| Chefs |

Ariete's Michael Beltran on Mentors Norman Van Aken and Michael Schwartz: "I've Been Very Lucky in My Career"

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Coconut Grove has seen its fair share of ups and downs. The neighborhood, one of the oldest in Miami, has been an enclave of the boating class, the wealthy, and the bohemian. Most recently, the tree-lined community has had a resurgence in building and development.

With upscale housing comes renewed life in Center Grove. Restaurants and shops are moving in, and landlords are attracting big names like Panther Coffee, Michael Schwartz's Harry's Pizzeria, and the soon-to-open Glass & Vine, where Giorgio Rapicavoli is creating a menu inspired by the restaurant's Peacock Park setting.

It makes sense, then, that when Michael Beltran's deal to open a restaurant in Little Havana fell through with business partner Jason Odio , they would seek out the tree-lined streets of the Grove as the destination for their dining plans. Their new restaurant, Ariete, located adjacent to Calamari in the former La Bottega Enoteca space at 3540 Main Hwy., is set to open as early as the end of next week. 

Odio, the owner of Brickell's Sidebar, is a native Grovite. His father owned a fish stand there in the 1970s. Beltran explains that the partners, friends since high school, have wanted to collaborate on something for a few years: "We're in the same industry, and he loves my food. We knew we wanted to do something together and had a few setbacks along the way, but everything happens for a reason, and we're very happy with the space we wound up with."

The property, Beltran says, is deceptively spacious, with a private dining room downstairs. The partners tapped designer Cy Davis to create the feel of a farmhouse kitchen with subway tiles and wood tones. A giant sledgehammer, displayed across from the kitchen, is the focal point of the restaurant and hammers home the meaning of the word "ariete," which is Latin for "battering ram." The decor is softened with flowers.
That blend of soft and hard translates to the menu too. Beltran, along with sous-chefs Mathew Hockin and Anthony Galleno, will serve a changing menu of American classics that showcase the attention to quality with a touch of creativity. The chef explains, "I love very simple things. I love a good tomato and burrata salad — with a perfectly ready tomato, there's nothing like it in the world. Then we'll do things like my interpretation of foie gras, where we smoke plantains and sear the foie and finish it off with cocoa nibs. We want to have fun with food."

The restaurant will also offer a full bar with a menu by head bartender Jovani Marquez that features about eight classic cocktails, with the idea of keeping it simple and concentrating on technique and quality. But of all the aspects of Ariete, Beltran is most excited about the desserts, made by pastry chef Dallas Wynne, who formerly worked alongside Hedy Goldsmith. "She's young; she's a rock star. Everything we've tested has been a slam dunk!" Diners will start the evening with Wynne's Parker House rolls and should leave some room for her sour-orange doughnuts with wood-grilled pineapple marmalade and pies. "We're going to do seasonal pies. There's nothing better than a slice of really delicious pie, and we're taking advantage of what's around us."

Beltran says his philosophy is simple. "Everyone is looking for the next coolest thing, but we want to make classics really well and use product that's as local and seasonal as possible. We visit farms every week, and we pick ourselves a majority of times."

If that phrase sounds a lot like a quote from Beltran's old boss, Michael Schwartz, it's more than a coincidence. Beltran worked as a sous-chef at the Cypress Room, directly under Roel Alcudia, and has only good things to say about the experience. "I can't speak highly enough of the Genuine Group. Roel is a badass." Beltran also worked under Norman Van Aken at Norman's 180 and Tuyo and says the chef is his mentor. "I look at Norman as my culinary godfather." Beltran made it a point of seeking out a job with the legendary Florida chef after picking up one of his books. "I was about 19, and I made it my goal to work for that guy."

You could say that if not for the mentorship of Schwartz, Van Aken, and Alcudia, Beltran wouldn't be opening his own eatery. Beltran agrees. "I think I've been very lucky in my career. I wanted to work with the best, and I did. I took something different away from each of the chefs who taught me. I took working as locally as possible from the Genuine Group, and Norman's food forced you to think outside of the box but still keep it honest. I believe in that. You won't see a lot of foams on my plates."

Ariete is expected to open the end of next week and will be open for dinner only (operating times to be announced), with lunch and brunch service following. 

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