The goods: Miami’s prodigal chef has returned. Norman Van Aken, father of New World Cuisine, James Beard award winner and all-around culinary superstar has come back to the local stage with Norman’s 180. Van Aken’s latest venture – and first venture in Miami since shuttering his eponymous fine dining spot three years ago – is a contemporary approach to upscale dining created in partnership with his son and co-chef Justin. Think small plates and global inspiration.
Ambience: Housed in the Westin Colonnade hotel in Coral Gables, Norman’s 180 is awash in warm woods, golden light and a bustling bar scene. The frenetic open kitchen is housed behind a handsome marble counter while leather-studded half-booths and high top tables fill out the dining room. The effect is one of polished comfort.
The grub: Norman Van Aken’s take on American cuisine. He’s borrowed elements from Cuba, the Keys, the Yucatan, the West Indies and Asia and melded them into an eceltic, approachable menu. Start with Steamed Mussels with soy butter and mango and move on to a restorative bowl of Pho (Vietnamese beef stew) and end with the Three Little Pigs, a triumvirate of barbecue baby back ribs, trotter cake and ham mac and cheese. In the small plates category, don’t miss the twice-fried Korean chicken wings, the fluffy duck meatballs and the arepa with black bean mash. Mains like the Key West yellowtails showcase the chef’s penchant for local fish while the “wig” burger topped with ropa vieja is Cuban take on an American classic. Desserts like the Pavlova meringue cookies and Guava bread pudding exhibit the kitchen’s panache for cross-cultural sweets. Prices are moderate given the caliber of the cooking: small plates, salads and pizzas are $8-$12, substantial “bowls” of soup and pasta are $9-$19 and mains are $24-$39.
Verdict: Long lost chef Norman Van Aken returns to Miami’s dining scene with an ambitious menu of global eats and a classy, comfortable venue.