Friday, April 10, 2009

Pacific Time - Miami Design District

[Sorry, this place has closed]

We used to go to Pacific Time when it was on Lincoln Road, but I have to say that it was never really a favorite. I'm not sure if I'm putting this in a way anyone else will understand, but the food was too "squeaky" for me - too health-conscious, not even enough fat to carry flavors or truly satisfy. By way of example - instead of bringing out bread while you were waiting for food to arrive, they would bring zucchini and yellow squash lightly pickled in a kim chee style sauce. I always resented those zucchini.

There were certainly some dishes that were quite good - I recall the duck pancakes, and a whole yellowtail with ginger and julienned vegetables in a light hot and sour sauce - and at the time Chef Jonathan Eismann's focus on the East/West fusion thing was a new spin, even as the "Mango Gang" of Norman Van Aken, Allen Susser, Douglas Rodriquez, Mark Militello, Dewey LoSasso and others started looking more to the Caribbean for inspiration. And for years the restaurant thrived. But as time went on, prices began to climb steeper and steeper (probably in lockstep with Lincoln Road rents), and - perhaps out of fear of messing with a successful formula - the menu became increasingly set in stone. Six months could go by without a visit, and when I returned it always seemed like the same old stuff. Surely the tourists who were increasingly becoming the primary customer base would never know the difference, but for locals (this local, anyway) whose repeat business could potentially be that base instead - especially during the slow summers when Miami is left to Miamians - the menu had generally become too expensive and too stagnant.

In 2007 the Lincoln Road location closed, and about a year later Chef Eismann and Pacific Time* resurfaced in the Design District. Taking a hint from the then-recent successes of Michy's and Michael's Genuine, the menu focuses primarily on small plates, with a lengthy listing of about 15-20 "snacks" and small dishes, with a few entree-sized salads and maybe a half-dozen mains, along with another half-dozen or so vegetable side dishes. Many dishes continue Eismann's focus on Asian flavors, and in particular the balancing of salty sour sweet and bitter, but the menu also shows more flexibility and range, equally willing to venture into Mediterranean territory as well. Overall, we enjoy the new incarnation of Pacific Time much more than the original.

Over the year or so that PT2.0 has been open, about 60-70% of the menu has remained relatively constant, while a number of new dishes float in and out from time to time. Prices for the small dishes (where I've focused most of my attention) were originally mostly in the $8-15 range, but seem to have crept up and hover more to the upper side of that range and beyond these days. I've generally found, depending on the particular choices, that 2 small dishes is just shy of a satisfying meal while 3 is often a bit too much.

Items I've liked include:
  • grilled asparagus paired with an egg "milanese" (poached and then coated in bread crumbs and fried), prosciutto and good olive oil;
  • tempura soft-shell crab with a Chinese black bean vinaigrette and a toss of baby frisee;
  • sweetbreads done "Buffalo-style" with a crispy coating, served with a neon-orange hot sauce and a blue cheese dipping sauce (though PT's neighbor MGF&D had beaten it to the punch on this idea, having already done some great Buffalo frog legs);
  • a tuna tartare done in a presentation similar to Nobu with a pool of a soy-based sauce underneath, the tuna given a bright clean burst of flavor with some crushed cucumber, and some perfectly crisp greaseless gaufrette potatoes for scooping;
  • a light little dish of soft creamy goat cheese wrapped with sweet grilled eggplant, topped with some microgreens and a nicely tart and fruity reduction;
  • Indonesian beef salad, slices of beef seared rare and topped with a spicy and sweet sauce, sprinkled with peanuts, and served over a bed of braised greens;
  • quail done a couple different ways. On a few occasions I've had it with roasted peaches and a nice flavorful pan sauce, but on my most recent visit there was a new variation (described below) that was devastatingly good;
  • farro with caramelized onions and melted stracchino cheese, done as a veggie side;
  • white beans with goat cheese and thyme, another veggie side, and also sometimes paired with a very nice short rib dish (the short rib meat pulled from the bone and shredded, then re-formed into a cube which is crisped on the edges).
I've been less thrilled by some other dishes. The salmon yaki in the small plates, sauced with both a tamarind bbq sauce and a sake vinaigrette, struck me as overly acidic, as did a salad of cuttlefish tossed with mango, mint, and greens. I've liked, but not loved, the crab dumplings served in a sweet corn and leek soup (silky dumpling skin, but the crab filling was too dense and firm); mussels steamed with sake, tomato and tarragon (too "squeaky"); a beef carpaccio for which tiny dabs of wasabi, mustard and chile sauce didn't do enough to perk up the flavors.

