Monday, November 13, 2017

first thoughts: Stubborn Seed - Miami Beach


Summer in South Florida isn't good for much. Mangoes. Avocados. Royal poincianas. That's about it. It's the season of 90° heat with 90% humidity, hurricanes, and restaurant closures.[1] But we've made it through to the other side! The thermometer occasionally dips below 80°, most of the trees downed by Hurricane Irma have been cleared, and new restaurants are popping up left and right. Among them is Stubborn Seed, which opened in late September. It is the first of two new projects[2] from chef Jeremy Ford, who was last heading up the kitchen at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Matador Room, though many more folks probably know him from his victory in Top Chef Season 13.

This is a much more intimate affair than his last gig. Ford has traded a big hotel restaurant for a corner spot in South Beach's quieter SoFi (South of Fifth) neighborhood, where about sixty seats are divided between a bar area with high-tops as you enter and a somewhat stark dining room in back, all buffed gray walls and dark wood tables.

(You can see all my pictures in this Stubborn Seed flickr set.)

The menu at Stubborn Seed is somewhat stark as well: it comprises fifteen items all told, which includes a "bread service" that was brought to our table without charge.[3] It's matched by a cocktail selection that is nearly the same size – in fact, the actual drinks menu is in the form of a newspaper which dwarfs the size of the food menu.



The bread service and the cocktails are a good way to start things off at Stubborn Seed. The bread is a puffy version of Colombian pan de bono, dusted with fennel pollen and coarse salt, and served with a dollop of an herb-flecked green garbanzo dip whose bright color matches its flavor. And you'll want to spend some time with these cocktails, because they're a production. The "Negroni a la Ford" is made with Del Maguey Vida Mezcal in place of the gin, plus Ancho Reyes, white creme de cacao, and Xocolatl Mole bitters, as well as a passionfruit marshmallow suspended across the glass which you can toast over a flaming sugar cube.[4] The "Silver Dollar Old Fashioned" is a D.I.Y. project which literally arrives on a silver platter, with a cut-glass decanter of rye, a dropper of house-made bitters, a shaker of simple syrup, and a big ice block in a glass. There's a lot of ungapatchka here, but you could skip the s'mores and the silver platters and they'd still be very good drinks.

It's possible you've heard this before, but dishes "are meant to be shared," and "come out of the kitchen as they're ready." We ordered several of the crudos and "snacks" (which collectively make up 2/3 of the short menu) and one larger dish to share; happily, rather than the confused multi-plate pile-up that often ensues, our meal was coursed out in a series of rounds that actually made sense. But pity the diner who just wants their own appetizer followed by an entree these days.[5]


When Ford was on Top Chef, I nicknamed him "Crudo Bro," because every dish he made was a crudo,[6] and because he is clearly a member of the Broheim Tribe.[7] So we had to try both iterations featured on the menu. The one pictured at top was a winner: meaty, fatty Hawaiian kajiki (blue marlin), paired with creamy buttermilk and spicy fermented chiles, kombu, ribbons of Asian pear, and dried sea grapes. It was great.

The other, featuring local snapper cured in JoJo tea, with slivers of heart of palm and clementine segments, awash in a green bath of sorrel and celery, was dominated by the cloying sweetness of the clementine. This dish needs something to perk it up other than the smoke from dry ice added to the bowl.[8]


This lavash cracker, spread with chicken liver mousse and dotted with smoked chili jam, was just delicious – crunchy, creamy, rich, spicy, sweet. Shared between two people, it makes for only a couple bites, and may well leave you pining for another.[9]

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