Mature playfulness makes Glass and Vine a star

Oven-roasted chicken at Glass & Vine (Contributed)

It’s not just that he’s the creator of the annual April 20 “420” stoner food dinner at Eating House. Or that he likes to mix sweet and savory flavors in risky ways. But Miami-born chef Giorgio Rapicavoli likes to live on the edge.

In 2012, having manned the kitchens of Chispa in the Gables (at age 21!) and 660 at the Angler’s Hotel on the Beach, he went on the Food Network’s Chopped with a $10,000 dream to open up Eating House as a pop-up in the Gables. He won, and his journey into the upper echelon of Miami chefs had begun.

Now 30, Rapicavoli is at it again, tempting fate, taking chances, getting attention. Partnering with the restaurant group Grove Bay Hospitality, he has opened Glass and Vine in the old Coconut Grove chamber of commerce in Peacock Park, and with summer lurking weeks away, they’ve had the audacity to install mostly outdoor seating. With the mild weather of the past few weeks, the place has been heavenly, cooling breezes bathing the massive patio, views of the park greenery and majestic trees all around. But recent torrential rains were the first test of their ability to pivot in the face of bad weather, and they moved all the tables under cover. Coming soon are portable air-conditioners, clear tarps, more umbrellas and plenty of crossed fingers.

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But so far, so good. With Glass and Vine, Rapicavoli has reined in the playful instincts of his early years, maturing just enough as a chef to hit the sweet spot with almost every dish. The bright and airy, 200-seat, picnic-in-the-park space, with its fresh-flavor, ingredient-driven menu, couldn’t be more different from the dark, 50-seat Eating House, with its heavier comfort-style food. Service is impeccable, and wine and cocktail and beer lists are intriguing.

Glass & Vine snacks

The menu has four sections — the trendy Snacks, plus Garden, Sea and Land — with different portion sizes in each of the three. The snacks change frequently; for $25, you can try all five, and it’s a nice social way to start things off. They include a generous tray of marinated olives with garlic and citrus peel, a hunk of Zak the Baker sourdough with cultured butter mixed with sour cream, the cured meat of the day (often prosciutto), mixed nuts dusted with barbecue rub and egg white meringue to make it stick and briny mixed vegetables pickled Israeli-style with turmeric. 

The sweet-and-savory mash-ups start with watermelon salad, a Mexican mix of chunks of fruit, Cotija cheese, toasted corn, lime, jalapeño, cilantro and lime crema, with pureed corn nuts on top adding crunch. It has excellent balance, with the tiny chile slivers jolting most every bite.

Rapicavoli has a thing for cooked lettuce, and his wedge salad is a showcase. Whole baby heads of Romaine are grilled with charred tomato, lots of bacon, buttermilk, blue cheese — all the classic components except instead of croutons you get bits of toasted buckwheat.

Glass Vine wedge salad

Cauliflower is an “it” veggie right now, and Rapicavoli goes Middle Eastern with it. The florets are fried and then aggressively charred, tossed with a light lemon vinaigrette, lemon yogurt and a mint tahini pureed with lemon, garlic and parsley. On top go crispy chickpeas, dehydrated black olives, olive oil and parsley. It’s cauliflower with hummus.

So you don’t put fish sauce on your sweet potatoes? Then try it here. The fingers of potato are first roasted, then fried with a cornstarch coating to crisp them. They’re sauced with coconut cream and a fish sauce caramel with garlic, ginger, chile, brown sugar, Thai basil, mint, cilantro, lime zest and sesame, and they take the flavor profile of a good Pad Thai. 

For conch fritters, they take a South Florida classic and go Greek. Six to an order, the balls are packed with conch, flavored with jalapeño, lemon zest, parsley and chive, with that mysterious crunchy undertone provided by celery. Rapicavoli eschews mayo-based sauces and uses yogurt here, flavored with lemon zest and shallot.

A bowl of Prince Edward Island mussels oozes Florida, steamed in locally brewed Funky Buddha wheat beer and sour-orange mojo, with roasted lime in the mix. The mussels are compact and tender, and there are plenty to share. 

Our order of sea scallops with charred cabbage had some downsides. For one thing, you get just two sea scallops, albeit beautifully seared in brown butter, chopped and scattered about the big plate under a snowdrift of charred cabbage leaves. A black truffle vinaigrette helps somewhat, but this is largely a $22 platter of cabbage leaves. 

Opt instead for the sensational house-made pasta with many chunks of succulent rock shrimp. The lush white wine and sea urchin butter sauce is tarted up with chile flake, shallot, orange zest, chile oil, fresh green herbs and wilted watercress, an array of bright, intense flavors to offset the richness of the butter.

Glass Vine outdoor

On to Land. Our quartet of roasted lamb ribs had a nice spicy flavor, a fusion of Chinese five spice with adobo — what Rapicavoli calls the “305” spice mix. Soy, garlic, cashew and mint pack in even more flavor. One rib was meaty and spot on, but the other three were almost entirely fat, a disappointment.

Grilled duck breast with carrots gone wild is cured, which reduces the fat and creates a pleasantly smoky flavor. Carrots pop up first in a puddle of the greens of baby mixed carrots, cooked like creamed spinach. Sweet roasted baby carrots are arrayed on top, and the plate is sauced with a pickled carrot juice reduction with sherry vinegar and maple syrup. A fine way to fully exploit a run-of-the-mill vegetable.

Portions here are generally large, but truly big eaters will want to order the wood-oven chicken. The free-range chicken is slathered with mojo, salt and olive oil, arranged atop many leaves of bitter lettuce, then roasted. The result is juicy meat and the bonus of deeply flavored, rich greens that have simmered in the juices of the chicken. Giorgio Horiz

Come dessert time, you can go traditional or out-there, and if panna cotta with cherry tomatoes sounds like a risk, you’d better take it. The light, refreshing panna cotta is mixed with organic tomatoes that have been marinated in lemon vinaigrette and basil. Bits of pistachio add earthiness and texture; lemon zest adds brightness. Sensational.

But if tomatoes aren’t your idea of a proper dessert, get ready for the Magic Shell. This is a giant bowl with scoops of vanilla ice cream from Azucar. It gets an instant hard coating from melted dark chocolate sauce; Marcona almonds and coco nibs add crunch. Rapicavoli can’t help himself, though, and he puts olive oil in the chocolate sauce and sprinkles the dish with sea salt. And it works — like almost everything at this new Grove star.

Critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.

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