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
If I didn't see any stars during my excursions here, maybe it's because I wasn't seated in the "exclusive fifteen-guest wine room," nor the private 40-guest dining room "for celeb and VIP clientele" (according to the eatery's press release). The restaurant for the rest of us may very well be "a massive space of all things hip, groovy, swell, and sleek," but I couldn't stop thinking of it as dining in coach. The 160 indoor seats are sectioned into small satellites orbiting a semiopen kitchen, and during successive visits, my guests and I were seated in the same cold cranny of a nook; it felt more like a hallway than a dining room. Across from our table were booths that could be curtained off for privacy. Fortunately nobody chose to do so, because that would have made things appear even starker.
I wasn't going to complain about our location, for we felt lucky to get seated at all. A dining companion had booked a reservation for four at 8:00 p.m., but upon arrival, we were told it had been rebooked as a table for seven at 10:00 p.m. Not by us, it wasn't. Another occasion brought another mixup, this time regarding the price of wine. Shaky stuff. So was service, a clan of black-clad waiters performing professionally but with an off-putting perfunctoriness ("uniforms from New York fashion house La Rok"). It took too long to get water poured, too long to get plates removed, too long to get the bread which, incidentally, was much crisper than the service. Too crisp, in fact. Considering that Govind's fame among the fabulously glam is predicated upon principles of wholesomeness, it's a disappointment to bite into crackly white bread croutons, even if they're nattily nestled in white linen and accompanied by a dish each of white bean purée and black olive tapenade.
1458 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139-4162
Region: South Beach
If two beautifully creamy nuggets of pan-fried sweetbreads resting upon torn triangles of truffled pasta, and a rich, roasted chestnut-and-leek confit were a painting, rather than an appetizer, it would be hanging in the Louvre. A diced tartare of bluefin tuna was luscious, too, but surrounded by trite tidbits of mashed avocado, fried plantains, and hearts of palm. If a side order of stale-tasting potato-and-short-rib hash were a painting, it would taste only a little worse than it did as a comestible. Our waiter, we hoped through misguidedness rather than meanness, highly recommended the hash, which like an awful lot of our foods arrived lukewarm on a cold plate.
Chef Armstrong's approach has been described as no-nonsense, meaning simple presentation of top-quality meat, fish, and produce at the peak of their pizzazz. His effectiveness is therefore contingent on local farmers and producers providing him with the exceptional foodstuffs necessary to create an ever-changing menu of purity-based, market-driven, seasonal cuisine. He has had years to develop relationships with L.A.'s top-shelf procurers, just months to do so here, yet ingredients plated at the South Beach kitchen are fresh and high-end, much of it no doubt purchased from Homestead's finest. Sometimes you can taste the difference, as with the intensely sweet tomatoes that melt into a medley of escarole, roasted asparagus, and crisp bits of prosciutto, and clearly elevate a fillet of Florida grouper. Other times you might appreciate vibrant vegetables, such as mashed cauliflower and braised fennel that ride alongside a slice of local snapper but even with a perky lobster sauce, the overall effect is surprisingly flat.
One can't deny the pristineness of seafood. The snapper and grouper both sparkled, as did a nearly naked fillet of pompano, ever-so-subtly accompanied by moistly wilted leaves of butter lettuce, a sumptuous parsnip flan, cilantro-based gremolata, and a scattering of pomegranate seeds (which are evidently supplanting chopped parsley as the all-purpose restaurant garnish, but rarely contribute much beyond their gelatinous good looks). To call these flavors understated is an understatement.
Meat dishes provide far more pep, especially the American Kurobuta pork chop, a hefty, juicy wedge of pink meat with full, fresh pork flavor, framed by a thin rim of smoky, bellylike fat. It was the best chop I've sampled in a very long time, amply accompanied by the smoothest of celery root purées, the softest of gnocchi, and sautéed black kale. Also superb was New Zealand lamb, presented as a chop, loin steak, and braised shank meat aswirl in a smoky, cumin-inflected mosaic of roasted peppers, eggplant, chickpeas, and yogurt. Table 8's bright spots are brilliant.