Besides being a convivial host, competent kitchen expediter and constant presence in his Brickell restaurant, Michael Sullivan is wise to partner with talented chefs.
Sullivan, the young owner-operator of the new Golden Fig, previously picked up chef Jacob Anaya, fresh off a stint at super-fancy Azul, to cook beer-friendly fare at Sullivan’s laid-back OTC. After a three-year run, Sullivan hit the reset button on OTC, parting ways with Anaya and re-conceptualizing the space into the seasonal, farm-inspired Golden Fig, which opened in July.
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At the helm of the kitchen now is chef Tomas Prado, a Miami native who worked in finance before finding his way to culinary school. Sullivan plucked him for Golden Fig after Prado had put in time in the South Florida kitchens of culinary maestros Daniel Boulud and José Andrés.
Golden Fig, like OTC, isn’t quite sure whether it wants to be a serious, capital-R restaurant or a casual, neighborhood bar and grill. And, like OTC, it excels at elevated pub food while sometimes fumbling the finer stuff.
Gone are OTC’s suggested beer pairings with each menu item, which have been replaced with the city, state or farm where the dish’s main ingredient has been sourced: Farmer’s Salad (Homestead), Foie Gras Parfait (Hudson Valley, New York), Potato Purée (Boise, Idaho) and so on.
It’s easy to talk the talk of regional-seasonal cooking at a time when every restaurant, it seems, touts its organic this and farm-to-table that. And Golden Fig does plenty of talking — servers’ cheerful menu recitations are laden with “sustainable,” “local,” “grass-fed,” “our farmers” and other buzzwords.
But Golden Fig walks the walk, too. Prado recently tore up his summer menu to build a new one from fall flavors and seasonal sensibilities. Root vegetables and hearty brassicas have replaced summer squash and sweet corn; seared duck breast fills a slot that used to be for black grouper.
Prado’s cheffy touches are evident off the bat, in ham croquettes. He fills them with a blend of airy, creamy béchamel flecked with shards of smoky Virginia country ham, and the balls come out of the fryer with nary a drop of grease.
His time working under Boulud comes through in house-cured lardo from Florida-raised pigs and duck prosciutto from New York fowl. Thin blankets of the unctuous lardo melt over grilled strips of Zak the Baker bread. A perky IPA mustard delivers just enough acid and heat to wipe the piggy fat from the palate, readying it for another bite of lardo or a nib of funky Kentucky blue cheese.
Golden Fig hasn’t forgotten OTC’s craft-beer roots. A smart bottle list includes large-format and hard-to-score aged brews, and a mostly local draft rotation features — besides beers — nitrogenated cold-brew Panther Coffee and a Florida-brewed ginger kombucha that paired surprisingly well with these appetizers.
Entrees are well conceived but struggle in execution. The pink blush of medium-rare Hudson Valley duck breast is hard to get to under a too-thick cap of unrendered fat and flabby skin. At $32, it’s the most expensive item at Golden Fig, complemented by fall flavors from pickled plums and baby turnips.
Accompaniments on a $29 plate of yellowtail snapper also overshadow the main event. Cauliflower three ways — pickled, pureed and roasted — is a playful delight around a skin-on fillet with incongruously dry flesh and gummy skin.
A better bet is the burger ($17): a juicy, grass-fed patty under an oozy sheet of sharp Vermont cheddar, with house pickles, special sauce and a generous side of hot, crispy fries. Order it with Prado’s new cauliflower steak — so hot right now — that comes with irresistibly sweet-savory roasted grapes.
Service is friendly but not flawless. A waitress, sweet as can be, gratingly referred to us as “you two” on every check-in, and we heard “no problem!” enough to warrant a lecture from New York restaurateur Danny Meyer (his “Setting the Table” book expounds on why the phrase is a hospitality no-no).
I love the trend of restaurants serving house-filtered still and sparkling water, as Golden Fig does. I loathe when servers pour flat water on top of a glass of fizz, as Golden Fig’s do.
Desserts ensure a sweet finish to the Golden Fig experience, with chocolate ganache and beer-infused ice cream and warm apples delivering doses of comfort. A deconstructed carrot cake with ribbons of candied carrots is too good not to scrape clean.
As he did at OTC, Sullivan has put a strong leader in charge of Golden Fig’s kitchen. If Prado dials up some entrees to the level of his apps and sides, and Sullivan drills down the front-of-house quirks, Golden Fig will have a staying power that OTC did not.
Evan S. Benn is Miami Herald food editor: 305-376-4624, @EvanBenn