From his open kitchen in Miami Beach’s Haven, chef Todd Erickson looked as calm and collected as an order of his restaurant’s new cool ranch edamame. A few feet away, a table of VIPs — 10 of Erickson’s Miami chef peers — seemed nervous for him.
“He’s got some serious [guts],” said Bradley Kilgore, chef de cuisine of J & G Grill in the St. Regis Bal Harbour. “To cook for us and then take our criticism? I don’t know if I could handle that.”
Erickson recently invited his chef friends for dinner to get their honest opinions about the new menu he is rolling out at Haven this week. After a successful three-year run as a lounge with food, Haven, located on Lincoln Road just west of Alton Road, is attempting a makeover to position itself as a more serious restaurant.
“Sometimes people would come in here, and they’d see the low tables and not even realize that we serve food,” Erickson said. “We wanted to change that up. Now there is no mistaking that this is a restaurant.”
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To help build up the restaurant image, Haven’s partners invested in new hydraulic tables that can stand tall during dinner service and get low as Haven turns more clubby.
But the restaurant’s real test lies in Erickson’s overhauled menu, which swaps Haven’s previous collection of small-plate sliders and skewers for proper servings of fish, meat and composed veggies.
Polite compliments came as the dishes began to appear at the chefs’ table.
“Who is making Todd’s rice? This is some of the best sushi rice I’ve tasted in Miami. Seriously,” cooed chef Aaron Brooks of Edge Steak & Bar, admiring a Hokkaido roll with smoky bay scallops and shrimp.
Honesty led to constructive criticism on a few items, like an ahi tuna poke.
“Too oniony,” said Bernie Matz, formerly of Bernie’s LA Cafe who is now consulting on several South of Fifth restaurant projects for Menin Hospitality.
Paula DaSilva of 3030 Ocean in Fort Lauderdale said she expected more heat from the poke, which listed blistered jalapeño as an ingredient.
The chefs raved about a whole roasted cauliflower topped with truffle butter, rye crumbles and a fried egg, but several said they thought it should have come in a smaller portion.
Erickson kept a close eye on Julian Baker of Toscana Divino when dessert came out: a cuatro-leches panna cotta.
“He’s the Italian chef, so I’m expecting him to rip into my panna cotta,” Erickson said.
The only digging Baker did was to the bottom of his dessert plate. Perhaps use a little less gelatin next time, someone suggested, for better texture.
Erickson took the comments in stride, saying he’d tweak a few items before they made their public debut this week.
“Hearing feedback from colleagues you trust and respect is invaluable,” he said. “I really think the best way to test out new dishes is to put them in front of other chefs.”
Evan S. Benn is the Miami Herald food editor. Follow @MiamiHeraldFood on Twitter.