David Foulquier is a Manhattan native with a Persian and French background. His grandma lived across the street from French culi-genius Daniel Boulud in Lyon, France.
"Thanksgiving growing us for us was always cooked by Daniel," says Foulquier. "He catered my bar mitzvah and even gave me my first chef's jacket." Little did Foulquier know he'd be putting that jacket to use a decade later -- just a few days before opening his first restaurant, Fooq's.
"Well it doesn't actually fit anymore. I got a new jacket now," he laughs standing behind the bar of his new humble abode. If you've been to Fooq's before (it was the former Nemesis space), you'd hardly recognize it. No longer is the space white, cold, and awash with red whimsy quotes splattered on the walls. There are no upside down umbrellas hanging from the ceiling. "The goal was to make you feel like you're walking into a home. Your home."
And it feels homey indeed. Disregard the homeless chilling right across the street (it's smack in the middle of downtown) or the walks of shame you'll witness straddling out from nearby Space and E11even. Pretend you're in New York, where this type of thing is completely normal. "I wanted something that fit the neighborhood but in a way was transporting."
"Nemesis was a very special place for me. I was one of the first people to be a regular. When it first opened, it reminded me of New York and place that I would of frequented there." But Fooq's is nothing like Nemesis, either in its design or its food. Upon entry, there's a waiting nook, with antlers and other unique trinkets hanging from the wall and a bohemian bench to curl up on while your table is ready. The cozy and warm feeling extends into the intimate dining room filled with wooden tables that have been carved with the name Fooq's. Mod gray chairs, nautical stripes banquettes, and copper light fixtures and accents are reminiscent of a New York meets Catalan bistro. Perhaps because Foulquier was hugely inspired by Catalonian architecture. He spent some time in Barcelona, staging at the Michelin rated Hoffman Restaurant.
As for the food, it's a mélange of both he and executive chef Nicole Votano's (who prior to joining Foulquier was Michelle Bernsteins right hand at Crumb) travels. Expect Persian, French, American, and Italian flavors but in a farm-to-table home-style cooking kind of way. "We went back and forth with hat we wanted the concept to be and at the end we realized what we did best would be homey food what was true to us and both our homes."
"She reeks French technique but she also shares my rustic Italian influences." The only cuisine Votano was alien to prior to jumping onboard was Persian. "I have Persian friends, so I'd eaten it in passing but never cooked it," she says. That changed when Foulquier took her to New York and had his grandmother, who is half-Persian, cook her an entire feast. "She's not only taken that and done traditional Persian things but taken Persian flavors and modernized them to suit her style," says Foulquier. Case in point, the Persian pomegranate chicken, which braises Murray's Chicken thighs in pomegranate molasses, walnuts, and Persian spices. The dish is served with basmati rice and green beans. Or the Persian sundae -- a mashup of saffron and rosewater ice creams, shredded halva, roasted salted pistachios, winter cherries, medjool dates, valrhona chocolate pearls. "We've had Persians come in here during our friends and family and tell us it's better than their grandma's cooking."
But the menu is not all Persian. Voltano is married to a Mexican, so mole has inevitably crept its way in the kitchen. "She doesn't look it but she's really Mexican and throws down with the best of them." During lunch, you can nosh on a duck mole burrito packed with duck confit, red mole, brown rice, avocado, sweet onions, and crema. "We want people to be able to come for lunch every day." For that, a blue plate special will be offered and rotate weekly (so you know when to expect it and can come get it). Think lasagna or three day roasted pork.
As for dinner, its items like Homestead tomato salad (malabar spinach, local tomatoes, green beans, toasted kamut, sweet onions, French feta, mint, and red wine vinaigrette); pommes de terre raclette (finger potatoes, oven roasted baby heirloom tomatoes, wild mushrooms, caramelized sweet onions with melted Raclette cheese); trio of jars (ask what they're filled with on your visit); Votano meatballs (ground brisket and berkshire pork meatballs, San Marzano tomato sauce, Parmigiano, Reggiano, basil, and garlic toast); crack head shrimp (royal red shrimp, saffron orange broth, tarragon, baguette); bucatini amatriciana (smoked pancetta, sweet onions, san marzano tomatoes, garlic chips, sicilian chile flakes, pecorino romano); and Audrey's osso buco (Strauss veal shank braised in a light tomato broth, yukon-cauliflower mash, braised dandelion greens, and gremolata). There will also be a daily local fish and crudo that will vary on whatever the catch of the day is, and of course a burger, which will be a short rib, brisket and skirt steak blend with melted Jarslberg and special sauce on a toasted brioche. But it's the cauliflower steak the dish that Votano's most proud of. "I hate when vegetarians are an afterthought, so we wanted to have enough vegetarian items for people to come and not feel left out." Her high point: the Swank Farms caramelized cauliflower steak, which is center cut, rubbed with herbs, and then dressed with toasted quinoa, charred kale, marinated tomatoes, and a pomegranate reduction. Prices haven't been set but expect a range of $9 to $16 for dinner appetizers and $16 to $32 for entrees. Lunch will be kept to a minimum in order to draw a daily corporate and working crowd.
For dessert, in addition to the sundae there's items like a lavender latte panna cotta, banana down upside down cake, and croissant bread pudding. As for beverages, a boutique selection of wines and craft beer will be proffered.
A San Francisco native, Votano is a big supporter of farm-to-table and says she couldn't be happier that Miami is really embracing the movement and making it the norm. "First and foremost, that's was Fooq's is about."
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha
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