Before opening Wynwood's wildly popular Alter, chef/owner Brad Kilgore was in a predicament. The question was whether the restaurant should serve what's worked best throughout his career — meticulous dishes peppered with exotic ingredients — or a rougher, more rustic style of cuisine. The latter would be the kind of plates that would never appear in places like Laurent Gras' L20 or Bal Harbour's J&G Grill, where he cut his teeth.
But when the architect designing Alter presented a layout with only 40 seats, Kilgore decided to try the high end. "I'm going for it," he told his partners at the time. "I didn't want to compromise."
Those ambitions have paid huge dividends in the year and a half since the restaurant opened. It's received a flurry of glowing reviews, and Kilgore was named one of Food & Wine magazine's best new chefs. Still, the work never ends. When he conceptualized Alter, he says, he wanted to change the perception of dining in Miami.
"Just because a dish is well executed and presented, and responsibly sourced, doesn't mean it has to be in the $40 or $50 price range," he tells New Times.
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He's asked guests to go on a kind of culinary safari and try never-encountered dishes. But the key to making each one work is anchoring it with familiar ingredients such as grouper, mushrooms, or pasta. From there, Kilgore lets his imagination run wild with elements like house-made green mango vinegar or thin, crackly wafers infused with squid ink providing whiffs of the salty sea. Since Alter opened, his menu has been revised over and over; dishes that are removed never reappear.
Most recently, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts tapped Kilgore to take over the property's food-and-beverage offerings, including its restaurant Brava. Here, the preparations are simpler to ensure the varied crowds can always find something to eat.
"For the ballet, you're going to have a certain kind of guest, and for a concert like CeeLo, you'll have a completely different crowd," Kilgore says. "Everyone needs to be happy."
Brava seems to be the testing ground where Kilgore will figure out how to serve his imaginative cuisine to a mass audience. If he succeeds, it should be the foundation of an empire that will stretch across Miami and perhaps beyond.