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
At age twelve Adrianne Marie Calvo was pulling in $200 a week baking chocolate chip cookies and selling them at school. At sixteen she was voted one of the top ten up-and-coming chefs in Florida. At seventeen she captured the bronze in a national bake-off. Shortly thereafter, Calvo began training at Johnson & Wales University, where she was captain of the American Culinary Federation Competition team. And top of her class. First-place finishes followed at Cargill Salt's Search for the Seasoned Chef and Australia's Taste Down Under contests. The winning dish from the latter was served at a United Nations dinner attended by ambassadors, news correspondents, and numerous luminaries of the culinary world -- among them Food Network honchos, who invited Calvo to meet with producers the next day. A month later the ascendant redhead was receiving media training from Airthyme Co., whose clients include Bobby Flay, Rachael Ray, and Emeril Lagasse. According to her promotional materials, she then "sought out advice from culinary icons including Thomas Keller, and traveled extensively to explore the best in American food and ingredients." A return home brought a stint at Azul in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, as well as the simultaneous release of Maximum Flavor Essentials, her culinary product line, and Maximum Flavor, a cookbook collection covering favorite recipes of famous folks she has fed -- Will Smith, John Travolta, Diddy.... In 2006, after losing her younger sister to a rare cancer, Calvo partnered with St. Jude's Children's Hospital to launch Young Chefs Cooking for a Cure, a fundraiser to benefit cancer research. She has appeared on The Montel Williams Show, Fox, NBC, and Univision. She heads her own Terra Dolci Corporation, and a second book, Experience Taste, is due out soon. According to one of her two Websites, she is also an "internationally sought-after speaker who will deliver an unforgettable message of motivation and success." (Fee range: $5000 to $10,000.) Cookbook author, CEO, entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and, with the May opening of Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant and Wine Bar, a restaurateur to boot. Adrianne Calvo has done it all.
She is 23 years old.
Out of respect for the extraordinary ambition and admirable accomplishments of this young woman, I'll begin with the positives regarding her 60-seater in the Hammocks area of West Kendall. Wine bottles, wine barrels, dim lighting, dark wood accents, terra cotta floors, and panels of hammered, copper-hue tin create the cozy, rustic charm of a country inn. The mood is only mildly undercut by a bright, tacky Coca-Cola dispenser and two TV screens regrettably tuned to a Yanni concert -- during both visits. Well, I suppose they could have chosen something worse. Or could they?
11510 SW 147th Ave.
Kendall, FL 33196
Region: South Dade
More pluses: Hefty wedges of bourbon-ancho rubbed pork tenderloin were softly engaging. Chicken breast stuffed with cremini mushrooms and provolone cheese, and drizzled with Merlot sauce, was likewise gratifying. The waitstaff is well-meaning and mannered, although service is awkward and amateurish. On one occasion we waited fifteen minutes for our waiter, and when she finally did come, she had to bring along the bus person, who was available the whole time, to translate her Spanish. Comical, really.
Oh, right, the positives: Prices are great -- appetizers $9 to $11, main courses $18 to $22 (except a $12 linguine and $34 lobster tail). And if Calvo's aim was to open an affordable, low-key neighborhood restaurant to fill a community desire (and judging by brisk business, this might be the case), she has succeeded. That's about it for the sunny side, unless I include easy parking.
It was somewhat shocking, after bouncing through the boastful and bountiful bio of the chef, to be handed a short menu of fuddy-duddy, Continental-style cuisine lipsticked with faux fusion modernities such as ancho, mango, and black bean sauce. Even more unexpected was the menu's poor conception. Dessert pricing is the most obvious gaffe -- $10 or $11 apiece, which is way out of whack for a place that charges $12 for a pasta entrée. And although it is wise, in terms of economics and freshness, to work with a limited number of ingredients and use them in more than one manner, when there are only six starters and nine main courses, repetition can be a real problem. Balsamic vinegar appears on so many plates it would not surprise me to learn that more of it gets poured in this kitchen than in all of Modena, Italy.
A basket containing the type of garlic rolls found at cheap Italian joints was a harbinger of our meals to come. A lamb chop starter -- two little cudgels of New Zealand meat coated in a sweet Asian mustard sauce -- was tasty enough (served on field greens dashed with balsamic dressing), but our waiter neglected to ask preference of doneness, as she also did for the aforementioned pork, and both arrived more cooked than we would have liked. An appetizer trio of prime-beef-and-chorizo sliders, also overcooked, were barely smaller than regular hamburgers -- way too large for an appetizer. I liked that they arrived with bacon and cheese toppings, but other diners might not welcome the surprise. These ingredients should be mentioned on the menu.
Two fat crabcakes came coated in crisp, coarse bread crumbs, but the beauty was only skin-deep. The interior comprised mushy, tepidly seasoned, shredded shellfish. "Chipotle aioli" squirted over the tops looked and tasted an awful lot like Russian dressing. Competing for sensory attention were arugula leaves dressed in maple-bacon vinaigrette.