Tuesday, February 14, 2012

neMesis Urban Bistro - Downtown Miami

neMesis Urban Bistro

I was sure I was going to hate neMesis Urban Bistro. The menu was precious, cutesy, and scattered - "heavenly guava cardamom dipping sauce," "Tuscan sushi," "cowardly (no nuts) pesto"? The chef, while professing a sense of humor, seemed awfully thin-skinned when the attempts at humor were directed the other way, banishing the Miami New Times' dining critic for poking fun of the restaurant's name.[1] I was, in a word, dubious.

I was also wrong. Everything about neMesis is quirky - the capitalization of the name, the decoration, the dishes, the chef - but most of it is also quite delicious.

neMesis Urban Bistro

(You can see all my pictures in this neMesis Urban Bistro flickr set).

The chef is Micah Edelstein,[2] and neMesis very clearly bears her imprint in just about every respect, right down to the front door, with an inscription that is more warning than welcome:
"Those lacking imagination and a sense of humor are not welcome at neMesis. Please return from whence you came, and do not darken our door again!"
The dining room is tiny (maybe 30 seats), and fittingly for a place that shares space with LegalArt (a non-profit organization that provides artists access to legal services), it abounds with artwork - a constellation of colorful parasols dangles upside down over the entranceway, a sculpture of men's ties juts out at rakish angles over the windows,[3] large-scale photographic portraits hang throughout.

Chef Edelstein, when she's not in the open kitchen, is often at the tables, bringing out the dishes and telling the stories behind them. Those stories cover lots of territory, ranging from a South African family background to travels around the world to geographically untethered experiments like house-brewed coffee-infused beer (like many things here, surprisingly good). If you're lucky, you'll also be graced with the presence of her young daughter Matilda, and possibly even an art exhibition or magic show.

The menu is divided into "Sexy Nibbles," "Cool Couples," "Main Attractions," and "Happy Endings," and it pains me to write that almost as much as it pains the servers to recite it. But lets get past the preciosity and focus on what's on the plate.


Foccacia, topped with hibiscus-infused mascarpone cheese, caramelized shallots, and a sprinkle of black lava salt, is emblematic of Chef Edelstein's style. It sounds unlikely, it's all over the place at once, and it actually works. The foccacia itself is delightfully light and fluffy, the creamy mascarpone is given a subtle, zesty lift from the citrusy, floral hibiscus, with the jammy shallots providing a sweet/savory anchor. You've not experienced these flavors in this combination before, but it comes off as natural rather than forced, as if they were meant to be together.

duck potstickers

Ditto for the duck potstickers with the aforementioned "heavenly guava cardamom dipping sauce." Like many things at neMesis, this reads sweet, but the finished dish is fairly well balanced. Other than in Indian cuisine, cardamom doesn't get invited to many parties, and when it shows up it can sometimes dominate the conversation. But here it's managed well, its bright, resinous, slightly medicinal flavor, in combination with the aromatic guava, cutting the richness of the braised duck filling.

vegetable samosas

The crispy, oven-baked vegetable samosas likewise get brightened up by a finely diced melon chutney. And those little yellow flowers are not mere decoration - the flowering tarragon provides another herbaceous, anise-y element to the plate.

neMesis salad

The salad at neMesis changes from day to day depending on what ingredients are floating around the kitchen. On one occasion the tangle of greens and sprouts was studded with delicious lardons of house-made lamb bacon. More recently, it came with a sprinkle of garam masala spiced pecans, slivers of avocado and grapefruit, shards of aged parmesan cheese, a sour orange vinaigrette, and a couple vibrant red-orange pimentos biquinho, Brazilian peppers preserved in vinegar that pack lots of flavor and a little heat.

These unexpected bursts of flavor are characteristic of Chef Edelstein's cooking. She paints with a different spice palette than most of us are accustomed to. While some of it is pure creative whimsy, much appears to  derive from the flavors of South African cuisine, which itself is a hodge-podge of indigenous, Cape Dutch, Afrikaner, Indian, British and Portuguese influences.

(continued ...)

ostrich carpaccio

A good example is the ostrich carpaccio, from among the "Cool Couples" section of the menu.[4] The thin slices of ostrich meat, bright-red as raw beef, are drizzled with a rooibos-tea smoked tomato oil (rooibos is a leafy bush which only grows in a particular region of South Africa, where it's regularly used for an herbal tea), and then sprinkled with dukkah (an Egyptian blend of spices, nuts and seeds typically used as a dip for bread.). The carpaccio is garnished with toasted focaccia croutons and a tangle of dressed greens. There are a whole bunch of flavors going on here - virtually none of them familiar - and it's one of the best carpaccios I've ever had.

lamb sosaties

The South African influence makes a few more appearances here and there. Just about every culture has its version of meat on a stick, and South Africa's is "sosaties," usually lamb, typically marinated with spices in the curry family,and often threaded with dried apricots before grilling. Chef Edelstein's version preps the lamb for two days in a tamarind based marinade, soaks the apricots in sherry, and plates the kebabs with a minted yogurt and a black currant syrup.

smoked veal bobotie

Another one: bobotie, traditionally a spiced meat casserole type thing that dates back to the 17th century and arguably could be considered South Africa's national dish. Chef Edelstein's version is quite a bit more refined. At neMesis it takes the form of a spiced and smoked veal meatloaf, topped with dressed greens, the plate dotted with spiced pecans and a passion fruit vinaigrette. As meatloaf goes, this is exciting stuff, and it's a seriously good dish.


