On a recent Saturday afternoon in May, Pharrell Williams strolled through the doors of Planta (850 Commerce St., Miami Beach; 305-397-8513; plantarestaurants.com), a buzzy new vegan restaurant located off South Pointe Drive in South Beach.
Hair dyed a bleach-blond and wearing a backward cap and an oversize lemon-yellow sweatshirt, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter took a seat at the center of the chic restaurant. He was surrounded by a small army of an entourage. It didn't take long for platters of veggie burgers, banana nut pancakes, and pizzas to arrive, prompting him to post a live Instagram video to his 11 million followers.
"We're here at Planta," Williams said with a chuckle while staring straight into his iPhone's camera. Then he turned his head slightly to the right and said, "Wait, it's called Planta, right?"
Maybe Williams was unsure how to pronounce the restaurant's name. Or perhaps he forgot it. Does it matter? When one of the world's biggest celebrities gives you a shout-out, you take it. And that's exactly what Planta owner and nightlife veteran David Grutman did. Visits by stars have fueled the astonishingly rapid growth of his restaurant empire, Groot Hospitality.
Planta, a two-year-old Toronto restaurant that Grutman brought to Miami Beach this past March, is the jewel. Entirely vegan, the eatery prepares fruit-, vegetable-, and nut-based items that burst with color and flavor.
Chef David Lee, the culinary mastermind behind Planta, both in Toronto and South Beach, offers innovative renditions of meaty cheeseburgers, sweet ceviche, and fried tater tots without a trace of animal product. Add to that Grutman's hospitality know-how and celebrity status, which gives customers the chance to dine among the famous, from DJ Khaled and Afrojack to models Hailey Baldwin and Bella Hadid.
"When you come to one of my restaurants, you'll probably see a star, but you'll also be treated like a star," Grutman says. "It becomes more than a really great meal. You become part of the excitement."
Grutman's career dates back 15 years to when he started Miami Marketing Group (MMG) and then launched the nightclub LIV at the Fontainebleau resort. He debuted another club, Story, in 2009 and first tried food and drinks in 2015 with Komodo, an upscale Asian restaurant, bar, and lounge in Brickell. In 2017, he entered the Design District with OTL, a made-for-Instagram breakfast and lunch spot. He's also behind LIV-inspired pop-up experiences tied to sporting and entertainment events such as Gulfstream Park's Pegasus World Cup and the South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Before the end of the year, he will debut a fourth concept, Swan and Bar Bevy, in the Design District; Pharrell Williams is his partner.
The idea for Miami's Planta dates back to mid-2017 during a trip to Toronto, where Grutman became enthralled with the Canadian restaurant and vowed to take it to Miami. The Toronto Star called in "without a doubt the city's best vegan restaurant." Now magazine termed it "a breath of fresh air." It was so successful the chef and his partners opened Planta Burger, a fast-casual spinoff, in August 2017.
By March 2018, Planta had opened in Miami Beach to immediate success, slinging vegetarian sushi and faux-queso dip for musician J Balvin, actor Mark Wahlberg, and the New England Patriots' Rob Gronkowski.
"I love hospitality," Grutman says, "so when my friends are in town, of course I want them at one of my places."
From the tiled, white-washed walls to the tableware, plush chairs, long couches, and menu, Planta South Beach is virtually a carbon copy of the Toronto flagship. The space, which includes two large dining rooms, one of which boasts a soaring barn-like ceiling, can seat up to 200 diners without feeling cramped. The restaurant maintains a country-modern look — Pottery Barn-like — with indoor plants, black-and-white tile, and copper and iron accents.
Every seat is near a window or skylight, so the space is exceedingly well lit. Look up and you might even glimpse Planta's lush rooftop garden, which can be seen from a center skylight. Herbs, microgreens, and vegetables are handpicked, brought downstairs, and used in most plates and even some cocktails.
When you arrive, you'll be asked to wait at the bar until your table is ready. Use this opportunity to order a fizzy cocktail. The Shiso Bubbly ($15) will not disappoint. It's blended with Ketel One vodka, lime, grape, shiso leaf, and prosecco.
Planta's menu during dinner, which is served nightly, and brunch, offered Saturday and Sunday, are similar. Served tasting-style, the portions are small. In most cases, flavor makes up for size. But your meal won't come cheap. Plates hover between $15 and $20, and a truffle burger is priced at nearly $50.
Many dishes resemble animal-based foods. For instance, the coconut ceviche is made with raw coconut meat scooped from the shell to re-create the texture of fish ($15.25). Corn nuts, date guajillo, and pickled cucumber are sprinkled on top, producing a sweeter flavor than a typical ceviche. The result is unique.
Then there's the meat lover's pizza ($19.25). Each pie is prepared with mozzarella made from cashews, bacon from mushrooms, and sausage composed of farro, which is dried wheat grains. It's tasty but won't fool anyone into thinking it's meat. Other pizzas include the Frenchie, which swaps cheese for an almond-based substitute and adds squash, mushrooms, and a truffle vinaigrette ($19.50).
Planta nails its pastas, which include a creamy bucatini made with zucchini and an almond-based Parmesan ($23.25). There's also trofie, in which short, twisted strands of pasta are doused in a truffled mushroom bolognese sauce ($25.50).
A must-order, the cauliflower tots are among the restaurant's most popular items ($11.25). Fried to a golden brown, they offer a flavor and texture indistinguishable from a traditional tater tot. Finished with a dollop of almond-based Parmesan spiked with truffle, the dish will leave you satisfied but disappointed that a serving includes only five meager bites.
Planta's pinnacle is its burger. A house version includes a veggie patty made of black beans, mashed lentils, and beetroot, along with lettuce, tomato, dill pickles, and a gooey cheese made of carrot and potato ($19.95). Kick things up a notch with the DL truffle burger, which adds a cashew-based truffle cheese and a heap of truffle shavings ($48). On either, the patty chars nicely, producing a smoky taste reminiscent of a traditional burger.
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Order a few pieces of nigiri, in which sliced fish is replaced with cubed watermelon, carrots, and mushrooms garnished with truffle soy, ginger, or lemon ($3.50). Or try the maki rolls, stuffed with pickled mango, kimchee, avocado, and spicy mayo ($13).
For dessert, savor the daily soft-serve ($8.75). Most likely, you'll receive a black sundae, infused with activated charcoal and sprinkled with cornflakes. There's also an avocado lime cheesecake ($14), made with cashew nut cheese and raspberry purée. It's a delight — maybe even better than the real thing.
As with any Groot establishment, Planta is a window into Grutman's celebrity lifestyle. You will dine on delicious food and rub shoulders with stars. Chef Lee will leave you full and satisfied but uncertain as to why it's taken you this long to appreciate plant-based cuisine. The food is innovative, the location is prime, and the service is solid considering the high volume of VIP clientele demanding the staff's attention. Where else can you wolf down a cinnamon roll next to Pharrell Williams? Only at a place where Grutman runs the show.
"If I don't set trends, I'm going to be left behind," he says. "People are buying into the lifestyle I'm trying to create, and Planta is a part of that now."