For the last 15 years (except last year) my husband and I have gone to the Rusty Pelican on Biscayne Bay for Christmas Eve dinner. This year we made the usual plans and invited some friends to come with us, never imagining that the place had been
ruined "renovated". 7 million dollars later, gone were the lovely white linen-covered tables, the courtly waiters, the fishnets hanging from the ceiling with beautiful colored balls in them. Gone was the piano, the little wooden cubbies for two against the wall facing the bay. We knew something was wrong when we approached the entrance. No more the wooden deck like ramp with a beautiful goldfish pond next to it, covered by a wooden roof. None of the magic and romantic touches that spoke of Miami's past on the seacoast. We used to arrive just before dark and watch the sun go down. Then the lights of Miami's city skyline across the bay would come on with the addition of Christmas themed decorations on the sky scrapers - and it would all be reflected in the bay.. The food was always delicious and more than we could finish - a totally delightful and special experience every year. Until this year.
When we entered the parking area, there were 3 loose dogs - Rottweilers - just roaming around. Perhaps that should have been out first clue. Next, the whole entrance way was concrete and steps....all the cozy wooden ambiance was gone. We walked in - at least they didn't cover over the wooden floors - those are the only thing that remains of what was a wonderful place to dine.
Now, before we went, my husband called to make reservations and THAT should have been our first clue, actually. The phone was answered by what my hubby thinks was a service who assured us that there were absolutely no available reservations, which had never happened before. So hubby went on line and found their web site, never imagining that all was changed. He was able to make reservations for 4 with absolutely no trouble - we decided to eat early since we assumed there were no reservations for later, so we set the time for 4 pm, figuring there would be plenty of time to watch the sun go down and enjoy the meal.
As we entered the dining area, there was a giant wine refrigerator on either side of the walkway that went from floor to ceiling - a lovely warm blinding aluminum silver color (yes, that's sarcasm). As we entered the dining room, I noticed all the fishnets and colored lights were gone. It was slowly dawning on me that things had changed mightily. The walls were bland and painted white with kitschy fifties type designs in place of pictures. Where there had been aquariums full of brightly colored fish and low lighting, now there was a blank bright white wall. All the dark wood interior had been stripped away - no more cozy for-two cubbies. Even the tables were different - no crisp white linen tablecloths - and the style was reminiscent once again of bad 50's kitchen furniture.
The hovering professional waiters were gone, replaced by teenage girls whose service was slow and haphazard (they didn't even tell us that dinner wasn't available until 5PM and handed us lunch menus). By now I was thoroughly disillusioned. I saw a TV hanging from a wall down at the other end of the dining area and thought, "This is nothing but a fancy schmancy sports bar now." The last thing I want to see in a romantic restaurant is a TV hanging from the ceiling.
Now for the food. What a disaster. The Rusty Pelican has now become one of those poshy places that puts tiny tiny amounts of highly embellished food on your plate and charges you an arm, a leg and a couple of feet for the pleasure (I use the word loosely). Not only does the place look like every other place in the world with no distinctive Miami feel, but the food is lousy on top of it - and very expensive.
As we sat around the table and looked with dismay at the menus, we could not pick anything that sounded even remotely good. First of all, it was sandwiches and salads and appetizers, mostly . No basket of hot fresh rolls and butter covered by a heavy white napkin. I ordered the Crab Cake(s) - the menu used the plural, but there was only one cake. I also ordered the Calamari. My husband found the steaks listed on the bottom right of the menu in small print. The cheapest steak was $32.00. We used to come to the Rusty Pelican and expect to spend about $100.00 with tip for the two of us - and leave satiated with delicious wine, food and dessert. My friends ordered the Seafood Scallops as an appetizer and both husband and wife ordered a steak.
When the waiter brought the Seafood Scallops, we just about burst out laughing. We could almost find nothing on the plate but some colorful sauce. The "scallops" were shaved pieces of sea scallop - 3 of them, covered with some decorative herbs and sauce. When I say shaved, I mean LESS than 1/4" thick - 3 pieces. The calamari was rubbery and the sauce was hot, as in peppery. I cannot eat peppery food, and was not aware that the dipping sauce for the calamari would be hot, so I ate them plain. There were about 12 breaded pieces of calamari - not bad for a small appetizer. The crab cake tasted pretty good, but when I finished sharing my crab cake and calamari - I was far from full and I was not going to order an expensive steak on top of the appetizers that I thought would fill me up. Surely 2 appetizers should be enough. The steaks came for our friends and for my husband and I had a bite. It was overdone and not a mile within the deliciousness of the steaks at Longhorn's. With the steak a small scoop of mashed potatoes and a small scoop of some sauteed vegetables was served - and that was it.
We all agreed that the restaurant wasn't just disappointing, it was awful. The waitress brought us some cards advertising their desserts, but we decided to forego that ripoff and head out. We didn't even bother with coffee. 3 steaks, 3 appetizers and 4 glasses of wine - the house wine - the bill was $207.00 - and that was WITHOUT a tip.. Imagine if I'd actually had something measurable to eat!!
I hope people look up "Rusty Pelican" and find this post. I dislike ostentatious and overblown show with no substance and that is what this "new", "modern" Rusty Pelican is - we all think it's more like the Shaved Pelican.
On the way out to our car we passed another couple going in. He stopped us and asked how we liked the "new" Rusty Pelican since they hadn't been there since it re-opened. We told them if they liked the old Rusty Pelican they would not like it now and let it go at that.
OH - and Merry Christmas everyone!! We went to the lovely evening service at our church after dinner, so that made all the difference.
Tomorrow it's up to Lake Placid, FL to see my mother, father and sister and her Significant Other, to share a delicious dinner and gifts, and to enjoy the peace and quiet and the Old Florida feel of the place. Last time we visited, we got up extra early and went to our favorite wildlife viewing spot. We saw deer grazing and all kinds of songbirds and warblers, and just being out in nature was soul healing.