By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
It's because he's got company.
As with most trends, Miami has come late to Asia, but with the intensity of a kamikaze pilot. Sure, New World cuisine, which has officially been in existence since the mid-Eighties, factors in the Far East by way of the islands (sixteenth-century trade routes established a gastronomic give-and-take between southeastern Asia and the Caribbean, both of which are tropical regions). And local chefs such as Kerry Simon (Max's South Beach) regularly spices up his eclectic menu with Chinese- and Thai-flavored dishes.
Lately, though, influence has given way to reliance. The Strand, that Washington Avenue mainstay, has added Indochinese recipes to its summer repertoire. Nemo's Michael Schwartz, a former chef at Wolfgang Puck's Chinois in Los Angeles, has devised a menu that features oyster-miso soup and wok-charred salmon. China Grill, an offshoot of the venerated New York City restaurant, is due to open this month in Loehmann's Fashion Island mall. But the most direct challenge to Pacific Time comes from its new neighbor Lure, which owners Paolo Domeneghetti and Gwen Salem opened on Lincoln Road near Meridian Avenue.
At Lure, executive chef Scott Howard, who trained under Norman Van Aken (Norman's) before heading the kitchen at Gus' Grille in Key Largo and then Martha's Tropical Grille in Hollywood, has finally broken from his mentor's signature style to hone his own. Creating new recipes with Asian flavors would lighten up the menu, he told me before Lure opened, a move he hoped would attract a steady clientele during the traditionally slow summer season. Judging from the business Lure has been doing in its first month, Howard's predictions were right on target. And while he hasn't abandoned his training -- the selection of appetizers, salads, and entrees features the local, Latin, and Caribbean touches of a New World chef A he has fulfilled his promise. The overall flair of his food is distinctly and unremittingly Asian. Sushi chef Junter Chi, whose work is among the most innovative in South Florida, and sous/pastry chef Lorence McGrael, frame Howard's talents the way gilt does a masterpiece.
In light of the season, sushi is a refreshing way to begin a meal. A beautifully arranged marble platter was decorated Kandinsky-style with appropriate condiments (sweet eel sauce, sharp wasabi, and Sriracha, a powerful Vietnamese chili sauce mixed with vinegar and garlic. Tuna was dark as the inside of a rose and fragile as lace, an ideal tidbit. A piece of eel was soft and flaky, practically melting on the ball of vinegared rice. But shrimp and crabstick were mundane by comparison, as were the standard-issue chopsticks, wrapped in paper, that splintered when we tried to separate them. Lure could do better here.
Rolls are so out of the ordinary they're difficult to describe. Thanks to Sushi Rock Cafe, Maiko, and Sushi Hana, Miamians have been spoiled by endlessly original combinations; I didn't think some of the more inspired creations could be topped. But chef Chi puts together a "tiger eye roll" -- a cylinder of tempura-battered squid, cooked salmon, asparagus, and fish eggs drizzled with an exuberant kim chee sauce -- that be (the other is classical painter Philippe Dodard). "When you're not white, people have their preconceived categories about your culture and they want to see them forever.... We shouldn't even waste our time trying to define what the Haitian brain can produce. Why do you want to put me in a ghetto as a stereotyped mind?"
Not surprisingly Benjamin's untitled installation is the most provocative work in the show: a wooden, boxlike construction painted black and topped with a batch of speckled feathers. Benjamin cut holes in the surface of the wood, through which can be seen portions of a chest X-ray; the small image of a figure is superimposed in one corner of the X-ray film. This unsettling piece suggests both mental and physical forms of repression and confinement, while simultaneously alluding to spiritual rituals.
Other artists more obviously refer to the spirits of Haiti in paintings of Vodou gods. One is Burton Chenet, who divides his time between Miami and Port-au-Prince. Educated at New York's School of Visual Arts, Chenet decided some years ago to use only Vodou symbolism in his work. His Elematurin, included here, shows a grinning bat-man figure painted in a graphic, cartoonish style. More visually intriguing is Emmanuel Merisier's sinister Edvard Munch-like figure of Baron Samedi, set before a hectic orange sky. Marilene Phipps's marvelous, emotionally wrought realist painting Praying Hougan shows another side of spirituality. This work depicts a religious ceremony in which an elderly man sits in front of a homemade shrine that includes candles, bottles, and sundry icons; additionally, lying on the floor at the man's feet, shrouded by a white sheet, is the outline of a human corpse.