Tom Colicchio's Beachcraft Looks for a Place in the Sun
It seemed inevitable Tom Colicchio would open a place in Miami. He's been eyeing the city since 2007, when David Bouley's Evolution vacated the Ritz-Carlton, South Beach. But there was little hint the smooth-domed chef whose face is a fixture everywhere from television to Capitol Hill would take on a project as large as the 1 Hotel South Beach.
What was once the Gansevoort Hotel was acquired in 2012 by billionaire real estate magnate Richard LeFrak and Starwood Capital Group CEO Barry Sternlicht. An estimated $100 million was pumped into the brawny white box on Collins Avenue. Restaurant design luminary Meyer Davis Studio, whose work is on display nearby at the Dutch and in Aventura's Corsair, was hired to handle the re-skin. The lobby's former earth-hued interior was wiped away to make room for a clean, egg-shell-colored space bordered on all sides by thick, unstained wood beams. It's a luxury beach cabana scaled to epic proportions.
Colicchio's 170-seat Beachcraft is only part of the puzzle. The celebrity chef's New York City-based Crafted Hospitality also oversees in-room dining, a lobby bar with small bites, and a brief Mexican menu served poolside.
Still, the main space remains the focal point. It seamlessly fits the hotel's motif, with linen banquettes and pottery-stacked shelves all bathed in a cool, amber glow. Towering pillars beside a central bar sprout what looks like concrete oyster mushrooms.
The hotel's eco-friendly obsession jibes with Colicchio's longstanding culinary sensibilities, which revolve around sustainably raised produce and proteins. Here, he asked Michelle Bernstein and Michael Schwartz to set him up with local purveyors. But in some ways, the menu breaks from his traditions. "It's more about what I've experienced as I've traveled," says the 53-year-old Colicchio. "There's nowhere else I would do octopus with vinegar, chili, and cilantro."
Colicchio's celebrity germinated in the early 1990s, when he and Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer opened Manhattan's Gramercy Tavern. He went on to launch an empire that today includes eight restaurants spanning the country. His cookbook Think Like a Chef won a James Beard award and is what you should give to any friend who struggles in the kitchen. His résumé also includes Top Chef and other cooking shows, a part-time gig as MSNBC's food correspondent, and amateur lobbyist pitching GMO labeling and antihunger programs.
In spite of the restaurant's seemingly can't-miss pedigree, things got off to a rocky start. A small fire delayed a planned spring opening. It also waylaid the massive grill that will give the kitchen half its firepower, Colicchio says. Until it's functioning, executive chef Michael Fiorello, a 35-year-old, will have to make do. The Miami native left Florida after high school and eventually ended up at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park. He was then trained in Philadelphia under Dominique Filoni, whom Food & Wine Magazine named Best New Chef in 2004. He went on to work at Amada, celebrity chef Jose Garces' restaurant, before helping the Ecuadorian-American toque open a fleet of restaurants nationwide.
Fiorello does most of the work here, and it seems Colicchio has given him plenty of leeway. The boss provides most of the inspiration and a seal of approval. Almost all plates paint a full picture, but only the best offer any sense this latest flashing marquee is advancing Miami dining.
Among them is a dish of charred escarole quarters daubed with a Parmesan caper aioli. The burn adds a sweet, smoky aroma to the bitter greens, giving each bite the scent of a summer barbecue. The thin slices of house-made porchetta — pork belly cured with lemon zest, rosemary, and mace — that line the plate add just the right dose of fat and salt.
The raw bar breaks from the usual with a pair of razor clams served side-by-side heaped with sliced meat. The Atlantic variety used here, also called jackknife clams, are at once sweet and savory. They're steamed open, and the juices are collected, married with olive oil and lemon juice, and the sliced bivalves are tossed and loaded back into the shells. If the dozens of oysters you've been eating over the past year are starting to run together, these are a happy respite.
Pastas have become a fast signature and mostly revolve around semolina varieties extruded daily. The simplest is toothsome garganelli twists tossed with thick shreds of braised rabbit. This offers all the warmth of a hearty winter stew with some small elements to complement the simplicity. Carrot balls provide a touch of sugar, bitter greens offer an acidic snap, and crushed pistachios add just the right amount of earthiness.
The bucatini is far less approachable, though no less flavorful or precise. It's built on garlic, scallion, and jalapeños that are sautéed, then hit with grated tomatoes and a splash of lobster stock. Thin, hollow noodles are added along with a heap of Santa Barbara sea urchin and a few nuggets of peekytoe crab meat. The result is rich, bordering on the absurd. But the combination of spice along with the velvety ocean flavors happily marries two of Italy's favorite pasta preparations — bucatini all'amatriciana and spaghetti alle vongole — in the same bowl.
A doughy flatbread that risks being too chewy is topped with the timeless yet ingenious combination of Florida middleneck clams and crisp, translucent slices of house-made bacon. The thick crust aptly soaks up a too-hefty pour of olive oil and the rendered bacon fat, making it well worth the indigestion.
Some dishes fade from memory not due to any fault but because of their almost ascetic simplicity. Occasionally there are moments when you have to remind yourself that sourcing factors into the high cost. Nevertheless, an organic vegetable plate is one that should be on every table. It's also one of the few plates outside a list of a half a dozen or so "snacks" offered for under $20. One night, the dish presents a mound of gently cooked cauliflower florets, radishes, turnips, and fava beans dressed with tender quinoa grains and a tangy mustard vinaigrette.
Those same grains are heaped under a dry-aged New York strip that arrives a perfect medium rare. The surrounding balsamic onions riff off of a beloved version Colicchio once plied at Gramercy Tavern, though it's one of the most forgettable plates on the menu.
The few missteps included a hogfish fillet that was cut so thin, the overcooked outcome should have been obvious. A scallop ceviche dressed with tart red currants, sumac, and pink peppercorns seemed good to go, except for a micro-mint garnish that was so tannic that it overshadowed every bite.
Such mistakes might not even be offered in the future because much of the menu will change regularly. A week earlier, the scallops were garnished with anise hyssop, which sounds far better. In short order, the fava beans that permeate many dishes will disappear, and hopefully that hulking grill will roar back to life.
The real work to be done here will take place in the coming months. Colicchio's name is enough to get people through the door. Fiorello and the staff will be the ones tasked with making the place stand out. They will have to lure diners away from the other big names lurking nearby.
- Razor clams, $18
- Scallop ceviche, $20
- Charred escarole, $14
- Florida clam flatbread, $19
- Bucatini with sea urchin, $27
- Garganelli with braised rabbit, $14
- Dry-aged New York strip steak, $35
- Hogfish with Chinese broccoli, $29
Beachcraft, 2395 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-604-6700; craftrestaurantsinc.com/beachcraft. Breakfast daily 7 to 11 a.m.; dinner Wednesday through Sunday 6 to 10:30 p.m.; brunch Saturday and Sunday noon to 3 p.m
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