Frod Jr. and Little Miss F are big fans of the hot and sour shrimp from the "snacks", and also love a simply grilled West coast salmon (on the bar menu, but if you ask nicely they'll serve it wherever you sit) served with some of the most awesome fries I have had anywhere, hit with an unadvertised dose of truffle oil. PT2.0 has experimented with an idea that is near and dear to Family Frod's hearts, a kids' tasting menu, which is still being tweaked.

On our most recent visit a week or so ago, there were several things I'd not seen before. The most exotic was probably the "pacu ribs." Pacu is apparently a Brazilian freshwater fish (related to the piranha!) which, through some clever butchering, can be portioned out into servings that look just like baby-back ribs. The "ribs" (which actually each contain three skinny ribcage bones) yield white flesh that easily pulls off the bone and has the rich, meaty, oily, texture of salmon or tuna belly, served here glazed with a tart bbq-style sauce. I didn't love these so much that I'd order them every visit, but I can sure say I've never seen them anywhere else. Also good was a gigantic (Madagascar?) prawn, served with a nice ume (Japanese pickled plum) sauce.

But the pièce de résistance of the night was a variation on PT's quail dish. This bird had the breast boned out except for the wings, and was stuffed with a luxurious mix of shredded duck confit, dried apricots, cherries, and almonds, and dosed subtly with a hint of vanilla oil and a whiff of hazelnut liquor. As if that were not enough, the legs were fried in a tempura batter and paired with a nice, subtle but not wimpy sour orange sauce. It could be said that this was a bit over the top. That might be true. And I don't care.

For dessert, there is a very good "chocolate bomb," a version of the ubiquitous flourless chocolate cake, and an excellent baked alaska which cleverly pairs a torched meringue blanket with an almost-frozen key lime tart. I've also enjoyed a dessert with peaches, a lavender-infused sauce and cinnamon crisps.

The wine list usually has some interesting choices and is for the most part pretty fairly priced, a refreshing change of pace. There's also a good beer selection, including the very good, semi-local (Jupiter, FL) Monk in the Trunk Belgian-style amber ale.

Supposedly coming very soon from Chef Eismann - a pizza parlor and mozzarella bar, Pizzavolante, right around the corner from Pacific Time on Miami Avenue between 39th and 40th Streets.

Pacific Time
35 N.E. 40th Street
Miami, FL 33137

*Though this website is updated with the new address in the Design District, the sample menu is still the old menu from the Lincoln Road days and not very reflective of the current restaurant. Go figure. [Edited to add: the website has now been updated]
Pacific Time on Urbanspoon


  1. Frod:
    You had me at "quail". My wife and I are planning on going to Pacific Time while we are in Miami toward the end of the month. We've eaten there once before and really liked it. I will report back.

  2. I don't believe that the quail #2 I described is a regular menu item. I think that it was more of an "It's Sunday, we've got a lot of duck confit sitting around, what should we do with it, and what's up with this hazelnut liquor?" kind of thing. Worked for me, and the regular one with peaches is pretty darn good too.

  3. We went to Pacific Time after reading all the reviews. Frankly, we were very disappointed and we are not planning on going anymore. First, when my daughter ordered pizza, the waitress said that it would take a while, but she never mentioned the pizza was coming from another restaurant.( bad pizza, anyway). We ordered soup, and since we didn't get any bread while we were waiting for the food, I ordered some. We were told that they didn't have any bread. I never heard of that before. Another customer asked for lemon, and the waitress came back with a few pieces saying that was all they had. What type of restaurant doesn't have lemon or bread. My husband ordered crab salad; poorly presented and barley had anything in it. I ordered skirt steak; skirt steak from Publix is better quality than the one I had. It was hard to chew so I couldn't eat it. So we spend around a $100 and didn't have a good meal.

  4. I'm surprised to hear these comments because they're so inconsistent with my experiences at PT (and I'm there just about monthly).

    As for the pizza, I've never actually seen pizza on the menu at Pacific Time, though I do know if you ask they will get it from Jonathan Eismann's pizza place, PizzaVolante, across the street. I was in PizzaVolante recently and thought the pizza (I got the cacciatorini) was excellent.

    I've never been there when they didn't have bread service either. Nor have I had a tough steak.

    Sorry you were disappointed.