OTC in Brickell: Forging a New Identity

It's impossible to miss the mimosas at OTC, the year-old Brickell sensation. On a recent Sunday morning, they adorn every table on the porch like fizzy orange vases. The line of patrons is equally obvious. A young crowd clusters by the restaurant's counter and forms a string of cool kids that extends past the double doors.

Perhaps these customers are waiting for Jacob Anaya's slow-poached eggs, cooked in an immersion circulator until their yolks ooze loose and golden. Or maybe they're sticking around for his Okinawan fries -- purplish batons of sweet potato served alongside a sharp tamarind sauce.

Most likely, though, they're here for the drinks.

During OTC's brunch, unlimited mimosas cost only $20 per person.

Beer replaces champagne as the place's most popular drink every other day of the week. OTC, which stands for "Over the Counter," proffers a wide variety of craft brews, such as Founders Brewing Co.'s stout, Cigar City Maduro, and Dogfish Head's prized 60 Minute IPA. The restaurant presents silverware in Mason jars and plates most meals on wooden planks. It hosts tap takeovers, supports Florida brewers, and cooks burgers, sliders, and mac 'n' cheese.

In short, there's a part of OTC that's like every other gastropub in town. When it opened last year, the casual spot mostly played it safe -- serving grilled cheese, caesar salad, charcuterie, and pan-seared tuna with spring mix greens. It lured the corporate Brickell clique, the kind of people who reside in high-rises and love a good brunch special, happy hour, or ladies' night.

But three months ago, something more ambitious was born. Anaya became OTC's executive chef after parting ways with Azul, the Mandarin Oriental's restaurant that was awarded five stars by Forbes six months before it was shuttered indefinitely for renovations. With his new gig, the chef switched his molecular gastronomy-inclined kitchen to an unassuming gastropub with counter service. "It's exciting to offer guests a dining experience that they can frequent more often," Anaya says. Today he has injected OTC's simple menu with his own modernist technique.

This mishmash, however, sometimes proves confusing. To prepare his hanger steak, Anaya cooks it sous vide (in a pouch submerged in a water bath) for 30 minutes at 82 degrees Celsius. He then pan-sears it and pairs it with fingerling potatoes, cipollini onions, and veal jus. The meat tastes delicious, but the portion reflects Anaya's fine-dining past. Despite the $18 price, only four bites of steak occupy the plate.

OTC's burger is a better deal. It stacks a medium-rare beef patty atop a tall, messy mass of avocado, caramelized onions, and crisp prosciutto. You can make a night of it with a cold amber ale. Here, every dish on the menu is paired with a beer. Ask the cashier a question about the brews and he'll automatically pour you a taste. If you're extra-nice, he might also tell you where you can score Funky Buddha Brewery's fabled No Crusts beer.

The restaurant's menu is driven more by beer pairings than a single cuisine. Anaya offers eclectic foods such as Thai chicken wings, which are poached in stock, deep-fried, and then tossed in a sweet chili sauce. They share the menu with a pristine snapper placed atop a dollop of parsnip purée. In another offering, he roasts carrots with parsnips and douses the roots in a curried honey glaze.

Eaten separately, his wide-ranging dishes can taste pleasing and balanced. Together, they can overwhelm with an excess of sugar.

Anaya is at his best when he practices restraint. His heirloom tomato salad, coupled with shaved fennel, fried green olives, and pesto, bursts with freshness. His ratatouille melds hunks of eggplant and squash with a slow-poached egg and grilled country toast. The chilaquiles, served exclusively during brunch, aren't a light option. Piled with corn chips, chorizo, chicken, cotija cheese, and a sunny-side-up egg, they also won't win any novelty awards. But this dish works wonderfully with a few sides or on its own.

OTC is still defining its new identity -- somewhere among burgers, beers, immersion circulators, and sous vide. The challenge is evident even in the service. During the week, the restaurant takes orders at the counter. During this Sunday brunch, customers were instructed to stand in line, give phone numbers to a server, and wait for table service.

Of course, most opened a tab for mimosas and drank a few to pass the time.

Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.

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