Ai Fiori means “among the flowers” in Italian, and dining in this elegant restaurant is like being in a culinary Garden of Eden. This latest effort from chef/partner Michael White (Marea, Morini) honors the cuisine of the French and Italian Riviera and has earned a Michelin star and a three-star rating from The New York Times. The “flowers” theme carries through to the plates and table linen in an otherwise understated space, entered through a winding staircase from the lobby of the Hotel Setai. The bar area is a relaxed spot for a pre-meal cocktail (very Riviera!).
The chilled Zuppa di Zucchini is a creamy and refreshing first course, with paper thin rolled zucchini swirls, chunks of prawn, and touches of basil and lemon. Ligurian pasta—made without eggs and hand-rolled into squiggly shapes—forms the basis for a fabulous crustacean ragout called Trofie Nero. The trofie is made black with squid ink, paired with scallops, and dusted with spiced breadcrumbs. Calabrian chiles give this creamy and sensual dish its very subtle kick.
Branzino, or Mediterranean sea bass, is a signature entrée and Chef de Cuisine P.J. Calapa pan sears it and serves it with sea beans, almond, and sauce Meuniere. It is crispy, tender, and delicious. Bouilliabaise, a classic Mediterranean fish stew, gets an elegant revamp here, and the saffron broth and rouille of chiles, garlic, breadcrumbs, and olive oil will take you there.
Ai Fiori is in a hotel so it serves three meals daily, but make dinner reservations at least two weeks in advance. -- Marian Betancourt