Glass & Vine Combines Elegant Flavor With Fun

A coal-black plate is littered with a half-dozen buttery sweetbreads poached in court-bouillon and finished with a char. But it's the study in celery that's most alluring. Leaves and stalks are chopped into an herbaceous chimichurri. The plant's bulbous root is roasted and pummeled into a velvety purée. More of it, sliced into meaty, thin points, layers the bottom of the plate. Finally, narrow shavings of the raw root are piled up, creating a bird's nest dusted with sweet, smoky onion ash.

The cuisine is a peek into the mind of Giorgio Rapicavoli, who three months ago opened Coconut Grove's 200-seat Glass & Vine. "I feel like if things are similar in color, they'll taste good," the 30-year-old says. For example, a recent order of yellow beets was melded with passionfruit and saffron.

If you want to see Rapicavoli work, grab a seat in one of the lime-green chairs under the old Grove library's vaulted wooden ceiling. Yet most of the time, it's chef de cuisine Adriana Egozcue, a former sous chef at Rapicavoli's breakout hit, Eating House, running the compact kitchen. The pair has worked together since he was executive chef of 660 at the Anglers and she was a line cook.

The bulk of the seating at Glass & Vine is outside. A brick, stepped patio offers gorgeous views of Peacock Park with bits of Biscayne Bay glittering in the distance. Just hope it doesn't rain. Even if it does, it's worth crowding under an umbrella for thick slices of Zak the Baker sourdough piled with shrimp dressed in a lemony yogurt flecked with brown butter. The giddy mess is sprinkled with a combination of Old Bay and adobo that Rapicavoli calls Biscayne Bay spice. "Adobo has mad citric acid, so you get tangy Old Bay; it's really cool," he says. Call it a lobster roll without the lobster. Follow it with a ceviche covered by yellow pebbles made of ginger, garlic, lemon juice, ají amarillo, and buttermilk frozen with liquid nitrogen. They'll melt by the time the rain clears, covering firm cubes of corvina and sweet potato in a luscious tang. Round each bite out with a crisp disk of radish and a jab of jalapeño.

Here, Rapicavoli has taken the ingenuity that made his Eating House a runaway success and used it to punch up elegant simplicity. Combine that with attentive service and the Grove's charm, and it's no wonder people are willing to risk sitting in a downpour.

The menu here eschews plate sizes and is split into four sections: Snacks, Garden, Sea, and Land. To start, opt for the barbecue spiced nuts that in recent weeks have included cashews and walnuts tossed in a meringue spiked with garlic and onion powder, paprika, brown sugar, and complete seasoning. Left out to dry, the savory nibble takes on an ear-shattering crunch when eaten.

Nearly all dishes arrive on black plates, which make for eye-popping and sometimes ominous presentations. Charred cauliflower is first roasted and later fried until the florets take on a dark-chocolate tone. Rapicavoli isn't hesitant to say it was inspired by a meal at Michael Solomonov's Zahav in Philadelphia. The slick of tahini, along with crushed dried chickpeas and olives, makes a decent complement. The only weakness was the overcooked cauliflower, which failed to retain any firmness.

Those black plates also work well for a trio of fat, butter-seared sea scallops cloaked by charred cabbage. The pleasing scent of fire tickles the nose as a server sets it down. The beige theme continues with a luxurious broken egg yolk vinaigrette with whiffs of lemon and black truffle. There's all the satisfying richness of red meat without the steak knife.

Sturdy curls of semolina pasta are varnished in a thin slick of butter sporting the tang of sea urchin. Buttery knobs of rock shrimp lend sweetness, while some watercress and toasted breadcrumbs offer a crunch. It's a bit too similar to the bucatini served at Tom Colicchio's Beachcraft, which bests this version with more citrus and spice.

Rapicavoli finds better balance in the Land portion of the menu. The carnecruda includes near-perfect cubes of beef round. Lemon juice and grassy olive oil enrich and pare back the beef. Translucent shreds of Grana Padano salt the plate as more of those toasted breadcrumbs step in for texture. It's the kind of thing you could eat with a spoon. A pork secreto also leaves you dizzy. This once-overlooked butcher's cut, with a provenance akin to a skirt steak, is coming into fashion and can be found at spots such as Pinch Kitchen. Here, Duroc pig gets a hard sear and is fanned over a spicy garlic purée and black sesame sauce. They're bookends for each bite: something rich bouncing off something spicy and biting. A knot of charred scallions and Swiss chard clears you out between each bite.

That's why it's difficult, without some forethought, to get a reservation here other than the dreaded 5:30 or 9:30 p.m. slots. Perhaps the coming onslaught of restaurants — from James Beard Award winner Michael Schwartz and Rapicavoli's partner Grove Bay Hospitality Group — will help alleviate the crush. Better yet is that the competition will make many of them push harder. It should help Rapicavoli, who, despite his success, remains in the early years of his career. If Glass & Vine is the benchmark, start hoarding your cash in preparation for the next inevitable real-estate slump. A nice place nearby on the cheap becomes a better idea every day.

Glass & Vine
2820 McFarlane Rd., Coconut Grove; 305-200-5268; glassandvine.com. Daily 5:30 to 10 p.m.

  • Charred cauliflower $10
  • Shrimp toast $15
  • Sea scallops $22
  • Semolina pasta $24
  • Carne cruda $12
  • Pork secreto $23
  • Grilled sweetbreads $21

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