When Brad Kilgore opened his Wynwood eatery, Alter, in spring 2015, he turned Miami's dining scene on its ear. Instead of featuring the usual graffiti on the walls, the intimate eatery had only a sparse line of neon for adornment. The reason: The 30-year-old chef wanted all attention on the food. At Alter, Kilgore has taken scores of diners on a journey of exploration where even dishes such as a soft-cooked egg are transformed with the addition of briny espuma and caviar. Kilgore's plates are like divas; they demand your full attention. But they also have the chops to back it up. A meal at Alter is nothing short of a work of art.
Kilgore's culinary genius has won many accolades in a short period. In 2015, Alter received a Johnson & Wales University Zest award for Best New Restaurant. Miami New Times also deemed him Best New Chef. And Kilgore's success has expanded beyond Miami's borders. Food & Wine named him Best New Chef in America, and he was a semifinalist for the James Beard Foundation's Rising Star Chef of the Year. That award is presented to a chef aged 30 or younger "who displays an impressive talent and who is likely to make a significant impact on the industry in years to come."
All of that has made Alter the hottest reservation in town this week, as celebrities and art enthusiasts converge on Wynwood for Art Basel and Miami Art Week. And Kilgore has stepped it up recently, expanding the beverage program on his patio, Bar Alter (223 NW 23rd St., Miami, 305-573-5996; altermiami.com). Not content to just salt the rim of his margarita, he infuses the drink with a black lava saline solution. Or try the martini, which is "dirtied" with white soy instead of olive brine ($13). Additionally, he has installed a custom-designed Japanese grill station and has expanded the bar's food menu to include an Ibérico burger with chorizo aioli.
Even more ambitious is his new restaurant at the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The space, located on the second floor of the Ziff Ballet Opera House, was originally designed as a banquet hall for special events. In 2009, Prelude by Barton G., a restaurant for patrons who wanted a bite before a show, opened there. It closed in 2014, and the center's food and beverage provider, Spectra, provided an in-house chef for a couple of years.
According to Kilgore, the offer was sudden and unexpected. But he was immediately smitten with the space's grandeur. "I've been to the center before, and it is beautiful, but I had no idea how involved the buildings were and how precise the build-out is." By the time he toured the restaurant space, he was sold. "I walked in, and I kinda got chills."
Suzette Espinosa, vice president of communication for the Arsht Center, says Kilgore was the perfect choice to take over Brava. She explains that executives at both Spectra and the Arsht made the decision to pursue the chef after dining at the toque's Wynwood flagship. "When our team experienced Alter, we knew it was the right thing. Having a destination restaurant is an extension of our artistic endeavors. What Chef Kilgore does is art."
Espinosa says Kilgore's recent accolades fit well into the Arsht Center's philosophy. "We wanted to have a person in the kitchen who was as creative as the events that happen on our stage. We are known for attracting star power. We have a team that develops that onstage, and we wanted to bring that star power to the restaurant."
Brava by Brad Kilgore opened this past September, serving dinner Thursday through Saturday. It is the first time the Arsht Center has housed a restaurant that operates on days the theater is dark. Recently, Brava also began serving lunch during matinee days.
Kilgore used the arts as the muse for his menu, which he calls classic food redefined. "A great musician might play something modern, but you can bet he knows Beethoven. It's the same with chefs. To make something new, we first have to train with the classics."
Brava's menu is concise. Though the chef says he will change the offerings seasonally, as of now there are four appetizers and five entrées. Kilgore's wife Soraya bakes the beginning bread service, which is accompanied by a piquant, saliferous olive butter. She also provides two desserts.
Though the menu reads simply, the dishes are complex. An heirloom tomato salad arrives as a landscape of fruit and cheese. All is not what it seems — some of the spheres are tomato, but others are vinegar-and-chili-infused, compressed melon balls. Kilgore joins Miami's newest culinary craze his own way: A wahoo poke is tossed with Thai spices and Fresno chili flakes, then finished with a toasted peanut emulsion to give the firm fish a bit of sweet heat. Instead of arriving on the usual bed of rice, the wahoo chunks rest on a bed of green papaya and are topped with a rice bird's nest.
For entrées, Kilgore keeps it deceptively basic. There are chicken, beef, Maine lobster, and Alaskan halibut options. The most extravagant dish is a dry-aged rib eye for two that clocks in at $110. Too expensive. Try the three-day beef rib, which costs a more reasonable $38. The meat is melt-in-your-mouth tender, but the tan maitake mushroom soup in which it swims is reminiscent of a muddy lake, making it not as picturesque as Kilgore's other fare.
Alaskan halibut, served with golden potato, zucchini, and spinach nage, is a beautifully composed dish. The fish's slightly nutty flesh is enhanced by the lemon verbena sauce, which is poured tableside.
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The interpretations of standard meat and fish dishes are imaginative and colorful, but one can only wonder if the crowd that dines before seeing theatrical chestnuts like Annie and The King and I might expect something more familiar.
But those who are willing to explore the more avant garde will be pleased. As Brad Kilgore puts it: "If you take classic music and you play it on an electric violin, it's going to come out differently. But you'll still recognize it, and you're still comfortable with it."
Brava by Brad Kilgore
Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts, 1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, 305-949-6722; arshtcenter.org. Dinner Thursday through Saturday 5:30 to 8:30 p.m.; lunch on matinee days only.
Heirloom tomato salad $16
Wahoo poke $15
Dry-aged rib eye for two $110
Three-day beef rib $38
Alaskan halibut $39
Chevre cheesecake $11
Key lime cube $11