Giorgio Rapicavoli, the first Miamian to take the top spot on Food Network’s Chopped, used some of his prize money to launch a pop-up with childhood friend Alex Cassanova last winter. That temporary gig has taken permanent root in a place that really needs its.
“Exciting” is not a word I’ve applied to Coral Gables dining in recent years except, perhaps, at La Cofradia and Por Fin, may they rest in peace. But where those places were precious and pricey, Eating House and its telegenic face man (voted hottest chef in Miami on Eater.com) are doing quirky, messy, fatty, sexy and foamy all at once.
The lineup and the place are both tiny—maybe 15 dishes a night and some 40 seats make up what has become a cult favorite. The beverage menu is equally minuscule but serviceable, with nice craft beers and boutique wines. Rapicavoli will soon be opening a bar nearby with a full cocktail menu.
The spot exudes all the hipster cool of a Brooklyn speakeasy. Though prettied up with graffiti art on the gray walls and cool hanging light bulbs, it is still decidedly dineresque, with thick-lipped water glasses and plaid-shirted staff.
The menu changes nightly. Only a few dishes remain in the rotation, and as the seasons change, I expect they will, too.
When a meal starts with a bright orange, Sazon-flavored popcorn and brunch features Tang mimosas and Cap’n Crunch pancakes, you know the chef doesn’t take himself too seriously. His meat-heavy menu exudes a bit of machismo, with lots of beef and pork, sometimes scallops or mussels but rarely fish. The small card listing the night’s dishes is intentionally sparse, so lean heavily on your servers for a clue.
At the moment, a dynamite starter is a salad of sweet local tomato wedges invisibly veiled in an Asian-tinged dressing of lime, ginger, fish sauce, peanuts, herbs and freeze-dried coconut ice kept smoking cold with a blast of liquid nitrogen.
General Tso’s oxtail, fist-size hunks of meaty beef bones, is served with intriguingly moist and crunchy fried “rice” — chewy cauliflower sautéed with carrots and shishito peppers, then given zing with soy and sesame.
Rapicavoli manages to blend Korean, Chinese, American and Cuban as well as molecular techniques in ways that more often than not work. He shows his Italian roots with pasta carbonara made with a broad flat noodle sauced with a slightly coddled egg, crunchy bacon and (perhaps unnecessarily) a hit of truffle oil.
One night I enjoyed the most charming and exuberant carrot dish I’ve ever tasted: coins of the baby roots shellacked in miso-maple glaze with thumb-size whole carrots the color of blackberries and sunshine. The whole plate was festooned with ribbons of shaved raw carrot and dotted with an intriguing, vermouth-spiked yogurt. Beets, too, were celebrated in a shredded salad with a citrusy spritz and tiny violet flowers.
Another night, however, all I could get in the produce department was the popular brussels sprouts, the tiny nuggets cooked as oily and crispy as potato chips and topped with greasy chow mein noodles. It would be nice to see more light and green things on the menu.
Other dishes, like a polenta poutine with braised short ribs and ricotta or fried chicken with foie-gras-stuffed waffles, sugar-coated bacon and maple syrup, can run too far with the rich theme.
Desserts strike a whimsical and indulgent note, too. A pot of black “earth” cookie crumbs is topped with pretzels and whipped Nutella, while a deconstructed tiramisu with an oddly bready ladyfinger gelato and espresso pudding is more interesting than delicious.
Still, this exciting young chef is striving for greatness, and he often nails it.
Miami Herald critics dine anonymously at the newspaper’s expense.
Contact Victoria Pesce Elliott at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @VictoriaPesce.