Norman Van Aken and his '180' team, including Chefs Philip Bryant and Justin Van Aken, are operating under a three-word mantra when it comes to their goals for the new restaurant slated to open in Coral Gables before the end of the year: "Desirability, Sustainability, Community."
Poised to re-enter the South Florida restaurant scene after a two and a half year hiatus, he has indulged us with a taste of his forthcoming menu and its inspiration. Look for Van Aken's profile, including more insight into his evolution as a chef since flying the coop in 2007, in our Fall Arts + Eats guide, hitting stands October 1.
My purposes here are to put forth a broadly "American" restaurant that brings both a familiarity side-by-side with dishes that are hallmarks of America's ethnic diversity. The Latin-Caribbean base that was the original Norman's will not be the same for '180'. That is not to say I won't cook with any Latin and Caribbean influences. That has been a part of my life since I began my cooking career in Key West, but my sphere of inspiration has gone in new directions now. And if guests do want those signature dishes, we will continue to offer them in Orlando or if we do another "Norman's" in some amazing hotel here. We are creating '180' to have a concept that complements Norman's not duplicates it. But ultimately, the guests decide what their perceptions are so we shall see.
Chef Bryant has worked with Van Aken since Norman's L.A. where his brother Mike helmed the kitchen. Growing up in the business, Chef Justin trained at the Norman's on Almeria Ave. and is currently in Orlando working with long-time Norman's staff members Viviana Altesor and Joseph Burnett.
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The menu is organized very simply from small plates through, salads, pizzas, bowls, hands, main plates, sharing platters, sides and sweets. At lunch we will have all those with some sandwiches while at dinner maybe one sandwich but more "sharing platters". Seasonality will be key so I would say if you see a dish you think sounds great don't wait to come in. Phil and Justin will be helping me continually source what is in the markets and so the menu will be fluid in that way. Never-the-less there will be dishes I see right now as probable contenders for "keeper status". What they will be will be decided by the public most of all. I hate to offer actual names because that is the fun, but a mini "trailer" to the movie would include:
Pork Rillettes ~ Sourdough Toast ~ Jerked Golden Pineapple Conserve
Bianco y Verde Pizzetta ~ Hand Pulled Mozzarella ~ Fried Green Tomatoes ~ Salsa Verde
Mojo BBQ Pork Shoulder Sandwich ~ Caramelized Plantains ~ Cumin Mayo
Buttermilk Fried Chicken ~ Collard Greens
Key West Yellowtail Snapper ~ Madras Curried Cucumbers ~ Annatto Red Rice
The bar will draw on what Van Aken refers to as "the Farm to Bar movement" and "a return to some of the real cocktail making you see in places like 'Milk and Honey' and 'PDT' in New York." We like where this is going.
The opening, which had been most recently targeted for November, has been delayed due to permitting.
"We are doing all we can. The space is gutted, the design is 90 percent done, and we are recipe testing in Orlando," Van Aken adds. "I'm ready to get in there and light some fires."