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With apologies to modernist architect Mies van der Rohe, less seems more like loss, at least with regard to the removal of the humongous high-heel shoe sculpture that formerly occupied the Melin Building's courtyard. Thanks to this festively mirror-festooned, two-story-tall, Cinderella-like slipper which, with its heel removed, functioned as a working gondola the Design District edifice was informally rechristened "the Shoe Building." But no longer. The pump was recently plucked and placed in storage, and will possibly be shipped to a Spanish museum.
In its place, Miami welcomes Elements Tierra. Chef Lorena Garcia opened the eatery this past December, after her business Food Café lost its lease several months prior. Patrons interested in learning about Elements' fare, however, should not look to the menu for guidance it's baffling. Garcia's vision of her new place is described in an incomprehensible way that will induce nightmares for recovering college art history majors. But here's the short answer: Most if it is just like Food Café, though prices are roughly one to five bucks higher per plate.
Fans of Garcia's Latin- and Italian- (plus slightly Asian-) influenced yet very individualistic, ingredient-driven creations will recognize most dishes, even those that have been renamed. Rigatoni Food Elements, for example, is Food Café's perfectly al dente ridged pasta tubes with chunks of Portobello mushrooms, tomatoes, and chicken (white meat but juicy). Cream gives the basil-spiked sauce a nice hint of sin, while white wine and chicken stock keep it nongloppy.
Another old fave, Garcia's signature Food Elements salad, will delight those with a lighter appetite. Dressed in a subtle raspberry vinaigrette, the dish balances sour Granny Smith apples and sweet seasonal berries, soft Gorgonzola and chewy candied walnuts, all tossed with impeccable baby greens.
Although it sounds seductive, the panko-crusted fresh fish burger proved disappointing, despite its sensational spicy rémoulade topping. The burger's texture was gelatinous (similar to Thai shrimp balls), and the generally ultracrisp Japanese bread-crumb coating was soggy. Let's hope Elements will keep the concept but lose the overdose of binder (probably egg) that obliterates the seafood's natural texture.
Considering most eateries feature an Asianesque sesame tuna, diners might overlook Elements' version. Don't. The ahi is swoon-worthy sashimi-grade stuff that, for a change, is not drowned in heavy sesame oil but simply crusted in nutty seeds that remind what the combo of rare tuna and sesame is all about. It's served with wasabi vinaigrette-dressed greens and more of those addictive candied walnuts ingredients that make a good dish great.
Another distinction that elevates Elements above its predecessor is the air conditioning. So patrons need not wait till winter to go. But arrive early. As of press time, Elements is not open for dinner or on weekends, apparently awaiting the Design District's transformation into a real 24/7 neighborhood. With luck, it will happen soon. Even without the help of a magic slipper.