I once asked a perceptive, professional observer of Miami’s South Beach restaurant scene why the restaurants there were often so mediocre, generally emphasizing flash over substance—I had just walked out of a place in which extravagant presentations and dramatic, dry ice induced clouds of steam diverted attention from really terrible food. His answer was that presentation was everything, it’s what the crowd there wanted, at least on South Beach. (Elsewhere in town, chefs like Michael Schwartz of Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and Michelle Bernstein at Michy’s were turning out serious food to appreciative diners.
If you wanted to stay on the beach but eat really well, then, your choices were limited. But that is certainly changing. Some good new restaurants are imports from New York such as Andrew Carmellini’s The Dutch in the W South Beach or Los Angeles (Jose Andres’ The Bazaar at the new SLS South Beach) but others are home grown and ambitious. One of the best: Florida Cookery at the new James Royal Palm, local chef Kris Wessel’s homage to the area’s cooking on its own, not fused with other cuisines, with some dishes derived from a cookbook published in the 1940’s that he found in his grandmother’s kitchen. A Floridian whose family goes back 100 years in the area and who previously operated the Miami restaurant Red Light Little River, Wessel is both a James Beard Award dinner and perhaps even more impressive, a winner of the combine crazy ingredients- into- a- winning dish Food Network show “Chopped” and his dishes are gutsy, vibrant, full of flavor. Favorites from a recent dinner: sticky Guanabana glazed ribs with green papaya slaw, conch chowder, slow braised oxtail and spiny lobster in a dry sherry bisque with green garlic zucchini. The only glitch was the South Floridastaple key lime pie—apparently the pastry chef altered the crust of Wessel’s grandmother’s recipe making it too tough but it was due to be changed back to the original. That’s good news since the filling was perfect, just the right balance between tangy and sweet.
Up Collins Avenue a few blocks from Florida Cookery, another new restaurant is aiming high in quality level as well as price. Tosca won’t win any awards for a light carbon footprint but its menu promises the best ingredients in the world—and they are, indeed, coming in from all over the world: pure Pata Negra Jamon aged 36 months from Spain, 100 year old Aceto Balsamico di Modena from Italy, blue lobsters from Brittany, A5 grade Kobe beef from Japan along with ingredients from artisan producers in the U.S. To combine them in preparations worthy of their provenance, executive chef Didier Elena signed on after 20 years with Alain Ducasse, most recently at Adour in New York. The restaurant’s showoff offering: an 11 course tasting menu featuring toro crudo, fettucine with white Alba truffles, Kobe ribeye, etc. It’s very impressive and there isn’t a dry ice vapor in sight.
Article found at forbes.com