By the time he was in kindergarten, Todd Erickson knew how to change the television channel from cartoons to the Galloping Gourmet. He’d written his first recipe—for chow mein cookies—and grabbed a jar of kimchee off a supermarket shelf, insisting his mother buy it for him. “I didn’t know what it was, but I knew I wanted to taste it,” recalled Erickson. “My father was convinced there was something wrong with me.” In fact, it was just a prophetic glimpse into the young boy’s future, the kind that’s so disturbingly crystal clear it affirms the notion that we’re all born with a singular life purpose and endowed with the necessary gifts to pursue it. Some, like Erickson, just discover this earlier than the rest of us.
And thank goodness for that. Because if it hadn’t been the case, Miami might have been deprived of one of its most innovative, undeniably millennial culinary experiences—Erickson’s Haven, the Lincoln Road gastro-lounge where he blends the classic techniques he honed as a student at the Culinary Institute of America (“The Harvard of cooking schools!”) with a flair that’s pure Miami. That it all goes down in a cutting-edge 21st century environment, where walls are lined with wraparound LCD screens that glow with larger-than-life images of landscape and art, is just more evidence of 33-year-old Erickson’s skilled showmanship. And while he’s famous for serving an other-worldly smooth nitro ice cream, it’s his small plates menu of global fare (sushi, crudos, sliders and skewers) that most excites him. “At the end of the day, I’m still all about flavor,” he said. “The whole molecular thing is interesting, but sometimes it can be too gimmicky. There’s a problem if I leave a restaurant paying a lot of money for sizzle but no steak.”
Such refreshing pragmatism is precisely what lead Erickson, this past year, to open what looks like the opposite of Haven—Hua Hua’s Taqueria, a straight-up taco stand where he can get “down and dirty” offering guilty pleasures like fried chicken and barbecued short rib tacos and queso mac and cheese. As it turns out, Hua Hua’s is a homecoming of sorts for the kid who grew up in the American Southwest, jumping from Phoenix to Los Angeles, Denver to Dallas. (“People think I was an army brat, but I always say I was a greeting card brat. My mom worked in the greeting card industry for years and the moves were corporate transfers for her.”) The ingredients at Hua Hua’s, he says, are ones “I’ve been surrounded by my entire life. So when the taco idea came up, it really connected with my roots.” Don’t worry, though. The heady show isn’t over just yet. This spring, Haven will introduce a new, heartier dinner menu, as they also trade in their low lounge tables for full-sized dining ones that will be on hydraulics. “There’ll be no mistaking that we’re a place where you can come and have dinner,” he said, “and not just cocktails and small plates.”
Catch chef Todd Erickson at the Best of the Munchies: People’s Choice Food Awards, from 6 to 9 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 23, beachside at The Ritz-Carlton in Miami Beach.