3 stars for Eating House in Coral Gables

Giorgio Rapicavoli, the first Miamian to take the top spot on Food Network’s Chopped, used some of his prize money to launch a pop-up with childhood friend Alex Cassanova last winter. That temporary gig has taken permanent root in a place that really needs its. “Exciting” is not a word I’ve applied to Coral Gables dining in recent years except, perhaps, at La Cofradia and Por Fin, may they rest in peace. But where those places were precious and pricey, Eating House and its telegenic face man (voted hottest chef in Miami on are doing quirky, messy, fatty, sexy and foamy all at once.

The lineup and the place are both tiny—maybe 15 dishes a night and some 40 seats make up what has become a cult favorite. The beverage menu is equally minuscule but serviceable, with nice craft beers and boutique wines. Rapicavoli will soon be opening a bar nearby with a full cocktail menu. The menu changes nightly. Only a few dishes remain in the rotation, and as the seasons change, I expect they will, too. Rapicavoli’s meat-heavy menu exudes a bit of machismo, with lots of beef and pork, sometimes scallops or mussels but rarely fish. The small card listing the night’s dishes is intentionally sparse, so lean heavily on your servers for a clue.

221 group 042013-MiamiReview chef Giorgio Rapicavoli ADD
This is the Pasta Carbonara with bacon, truffle, egg yolk, and parmesan at the Eating House 804 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables on April 10, 2013. AL DIAZ THE MIAMI HERALD STAFF

Ambience: The spot exudes all the hipster cool of a Brooklyn speakeasy. Though prettied up with graffiti art on the gray walls and cool hanging light bulbs, it is still decidedly dineresque, with thick-lipped water glasses and plaid-shirted staff.

What Worked

  • A bright orange, Sazon-flavored popcorn
  • Tang mimosas
  • Cap’n Crunch pancakes
  • A dynamite salad of sweet local tomato wedges invisibly veiled in an Asian-tinged dressing of lime, ginger, fish sauce, peanuts, herbs and freeze-dried coconut ice
  • General Tso’s oxtail – fist-size hunks of meaty beef bones, served with intriguingly moist and crunchy fried “rice” — chewy cauliflower sautéed with carrots and shishito peppers
  • Molecular techniques executed in ways that more often than not work
  • Pasta carbonara with a broad flat noodle, a slightly coddled egg, crunchy bacon and (perhaps unnecessarily) a hit of truffle oil (pictured above)
  • The most charming and exuberant carrot dish I’ve ever tasted: coins of the baby roots shellacked in miso-maple glaze with thumb-size whole carrots the color of blackberries, ribbons of shaved raw carrot and an intriguing, vermouth-spiked yogurt
  •  Beets celebrated in a shredded salad with a citrusy spritz and tiny violet flowers
  • Popular brussels sprouts – tiny nuggets cooked as oily and crispy as potato chips and topped with greasy chow mein noodles
  • A pot of black “earth” cookie crumbs topped with pretzels and whipped Nutella

What Didn’t Work

  • Overly rich polenta poutine with braised short ribs and ricotta and fried chicken with foie-gras-stuffed waffles, sugar-coated bacon and maple syrup
  • “More interesting that delicious” deconstructed tiramisu with an oddly bready ladyfinger gelato and espresso pudding