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January 25, 2004
From the minute you cross the small bridge onto Grove Isle and pass through the checkpoint, you know you're in for something special. The grounds are immaculate, the atmosphere friendly, and the personal attention is remarkable.
Baleen is in some ways two restaurants in one. There's a main dining room that is somewhat classic in feel ... rich woods, muted tones on fabrics, subdued lighting. We only walked through this area on the way to our table, which was located in the other completely distinct area in this establishment. A small collection of tables is situated outside on a circular patio overlooking the tropical foliage and water. A pergola, flagstone pavers, and teak tables and chairs give this area a completely different feel than the main dining area, yet with a similar sophistication.
We reserved our table well ahead of time and had a perfectly private table perched right on the edge of the patio, where we enjoyed scenes of the thunderstorm in the far-off distance.
So, yes, Baleen has a terrific atmosphere, but that's only part of the reason one goes to a restaurant, right? The food has to be good, too. Well, it was beyond comparison. The Roquefort crusted filet mignon was melt-in-your-mouth fantastic. The side vegetables we ordered were cooked to perfection and precisely seasoned. Everything was elegantly presented and seemed to be prepared with attention to detail. It was a visual as well as a gastronomic feast.
The most memorable part of the meal, actually, was our dessert ... "Monkey Love." Baleen has a somewhat subtle monkey theme going on throughout the restaurant. You'll find monkeys integrated into light fixtures, wooden monkeys hanging in the trees, and so on. The "Monkey Love" dessert is a huge banana split to be shared, presented in a carmelized sugar bowl and topped with some of the best tropical fruit we've ever tasted. It was a tasty, filling, and playful way to top off our meal.
I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fantastic table service at Baleen. Our table captain, Dianne, was first rate. She made us feel comfortable, attended to our every need, and directed the rest of the waitstaff at our table with skill and precision. The busboy, the servers, wine stewards, and Dianne all helped us feel relaxed and able to fully enjoy this romantic retreat.
After dinner we walked along the seaside path on Grove Isle, sat in a hammock and looked at the stars, and then watched some boats from a park bench. When we were ready to go, our car was brought around and we reluctanly left Grove Isle. We have great memories of Baleen. It was where we were engaged and where we had one of the best dining experiences we can remember. Bon apetit!
From journal Miami's Best Dining at Baleen
January 7, 2001
From journal Touring Coconut Grove