Even if you've never been to Seaspice (formerly Sea Salt & Pepper), you've surely heard of the riverfront eatery that's fed the likes of Alessandra Ambrosio, Bae and Jay, and every other celeb passing through the Magic City.
But if Seaspice isn't for you, try nearby Modern Garden, an entirely different concept from the same owners.
Quaint and intimate, Modern Garden looks like an origami orchard. A permanent art installation by designer Santiago Pelaez depicts two large trees made and shaped from nominal lumber spread their faux canopies over the space. Teardrop light fixtures hang from the branches, creating an enchanting and romantic setting to enjoy some raw items.
The concept is split: on one side you have a crudo bar (think sashimi and fresh catch like kampachi) and on the other you're doing the cooking yourself on a hot stone. "It's an archaic form of cooking and super healthy and clean," says executive chef Ben Goldman. "There are no extra oils or fats. It's a pure and honest way to eat good quality food."
Goldman joined Modern Garden at the end of 2014 after working as sous chef at Shikany. Joining him behind the crudo bar is desserts wiz Jill Montinola, who also helmed the pastry station at Shikany. With Modern Garden having just opened April 7, the duo are still trying to figure out its identity and having fun while doing so. "It's still sort of creating itself and finding its niche within the community. We're trying different things to people like and where people's comfort levels begin and end."
We're going to go ahead and call it a chef and ingredient driven progressive concept that pays respects to the way our ancestors ate: raw and clean. "There's no lying behind it," says Goldman.
Cocktails are handcrafted and cover all the flavor bases, from herbaceous and tart to bitter and citrusy.
If you like herbaceous, try the Le Botaniste ($15), which mixes Botanist gin with yellow chartreuse, sage, and botanical cubes of sage and raspberries.
As for the menu, it’s not difficult to eat your way through it. While this is a good place for a date, it's worth coming with a group to try it all. Items from the garden include fresh Hawaiian hearts of palm with marinated strawberries, sunflower oats, and dukkah ($15); purple watercress salad with myoga, bubu arare, and smoked trout roe ($12); and pineapple and vadouvan with baby kale, lemon ricotta, vadouvan curry, and blueberry confit ($22).
Uni lovers can get their fix of sea urchin with uni canapés ($20), while bivalves devotees can enjoy an oyster flight ($21) that dresses the sea creatures in sweet and spicy kumquat, umeboshi, and cranberry jus; fireball mousseline and shichimi pop rocks; and pomegranate verjus, volcano salt, and Japanese peach ice.
Goldman is also rotating specials out every night in tandem with what catch or produce he's got available. On our instance he started us out with a cobia sashimi with strawberry gazpacho.
Kanpachi hamachi dressed with a flowering chive vinaigrette, tamari, and calamansi lime ($18).
Salmon rosettes ($21) are a must have. Faroe Island (top grade stuff) salmon wraps around candied shallots, fried capers, and creme fraiche. Salmon roe tops the whole thing off. The salmon is melt in your mouth good, and it's kind of like a refined version of a salmon lox bagel, sans the bagel.
Another special, grilled Nigerian prawns ($24) with baby kale dressed with anchovy and roasted fennel aioli.
If you like clams, you definitely need to try the geoduck (or "giant clam"), which Goldman does two ways. This particular one is served sashimi style with pistachio puree, calamansi lime, chili paste, dehydrated raspberries, and squid ink ($18).
The other takes the belly of the clam and tempura fries it. It's served with flowers and chive oil (also $18).
Kanpachi kama ($15) is imported from Japan daily. Goldman barely tempers with the collarbone, simply marinates in sesame, tamari, and aromatics before cooking over binchotan. It's garnished with opal basil.
When you get to the hot stone portion of the menu, there're quite a few proteins to choose from. Think A5 wagyu ($95), Elysian fields lamb ($22), diver scallop ($28), cobia ($17), and even garden vegetables ($18). All focus on the same thing: cooking whatever protein (or veggies) at hand over volcanic rock with no added fats, oils, or anything at all except salt. We noshed on the spinalis ($42), AKA rib eye cap, with red pepper chimichurri and lava salt.
Hate when restaurant's overcook or undercook your meat? At Modern Garden, you have no one to blame but yourself, so pay attention and flip it over just as it starts to sear, as it should be considered a sin to eat this fine of a cut anything over medium rare.
Muscovy duck breast ($28) is fatty, rich, and utterly delicious. Make sure to put it on the hot stone skin down so it crackles. You're welcome.
Because the meal you've had is so raw, and hence light, you should have plenty of room for dessert. If not, make sure you leave some room because Montinola works wonders with sugar. First up, beignets ($12) stuffed with banana coriander creme and served with a blueberry compote dark berry jam, hazelnut powder, and bruleed señoritas (baby bananas).
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Garden of Eden ($12) would make anyone give into temptation. Passion fruit custard, braised pineapple, tropical fruits, coconut granite, and herb gel make up this mouthwatering and ultra light dessert.
Should you want to end your meal on a chocolate note, go for the cremoso ($14), which couples lots of cocoa with salted caramel, seaweed snow, and toasted rice mousse.