Walking into El'eat Restaurant & Lounge in North Miami Beach is like walking onto the set of American Hustle; you fully expect to see Amy Adams and combed-over Christian Bale dining in the shadows, which are plentiful in this dimly lit restaurant despite multiple chandeliers.
"I came in here and I didn't want to touch it," chef Will Biscoe, formerly of Biscayne Tavern, says of the decor. "It's all part of the 'Me' generation."
This past February, the space was bought and the menu left in the hands of Biscoe. "I was told to come in and make a delicious menu," he says. "And I wanted to give the people what they want."
The selections show that Biscoe went down the more-is-more path. Food offerings are divided into categories -- Garden, Flatbreads, Apps, Mains, and From the Grill -- as well as caviar and oyster options. You can even get a deviled egg with osetra caviar, as long as you're cool with dropping $100.
A recent media dinner allowed tasting of much more of tis excess-meets-decadent approach. Some examples follow:
For our first course, we were served a grilled asparagus salad ($10) and a kale salad ($12). Both typically healthful items were blasted with fat: fragrant Manchego with smooth, runny egg yolk; and smoked pork belly, respectively.
Next came the unfortunately named jumbo lump crabcake ($14), seasoned with Old Bay and served with grainy mustard sauce. The meat was tender, and a small serving of arugula added a touch of bitter complexity to cut the sweetness of the sauce. A good dish, but a bit pricey for a not-so-jumbo crabcake.
After the crab came a strange triple-whammy: fricadelles ($11), avocado fritters ($8), and crispy calamari ($9). A fancy way of saying meatballs, fricadelles are Danish in origin and served with onions, mushroom gravy, and a topping of Gruyère. Tasty, but besides the wise addition of the cheese, there's not much difference between El'eat's fricadelles and IKEA's Swedish meatballs. The avocado fritters, on the other hand, were perfectly crisp on the outside, sweetened with cumin, and rich enough that half a fritter suffices. As for the calamari, the choice of sauce -- Thai peanut -- was cloyingly sweet. It'd be a smart idea for the kitchen to cut back and stick with lemon.
At this point, the tasting took a turn for the intense and the kitchen shot out one food missile after another: sautéed garlic shrimp ($13), PEI mussels ($16), lobster macaroni 'n' cheese ($19), crispy pork shank ($24), crispy boneless Ashley Farms chicken ($20), and grilled red snapper ($22). Of all the mains sampled, the undisputed star was the pork shank. Plopped on fejoada-style black bean stew and oranges, the cut was generous and literally fell off the bone. First, the pork is seasoned, then braised, and finally, gloriously, thrown in the deep fryer. For those of you who doubt Biscoe's dedication to more picky eaters, have no fear: The beans are gluten-free and organic.
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Somehow, more food came, but in the midst of a food coma, it seemed more like a hazy dream filled with cheesecake, raspberry and green tea ice cream, Heath bars, lemon, and cream. What did stand out was the simple pleasure of an old-fashioned chocolate chip cookie, elevated slightly with Valrhona chocolate (not listed on the menu).
For the number of options available and the overall modest prices, El'eat could become popular. However, the out-of-the-way location and haphazard menu might turn some potential patrons off.
El'eat is set to officially open May 29 with the event Classically Modern: Where Mod American Cuisine Meets Timeless Style, which will run from 6 to 9 p.m.