The popular event space The Deck at Island Gardens is back as a restaurant serving dinner on Thursdays and Fridays and offering all-day dining from noon to midnight on Saturdays and Sundays.
Conveniently located on Watson Island off the MacArthur Causeway between downtown and South Beach, most of the big boats in its deepwater marina have headed to the Med for the summer although you are within touching distance of the mega cruise ships as they sail out of the port in the evenings.
As you might expect at a marina that caters to billionaires and their boats, service is attentive with a valet walking my girlfriend from our Uber to the entrance under an umbrella so she wouldn’t melt away in the very light drizzle.
If you had been to the restaurant for an event or in its previous incarnation as a pop-up party space, you’ll be happy to know that the deck is now fully covered under oversize umbrellas and a large white awning meaning you can stay dry even during a storm.
Wicker chairs with large cushions, stone table tops and an abundance palms and other plantings are highlighted at night by enough lighting that you can see both who you are talking to and what you are eating.
On a Thursday night in June there was no problem getting a reservation, although on weekend nights like most things in Miami, the scene starts late and goes even later. We were told that Saturdays The Deck is popular for birthday parties and Sundays just partiers, staying open into the early hours of the morning.
Seating up to 250 guests, there is an abundance of tables for large groups, and there is also lounge seating, and bottle service, so the intent is to cross between restaurant and club.
That said, if you are just in it for the food, The Deck is a winner. Its Mediterranean menu is inspired by the daughter of its Turkish owner, who at one time had envisioned building a luxury Shangri-la hotel on the island.
Without it, the Watson Island location provides an ideal escape from the bustle of Miami Beach. And yes, the food is in one word, amazing, transporting you to the Bosphorus, Porto Cervo and the Cote d’Azur.
Most dishes are ideal for sharing, and we started with The Mezze Tray, which included Tzatziki, Hummus, Shahrukh, Tabbouleh, Grilled Halloumi served with tomatoes and Zucchini Fritters ($28 to choose three or $56 for all six). It’s served with a brick oven baked Sahara bread that was addictive.
We also enjoyed orders of Grilled Octopus and Grilled Prawns, two to a serving, each presented in a sizzling skillet with salmoriglio sauce and lemon (both $18).
There is also a selection of pizzas, including three Turkish types which will be on the agenda for our next visit. In the meantime, we tried both the Pappardelle with Braised Angus short rib and black truffle cream sauce ($28) and Pear Ravioli, artfully blending gorgonzola in the pockets and finished with black truffle cream sauce ($26).
For our main, we shared a Whole Deboned Branzino with Mediterranean chimichurri, fresh parsley and lemon wedge ($38). Sides included Char-Grilled Asparagus ($8) and Truffle Fries ($12).
The Semi-Dark Chocolate Souffle with fig marmalade, vanilla ice cream and roasted hazelnut was a decadent way to conclude.
There is a limited but well-selected wine list with a heavy emphasis on champagne, as well as a list of signature cocktails, and a full bar.
There’s also a caviar menu and raw bar, which offered three variations of a Seafood Tower ranging from $400 to $800, which I would have been interested to see.
Our waiter told us we should also consider the Salt Crusted Fresh Whole Fish served tableside with black truffle risotto or the Prime Cut 16-ounce Prime Cut Rib Steak.
With breezes from Biscayne Bay, if it weren’t for the glittering lights of Downtown Miami behind the silhouette of the megayachts, one might think they were in a Caribbean resort, a tranquil respite from the city.
On Thursday night there was a live band and on Sundays, there is a DJ, so I imagine when it’s packed, The Deck is probably quite the scene. On our visit, we enjoyed the laid back atmosphere, the design aesthetics, the views, and mostly the food.