With PB Station, the Pubbelly Boys Go Downtown With Finesse
Thoughts of Thailand don't often spring up in American chophouses. Yet at the 2-month-old PB Station, a meaty slab of swordfish doused in a Meyer lemon vinaigrette evokes the piquant coconut soup tom kha gai. Both coat your mouth with unctuous fat before their acid grips and puckers your cheeks. It's an ingenious match for the fleshy fillet.
Such nuance is new ground for the restaurant empire helmed by Andreas Schreiner, Jose Mendin, and Sergio Navarro. The self-proclaimed Pubbelly Boys first planted their flag in Sunset Harbour in 2010 with powerful, porky flavors served in hip digs. Recall their gussied-up version of the McDonald's McRib sandwich dubbed the McBelly. After this initial hit came more than a half-dozen restaurants serving Japanese, French, and Spanish fare. Today the trio is among the city's most ambitious, creative restaurateurs. Mendin's 2015 nomination for the James Beard Foundation Best Chef South award reinforced it.
Now in downtown Miami's Langford Hotel, they've taken on the American chophouse. The beaux-arts edifice, built as a bank in 1925, has been restored to glory with daunting archways leading into a white-marble lobby. The 80-seat restaurant is an explosion of monochrome subway tiles, with arches and mirrors creating a kind of metro stop on steroids. But other than a few items here and there, the menu — a collaboration between Mendin and executive chef Guillermo Concha — isn't as assertive. The two-page spread offers salads, appetizers called "first stops," and entrées dubbed "Grand Central" after the iconic New York City train terminal.
There are no small plates. Nor will you find the truffle oil, yuzu, or pork belly that populate other Pubbelly menus. Instead, the offerings read like a timeline of Mendin's evolution into a confident chef who glides between cuisines, lashing each plate with the unexpected.
Take, for example, a jar of tangy pickled shrimp laced with mustard seed and chilies that dish out a fiery jab. Eat the sweet crustaceans straight out of the jar, or pile them onto homemade crackers along with vibrant fennel fronds and shreds of parsley to create the perfect bite.
In many ways, PB Station is more suave than its forebears. Servers wear black ties and vests, a far cry from the T-shirts of Pubbelly's early days. They gracefully reset flatware between courses and even wield crumbers to clear tables of refuse.
Then they put down a whole baby chicken, deboned and pan-roasted until its skin crisps to a glorious crunch. A scattering of kalamata olives helps salt each bite, while Brussels sprout leaves add some grassy freshness. A slick of Greek yogurt and a dribble of caramelized pan juice make an elegant sweet-sour combination.
However, the menu isn't flawless. From the three seafood charcuterie choices, we should have opted for the classic salmon rillettes. Instead, seven half-dollar-size slices of rock shrimp mortadella arrived with an odd, spongy texture and released a strange liquid with each bite. A fist-size tangle of pappardelle flecked with nori showed more promise with rich shreds of braised brisket knotted up with biting Swiss chard and sugary cherry tomatoes awash in a delicate shiitake broth. But the noodles were slightly undercooked and cut too wide, leaving them chewy and difficult to manage.
When it came time for steak, the options weren't as varied as a traditional steakhouse, but that was no reason to despair. Less is more. Here, the kitchen has picked up the now-shuttered PB Steak's habit of using various dry-aged cuts from Alabama's Cox Family Farms for $3 an ounce. If lighter cuts aren't in the offing, a Kansas City steak — essentially a bone-in New York strip — is a decadent substitute for $57. Though a leaner cut, it offers a deep, subtle flavor that's far more nuanced than ribbons of fat that squiggle through a rib eye. It can be overpowered by the accompanying smoked Bordelaise sauce, though it's hard to resist the tonic of red wine, bone marrow, and butter.
Don't forget about the eight optional sides that can ride shotgun. Vidalia onions are roasted until their sweet petals soften and open like rosebuds; the underlying chicken reduction and creamy onion dip ensure there won't be a sliver left over. Cauliflower comes draped in a king crab bagna cauda and surrounded by sweet, plump golden raisins; it deserves a place on every table every night.
Unlike most of the other restaurants under the Pubbelly umbrella, PB Station dishes out the kind of food you could eat every day. Of course, there is the occasional luxurious or outlandish twist. But more than any other of Schreiner, Mendin, and Navarro's restaurants, this one prefers classic elegance to making diners' eyes pop. Maybe they're catering to a more professional downtown crowd. Or perhaps they're just the big boys now.
121 SE First St., Miami; 305-420-2205; pbstation.com. Breakfast daily 6:30 to 10 a.m.; lunch daily 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.; dinner Sunday through Thursday 6 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 6 to 11 p.m.
Pickled shrimp, $15
Rock shrimp mortadella, $14
Nori pappardelle, $22
Baby chicken, $26
Gulf swordfish, $26
Kansas City steak, $57
Vidalia onion, $10
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