Redfish Reborn

Chef Donatella Brings Refreshing Changes to the Redfish Grill

For anyone who grew up in Coral Gables, the snack shack in the historic coral WPA building by the lagoon in Matheson Hammock Park meant old fashioned beach concession food — hot dogs, hamburgers, and fries. Even when it became Redfish Grill, there was something bohemian about the place, very laidback, Florida Keys-style.

The building was severely damaged by Hurricane Irma in 2017 and was closed until its resuscitation by the Barreto Hospitality Group into the very fancy Redfish Grill by Adrianne, using the culinary skills of Chef Adrianne Calvo (she of Cracked and Vineyard Restaurant fame).

Now Redfish is born again, this time as NOMA Beach at Redfish, under the command of celebrity Chef Donatella Arpaia (a regular judge on the Food Network’s “Iron Chef ” series). We could not be happier with the results. The pricey haute cuisine of Chef Adrianne has been replaced with simpler, more moderately priced dishes that feel much closer to the old Redfish, albeit with an Italian seafood spin.

“We redid everything. It needed a new heart, and now it has a new heart,” says Chef Donatella Arpaia, pictured here outside NOMA Beach at Redfish.

“My background is Italian, and I grew up spending my summers on the coast of Naples and Puglia,” says Chef Donatella. “When I saw this [opportunity], I thought about, obviously, a focus on seafood, on local, on seasonal. There are not enough people doing local fish, I find, in Miami… People are angry because I don’t have branzino, but it’s frozen. I want fresh fish.”

With that in mind, we started by sampling two of the thin-sliced crudos of marinated fish ($25-$26) – the sashimi-grade yellowfin tuna with lemon juice, olive oil, fried capers, and Fresno chilis, and the Florida Keys snapper with lemon, olive oil, pistachios, mint, and lemon zest. Both light, tangy, citrusy, and refreshing.

From the antipasti section of the menu, we tried the burrata salad and the baby arugula salad ($32 and $22 respectively). Burrata is a special ball of cheese, with mozzarella on the outside and a core of creamy stracciatella on the inside, ours resting on a bed of balsamic-laced heirloom tomatoes. A classic done perfectly.

The arugula salad was a novelty – the arugula, combined with mint, Spanish almonds, and ricotta, was wrapped in prosciutto de parma. There was something about the contrast between leaf, cheese, salty ham, and almonds that made it a table favorite.

The baby arugula salad at NOMA Beach at Redfish
Rigatoni with meatballs

What really rocked us were the entrees. The first was the rigatoni with meatballs ($35). Immensely satisfying homemade pasta with Donatella’s famous meatballs (you can order them separately, and they are a perfect combination of braised veal, beef, Parmigiano Reggiano, and grilled focaccia, or Italian breadcrumbs).

The second was a showstopper: the two-pound snapper, flash-fried whole and presented like an upright dragon (MP, about $65) and served with lemon vinaigrette. Each piece, pulled off and dipped, was moist and flavorful with a crunchy edge. Extraordinary. We split the fish among us, along with a side dish that also amazed: the crispy, spicy cauliflower, lightly fried in sesame oil. which could turn anyone into a lover of crustaceous veggies.

What remains the same at Redfish, besides the historic building, is the elegant contemporary décor of the enlarged patio area, open to the lagoon and Biscayne Bay beyond. The evening effect is magical, with the palms wrapped in white lights and blue lamps on each table. This is the only waterfront restaurant in Coral Gables, and part of the adventure — especially at night — is driving through the native flora from Old Cutler Road to Matheson Hammock Park.

Another nice pricing adjustment: cocktails that were $28 are now $16. We tried the Donatella special, of course, consisting of Tanqueray gin, cucumber, fresh lime juice, mint, and orange bitters. A strong cucumber flavor but also citrusy; a good thirst quencher for an afternoon visit (they also serve lunch).

Chef Donatella, who lives close to NOMA, is making it a truly chef-driven neighborhood restaurant, and she is having plenty of fun doing it.

“We redid everything. It needed a new heart, and now it has a new heart,” she says. “It’s a very special place. I wanted something that I was passionate about, that was like an extension of my own home. It had to be within two miles – I have young babies.”

Noma Beach at Redfish

9610 Old Cutler Rd.