I didn't love everything. The "P4" - "Purple Peruvian Potato Pancakes," paired with house-made chicken apple sausage, crispy sage leaves, hibiscus syrup and maple granules - veered too far into sweet territory for me, though it might make a fine brunch dish. The guava chili pork was dry and uncharacteristically bland, and the pairing with a cheddar spaetzle seemed incongruous. Salmon glazed with chamomile and horseradish, served over a cold quinoa salad, also failed to inspire. Other "Main Attractions" still tempt, though, including a piri-piri bison with a huckleberry dark chocolate sauce, and a "Kira Inspired Scallop" with tomato saffron sauce, currants and chorizo.[5]

Willy Wonka sampler

But the pace picks right back up with dessert. The "Willy Wonka Sampler" includes a varying collection of confections - in one iteration, a "Frenetic Toffee" showered with coconut shavings and infused with spicy piri-piri; minty "Grasshopper Bites;" sticky, chewy "Rum Blonde Brownie Cookie Dough Squares;" and finally, "Dark Chocolate Curried Bark," sprinkled with pumpkin seeds and raisins and enlivened with curry spices. The toffee and dark chocolate, which seem to be mainstays on the sampler, are both excellent, with intriguing but well-balanced doses of heat and spice to play against the sweet. House-made ice creams and sorbets likewise tend toward exotica as well, and most have been quite good.

neMesis is a unique restaurant. The flavors are unlike anything else you'll experience in Miami, and Chef Edelstein's idea of "customer service" is pretty unusual too. It's not going to be for everyone, and Chef Edelstein seems to be more than OK with that. I admire and respect her commitment to doing things the way she wants them - and I'll gladly put up with the cutesy menu descriptions to get more food like this.

neMesis Urban Bistro
1035 N. Miami Avenue

NeMesis Urban Bistro on Urbanspoon

[1] Sure enough, there has been no New Times review, though the restaurant has been open for more than half a year. There is also probably no chef or restaurateur in Miami who has been more inclined to take advantage of Yelp's newish policy of allowing business owners to respond to Yelpers. Chef Edelstein does not hold back.

[2] Chef Edelstein first came to Miamians' attention during a fairly brief stint at now-closed Grass Restaurant and Lounge in the Design District, and may be known to others as well from a brief appearance in Top Chef Season 3.

[3] There's not much to look at through those windows right now - this northern periphery of Miami's downtown, around the corner from the "Entertainment District" with Club Space and other less savory venues, still has more "street people" than "street scene."

[4] Though this portion of the menu is ostensibly focused on foods meant for beer or wine pairings, it also has several dishes that bridge the gap between appetizer and entrée sized portions. In fact, despite multiple visits we've actually made little headway into the "Main Attractions," since a couple appetizers and one of these mid-size dishes tends to hit the spot with a little more variety to boot.

[5] That would presumably be Kira Volz, who was last seen at the now-closed Creek 28 in the Indian Creek Hotel on Miami Beach.


  1. "If you're lucky, you'll also be graced with the presence of her young daughter Matilda, and possibly even an art exhibition or magic show."

    While eating at neMesis, I found Matilda to be charming. However, my dinner partner and I were spending good money for our food and time. She was at our table for quite some time, and once she left, she came back again several times. I love how she is in the restaurant watching Micah do what she loves, however, I do think there needs to be some sort of consciousness to the time that she is spending at tables. For many, dinner time is a time for adult conversation. This isn't possible when you have an innocent young'in popping around your seat.

    I've seen other comments in which Micah adamantly defends her daughters presence in the front of the house. It is her restaurant, and she can run it however she pleases, but she should at least keep the consumer in the back of her mind, if she refuses to put it at the forefront.

    At any other restaurant, I think patrons would be willing to speak up about these matters. However, at neMesis, due to comments on many forums, it seems that people are trying to be relatively tight-lipped, for fear of backlash.

  2. And another comment as to how to make a reservation at neMesis. I previously had to make and then cancel a reservation - I did call to cancel, I did not just flake and not show up. For the next time I called to make a reservation, I was greeted by a pleasant voice on the other side of the phone. After then giving her my name for the reservation, the voice turned a little edgy and asked why I had made a reservation in the past and then cancelled. Would I be doing the same this time? I felt like I was being scolded. I'm not sure if anyone else has had this experience, but it left a sour taste in my mouth.

  3. I have eaten there several times, and had the pleasure of being entertained by the amazing Matilda...I think Micah hits the nail on the head when she openly admits her place is not for everyone...she doesn't want it to be or expect it to be. You take the place, her, her child as a package complete with faults, quirks and things to love and admire and in my case dream about going back to eat. It is in many ways like going to her house for dinner, and once she knows you or you warm to what she is doing there you will also feel quite at home. I know because she keeps my name logged in the bistro phone, so now when I call I am personally greeted! It is totally understandable why many would not like this place or comprehend what is going on inside. She is an artist who happens to work in the media of food, and like most artists she is passionate and emotional about her work. Her sense of humor is wry and very sarcastic, more British than American, and I can see why many miss that too. I see people criticize, but I just have to admire her guts for doing what she loves and raising that little one as such all on her own. She has built something magical in Miami in a part of town that would be unknown to many that now go, including myself, just to eat her food and chat with her...and see a few Matilda magic tricks. You enter her world for a time where nothing makes sense "logically", but it all works quite wonderfully for me! If it made sense to everyone, I would never get a seat!

  4. I find it condescending when people constantly keep saying that people who don't have totally positive reviews for this restaurant don't "get it." Many of us "get" the concept of this establishment, but just because we have several qualms with it doesn't mean we don't see the picture she's trying to paint.

    1. Totally agree SLC, I "get" it. I just don't appreciate babysitting someone else's child while overpaying for ok food in a dicey neighborhood and then being subjected to the chef's childish rants when I as a paying customer post a review. She is appalling and I don't think any of my British friends would think otherwise.