Call Brad Kilgore’s new restaurant Ember his gateway drug for Miami diners.
His addictive style of cooking has made him a James Beard award finalist, but the stylish, inventive dishes with esoteric names and descriptions can be hard for casual diners to wrap their heads around.
To wit: His signature dish at the award-winning Alter is something called a Soft Egg.
But at Ember — his new restaurant, which opens May 24 downstairs from his Japanese-inspired lounge Kaido — it’s lasagna.
Add to that baked ravioli bites with marinara dip and shrimp cocktail. For dessert: A rice crispy treat or creme brulee.
These are his favorite childhood dishes all grown up.
“I mean, when was the last time you saw beef stroganoff on a menu?” he said. “I love these dishes. They got me to fall in love with cooking.”
Of course, it wouldn’t be a Kilgore dish if, when you drill down into the technique, it didn’t challenge your thoughts about what a classic dish could be.
That lasagna? It is fire-roasted and has 30 layers, and is vegetarian thanks to a maitake mushroom “bolognese.” The smoked fried chicken is finished with a caviar beurre blanc butter sauce, one of many sauces Kilgore is making in house. The bone-in, 22-ounce ribeye from a Chicago farm is dry-aged in-house for five weeks.
And the rice crispy treat is a host of puffed grains, including black rice, with a house-made jet-puffed marshmallow, topped with dulce de leche ice cream and served in a cast iron pan — made to order, right out of the fire.
“When are rice crispy treats the best? When they’re fresh out of the oven,” he said. “I’ve been making that dish in my head for a decade.”
Kilgore puts a familiar name to dishes he has broken down and recreated in his vision at what he’s calling an American bistro.
“The same people who appreciate what we do at Alter will love it. And people who are trying my cooking for the first time can get into it,” he said.
Ember gets its name from the wood-fire cooking that is at the center of every dish. Kilgore cooks most of the dishes over an open wood flame, in a combination oven-grill called a Josper and even in the embers themselves.
Kilgore, a Kansas City native, intends to go back to his grilling roots. His simple shrimp cocktail is anything but simple. Prawns are cooked in the wood ash for the aroma and finished in the steamer before they are served cold with a Thai bird chili sauce, one of many sauces Kilgore makes to complement dishes here — just as he spent hours perfecting Bearnaise sauce as a young chef.
In a Better Homes and Gardens cookbook his mother gave him at 15 was a tip about roasting a head of garlic to give the house atmosphere leading up to dinner. He remembered that touch and will do something similar at Ember, crackling hickory and mesquite in the oven during the summer and cinnamon in the winter.
“Restaurants are all about hospitality. People want to be transported,” he said.
151 NE 41st St., No. 117, Design District