Monday, July 4, 2011

1500 Degrees - Miami Beach

1500 Degrees

It would have been easy to dismiss 1500°, which opened last October in the Eden Roc Hotel. Its combination of steakhouse and farm-to-table themes could easily seem a cynical effort to simultaneously play both the lowest common demoninator and the latest trendy fashion of restaurant buzzwords. Its chef, Paula DaSilva, was perhaps better known for a stint on the culinary torture porn that is the Gordon Ramsay-hosted Hell's Kitchen than for her work as chef de cuisine of Dean James Max's 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale. And hotel restaurants on the Beach, with limited exceptions, have generally not been the most fertile dining grounds of late.

And yet ...

And yet, 3030 Ocean was a fine restaurant when DaSilva was running it. And yet, that "farm-to-table" routine may be more than just lip service, with a menu that features many local products and artisan producers like Benton's Hams.[1] Maybe I should quit being so cynical and just try it. So I did, a couple times over the past couple months.

The truth is, 1500° really isn't much of a steakhouse at all. Yes, the name is a reference to the temperature of the broiler they use to cook their meats. But beef actually makes up only a small portion of the menu. In fact, the five steak choices (which include a mammoth 34 oz. porterhouse for two) are matched by an equal number of non-bovine entrées, and are vastly outnumbered by various, mostly non-beefy appetizers in various forms, and a plethora of vegetable sides. Which is a good thing: the steaks are OK, but the other stuff is mostly much better.

(continued ...)

(You can see all my pictures in this 1500° flickr set).

smoked fish dip

The menu has a section titled "Small Plates" as well as another labeled "First" containing presumably more substantial appetizers. One of those "small plates" was a smoked fish dip ($9). The dip was more thick than creamy, mild and not overpowered by smoke or fishiness, and given a nice lift by pickled jalapeño peppers. A generous bowl more than adequate for sharing, it came with pieces of grillled ciabatta alongside for scooping.

grilled octopus

Another small plate highlighted grilled octopus ($10), the pleasingly spongy and tender fat tentacle paired up with minted watermelon, peppery arugula, cubes of creamy feta cheese and briny Kalamata olives. The only thing marring an otherwise fine dish was that the watermelon had been macerated with something (the mint? pepper?) that had an overpowering aftertaste, out of whack with the balance of the rest of the dish. Spicy meatballs ($11) came topped with a creamy, light house-made ricotta, though the peppery spice of the red sauce still came through loud and clear (perhaps a bit too much so).

Homestead tomatoes

Several of the "Firsts" are salads, including this classic combination given a local spin with heirloom tomatoes from Homestead and "local" burrata, presumably from Vito Volpe's Mozzarita in Pompano Beach. But DaSilva is not a dogmatic locavore: she also takes the dish to northern Italy for a wavy sheet of salty, lightly smoky speck, by way of Canada, which supplies some sweet Minus 8 vinegar. A caesar salad was both similarly classical and similarly refined, subbing more delicate white anchovies for the usual salty brown strips.

suckling pig confit

But among the starters, the real winner for me was this suckling pig confit ($16). A slab of gorgeous crispy skin covered meltingly tender, juicy meat. A thick pea purée, speckled with slivered snow peas and roasted baby carrots, provided a welcome earthy, vegetal foil for the rich pork. The intense porcinity was echoed by a couple crispy headcheese croquettes, while a couple of garlic whistles (a/k/a garlic scapes)[2] reiterated the grassy flavors of the purée. It's a wonderful dish that is alone worth a visit.

While the menu abounds with choices for starters - other interesting-sounding options included asparagus paired with a "crispy soft egg",[3] Benton's ham, and a summer truffle vinaigrette ($17), a Florida peach salad with blue cheese, candied pecans and honey vinaigrette ($14), or dungeness crab agnolotti with zucchini and corn ($17) - entrées are more slim pickings. The steak choices include an 8 oz. skirt steak ($26) or tenderloin ($36), a 10 oz. top sirloin (a/k/a "picanha" if you're Brazilian) ($27), a 14 oz. Florida grass fed wagyu ribeye ($44), and a 34 oz. porterhouse intended for sharing ($94). Remaining entrée options include a roasted chicken, a couple of fish, a Palmetto Creek Farm pork chop, and a vegetarian "Local Farmer's Delight."

On our first visit, I shared that porterhouse with Frod Jr. and his younger cousin. A porterhouse, cooked on the bone, invariably makes for happy eating, and this one was nicely broiled to the more rare side of the medium-rare we'd requested. Even splitting among one adult and two growing boys, we had leftovers to bring home. There was nothing wrong with the steak, but nothing particularly exceptional about it either. Steaks can be accompanied with a choice from among nearly a dozen sauces, ranging from more customary types such as bearnaise or chimichurri to more exotic ones such as castelvetrano olive salsa or piquillo pepper chutney.

herb seared ahi tuna

We eschewed the steakhouse theme entirely on our second visit, when I instead opted for an herb-rubbed, seared ahi tuna ($35), which drew my attention primarily for the curious accompaniments: a smoked potato salad, a fat slab of Benton's bacon, grilled onions, and a sunny side up egg. These components collectively rounded themselves out into something not entirely unlike a reconstructed salad nicoise. The smoked baby potatoes, lightly mayo-bound, and the runny egg, made a nice counterpoint to the lean tuna. The thick plank of bacon seemed slightly out of place, though, its smoky presence repetitive of the smoked potatoes.

