The waitress at George's Kitchen is not clumsy. She might spill yuzu on your shirt, splash water near your cup, and drop a knife on the floor. But under no circumstances should she be considered a klutz.
When you sit at the bar of this upscale midtown locale, which debuted in January, you can look into the open kitchen. Georges-Eric Farge, alongside partner and former Miami Dolphins and University of Miami quarterback Craig Erickson, constructed the space to resemble a theater. Farge, the kooky restaurateur who founded George's in Coconut Grove in 2008 and South Miami in 2010, scattered bulky leather chairs around its borders. He crammed seats tightly — so tightly, in fact, that exiting requires scrambling similar to Erickson's moves on the gridiron.
In the kitchen, cooks add oil to wilted spinach, sear octopus on the flat-top, and reheat ham-stuffed gougères in the oven. Although the dining room features regular seating and a communal table, the kitchen bar functions as a main attraction. To its owners, this concept of cooking-as-theater probably seemed like a brilliant idea.
But it wasn't.
When a cook cracks a quail egg's shell, accidentally tears the yolk, and fumbles to discard the evidence, no one should be watching. When a waitress serves diners from behind heavy chairs and struggles to refill a drink or to pass a menu, no one wants to be looking. The kitchen bar format at George's Kitchen amplifies the pettiest of its flaws.
Eventually, though, the cook triumphs over the teeny egg. The waitress delivers the restaurant's complimentary rosé champagne, and George's strong suits take center stage: the eclectic yet French-leaning bill of fare, the refined cooking of a Michelin-rated chef, meals delivered so efficiently that they average 60 minutes or less in length. George's Kitchen may struggle with format and finesse. What it lacks, though, it almost makes up for with its classic fare.
Things certainly haven't been easy for Farge. Shortly after the restaurant's debut, he achieved some unwanted notoriety. Ricardo Dimarco Barea, a local DJ and blogger, launched a scandalous website, georgeskitchenattackedme.com. According to Barea, he sampled mediocre food and experienced subpar service at the restaurant. When the DJ informed Farge he would write a negative review on his blog, Barea said Farge "savagely head-butted [him]" and called him a "faggot."
Barea accused the restaurant owner of gay-bashing and bullying. Citing a case number with the Miami Police Department, Barea claimed to have filed charges for assault and battery. Four months later, however, Farge's criminal record is clean.
Widely regarded as a publicity stunt on the DJ's part, the scandal fizzled. But Farge's aberrant reputation remains. In his restaurant on Sunset Drive, the adage is "If you don't bring your lady to George's, someone else will!" A mural of Farge, who admits to not taking himself too seriously, looms on a wall inside the restaurant. Though he sold his Coconut Grove outpost in 2011, Farge's signature jollity persists. When patrons celebrate birthdays, strobe lights flash, techno music booms, and sparklers burst into flames. The Frenchman's brand of dining locales has prospered with themes centered on fun.
With George's Kitchen in midtown, Farge was concerned less with amusement and more with class. As executive chef, he hired Steven Rojas, a Los Angeles native who received a Michelin star during his stint at Saddle Peak Lodge in Calabasas, California.
Rojas' technical prowess is more obvious in some dishes than others. His hamachi crudo pairs slivered yellowtail with vibrant bursts of yuzu and ginger juice. Fried garlic and cubes of ginger gelée cover the fish's flesh, as do dashes of soy sauce and espelette peppers. But the pristine fish drowns in a pool of too much liquid and surplus ingredients. Fewer components would yield a superior result.
The same applies to the roasted branzino, which is stuffed with a delicate scallop mousse and is meant for sharing. The filling, a tender marriage of the sea creature's flesh with white wine, cream, tarragon, dill, and garlic, complements the loup de mer's vivid freshness.
Other elements overwhelm the otherwise impeccable dish. Thick batons of potato — poached in oil and fried at high heat — alongside saffron beurre blanc, braised cipollini onions, and a grease-laden tomato and garlic confit, tarnish the fish with excess fat and grease. The puddle of oil beneath the branzino suggests a second-rate bistro — except those places charge far less than George's $49 plate.
A smoked and roasted duck breast, succulent and slightly pink, signals Rojas' skill. Coupled with a full-bodied duck jus and dotted with tart cherries and picholine olives, the sliced duck rests atop a thick puddle of cream-slicked polenta. The restaurant's gougères also succeed. Rojas flavors the puffed, golden, and airy choux pastry with minced jam and tangy fromage blanc.
Perhaps grievances shouldn't be uttered about pairing endive, arugula, sliced Fuji apples, candied nuts, and Fourme d'Ambert blue cheese. It's an enjoyable — and popular — salad. But more innovative assemblages of greenery are to be expected from a Michelin-ranked chef.
At George's Kitchen, desserts are prepared off-premises by Franck Monnier of L'Atelier Gourmet, a company that supplies macarons, pastries, and sorbets to restaurants, hotels, and caterers. Though outsourcing seems like a shortcut, Monnier's sweets impress. His version of a Kit Kat combines velvety chocolate crémeux with a crunchy hazelnut sponge cake, chocolate mousse, and dark chocolate ganache — an ethereal demonstration of chocolate's capacity to lure in many forms. In another boon, berry coulis surrounds an oversize raspberry macaron, held by a floral vanilla buttercream. Sprinkled with fresh raspberries, the dessert is one of the superior macarons in town.
While savoring the berry treat, you might spot a cook tottering across the kitchen, topping a tarte tatin with vanilla cream, and cracking yet another quail egg. In time, he will cook the egg sous-vide, stack it atop a mound of minced bigeye tuna, and pipe the platter with piquant togarashi aioli. Crisp nori crackers, made with panko, ginger powder, and sesame seeds, will encircle the pile of fish.
So sample the tuna. Close your eyes. Forget the yuzu on your shirt, the cutlery on the floor, and the water deluging your table. In those moments, the quail egg points to the prized work of a reputable chef, and the setting feels graceful — free from the errors that even an experienced restaurateur can make.