3.5 stars for L'echon Brasserie's Pubbelly-style take on French fare

 

The Pubbelly Boys' latest venture in Miami Beach gives pork a good name.

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By Evan S. Benn | Miami.com Restaurants Editor | ebenn@MiamiHerald.com

For a made-up word, “l’echon” couldn’t do a better job of describing the Pubbelly Boys’ latest home run: a porcine-proud brasserie.

Pork deliciously lurks around every corner of L’echon Brasserie in the new Hilton Cabana Miami Beach. And while pig works well at Pubbelly’s original gastropub and even its sushi bar (see: pork belly and fried clam roll), the other white meat rises to new levels in this French-inspired kitchen.

Meaty, salty bacon lardons amplify each bite of executive chef Josh Elliott’s frisée salad, a textbook composition of lively greens, poached egg, fresh-baked croutons and vinegary dressing.

The preferred protein comes three ways in Elliott’s take on stuffed dates, which are filled with tender, roasted pork, wrapped in bacon and drizzled in pork jus under a light herbs-nuts-and-Parm salad. 

And no pork dish in recent memory has wowed me quite like L’echon’s cochon de lait. A brick of shredded, succulent suckling pig is capped with a roof of crispy, caramelized skin. The contrasts — crunchy crust and soft shreds, fatty juices and acidic mustard-sherry sauce, cool slaw and warm meat — make eating it exciting from beginning to end; no small feat for a substantial plate of food in a culinary scene dominated by three-bite tapas. 

Fitting, too, that a suckling pig preparation stands out here, since the restaurant’s name is a French-sounding gussy-up of lechón, Spanish for roasted suckling pig.

I could go on about the kitchen’s myriad uses of pork — pattied into a burger, pounded into schnitzel (excellent), sliced on a charcuterie board, layered on a rustic tart, grilled on the bone — but that would be at the expense of other well-executed proteins and vegetables.

Like a cast-iron pot of seafood and braised, plump, coconut-scented rice: French-Caribbean paella of sorts. At $23, it’s the priciest item on the hors d’oeuvres portion of the menu, but ours came full of worth-it lobster, prawn, crawfish and scallop. 

A generous side of halved baby eggplant is robustly smoky from its time over a pine-hickory-charcoal grill. Additional flavors of black garlic, soy and micro shiso greens are more representative of Pubbelly’s Asian influence than of France, but no complaints here: The eggplant’s great.

I’m less keen on a raw-scallop appetizer that looked pretty, with its nearly translucent stacks of scallop, turnip and grape discs, but had sandy grit in every bite I took. It was the only unfavorable dish I encountered in my visits.

Desserts from pastry chef Maria Orantes will please both the “I’ll just have a bite” and the “I need chocolate now” crowds. For the former, share her twist on tarte tatin made with housemade green apple sorbet, granola and baked apples. For everyone else, there’s chocolate croissant bread pudding, with its flakes of buttery pastry pointing through gooey dark chocolate. Take that, cronut

I very much enjoyed a rye-based cocktail with notes of peach and lemon, and an approachable yet thorough wine list rightly focuses on France while including some U.S., South American and other European bottles. (The house red, a grenache-syrah-mourvedre blend from southern France, is a food-friendly value at $9 a glass, $36 a bottle.)

Servers are knowledgeable, helpful and polite, and it’s impressive to see Pubbelly partners José Mendín, Andreas Schreiner and Sergio Navarro working the dining room more than two months after opening. 

My only nagging nit about L’echon Brasserie — what gives me pause about returning — is its location. 

I don’t mind that it’s in mid-Beach and not nestled along Pubbelly Row in Sunset Harbour along with the group’s Pubbelly, Pubbelly Sushi and Barceloneta.

What I dislike is that it’s hidden in a hotel with a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it entrance and a $15 valet fee (that’s including the discount for restaurant guests). 

Whether you’re inside the dining room or trying to enjoy the view from the oceanfront patio, flip flops squish-squashing in from the pool or the hoovering sounds of a housekeeper’s vacuum cleaner may distract you from your $115 cote de boeuf.

Still, I’ve eaten food in less-desirable locations than a Hilton in Miami Beach, so I find it hard to fault L’echon Brasserie too much for its environs — especially considering the excellent food and service that Elliott and his crew are creating. 

Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense.

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