Closing in on its first birthday, R House in Wynwood is prepping to star in a new Bravo reality show called Best New Restaurant.
Filming is already under way, so it’s probably too late to warn the restaurant/art gallery/music lounge that it’s likely to humiliate itself on national television in its current form.
While the actual restaurant/art gallery/music lounge may be less than a year old, its tired menu is dotted with the same dishes that chef-owner Rocco Carulli served for years at his former restaurant, Edwige at Night, in Massachusetts.
That wouldn’t be upsetting if the dishes were cooked well, but they were not.
Pea falafel with tzatziki, a longtime Carulli standby, arrived cold. Croutons on a tomato salad were staler than you’d encounter in an economy-class airline meal. Lamb ordered medium-rare was incinerated.
I’d rather eat a handful of sand than the gritty, flavorless clams in a seafood linguine, another Carulli signature dish. And what was supposed to be a coffee- and chili-rubbed short rib — also from Carulli‘s Edwige days — tasted like a salt bomb doused in soy sauce for bad measure.
What’s more disturbing is that Carulli appears to be content letting his kitchen put out these dishes. The back of the house essentially runs on autopilot as he works the dining room, chewing on gum and schmoozing with guests. Does no one have the heart to tell him the food might taste better if he spent more time in the kitchen?
Service feels as cold as the falafel. Expect an ambivalent greeting (if any at all) at the hostess stand, and don’t hold your breath waiting for anyone to wish you a good meal when being seated or a good evening when walking out.
If you push past the menu options straight from the caterer of a 1996 bar mitzvah (Duck spring rolls! Tuna tartare on wonton chips!), you’ll find some less-dated dishes.
Carulli brought with him from New England his moqueca, a Brazilian-style fish stew. Fresh chunks of cobia and scallops swam in a broth of coconut milk with sweet peppers and a serving of basmati rice.
Yellowtail snapper ceviche is cooling and refreshing with a bright dose of lime juice and cilantro. Its roasted corn relish, which also makes an appearance on the crab cakes (which are cut with shrimp and which R House preciously calls “sea cakes”), adds a pleasant pop of texture and sweetness.
That heirloom tomato salad, with strips of manchego cheese and a just-right balsamic dressing, would have been a highlight if not for those devastating croutons.
People speak highly of R House’s infused and specialty cocktails, which I didn’t try, and of its brunch, which comes with unlimited options for both food and drink.
I didn’t try that either. But I did have a tres leches cake that was deflated, both in appearance and flavor.
With the season upon us and Art Basel looming, Wynwood’s restaurants ought to be firing on all cylinders.
Perhaps R House — before competing on TV to be the nation’s best new restaurant and instead of trying to be an art gallery and music venue — should shore up its food and service.
Carulli has the cooking chops to get R House where it needs to be; spending more of his time in the kitchen and less on the floor would be a good step in that direction.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense. Follow Food Editor Evan Benn on Twitter: @EvanBenn.