MIAMI BEACH - So much about South Beach is over the top. Fancily (and scantily) clad women and snazzily dressed men drive luxury cars, frequent flashy clubs, and sleep at posh hotels in this pastel-painted, Art Deco wonderland. Expensive restaurants are par for the course, but few offer the theatrics of Barton G.
The nondescript facade is hidden behind tall palms. Neither the smart decor nor the menu betrays the surprise. It's only when the food arrives that the fun begins.
Owner Barton G. Weiss, 52, who bills himself as an event planner, considers the plate a stage on which diners should "expect the unexpected," he says. The restaurant's cuisine is "Americana with a twist," says the maestro, who choreographs the showy presentations. These are literal interpretations of the food.
Delicately fried little nuggets of popcorn shrimp spill from a movie-style popcorn box along with real popped kernels. Sashimi "snow cones" are thinly sliced raw tuna and salmon draped over mounds of packed ice, perfect for keeping the fish cold. Brightly flavored dipping sauces and wasabi sorbet provide the necessary spark. The most outrageous appetizer is lobster pop-tarts: two flaky, rectangular tarts filled with chunks of lobster and melted Gruyere, which arrive in an old-fashioned toaster.
Entrees are even more dramatic. Seared duck breast and leg confit are served with well-seasoned fried rice - in a full-size wooden decoy. A large metal chicken is the receptacle for crispy fried chicken paired with creamed corn and mashed potatoes. Also on the plate are two black-speckled, hard-cooked quail eggs. Sizzling brick-flattened chicken comes with a real, hot brick, which is under the double breast of chicken (so no burned fingers).
A coil of grilled skirt steak is overshadowed by a 12-inch-tall wire giraffe holding a small bowl of zesty chimichurri sauce. Grass-fed beef steaks are still on the pasture, or rather, arrive with a real piece of turf on the plate.
Even if you're full, take a peek at desserts on a handheld screen scrollable with your finger to reveal a variety of sweets, ranging from $18 to $89. These are meant for sharing. Selections include "Big Top Cotton Candy," "Carnival Fun Cakes" (funnel cakes and dipping sauces, along with a duck shooting game), do-it-yourself cupcakes, and an ice cream sundae with all the fixings, heaped into a giant martini glass.
Weiss is serving up each extravaganza with a mischievous wink. "We go from the sublime to the ridiculous," he says. After, say, about the second or third dining experience here, the shtick may get old. But it's a perfect spot for out-of-towners or a special celebration. If the food weren't so good it might be hard to enjoy (or forgive) the theatrics.
Once the bill is paid, you get to tuck your receipt into a courtesy envelope labeled "The Damage."
Barton G. The Restaurant 1427 West Ave., Miami Beach. 305-672-8881, www.bartong.com/restaurant