I admit I’m prejudiced against restaurants named for street addresses. I figure anyone who can’t think of a name more interesting than a postal designation is doomed. There are notable exceptions such as Eleven Madison Park in New York City, maybe Le 39 V in Paris and an old favorite in Rome called Al 34. And I am happy to report that despite some shortcomings in the overall dining experience, 1826 Restaurant and Lounge may join the ranks.
Though the name may lack innovation, the food and setting definitely do not. Chicago chef Danny Grant, a recent Food & Wine magazine best New Chef, has introduced a new level of fine dining to the Miami Beach scene.
The dramatic 8,200-square-foot, four-story glass box is warmed with burnished wood floors and tables, low-hanging Edison bulbs, brushed concrete, bronze rails and pops of whimsy like a chromed AK-47 assault rifle lamp base. Thanks to edgy designer Samy Chams. But can I ask: Why plastic calla lilies and battery-operated candles on the tables? This summer, expect a vending-machine-style robotic garage, too.
The menu is unique. It is divided into three sections: the harvest, the hook and the hunt, representing vegetables, seafood and meat. However, without traditional size designations, there is no clue as to which dishes are tiny tastes and which are viable portions.
This could have been remedied by some on-the-ball service; however, ours seemed more wrestler than waiter. His weird whispering in some language other than English was more lulling than alluring.
Press releases claim the restaurant “emphasizes local, regional and luxury ingredients,” but honestly, on a menu of 21 options, I found only three that actually feature local fare. In South Florida’s most bountiful season there was nary a fin nor claw from local waters. Let alone cheese or any other animal.
Meals begin with a selection of breads like fantastically flaky parmesan and bacon that look like cinnamon buns but taste like ramped-up parkerhouses.
All the Lilliputian salads are divine, especially the so-called Florida avocado and grapefruit salad with bits of real, bitey hearts of palm and a sweet-tart, herb-flecked citrusy dressing and edible flowers.
We had to try the decadent signature $50 “golden egg.” This stunning Eastery treat is one golden brown shell filled with an ounce or so of savory custard layered with teeny, toasted brioche croutons, dollops of shimmery golden-black osetra caviar, topped with a tissue-thin wisp of gold leaf. Divine, if a bit over-the-top.
Irresistible, marble-size leek croquettes of mild petit Basque cheese and potato with just a hint of black truffle are served on a black ceramic plate that might double as a tic-tac-toe board. Perfection.
A mini wild mushroom still-life is an extraordinary creation that might be the national dish of fairydom with its tiny enoki mushrooms and nibs of chickpea panisse delicately showered with fresh chervil, dill and a sauce that is as light as lace.
Short ribs, a block of unctuous, fall-apart beef flecked with lemon zest, are worth a try. But the newly added New York strip encrusted with nuggets of black pepper is one of the best dishes — and filling. It’s served with a smooth bordelaise sauce and a buttery purée of hearts of palm.
A springy artichoke dish with the inner chokes is a lovely pairing with thumbnails of the lightest hand-rolled gnocchi in memory.
The crispy shrimp are giant prawns wrapped in threads of phyllo dough that despite their minty rich, coriander-tinged sabayon sauce are still drab. Another lackluster dish is the cucumber gazpacho, which had a grainy, bready consistency and a superfluous crumbling of “snow” that did little but smoke.
Desserts by pastry chef Soraya Caraccioli are as precious and exquisite as the place itself.
One standout, golf-ball-size scoops of bourbon-spiked ice cream surrounding tiny nuggets of coconut lozenges and ribbons of caramel with crumbles of chocolatey cookie, is a triumph. A passion fruit semi-freddo is equally suited to our tropical climate, unlike much of the rich, buttery, savory stuff on the dinner menu.
The iPad wine list is a real help with pictures of the labels and decent descriptions, though navigating it is a bit tricky.
The big gripes: Some tables are so close that another customer was shouting in my ear. Another is the aroma machine that blasts a chemical pine-like smell through the AC system, making me feel like I was in an airport bathroom.
Well, that and the staff. Kind but clueless. With food this special, you really need a proper guide. One who will inspire and educate, entice you with the descriptions and lead you to just the right address.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.