They may have kept the old name, but everything else at the Rusty Pelican is new. And there isn't a tiki in sight.
The menu has been overhauled and now features trendy items like the ahi tuna taco, eel foie gras and duck-fat fried Australian lamb loin.
And the interior? It's just as on trend, in a New York City-meets-Miami kind of way. There are clean lines and sophisticated furnishings that manage not to compete with the restaurant's best asset: an ever-present and downright amazing water view.
Seating consists of chairs or padded booths,tastefully done in a mix of muted jades, coppery browns and dark blond woods. There are gleaming glass enclosures for the booze, several low tables flanked with padded armless sofas and chairs, plus a long, polished wood bar with comfy high, padded and backed stools.There's even a waterfall at the entrance.
As with the food menu, the bar menu has changed. "We've added several new signature drinks," said floor manager Derek Scharadin, pointing out the lemon-raspberry "The Ricky" as an emerging favorite at Saturday's soft opening.
And like the cherry topping off the sundae, the top floor of the Rusty Pelican has also been totally redone. It consists of an enormous event room with a moveable dance floor that can easily accommodate 500 people and, Scharadin said, has already hosted 1,000, opening to a large outdoor area.. And the retractable ceiling means the good times will roll, rain or shine.
The end result is that The Rusty Pelican may be one of Miami's oldest restaurants. But with its multimillion dollar facelift now complete, it's safe to say it's also one of its newest in every way.
Reporting by Joni Williams
Click next for part two of our interview with chef Michael Gilligan...
Read the first part of our interview with chef Michael Gilligan here.
New Times: When did you know you'd become a chef?
Michael Gilligan: It was really early. My family owned three pubs in England. My parents are Irish. I'm the baby of the family. The kitchen was the warmest place in the house. We didn't have central air. I started being in the kitchen and making sandwiches for bingo night in the club. My family wasn't happy about it. They wanted me to work in a bank or something.
Any other siblings in the industry?
My brother moved to England and made cheese for a few years.
Who was the most famous celeb you ever cooked for?
My first real big one was Princess Diana. I thought, 'Don't kill her.'
And Prince said when he first came [to Miami] I cooked for him at Rumi. When he came back the next time I remember he had a bottle of Opus One and drank red wine through a straw.
What's the one ingredient you hate to work with?
I had to do this TV show. We did a charity book for Miami Children's Hospital and I had to make some of the dishes from the recipes in the book. One of these recipes called for Fluff. I didn't know what it was. I stuck my finger in it and thought, what is this made from? So I put it in the fridge. The cameras were on me and I thought, what do I do now? It changed like a caterpillar.
So no Marshmallow Fluff at R.P. But how funky will the food get then?
I have these crazy ideas. I was speaking to this guy in New Orleans, he sells me all this Harry Potter stuff. A couple weeks ago I was in Bazaar -- SLS -- and they have this foie gras cotton candy thing. It's a really cool idea but the foie gras was cold. It was like eating a lump of lard. It was a great idea, but it was nasty! I loved the idea, but I thought, let me see if I can play with it. What if I could use fresh coconut and I grate it and dehydrate it and mix that with sugar? What if I get a shrimp and I grill it and mix it with the cotton candy? [Editor's note: A chilled coconut shrimp cotton candy app can be found on Rusty Pelican's "small plate" menu.]
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You told me you didn't want things to be gimmicky or "Harry Potter crazy," but you've already mentioned coconut-shrimp cotton candy and serving dishes with sardine cans on ice...
I like using props. I keep things new, modern and fun.
How much theater are we talking about here? Barton G. level?
What with all the sparklers and stuff? No. I want it to be simple, honest food. I don't want you to go for gimmicks.