First Bites

L'echon Brasserie: The Pubbelly Mafia Kill With French Cuisine

The Pubbelly boys are as dangerous to the Miami food scene as the Corleone family was to the New York crime scene. It all began in 2010, with the opening of the Asian gastropub Pubbelly (heard of it?). Jose Mendin, Sergio Navarro, and Andreas Schreiner were first-time owners, dewey-eyed and confident in their high-quality yet affordable, pig-centric fare. Since then, they've gotten bolder and more powerful, opening Pubbelly Sushi, PB Steak, and Barceloneta, in which they are active partners. They've consistently served killer cuisine, and Miami has been clamoring for more.

L'echon Brasserie, their newest venture, opened last Friday, and Short Order had a first bite. Let's just say they made us a bunch of food offers we couldn't refuse.

See also: L'Echon Brasserie to Open Summer 2014 (Photos)

L'echon is larger than the other PB joints -- 150 seats spread throughout 2,500 square feet of indoor, outdoor, and corporate space -- and decidedly fancier, housed in the renovated Hilton Cabana Miami Beach. But never mind the overpriced valet parking and the air conditioning turned full-blast in the impersonal lobby. Instead, focus on the warm interior, the globular light fixtures, and the divine smell of burning cedar, oak, and hickory woods.

The restaurant, whose name is derived from the Spanish word for "pork" -- lechón -- and is Frenchified with an apostrophe, has a relaxed and cool vibe, but nothing particularly screams French brasserie. Why would the Pubbelly boys go after French cuisine?

"We always wanted to do a French restaurant," Schreiner says. "It's kind of every chef's dream and the cuisine where everything kind of spawned from."

Chef Jose Mendin, alongside executive chef Josh Elliott, offer a menu of breakfast, lunch, dinner, and brunch items. And while many of the dishes are influenced by modern and traditional French cuisine, previous Pubbelly motifs crop up: hamachi crudo, pan con lechón, steak frites. There are also items that have absolutely nothing to do with France, such as jamón ibérico and key lime pie.

C'est la vie -- we skip the seafood and charcuterie and choose instead something a little more fun and a tad risqué: foie Nutella ($14).

Served on a small wooden board atop a paper napkin stamped with the restaurant's pig logo, two small slices of chewy ciabatta toast come smothered in Nutella and candied hazelnut crumbs. The duck liver mousse sits in a small dish, and we're instructed to "spread as you will." The mousse is silky -- nothing like the hunks of foie we're used to. Of all the things to put on toast, the mix of Nutella and foie may become your new favorite.

Next up, escargots de Bourgogne ($15), served in a cast-iron escargot dish. The snails are tender and not chewy, tucked under a rich pillow of potato-leek espuma and garlic butter. Sprinkled on top are brioche croutons, which add crunchiness to an overall soft, delicate bite. The only thing missing is bread to soak up the lovely, oily, garlicky residue.

For our principle plate, the choices are many, but we settled on the cochon de lait ($24), or suckling pig. The meat is torn apart, put back together, and placed on a panini press to create a beautifully crisp top. Swimming in a delicious mustard-sherry jus and accompanied by a celeriac rémoulade, the pork crackles when cut, and the soft meat soaks up the jus for luscious, moist bites.

So, how to cap off a (mostly) French meal? With crème brûlée ($10), of course. Like the escargots, the dessert is served in a cast-iron dish; a massive pile of fresh berries rides alongside. There are some vestiges of the classic dessert -- vanilla custard inside and torch-burned sugar on top, but the real magic lies in the twists: a crema catalana foam infused with vanilla bean, orange, and lemon zest; tiny golden white-chocolate pearls; fresh mint; and a bite of Maldon sea salt.

L'echon Brasserie's cuisine is well prepared, tasty, and unique, offering something rare in Miami -- quality French food. Though the Pubbelly boys have strayed from the affordable aspect, dining here is a worthy excuse to, in the words of Tom Haverford, "treat yo'self." Just be sure to go with the classics and to ask for extra bread.

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Dana De Greff