Long before South Beach's popular pork-centric restaurant Pubbelly was even a thought, a 17-year-old kid named Jose Mendin announced he wanted to be a chef and went to Paris with his father. "My dad took me to a three-star Michelin restaurant, and I think I had the best meal of my life there. I can still taste the foie gras."
Like many a young American, Mendin fell in love with the City of Lights. "I've been known more for working with Asian cuisine, but I just love everything French. "
Mendin and his business partners, Andreas Schreiner and Sergio Navarro, affectionately known as the Pubbelly boys, have founded a small but growing Miami empire -- the Pubbelly Restaurant Group -- with restaurants that feature pork, sushi, Italian, Spanish, and American-steak-house fare.
Now they face a new challenge: a French bistro inside a hotel. L'Echon Brasserie, a play on the Spanish word for "pork," is scheduled to open December 16 at the Hilton Cabana Miami Beach at 6261 Collins Ave.
"This gives us a good opportunity to bring our style of dining to a hotel in Miami Beach," Mendin, a Pubbelly partner and executive chef, says. Hotel management had, in fact, planned on bringing in an out-of-town name, "but one of the hotel executives loved Pubbelly so much he brought his bosses to experience our style."
The trio has been wanting to do a French bistro for some time. "We're big fans of French cuisine, and we always had this brasserie concept that we wanted to develop because it really captures all that we think is cool in a restaurant." The place will channel a Paris bistro, complete with butcher-block tables, a raw bar, and an open kitchen. There will also be a communal table -- a Pubbelly signature.
Mendin says he'll put a "spin" on traditional dishes, which can prove risky when taking liberties with classic French cuisine. "We're not afraid, but if we're going to do it, we have to do it right. We want to make sure we have the correct talent to make it happen and put out something that's respectable."
He and his partners have found that talent from within their own ranks. Josh Elliott, who will co-run the kitchen at L'Echon with Mendin, began as a sous-chef at PB Steak and is now running the kitchen with Mendin at Pubbelly. Coincidentally, Elliott worked at DB Bistro Moderne before joining the Pubbelly family. Mendin describes Elliott as "young" and "passionate," and together they're developing the menu and researching various dishes. "We're going to take care of this together, and hopefully Josh will become the face of the restaurant later on."
Although the menu hasn't been finalized, Mendin is using Pubbelly patrons as taste-testers. "We're trying out a croque-monsieur, country pâté, and chicken liver with sweet-and-sour onion marmalade. We're also doing veal brains. A lot of Miami chefs are coming in to try those." Some classic dishes will be translated into sharable plates, and everything will be previewed before it makes the final cut. "We have to make sure every dish has been tested and works. Sometimes a chef's vision isn't right.
"We're trying to take these classic recipes and make them fun without disrespecting them. Being on the beach, having a glass of wine -- that's what we envision a brasserie to be."