neMesis Urban Bistro 

 

2.5 stars for an artsy trailblazer Downtown

nemesis

Jodi Mailander Farrell

In case you have any doubts that “we aim to please” is not the motto of neMesis Urban Bistro, a sign on the door makes it clear that humorless, ordinary types aren’t welcome. Chef-owner Micah Edelstein, who often works the front of her whimsical, wee-sized eatery, treats customers like guests in her kitchen, and expects them to behave accordingly.

Such boldness may be required of a pioneer like Edelstein, who opened neMesis three months ago in the dicey neighborhood next to the I-395 overpass just south of the Arsht Center. The purple neon of Gold Rush strip club and the warm glow of the restaurant are the only signs of life at night on this desolate stretch except for occasional comings and goings at the artists’ studios in the LegalArt building, where neMesis occupies the ground floor.

Matilda, the chef’s home-schooled 6-year-old, perches at the bar in front of a laptop between her precocious forays as hostess. You might recognize her mom from Grass in the Design District or from her short stint on the third season of Top Chef, where she alienated viewers with her abrasive personality and disdain for American comfort food. If you’ve come for steak and mashed potatoes, you’re in the wrong place. Edelstein has traveled the world, from Cape Town to Cape Cod, and her short, eclectic menu is for explorers. Her skills shine on Old World-meets-New combos like a guava chile pork entrée with Cheddar spaetzle, apple-fennel compote and apple cider gastrique.

At times, eating at neMesis feels like an Alice in Wonderland trip down the rabbit hole, with some dishes very big (a towering steak stack) and others very small (Lego-sized cubes of focaccia). If you’re less than thrilled with any aspect of your meal, you may want to keep it to yourself; Edelstein can be downright dismissive of customers who don’t “get her.” She’s trying so hard to prove she’s a nonconformist that it can make for a tense dining experience. It is, in fact, a thrill to find a chef so invested in her menu. But even adventuresome eaters like to feel a little pampered, especially when they’re paying $200-plus for a meal.

Ambience: Inside neMesis is an artsy, frontier motif with a sculpture of stiff ties by Laura Hita springing Medusa-like from the wall. Large-format photos of Woody Allen and other celebs shot by London-based portrait photographer Jillian Edelstein (the South African chef’s cousin) overlook the small, square room.

What Worked

  • Stellar Tuscan sushi - prosciutto wrapped around mascarpone, Gorgonzola and figs
  • Ostrich carpaccio
  • Braised duck pot stickers
  • Hearty bison steak, charred on the outside and a succulent red in the middle, with a sauce of huckleberries, dark chocolate and chiles and a savory sage-squash hash

 

What Didn't Work

  • An overbearing sweetness in every dish - a drizzle of guava sauce here, drops of balsamic reduction there
  • A sugary tomato sauce that ruined an eggplant ratatouille
  • A cloying glaze on an otherwise delicious lamb pizza special
  • The confectionary spin on the wine and beer menu - hand-crafted brews made with blueberries and grapefruit
  • A tab of $200 plus per meal

 

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