Fooq's Chef Nicole Votano Was Michelle Bernstein's Right Hand

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Let's face it: The former Nemesis space doesn't exactly have prime real estate when it comes to restaurant territory.

Perched on a less-than-favorable downtown street next to popular watering hole the Corner and just a short walk from Space and E11even, it's a bit far from the corporate lunch crowd. This could have something to do with why Top Chef contestant Micah Edelstein unexpectedly shuttered Nemesis last month. And this is exactly why David Foulquier sees the value in the underdeveloped neighborhood.

It also explains his choice of executive chef Nicole Votano, who for the past three years has mastered the midday meal at Michelle Bernstein's Crumb on Parchment.

See also: Fooq's to Open in Nemesis Space

Prior to working with Bernstein, Votano spent time in the kitchens of the Four Seasons and the Biltmore. Although she was born in New York, the chef has traveled extensively. She traveled from London to San Francisco to Hawaii to New York again (to attend culinary school), and San Francisco again. When her parents moved to Miami, it was time for another change.

So how did she and Fooq (that's Foulquier's nickname) meet? "He ate at Crumb every day for the past two years. We realized this common interest in food and how we were brought up in relation to food." Fooq's dad is French, Votano's is Italian; they both spent time living and traveling in Europe.

When the opportunity arose for Votano to run her own kitchen, she jumped at it. "I love Michelle and got to do so many different things with her, but ultimately I wanted to open a place where I get to touch every plate of food and touch every ingredient coming out of the kitchen."

Votano is already hard at work on the menu at Fooq's, which is a culmination of both her and Foulquier's global travels, including some they've taken together. "We know each other's families, and I've gone to New York to spend time with his folks. David is Persian on one side of the family, so we're incorporating some family recipes from both of his backgrounds." She describes their relationship to be like brother and sister, but coining this restaurant concept as the reason for bringing them together.

"Growing up, my house was the meeting space for our friends. My dad would wake up at 2 a.m. if we came home late to cook for us. And in a way, we want that to be the same for the people around here." From lunch to a late dinner, Fooq's will be a family place where you feel comfortable to spend time and eat international but farm-to-table comfort food.

Votano has been visiting farms to see scope out what's good. She's basing her menu, which is already 70 percent finalized, on local products. She'll use stuff from Swank Farms in West Palm Beach, Verde Farms in Homestead, Community Garden in Little Haiti, and Sun Fresh in Fort Lauderdale. "The guy from Sun Fresh actually makes his own compost with leftover foods from Whole Foods that he mixes with manure and wood pellets. He also has some amazing Tuscan kale that he feeds chickens on his property because it makes the yolk really red."

Coming from the West Coast, she's a bit spoiled when it comes to produce. "It was hard when I first moved here, but I see the change happening and I'm really excited about it. It's a really awesome time to be a chef in Miami."

People familiar with her food at Crumb will be happy to know they'll be able to get her meatballs when Fooq's opens at the end of February. "If I don't put some dishes on the menu, they'll be upset, and that's definitely one." As is the bucatini amatriciana (smoked pancetta, sweet onions, San Marzano tomatoes, garlic chips, Sicilian chili flakes, and pecorino romano).

Other menu items include a tartine of the day (grilled whole-grain bread, roasted delicata squash, dandelion greens, purple haze goat cheese, marigold petals, tarragon, pistachio oil); chicken matzo ball soup, pork or turkey patty with melted cave-aged Gruyère and Asian dill aioli; heirloom apple salad (salanova lettuce, curly red mustard greens, glazed and braised heirloom apples, shallot confit, double-smoked bacon lardon, midnight moon, toasted walnuts, and Dijon vinaigrette); and pommes de terre raclette (fingerling potatoes, oven-dried sun gold and cherry tomatoes, caramelized sweet onions, and melted Raclette cheese). For dessert, a lavender panna cotta with brown-butter shortbread crumble, roasted grapes, orange blossom crème fraîche, and microbasil was inspired by a lavender latté Votano enjoyed in Napa last summer. "I haven't been able to stop thinking about it since." So she turned it into an afterthought.

The price range for food will be approachable and affordable, with lunch ranging from $7 to $15 and dinner from $8 to $15 for appetizers and $15 to $34 for entrées. A carefully curated selection of craft beer and equally affordable boutique wines will complement the food.

There will also be a daily blue-plate special that falls into that same home-style cooking style and will rotate weekly (but always the same day); that way, if you love it you'll be able to order it next Tuesday. Think mac 'n' cheese (with a twist), lasagna, or three-day-roasted pork.

"One thing I took away from Crumb is that if you have a good lunch, people will come every day." Indeed, that's how she met Foulquier.

Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha.

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