I've already repeatedly mentioned here how the contemporary Asian trope has taken hold here in Miami. But that isn't the only trend afoot. If restaurants weren't turning Japanese (or Chinese, or Korean) this past year, they were going green. "Farm to table," "sustainable," "eco-" this or that appeared in every other press release announcing a new opening. De Rodriguez Ocean pitched itself as a "sustainable seafood" restaurant. 1500° was a "farm-to-table restaurant with a heavy steakhouse sensibility." Even the mega-chains got in on the act, with Darden Restaurants (the people who bring you Red Lobster and Olive Garden, among others) launching Seasons 52, which claims a "seasonally-inspired menu" but was serving asparagus in December when I visited their new Coral Gables location.
Some of this is just blatant greenwashing. And yet sometimes there is a genuinely serious commitment to working with local farms, sourcing top-quality, organic product, and running a restaurant in a way that is attuned to the environment. Of course, none of that really matters if the food sucks. Ultimately, people will come, and come back, to a restaurant because the food is good, not because the restaurant does good things. Sustain, opened last month in the stretch of Midtown Miami that already includes Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill and Mercadito, is getting it right on both fronts.
When you call your place "Sustain," you better be serious about it. And this restaurant was literally built from the ground up with sustainability in mind. Fixtures on the ceiling are made from recycled aluminum. A captivating wooden "ribcage" sculpture along one wall is crafted from sustainable mangrove. The tables and chairs are reclaimed cypress, the fabrics are LEED-approved, the lights are energy-conserving LEDs. The menu is equally "green": Much of the produce comes from local farms, cheeses come from local producers, fish come mostly from local waters, meats are from stock that are pasture-raised on Florida ranches.
|photo via Sustain|
The menu starts with several "bites" priced at $4-6, and they are all worth sampling. The pretzel bites, little tater-tot sized nuggets, are pleasingly warm, crusty, and chewy, and come with ramekins of whole grain mustard and honey for dipping (best in combination, if you ask me). Fried chickpeas have an intriguing pop to their texture, and are napped with a light green herb oil. Meanwhile, corn dogs, featuring house-made mini hot dogs encased in a light cornmeal batter, are true to the carnival classic, a nostalgic start to a meal. Tender pork and beef meatballs, served in a little cast-iron Staub pot, are draped with a rich mushroom gravy and dollops of creamy goat cheese. Those corn dogs and meatballs are also reflective of the restaurant's underlying ethos: the ground pork and beef that go into them are a way to use up the less-than-glamorous bits that do not become chops and steaks. Indeed, as you read through the menu you can reconstruct much of a cow and a pig along the way.
Some of those bits also wind up in a charcuterie plate. The plate features a jar of pork rilletes (shoulder and belly meat cooked in its own fat and shredded to a fine paste) which were the best I've had in Miami, for a few reasons: they're unabashedly fatty; they're assertively spiced; and they're not served too cold. This last in particular makes a big difference: too often (locally anyway) rillettes are served dead cold, denying them all their unctuous appeal. A country pâté wrapped in bacon was serviceable but could use something to distinguish or enliven it, whether it be a more pronounced livery tang, or perhaps some fruit or nut in the mix. The plate is rounded out with some thinly sliced country ham from Allan Benton, which is simply marvelous stuff, as well as some house-made pickles, mustard and grilled ciabatta.
I'm not a big salad eater, but the "50 Mile Salad" is one that I actively crave. As the name indicates, the salad is composed of ingredients all sourced from within 50 miles of the restaurant. It starts with a blend of baby brassicas (mustard greens, mizuna, kale, arugula) from Paradise Farms in Homestead (here you can read a bit more about their "Bx3 Baby Brassica Blend") which is the remedy to everything I typically find uninteresting about salads. Instead of grazing, cow-like, on a monotonous bowl of bland lettuce, there is a lively contrast of textures and flavors here, alternating sweet, bitter, soft, spiky, herbaceous, peppery from bite to bite. Then add an earthy bass note of roasted golden beets, carrots all blistered, caramelized and sweet from the wood-burning oven, tart-sweet heirloom tomatoes, tangy pickled onions, creamy fromage blanc from Hani's (there's more to read about Hani and his goats at Mango & Lime), a vinaigrette redolent with soft herbs, salt it well, and that's a salad I can enjoy.