Fanfare and critical success followed Ángel Palacios the first time he came to Miami.
Food & Wine Magazine named him one of its 10 best new chefs in 2002. He brought La Broche’s culinary mastery and mystery from Madrid to Miami’s still-young dining scene. Foams, gelées and nitrogen highlighted a menu of deconstructed dishes in an all-white Spartan space one reviewer called “library quiet,” where coats and ties were required and the food was the focus.
“He’s cooking in a way that has never been seen in America,” Food & Wine’s editor-in-chief wrote at the time.
The Miami Herald wrote, “it just might deliver the meal of your life.”
It closed in less than a year.
Miami wasn’t ready for a $110-a-person tasting menu with 13 courses (not including alcohol) and molecular gastronomy techniques considered avant garde. Fifteen years later, he’s ready to try again with a partnership that is distinctly Miami and distinctly down-to-earth.
Pubbelly cofounding chef José Mendín, nominated five times for James Beard Awards, has taken over the food and beverage service at the 1 Hotel South Beach and will open a new restaurant in November with Palacios as the chef de cuisine. It’s the first project for Mendín’s new restaurant group, Food Comma Hospitality, which along with partners Sergio Navarro and Juan F. Ayora also will run the Pubbelly empire.
“He was doing cuisine beyond what everyone was doing but maybe beyond what people were ready for,” said Mendín, who was a young chef at nearby Miami Beach restaurant Nobu at the time. “I was so blown away by his food that I would go there once a month and leave my whole paycheck there.”
Palacios returned to Madrid’s La Broche, where the restaurant remained a critical success, with two Michelin stars, until it shuttered in 2014 after a steep downturn in the Spanish economy.
Their new South Beach hotel restaurant, Habitat, will take over for Tom Colicchio’s defunct Beachcraft, which suffered from uneven food and ultimately became a summer casualty as South Florida restaurants on the brink often do.
Mendín’s Pubbelly restaurants haven’t had much luck with hotels. Their French influenced L’echon Brasserie in Miami Beach’s Hilton Cabana was a culinary success but not a profitable one, and it closed. And their PB Station in downtown Miami’s The Langford Hotel also delighted the palate, earning a three-star (Very Good) Miami Herald review before it closed months ago for renovations. No date has been set for reopening.
“I didn’t want to go into another hotel,” Mendín said, “but when we saw the space, we saw the potential.”
Instead, the chefs hope to pool their knowledge at Habitat. Mendín will share with Palacios what he has learned about Miami’s culinary dining scene and palate.
The chefs are honing a menu that will focus on seafood and sustainability, which is the mantra of the eco-friendly focused 1 Hotel. All the food that will be cooked (expect a raw bar with ceviches and crudos, too) will be prepared over open flames and a wood-burning oven.
What it won’t be is the high art of La Broche: no lamb tongue confit, egg yolk sabayon and liquid potato gnocchi. It aspires to combine Palacios’ techniques with Mendín’s gift for creative comfort food.
“He brings the same techniques but in a more fun environment,” Mendín said. “It’s a combination of what he does and what we do ... . I’m letting him create and just adding some of my ideas into his cooking.”