Restaurant News & Reviews

This Miami vegan restaurant thrives after dumping its celebrity chef

This kofta, made with walnuts and sunflower seeds, is one of the new dishes at the revamped Plant Miami.
This kofta, made with walnuts and sunflower seeds, is one of the new dishes at the revamped Plant Miami. Courtesy Plant Miami

A new Plant grows in Miami.

On the outside, nothing about the physical restaurant at Wynwood’s The Sacred Space seemed different on a recent Friday afternoon, when owner Karla Dascal had lunch on the terrace at the former Plant Food and Wine restaurant. The glass sliding doors opened to the crisp January air, reflecting a pool and guava grove as she shared a meal of plant-based delicacies, from cashew cheeses to pasta and a finger-licking passion fruit flan made with kelp.

Two separate, longtime diners stopped at her table to say how much they’d enjoyed yet another meal here. Little did they know the upheaval the restaurant has endured behind the scenes.

Handcrafted Cheese Board
Cheeses made from cashews remain on the menu at Plant Miami, and are as enticing as the original. Courtesy Plant Miami

Dascal settled a lawsuit in late November against California vegan and raw-food chef Matthew Kenney, the award-winning chef who brought his plant-based restaurant, Plant Food and Wine, to South Florida. The restaurant displayed a refined level of vegan and vegetarian cuisine the likes of which Miami hadn’t known. However, he also brought along a string of bad business dealings.

Dascal sued him in March, claiming he owed more than $1.4 million in rent and broke his contract by lending his name to a second plant-based restaurant in South Florida, Plnthouse on Miami Beach. It was the latest in a string of suits against Kenney, as reported in a July Miami Herald investigation. Kenney countersued for unspecified damages, saying Dascal didn’t have the right to take over the restaurant and use his recipes. They settled and Dascal renamed the restaurant Plant Miami.

Through it all, the restaurant never closed. The original day-to-day chefs, a husband-and-wife team who had been with the restaurant since it opened, stayed on and innovated new plant-based menus for devoted fans.

“It was seamless,” Dascal said. “All of it has been settled. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out, as it sometimes doesn’t in relationships.”

Karla Dascal
Owner Karla Dascal renamed the restaurant Plant Miami and kept the menu’s focus on plant-based foods. Courtesy Plant Miami

Kenney’s attorney declined to comment on the settlement. Kenney was in the news again last month after he stopped making payments on a historic building he purchased in Belfast, Maine, according to the Bangor Daily News. The building was foreclosed on in December after he walked away from more than $825,000 remaining on a property he agreed to buy for $950,000, the newspaper reported.

Matthew Kenney, who opened the original restaurant, settled with owner Karla Dascal, after, she claimed in a lawsuit, he broke their contract and owed $1.4 million in back rent.

READ MORE: This celebrity chef brought Miami his innovative vegan food — and a trail of lawsuits

For Miami diners, the biggest question throughout was how the food would be affected at a restaurant that was universally praised. Under Kenney, the restaurant earned 3 ½ out of four stars from the Miami Herald. Dascal said the key was chef Horacio Rivadero, a James Beard Award semifinalist at The District in 2014, who had been the chef de cuisine since the opening in Februrary 2016. Rivadero is now the executive chef, sharing in the management and cooking with his spouse, pastry chef Veronica Manolizi.

Rivadero and Manolizi put their spin on many of the original favorites — the vegan lasagna became a celery root lasagna, and the cacio e pepe became a cacio de funghi, also made with kelp noodles. Plus they incorporated dishes with Miami roots, such as a sous vide mushroom ropa vieja and a banana leaf tamale.

“We reflect this city — a melting pot of different cultures. We transform traditional dishes into this cuisine,” Rivadero said.

A spin on the restaurant’s original dish, the cacio de funghi uses kelp in the noodles and shaved truffles. Courtesy Plant Miami

The menu also includes seasonal ingredients grown at Dascal’s Paradise Farms in Homestead, one of the state’s first organic growers and the source for many of the area’s farm-to-table restaurants. Rivadero said he expects new menus every few months as the available produce changes.

Plant Miami also now slots into Dascel’s wider concept at The Sacred Space, she said. Ingredients on the menu can be purchased at the new shop next door. What was supposed to be Kenney’s culinary school will now host cooking demos and workshops. And guest chefs, such as Food Network star Ingrid Hoffman, will visit for special events. Plus, she plans to host retreats at Paradise Farms, which she bought in March, and turn it into a holistic health and wellness destination, an extension of The Sacred Space.

“We’re focused on the wellness message,” she said. “Food is our medicine and it can be a culinary experience.”

Flan Plant Miami
The new menu at Plant Miami is full of seasonal, Miami-sourced items, such as this passion fruit and star fruit flan, made with kelp. Courtesy Plant Miami

Carlos Frías: 305-376-4624, @Carlos_Frias

Plant Miami

105 NE 24th St., Miami