As quickly as the depth and quality of Miami dining has soared over recent years, plant-based cuisine — surging in many U.S. cities — hadn’t sprouted with any significance here. But in February, Matthew Kenney, a classically trained chef who has made himself into one of the nation’s moguls of meatlessness, sprung onto the scene in Wynwood with Plant Food and Wine, the fascinatingly creative culinary wing of entrepreneur Karla Dascal’s wellness and healing oasis, Sacred Space Miami.
Situated in a gorgeous garden of eating, the restaurant and adjacent cooking academy has a modern look and feel, with a sparely decorated high-ceilinged dining room, exhibition kitchen, carefully stocked bar and about 100 seats. Kenney created the concept, modeled after the Plant Food and Wine in Venice, California. (He has four other culinary schools, additional restaurants in New York and Maine, and a plan to open one in Hong Kong.) Scott Winegard, national director of culinary, crafted the menu, and Horacio Rivadero (formerly of Tantalize and the District) is the on-site chef de cuisine. Food is either completely raw, dehydrated, fermented, smoked or cooked sous vide.
The menu features salads and other starters, mains, desserts and shareable multi-piece dishes. Two concepts are at work: Some dishes look, sound and taste like familiar dishes that incorporate animal products. Others are never-seen-it-before creations, and Kenney says he’s trying to evolve to the point where his whole menu follows the latter format.
But that would be a shame, if it comes at the cost of Plant’s Flora artisanal cheeses. Cashews or macadamia nuts and cashews are blended with water, allowed to ferment for a couple of days, flavored with smoke or truffle or peppercorn and aged at least two weeks. The result is creamy, soft cheeses that have the flavor and mouth feel of dairy-based cheese. They’re served with pickles of cucumber, celery or rhubarb, sunflower or walnut fennel crackers, a variety of fruit purées and make for a terrific start with a glass of organic wine. Blue cheese is a $6 up-charge, and it’s worth it.
Among the shareables, do not miss a plate of three plump kimchi dumplings. Fermented red kimchi is pulsed into a paste with cashews, sesame, ginger and sesame oil. The wrappers are made of dehydrated Thai coconut, with the wonton texture spot-on and the oozy richness of the filling addictive. Coriander-ginger of sesame milk foam and kimchi blended with olive oil are the dips.
You might think smashed avocado with culantro, radish and lemon looks like guacamole, and it tastes like guacamole, too, albeit without the Mexican flavors. Dip into the generous serving with sunflower chia crisps.
Bahn mi lettuce wraps are marinated raw collard greens stuffed with Thai-spiced chili-almond pâté. Napa cabbage, red pepper and pickled daikon add crunch to this immaculately fresh-tasting trio of wraps.
One of the few cooked items is cauliflower, done sous vide and then dehydrated. They’re coated with a classic salsa verde (not much garlic, because it would be raw) a crema made of toasted pepitas and preserved lime.
An impressive Caesar salad features giant Romaine leaves, arugula and sprouts, flavored with capers and a Caesar-tasting dressing of sunflower, olive oil, lemon, sea salt and a bit of garlic.
Mains feature a wide variety, including touches from Kenney’s forays into South America. Peruvian aji amarillo flavors an outstanding pair of banana leaf tamale, sweet cornmeal with cashew, a raw mole made from cacao powder and avocado. The Brazilian classic seafood moqueca here substitutes sous-vide-cooked mushrooms, incorporating the classic flavors of lime, cilantro, house-made coconut milk, tomato, chile and dende (palm) oil.
One of the first dishes Matthew created was zucchini lasagna, and it brims with familiar Italian flavors. The layers of olive- and basil-oil-brushed zucchini are woven with sun-dried and fresh tomato and red bell pepper, flavored with chili flake onions and herbs. A macadamia-based ricotta, tarted up with lemon, provides the filling. And a macadamia-based basil pesto is the sauce.
Kenney’s take on Cacio e pepe, the classic Italian pasta dish, is startlingly good. The noodles are raw kelp, and the rich sauce is purée of cashew with olive oil, lots of black pepper and sea salt. Savory black specks on the dish are dehydrated oil-cured Moroccan olives. It looks like a small serving, but it’s deeply satisfying.
The Plant dish that most resembles traditional vegan cuisine is the heirloom grains, a giant bowl with sectioned servings of black lentils, black rice, kale marinated with olive oil and lemon and rainbow carrots, with a mustard-sesame dressing. The difference here is that each component is perfectly prepared, particularly the kale. The grains change often, but the kale and carrots and dressing are always in there.
Desserts are the works of art that have largely gone missing from rapidly gentrifying Wynwood. A strawberry hibiscus cheesecake has an uncooked base of coconut, cashew and coconut butter, and it has the same texture and crunch you would find on a conventional crust. Lime curd, pistachio and sorrel leaves are the filling. Key lime brûlée features cashew, coconut and lime, the brûlée in the form of coconut sugar lightly burnt with a torch.
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If you go
Place: Plant Food and Wine Miami
Address: 105 NE 24th St., Miami
Rating: ☆☆☆☆ (Exceptional)
Contact: 305-814-5365; plantfoodandwine.com
Hours: 11:30 a.m.-11.p.m. Monday-Thursday; till midnight Friday-Saturday; till 10 p.m. Sunday.
Prices: Cheese plates $20-$26; shareable starters $7-$15; small plates $12-$16; mains $19-$24; desserts $14.
FYI: Reservations encouraged; full bar; noise level low; $7 valet or self-parking but plenty of nearby metered parking.