While entrée choices are limited, vegetable side dishes are plentiful, with a whopping seventeen listed ($9-12). Most are simple and straightforward, and usually this is a virtue. Buttered sweet Zellwood corn from Central Florida needs nothing more, and creamed spinach, with a gratinéed crust, is a nostalgic steakhouse classic. On the other hand, braised mustard greens, with more of that Benton's bacon, could have been cooked a little longer to soften their texture and tame their peppery bite. And the duck fat steak fries, stacked like a log cabin, were disappointingly lacking in any crispness - cut too thick and done at too low a temperature.

Florida peach and cherry crostata

Desserts ($9) include both the typical crowd-pleasers as well as some items with a more local focus. While the kids went for warm chocolate cake and espresso crème brûlée, I tried a Florida peach and cherry crostata, served with a smear of Hani's labne and a scoop of basil ice cream. The little pie had a short, crumbly crust wrapped free-form around the filling, about which my only disappointment was that the cherries overwhelmed and disguised the peaches. But I loved the herbaceous, almost minty contrast of the basil ice cream, as well as the additional layer of tangy creaminess from the labne.

The dining room is not quite as sterile as some hotel restaurants, though it's not going to win any personality contests either. Dark wood and dark brown leather make up the primary decorations, contrasted against white leather-surfaced chairs and bleached wood tabletops. A few different seating formats also help break up the room, including a long, tall bar-height table in the center of the room and another low-slung table with a long couch for seating. Outdoor seating is available as well. The wine list is predominantly customary hotel restaurant material: short on reasonably priced appealing selections and dramatically marked up. A bottle of Acustic Montsant was a welcome find, but at $55 was one of the less expensive reds on the list and still priced at nearly 3x retail.

Speaking of which, value is sometimes an iffy proposition here, something that's often an issue with hotel dining. Though the many small plate and vegetable side dish options would suggest the possibility of cobbling together a meal without breaking the bank, our experience didn't quite work out that way. Even with only one of four diners ordering an actual entrée, we still managed to spend nearly $50 per person on food one meal.[4] On the other hand, 1500° also offers a $35 three-course dinner, or on the other end of things, an $85 five-course tasting menu, either of which may be more efficient ways to spend your dining dollars.

For locals, at least, the Miami steakhouse trend seemed played out even nearly a year ago when 1500° opened.[5] And the "farm to table" mantra gets batted around so much these days that it seems meaningless, like a word repeated so often as to sound like gibberish.[6] But neither fully or accurately describe 1500°, though it does serve steaks, and it does serve a lot of locally grown produce. And while there were some dishes that didn't quite find their mark, I appreciated that it was usually the result of over-asertiveness rather than timidity.

1500° could be both complimented and cursed with qualified praise: that it's "pretty good for a hotel restaurant," or "pretty good for a steakhouse." Those are both true, but it shows hints of something even more: it might just turn out to be a pretty good restaurant, period.

4525 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

1500° on Urbanspoon

[1]Speaking of which: 1500° desperately needs someone to proofread its menu and website. "Prix fixe" means fixed price; "pre-fixed" means cooked in advance, and is much less appetizing. "Artisanal" means produced by a skilled worker; "artesian" means coming from an underground well, and is, once again, much less appetizing. I am also more than a bit dubious about the supposedly "wild" carrots.

[2]It's my first time seeing garlic scapes, which are the shoots that garlic plants send up as they grow. They have only the mildest hint of garlic flavor to them, rather being more grassy like asparagus, with a texture also comparable to a pencil asparagus or a fiddlehead fern. Good stuff.

[3]Not necessarily the oxymoron it might seem, as I've seen plenty of panko-crumb crusted soft-cooked eggs lately.

[4]One of us got a starter and entrée. The other three each got two starters and a vegetable side dish. Plus three desserts. That's exclusive of drinks, tax and tip. Part of that may be the vegetable sides, which are steep at $9-12 an order but not so generously portioned that you could really say they're "family style." Compare Michael's Genuine Food and Drink, where similarly portioned veggie sides typically run $5-8, or even Joe's Stone Crab, where they generally run $6-10.

[5]Or even, say, two years ago, when an earlier wave of steakhouse openings crashed on our shores.

[6]I'm not nearly to the point of some, however - i.e., Chef Wylie Dufresene - who belittle the whole "farm to table" pitch and believe that responsible sourcing of ingredients should simply be assumed. We still live in a world where fast food producers - Dominos, McDonalds, Papa John's - think that merely describing their food products as "real" is a valid, appealing marketing proposition. There's still a long way to go.


  1. I've been bloggin for about 15 months now and met bloggers from all over the world but have found precious few Miami blogs.

    Look forward to following you here.

    Be well

  2. Really liked fresh flavor combinations that evoke my senses. But stayed at another hotel.