Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Norman Conquest

Overall, it has been a pretty good year for additions to the Miami restaurant landsacape. The past several months have seen the openings of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, a star in the making; Sakaya Kitchen, a treasure for low-budget, interesting eats; plus Mandolin Aegean Bistro, AltaMare, Gibraltar, Q American Barbeque, Smoke'T, Mercadito, Morgans, The Forge, Water Club, Zuma, First and First Southern Baking Co., Sparky's Roadside BBQ, Chowdown Grill, the Shake Shack invasion ... it's a pretty impressive list.

I have a hunch it's going to get a lot more impressive in about another week, when Norman's 180, the new restaurant from Chef Norman Van Aken in the Westin Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables, opens its doors. I've long been a big fan of Chef Van Aken's cooking. Though I never got down to Louie's Backyard in Key West when he was in its kitchen, I still have vivid memories of a meal I had at his first Miami restaurant, A Mano in the Betsy Ross Hotel on South Beach. I celebrated my 25th birthday there, and I can still tell you what I ate: a Flintstone-esque cowboy-style rib steak, and a dessert of bananas with rum and chiles.

From there he moved on to what became his flagship, Norman's in Coral Gables, where I had a number of other memorable dishes: his orange and saffron inflected conch chowder, with a coconut "cloud" floating on top; his "Down Island" french toast, topped with foie gras and tropical fruit caramel; salmon rolled in smoky lapsang souchong tea, in a dark "Mer Noir" sauce which was like a liquid mar y montana or surf and turf, layered with flavors of bacon, seafood liquor, red wine and meat stock. It's been three years since Norman's closed, and it's like I can still taste them.

This is what Chef Van Aken has always been so good at doing: creating dishes that tug at the memory, that tell a story. So I'm looking forward to finding out what new stories he will have to tell at Norman's 180. Though Van Aken is generally thought of as one of the godfathers of "New World Cuisine," I've always found that his culinary reach extended all over the map, while still having local roots. And though Norman's 180 is not setting out to be the high-end fine dining experience that Norman's was, a look at the preview menu suggests he still has a few more stories in him:

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There are simple things like a "Stock Island" fish sandwich, Cuban sandwich or a burger; old standards like his "Key West" Yellowtail with citrus butter sauce; but then it dashes from steamed mussels with kabocha pot stickers, to beef phở, to a "Ferlinghetti" pizza topped with three cheeses, chow-chow and fried green tomatoes, to a Vietnamese po'boy, to a dish called "Three Little Pigs" with BBQ baby backs, trotter cake, and ham 'n' mac 'n' cheese ... well, now you're really talking my language. Plus an extensive list of cheeses and charcuterie, including the mindblowing Boccalone nduja sausage? With small plates and sandwiches mostly under $15, and main plates under $25? Tell me more.

As always, the proof will be what's on the plate. The restaurant's official opening will be Tuesday, June 29.

Norman's 180
180 Aragon Avenue
Coral Gables, FL 33134

1 comment:

  1. Was at Norman's on last night of service three years ago, it was special but sad. Been eagerly anticipating 180.

    Manchego onion rings w/ huancaina sauce? GTFOH!