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
Spiced walnuts, almost candied, were also an accent on a hot appetizer, the pan-seared foie gras. "Duck or goose?" I asked the waiter.
"Goose," he replied unhesitatingly.
Not only was I pleased with the fact that the foie gras was the real thing, I was happy with the quickness of his response. He understood what I was talking about, and he obviously knew what he was doing -- a fact he continued to prove, albeit a bit flamboyantly, throughout the evening, by announcing his recommendations for each course. He went so far as to drape a napkin over my side of the table after I stained the white tablecloth with broth from the duck confit soup I ordered, so I wouldn't have to look at the "distressing" stains while I finished my meal.
That soup, incidentally, was the one appetizer I didn't care for, which is probably why half of it wound up on the tablecloth. The duck confit, shredding in the broth and soaking up the liquid, tasted too much like pot roast, and the broth itself was sour and a little too spicy.
The duck's mediocrity made us even happier with the goose. Pan-fried to a melting crispness, the foie gras slice was laid over a blue corn pancake studded with chilies and topped with diced sauteed pear, the fruity acidity relieving some of the richness. Port wine and red chili oil drizzles enhanced the plate, providing splashes of color as well as flavor.
Entrees were somewhat uneven: In some cases the main dish was ideal and the sides detracted, while in others the opposite was true. Both New Mexican chili-encrusted tuna and ancho grilled beef tenderloin medallions proved succulent successes. The tuna was a generous fillet seared on the outside and rare in the interior. But the somen noodles that accompanied it, garnished with sauteed baby bok choy, tempura-battered cactus, and green chilies, had so much ginger in their ponzu broth that they were hard to swallow. Likewise, the medallions, more like a pair of hunky filet mignons, were fantastic, musky, gristle-free beef. And while a crunchy wedge of leek and potato crisp was nicely browned, a gold against the maroon of meat, the rest of the stuff was a jumble: peeled and roasted baby carrots, miniature squash, a pile of spinach, and soy-braised portobello mushroom pieces that tasted as if they'd been soaked for days in enough balsamic vinegar to preserve a mummy.
On the flip side, a duck breast was a little shriveled and too fatty, though it had a pleasant aroma from the grill. But its accomplices -- soft polenta and a braised whole Japanese eggplant -- sharpened things up, their complementary textures highlighted by the perfect resistance of grilled shiitake mushrooms. A chipotle demi-glace drew all the components together. The same was true of the creamy scallion-ginger sauce blanketing the side dish that accompanied blue corn-coated grouper. The fish itself, a hefty fillet, was chewy and old, its fishiness apparent despite the cornmeal breading. But a delicate spinach stir-fry helped, and sweet potato ravioli actually compensated for the disappointing grouper. These plump nuggets were mouthwatering, napped with the tangy sauce.
Another disintegrated partnership became evident with dessert: Kevin Kopsick, long-time pastry chef at Norman's, is now at The Heights. I feel for Norman Van Aken. Bittersweet chocolate mousse cake with banana chocolate sorbet and caramelized bananas was luscious, while a pistachio-butterscotch brownie, dense and sweet and topped with mango ice cream and spice cookie shards, was a disappointment only in that it was too small.
Chef Randazzo, whose style reminds me more than anything of Robbin Haas (who is now cooking at Bex, a new restaurant in Boca Raton), has some smoothing out to do; like Haas, he'll take a risk for a big payoff. Perhaps girlfriend Andrea Corto, who worked under pastry chef Jennifer Warren at Pacific Time, filled in as pastry chef at The Heights, and now works the line there, can keep him on an even keel. As customers, we certainly hope that all these relationships -- owner to chef, chef to line cook, and line cook to pastry chef -- hold for the future.
Oh, and P.S. to my in-laws: Only kidding about the divorce thing.
2530 Ponce de Leon Blvd, Coral Gables; 461-1744. Dinner Monday -- Thursday from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. (bar opens at 5:00), Friday and Saturday until midnight, and Sunday from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m.
Goat cheese timbale
Beef tenderloin medallions
Bittersweet chocolate mousse cake