Putting Up a Billboard, Live

On the one hand, it's pretty tough to understand why Ephraim Kadish is smiling. As the vice president of culinary affairs and executive chef for Billboard Live, a multimillion-dollar dining-and-entertainment project in South Beach that has been in development so long it's almost reached Shore Club status, his responsibilities are tremendous. Technically he is overseeing the creation of two restaurants -- a casual/upscale seafood eatery called Breez and a fine-dining global place named Parallel -- while designing kitchens, writing recipes, and training staff.

But in reality, along with president Mitchell Chait, vice president of operations Christian Dickens, and club director Rodolphe (whom Kadish simply refers to as "Club Guy"), he's the kahuna. The big cheese. The one in charge. Which means that even the tiniest details, like whether the bill for the locks that will secure the outdoor loveseats has been paid by check or is COD, are frequently brought to Kadish. And imagine how the details add up when you consider the scope of Billboard Live -- a 40,000-square-foot, four-level space that will include the restaurants, several bars and lounges, a dance club, a members-only club, and a stage for some of the world's top performers.

On the other hand, Kadish's ready grin and mild manner are easy to figure. Billboard Live's upper three levels, which were a maze of scaffolding only about six weeks ago, are fairly close to being completed. The bars have been built. The complicated wiring is in place. Parallel's kitchen is being set up. The floors are being put down. The end to buzz saws and shrill electric drills is in reasonable sight. As for the first floor, Kadish, who obviously has nerves that match the steel of the safety railing that rims the upper-level walkways, is preparing himself for a beginning. Breez, featuring a wide variety of sushi styles, including stuffed and folded sushi as well as pressed and molded sushi, debuts June 15.

Kadish also realizes that since he's the one in charge, he sets the tone. "I use no harsh words. Everything has to be positive. If people want to come to work, that's half the battle," this veteran of the restaurant scene emphasizes.

Kadish's name may not be familiar to South Floridians, but his former restaurants certainly are. The erstwhile corporate executive chef of China Grill Management, he operated establishments including the original China Grill and Asia de Cuba in New York; Blue Door and Tuscan Steak in Miami; and Red Square and Rum Jungle in Las Vegas, to name a few. In fact, Kadish tells me, "In the last seven years I've opened twenty-one restaurants. Seven of those were opened within five months of each other." He French-inhales a burning cigarette and shakes his head in a kind of rueful wonder.

What he doesn't mention is the astounding amount of money he managed from those properties: more than $50 million in food sales alone. But while Kadish is quite willing to acknowledge his work ethic (when he opened China Grill in Miami he worked 90 days straight in the kitchen without a sous chef), he's not bragging. He's merely stating facts, some of which cause him to reach for another butt. Like his current fifteen-hour days, which leave only a smidgen of time to spend with his wife and their three young sons, all of whom are under the age of three. (Kadish also has an eight-year-old son from another marriage.) Like the relationship with his former employer Jeffrey Chodorow that Kadish describes as friendly. Like the negotiations with Quik Park, the valet service that wants to charge him twenty dollars per spot and won't promise him parking attendants that speak English. Kadish and company bargain Quik Park down but can't budge 'em on the English question, so Kadish will post a hostess out front with the valets to make sure all customers are greeted in a language they understand.

Exhale. Flick the ash. Smile.

His experience as a corporate chef puts him in good standing with Billboard Live, because Kadish understands intimately the oxymoronic rule of the restaurant business: While a new concept can't be rushed, you also need to strike while the cast iron is hot. Which is why Breez, which was completed design-wise about a month ago and whose food and wine menus are being finalized virtually at the last minute, will open before Parallel, the concert hall, or the club is ready to receive visitors. It doesn't faze Kadish, who cheerfully smiles and mixes a metaphor: "We're opening one arm of a whole body that has to stand alone."

Breez's concept isn't complicated: fresh seafood, both raw and cooked, with lots of Japanese influences. Communal tables inside, with iridescent banquettes that stream rainbow colors, fading from blues to greens to purples. Outdoor seating to take advantage of -- concept implied -- the ocean breezes. A bar shaped like a conch shell, where patrons can nestle in the curves. And a reasonably priced menu, hence the insistence on valet parking (a necessity at this location on the corner of Fifteenth Street and Ocean Drive) that doesn't cost more than the average dinner. "Dining should be a breeze. I think that these days we put too much pressure on people when they go out to dine," Kadish stresses. "Here things will be simplified.... We're going to premix the soy sauce with the wasabi and serve it in little pitchers. And if there's something somebody wants that isn't on the menu, we'll make it for them.

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick

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