Rick's Reviews: Aventura Adventure

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Zuuk Mediterranean Kitchen pairs healthy Mediterranean cooking with a modern fast-casual format.

If your idea of the food court at the mall is Panda Express and Sbarro’s, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the new Treats Food Hall at Aventura. In 2017, the 2.8-million-square-foot mall underwent a $214 million renovation that included transforming its humble food court, where pigeons often flew from rafter to rafter, into a chic food hall.

The former food court, on the ground level, near the bus depot never quite lived up to the upscale stores. Big spenders rarely visited the dreary space home to affordable options such as Chicken Kitchen and Asian Chao. It served mostly as a cafeteria for the mall stores’ employees.

The new Treats Food Hall, gleaming at the top of a bank of escalators, is a place to see and be seen. The restaurants (more about them later) flank the sides of the sun-filled dining hall. Wood furnishings and marble countertops, adorned with Moroccan tiles, offer a mix of communal tables, individual banquettes, and high-top tables. It’s all very high-end, more like a buzzy restaurant than a food court.

"We canvassed the country looking for concepts," says Jackie Soffer, CEO of Turnberry Associates, which owns and manages Aventura Mall. "Part of it was partnering with award-winning chefs like Michael Mina and Todd English. But we also wanted restaurants with an established buzz in South Florida."

When all tenants open, the complex will feature a dozen fast-casual eateries in Treats Food Hall and nine sit-down restaurants along the ground level outdoor terrace. Those are in addition to the other dining establishments scattered throughout the mall, ranging from Cheesecake Factory and Five Guys to chic trattorias and caviar bars.

While the fare at Treats is a bit higher priced than traditional food court fare, it is not beyond the budget for the average shopper. Most places offer meals in the $10-$20 range, and there’s a wide variety of offerings. Among those places already in operation are:

Zuuk Mediterranean Kitchen pairs healthy Mediterranean cooking with a modern fast-casual format following the individualized menu plan first introduced by Chipotle. Diners decide whether they want their meal as a bowl over grains or greens or wrapped in an over-sized pita. They then choose from a variety of proteins paired with veggies and sauces to customize their roll, bowl, or salad.

Figs + Mozzarella from celebrity chef Todd English, brings a similar format to free-form pizzas and paninis with gourmet ingredients ranging from fig and balsamic jam to whipped ricotta and torn basil. In addition to the hand-held options, there’s also an abundant antipasto bar.

Poke 305 continues the “build your own” theme, with one of the latest food trends, poke. Guests can design their own bowls or choose from a menu of suggested combinations. For those not into raw fish, Poke 305 offers bowls featuring cooked chicken or tofu.

Luke’s Lobster is one of the pricier options in the dining hall, but that’s understandable since it showcases luxury ingredients. Still, for less than $20, the Maine-based seafood restaurant offers a seafood-centric menu of oversized buttery lobster rolls, clam chowder, and lobster mac 'n' cheese.

The BŌL takes the standard Asian mall food court offering and gives it a twist by including Vietnamese options. This place also wins extra points for offering vegetarian versions of traditional dishes such as General Tso’s Tofu.

My Ceviche takes the classic Latin American costal dish and makes it accessible for the health-conscious shopper.

GoGo Fresh is a place to enjoy a salad with homemade dressing, whether one of the restaurant’s curated selections or one of your own design. If you’re looking for a little indulgence to go with that salad, check out the vast selection of empanadas, either savory or sweet.

In addition to these regional and original favorites, you can also find a few major franchise outlets (Haagen Dazs, and Shake Shack, with Chipotle opening soon). By year's end, Little Brittany Creperie, Michael Mina and Ayesha Curry's International Smoke, Miami Beach's Rosetta Bakery and Danish juice-bar franchise Joe & the Juice will open.

However, Treats has already seen its first casualty. Hank & Harry's Deli, a branch of the New York-style delicatessen in Miami Beach, opened by local restaurateurs Buzzy Sklar and Richard Booth, has already vacated its space.


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