Forgive me if I don’t get excited every time a “celebrity chef” opens a restaurant in Miami. Few, if any, have what it takes to sustain a place where I actually want to eat.
Jeremy Ford’s Stubborn Seed is an exception. This telegenic, tattooed talent is turning out some of the most exciting, balanced and delicious flavors South Beach has ever seen.
This 32 year-old Jacksonville native, winner of Top Chef season 13, has paid his dues working alongside seafood guru Dean Max and French master Jean-Georges Vongerichten.
After three years spinning Latin-inspired flavors at Edition Hotel’s Matador Room, Ford got an offer to open his own spot, where it takes more than a basket of gorgeous produce, a creative edge and a pretty smile to win the day’s challenge.
Stubborn Seed, sandwiched between Joe’s Stone Crab and Red steakhouse, is not another fancy tourist magnet. Instead, this sexy 72-seater, is a rare example of exquisite talent, creativity, hard work and discipline combined to create an experience that is at once satisfying and sophisticated without being overly precious.
Despite a name that conjures a gritty vegetarian cafe, Stubborn Seed with its gray concrete walls, warm wooden accents and strategic pin lighting is more like a cozy urban bistro.
“Ultimately Stubborn Seed just kind of fits,” Ford said of the name in a follow up interview. “It defines not just myself but our team and our philosophy.”
That stubborn streak shows in every detail. Befitting the rustic, industrial vibe, matte black tables are set with burlap napkins tied off with herb sprigs. Young, hip servers in long aprons arrive with paper menus and puffs of warm, tiny parker-house-like potato rolls topped with bitter-sweet bee pollen alongside a punchy, bright green garbanzo and chili dip.
The menu is tight by design. There are only about 15 dishes total, and each one is complexly crafted and plated with precision.
Yes, there are some aerated sauces, er, foams, and even the occasional puff of smoke coming from a cloche (voila!). However, modern techniques that can be gimmicky elsewhere, here are thoughtful.
An abundance of fresh microherbs and blasts of brightly colored sauces speak to Ford’s obsession with fresh produce, some of which he harvests from his Palmetto Bay home with the help of his two young daughters.
Dishes are at once creamy and crunchy, acidic and smooth, warm and cool, bright and mild, sweet and spicy — forming mini flavor bombs in each bite. Plates are composed as artfully as a fine art canvas. But every element that works on the plate also works on the palate.
Take for example the disc of warm celery root served alongside a gangly bouquet of meaty maitake mushroom gently tempuraed to create a crispy contrast with a pool of creamy mustard.
Another standout comes in the form of lozenges of stunning, blush-tinted nairagi (striped marlin) from Hawaii. The raw fish is served in a sweet-sour kombucha tea and dotted with gelatinous sea grapes, cubes of pickled, tart green apple with dollops of tangy buttermilk spiked with fermented jalapeño and orange chutney.
Smoky, tea-cured cobia gets a cool bath of neon-hued celery broth.
A simple lavash is spread with creamy chicken liver paté, dotted with pops of sweet-and-fiery chili jam, and peppered with sprigs of fennel and flowers that look like they were made by wood fairies.
A long-braised deck of short rib is slathered in an umami-thick paste of miso and mustard with bright as jack-o-lantern carrots. And a delicate butter-poached Maine lobster gets knocked in the knees with a ginger and lemongrass-infused green curry foam.
Desserts from young pastry upstart Dallas Wynne, who came from Coconut Grove’s Ariete, are a bit uneven. Alongside comfort fare like cinnamony snickerdoodle cookies is an overly complicated coconut semifreddo with seven different elements.
A surprising wine list includes well-priced trophy bottles, stunning by-the-glass options as well as bargain bottles, including a classic rosé from Provence and a flinty pinot grigio from Friuli for under $45.
The only downside I see to this newcomer is its celebrity status, which makes it tough to score a seat and tends to make guests linger longer snapping pics, stacking reservations.
Stubborn or not, this is one seed that that I hope will take root and give fruit for a very long time.
Follow Victoria Pesce Elliott on Instagram and Twitter @VictoriaPesceE
Critics dine unannounced at Miami Herald expense. For the latest restaurant inspection reports, visit dine.miami.com.
If you go
Place: Stubborn Seed
Address: 101 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach
Contact: 786-322-5211. StubbornSeed.com
Prices: Rooted/Raw (smaller. Seafood,salad, and pasta) $6- $31; meat and fish mains $33-$55; dessert $9-$14. Seven-course tasting menu $125 per person. Wine pairing is an additional $57.
Hours: 6 -11 p.m. Tuesday- Saturday; 11:30 a.m.- 3 p.m. and 6 - 11 p.m. Sunday, closed Monday.
FYI: Metered street parking; full bar; $35 corkage fee per bottle; Reservations strongly suggested; AE, DC, MC, VS.
What the Stars Mean:☆ (Poor) ☆ 1/2 (Fair) ☆☆ (OK) ☆☆ 1/2 (Good) ☆☆☆ (Very Good) ☆☆☆ 1/2 (Excellent) ☆☆☆☆ (Exceptional)