’s proximity to the Adrienne Arsht Center and the American Airlines Arena. A surprising sector for Haas has been political fundraiser cocktail parties held on the mezzanine level overlooking the main floor.
City Hall, while popular with some lawyers, is a favorite with real estate brokers from nearby Midtown. But as you’d expect from the name, the biggest lunch draw is politicians, including regulars like Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez, Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, Coral Gables Mayor Jim Cason and state Sen. Gwen Margolis.
“We get more of the politicians than anyone else,” Haas said. “We’ve hosted just about every fundraiser in Miami. It’s become a very political luncheon-type restaurant.”
All meals start with a loaf of bread and little pot of homemade maple pecan butter. The most popular lunch dish, reports Haas, is the salmon salad — spicy seared north Atlantic salmon with mixed baby greens, grapes, strawberries, shaved red onion, radish, sunflower seeds and passionfruit vinaigrette. Second on the favorites list is the steak salad featuring marinated skirt steak with red cabbage, watercress, mint, cilantro, carrot, shaved radish, toasted cashews, crispy wontons and a Thai chili vinaigrette.
On a recent visit with two colleagues, I had the tuna tartare appetizer, served on a long white plate with truffle-soy vinaigrette, papaya, avocado, wakame and crispy wontons. The tuna scoop was among the best I’ve had, and, with too many wontons to even finish, enough for a meal.
My colleagues chose from the $19 Miami Spice menu. One started with the honey-glazed chicken wings served with a side of creamy herb aioli. He then dove into the house blend meatloaf with mashed red potatoes and baby green beans buried under a small mountain of fried onions before ending the meal with a semi-sweet chocolate mousse (crispy wafers imprisoned in chocolate).
My other colleague started off with an eggplant rollatini appetizer and chose pan crispy mahi mahi as his main dish served with roasted vegetable quinoa, wilted spinach and sweet onion buerre blanc. For dessert, he had stone fruit cheesecake, a double cream concoction with nectarines, plums and peaches. It bore no resemblance to heavy New York-style cheesecake but was airy and light and smothered in fresh whipped cream. “Delicious,” pronounced my colleague.
Haas said the chocolate chip croissant bread pudding served with bourbon anglaise is hands-down the most popular dessert.
David Staples, who works nearby as director of sales for 2 Midtown, a luxury condo project, was introduced to City Hall by an HSBC vice president and has been back a half dozen times. He usually pairs gumbo with tuna tartare for lunch. His group usually orders the warm caramel apple crumble pie with vanilla bean ice cream for dessert and shares.
“I like the ambience,” Staples said. “So many restaurants that you go to at lunchtime are noisy and you can’t talk. City Hall is not, even with the high ceilings. And the hostess is very nice — she always recognizes you. They make you feel like you’ve been there a million times.”
Elizabeth Hernandez, a partner at Akerman Senterfitt and former Coral Gables city attorney, not only frequents City Hall for lunch but is a regular with a group of friends for the Sunday brunch.
“They have the most amazing French toast,” she said of the Grand Marnier French toast layered with vanilla mascarpone, berry compote and Vermont maple syrup. “And the flatbreads are amazing. I’ve met clients there, judges, city officials. It’s a fast lunch, it’s near the federal courthouse, and the energy is great.”
For Alexander Tachmes, a land use partner at Shutts & Bowen who sits on the board of the Arsht Center and the Miami City Ballet, City Hall is the perfect location for lunch and dinner meetings.
“It’s close to the downtown so you can have a lot of business meetings with folks there,” the former Miami Beach assistant city attorney said. “But it’s not one of those restaurants in the core of the downtown that’s super crowded. Plus, there aren’t a lot of places to go post ballet or theater. This is one of the few that has sprouted up.”
Another regular is Tony Cho, owner of Metro 1, a leading commercial real estate firm in the Wynwood district. Cho takes clients to City Hall for lunch as well as Sunday brunch.
“It’s kind of a local hangout,” said Cho, who has bumped into city commissioners, developers and lawyers there. “I just think it’s a good business environment with good, consistent service, reasonable pricing, great food, a nice decor and free parking in back. It has all the elements.”