Sunday, May 1, 2011

Sustain (Miami, FL)

Walking into Sustain, a four-month-old, eco-conscious newcomer to Midtown Miami, is a bit like walking onto the set of a Wagnerian opera. There are large, battle-ready (recycled aluminum) shields hanging from an exaggeratedly high ceiling, curved (sustainably grown) wooden bows slung from the walls, and an upside-down mangrove tree by the entrance, whose naked, inverted roots loom above the host. The decor has a distinctly theatrical and vaguely martial vibe. Even the heavy front door requires a struggle to open as a fortress gate might.

Happily, Alejandro ("Alex") Piñero's menu is rather more down-to-earth. The food is comparable in style to what you might find at Market Table in NYC, but with occasionally more avant garde plating. Most ingredients are sourced from within a 50 mile radius of Miami, according to the restaurant.

At a recent dinner with Sat and Jay, we tried a range of dishes. The 50 Mile Salad (so named because it included only ingredients from within a 50 mile radius of Miami), contained Paradise Farms brassica (a general term that includes many types of cabbages), Swank Farms carrots, Borek Farms beets, Teena's Pride heirloom tomatoes, pickled onions and Hani's fromage blanc, according to the menu. The version we tried also included an unlisted, crispy white vegetable that I'm fairly sure was jicama. The vegetables were good and fresh. The young carrots were a tad hard, a sign of having been underwatered in life, but lightly pickled in a vinaigrette, I think, and overall a pleasure to eat. The tomato was ripe, juicy and delicious, despite the fact that it was tinged with green. I'm not sure I share Fred Bernstein of the New York Time's Magazine's enthusiasm, when he called this salad a "wonder" in a recent review; vegetables in my version were good, but not revelatory, unlike equally simple preparations at, say, JoLe in Calistoga, California. But this was a competent salad. The small dab of fromage blanc (the cottage cheese-looking white blob in the middle) was very good.

By contrast, a gazpacho with Teena's Pride heirloom tomato, cucumber, onion was surprisingly bland and undersalted. This was a smooth style of gazpacho, where vegetables were completely pureed into a creamy, cool, watery liquid. I can see how it would be very refreshing in the middle of Miami's notoriously humid, hot summer, but I would probably not personally order this soup, again.

Sat and Jay tried the Paradise Farms calabaza squash blossom stuffed with Mimos' smoked mozzarella, caramelized onion, and Mozzarita's ricotta. These fat little flowers came gorgeously overstuffed with cheese and deep fried, with a bit of golden breading. They said they enjoyed the dish a great deal.

For my main, I had the local yellow eye snapper with Borek Farms beets, Swank Farms turnips (actually radishes on the day we visited), fennel-vanilla puree. This was a well cooked and well seasoned cut of fairly fresh fish, with a nice, crispy skin. It'd been seared in a hot pan, which helped keep the fish moist. It paired interestingly with the fennel vanilla puree, a pretty, greenish-yellow sauce that tasted strongly of vanilla. It's been trendy in many restaurants around the country, recently, to pair savory dishes with vanilla. I'm not certain I like this combination, but it is thought provoking and it can bring out interesting notes in the food when it's done well. Here, I thought the vanilla was a bit overwhelming. Tender beets and crisp-tender radishes (long, French breakfast radishes sliced length-wise) were fresh and sweet. 

Justin was very enamoured with his Four Arrows grass fed "Fork and Knife Burger" made with Benton's smoked bacon, Wisconsin cheddar, caramelized onion, brioche bun, fries. The bite of burger meat I tried was excellent: seasoned very simply, without much salt, and very flavorful. It's pretty self explanatory how good this meat was when eaten with crispy slices of smoked bacon, sharp cheddar and sweet caramelized onion.  

Sat ordered the boniato gnocchi with red peppers, leeks, spinach and oyster mushrooms. Boniato is a white sweet potato and it made for what Sat called the best gnocchi she'd ever tried. (She admitted she doesn't usually like or order gnocchi, though.) I tried a bite of her oyster mushrooms, which had been sauteed deliciously in a great deal of butter.

Jay had the Four Arrows grass fed strip steak with leek flan, tomato marmalade and sauce Robert (a brown mustard sauce). The meat came medium rare and looked absolutely gorgeous on the plate. Not much to report on the flavor of this dish, but Jay said it was "great" and nearly as good as the grass-fed beef he'd eaten in Argentina.

For dessert, Justin and I picked the intriguing Elixir Magnifique from Daniel Toral's erudite cocktail list. The Elixir included Moon Mountain vodka, St. Germain, Chartreuse, strawberry, and black pepper. Jay said it tasted like a salty, hard lemonade to him, which wasn't far from the truth. The strawberry and black pepper were a clever combination, though, and added an interesting twist.

Jay and Sat shared the warm chocolate & bourbon pecan pie with hazelnut ice cream. The pie was the size of a two-person tart and looked like it was made with an admirably thin pate brisee. The bite of ice cream I tried tasted intensely of hazelnut.

Service seemed a little bit impatient at times. Our smiley and otherwise nice waiter came to our table three or four times within a few minutes, while we were trying to decide on our food and drink orders, to ask whether we were ready, yet. And he came to our table so many times while we were still finishing our dessert and cocktails that we felt pressured to ask for the check and leave. (There were, by this time, many empty tables in the restaurant, so it wasn't that he needed to turn the table. It also wasn't close to closing time.) Other this this, though, we found the service to be competent. Food came quickly, water glasses were filled (with the restaurant's "house-filtered" water) and meats were cooked exactly to order. The host was very sweet, helpful and open to questions.

Sustain is another solid option in Midtown Miami and a welcome addition to what has become something of a restaurant row (alongside NYC import, Mercadito, and Sugarcane). Judging by the lavish critical praise Sustain has already received, I'm sure it'll be around for a long time.

3252 NE 1st Avenue #107
Miami, FL 33137 (Midtown)

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