Bradley Kilgore, the 29-year-old chef of Wynwood's two-month-old Alter, sports a glistening, slicked-back Chicago gangster hairdo as he grabs a young Lake Meadow chicken. He debones it and removes the thigh meat, which he grinds up with a pungent combination of garam masala, North African spices, mushrooms, and foie gras. Then he inserts the velvety, savory filling into rolled breasts that are steamed, dried, and crisped. Finally, he rests the cooked bird atop sweet roasted golden beets and a sugary charred peach.
The flavor combinations are exquisite, but it's the chicken's supple juiciness that signals potential greatness.
This is what you'd expect of Kilgore. The Kansas City native first tasted kitchen life at age ten while washing dishes in a hometown egg-and-bacon spot. Soon he was cutting biscuits, squeezing oranges, and surreptitiously cooking omelets while line cooks were on break. After attending Johnson & Wales University in Denver, he embarked on a four-month stint in the Italian countryside near Milan. Upon returning to the States, he worked in legendary Chicago kitchens at Grant Achatz's Alinea and Laurent Gras' now-closed L2O.
In 2011, he moved to Miami and joined Azul in Brickell Key's Mandarin Oriental, where he quickly garnered attention as Joel Huff's sous-chef.
Bread and beurre $8
Soft egg $13
Guitara noodles $14
Cape Canaveral prawns $25
Leek "chorizo" $21
What came next was disastrous. In 2012, he and his wife Soraya partnered with Jeremy and Paola Goldberg, who until 2014 owned Coral Gables' Route 9. A New Times review of their restaurant, Key Biscayne's Exit 1, found dirty plates, a dead bug, and a curly dark hair resting atop roasted parsnips.
Yet Kilgore bounced back brilliantly, donning the executive chef's coat at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's J&G Grill at the St. Regis Bal Harbour in summer 2013. It wasn't long before his cooking took flight with ingenious, technique-driven spins on simple proteins and root vegetables. "I was their only chef to have any real estate on the menu," he says. "Still, I always had handcuffs on as far as the way I like to cook. Why can't you have a technique from Japan with a flavor from Thailand and a chili from Peru all on the same plate?"
Thus, Alter was born. Longtime friends Leopoldo Monterrey and Javier Ramirez had been pondering a restaurant for at least three years but swiftly decided who would run the kitchen. "Brad had a very clear idea of what he wanted to do," says Ramirez, a 42-year-old hedge-fund risk manager. "Casual, upscale, progressive American."
The walls in the finished space are sparse, lined with industrial-looking concrete. Chocolate-colored wooden tables are just a touch distressed to show off the grain. The lone bit of decoration is a twisting neon sculpture that burns a sinister red above a bar separating the 38-seat dining room from the open kitchen.
There's little to focus on other than the food, which is offered on an ever-changing menu that's as adventurous and exotic as Miami's international reputation. A soft-cooked egg is
Cocktails, overseen by general manager Antoine Lecas, previously of South Beach's Morimoto, provide a sharp, clean complexity that pairs well with the nuanced plates. A rum punch cleverly blends pineapple and orange juice with a splash of vermouth. The Dark Ginger is a play on a Moscow mule — it replaces
Later, Kilgore shows off a deft hand with oyster mushrooms from Central Florida. They're briefly cured in a blend of salt and smoked soy and then steamed, smoked over alder wood, and pan-roasted. The combination of aged Beemster Gouda purée, brittle tofu skin, and tart chili threads works. And the execution creates something special, providing the full spectrum of textures a mushroom can offer. The dish is supple, meaty, and crisp at the same time.
Kilgore clearly capitalizes on vegetables' moment in the spotlight with dishes such as leek "chorizo." Spears are braised until their interiors become sweet and tender. They're doused in a paprika oil that offers the sausage's unmistakable smokiness and are rich from contact with a pool of coconut milk.
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Cape Canaveral prawns, crusted with a combination of toasted corn nuts, ground Korean chilies, and citric acid, star in a delightful version of shrimp 'n' grits. The accompanying pool of velvety hominy is lined with a Sterling Ruby-like striping of huitlacoche purée, mole verde, and vegan chorizo oil. The best part, though, are the heads filled with succulent, salty goodness. These are equally good solo or squeezed onto the plate.
But a miss here and there is inevitable. A milky burrata purée adds nothing to a dish featuring a stark-white ceramic cone bearing emerald-green guitara noodles enveloped in a velvety, herbaceous sauce. The plate calls out for some kind of spice or tang to snap your palate to life. And a dessert of peaches is haphazardly presented with overly dense banana bread and pretzel ice cream that's little more than very sweet vanilla.
Alter is a place to visit every couple of months. In its current form, the menu relies on modest ingredients. There is none of the dry-aged beef, quail, or thick slices of Perigord truffles you would expect. As the seasons change, Kilgore plans to offer a 12-to-15-course tasting menu. You'll want to be there for the chance to taste the greatness.