Celebrity chef Ralph Pagano has just announced he'll open a restaurant in South Beach. Pagano is also chef/owner of Alba Seaside Italian at the Sole on the Ocean resort in Sunny Isles Beach.
Pagano, who is still working on finalizing the name of the new restaurant, tells Short Order that the space should be open well before the end of January 2014. "I'm going to bring my A-team in, and we'll do some conversions to the space."
The restaurant will serve Mexican food with an emphasis on Ensenada and Baja street food. The chef says that although he's known for his Italian cuisine, he has a real passion for Mexico. "I love Mexico and the cuisine, and I've been there over a dozen times. I've picked agave pinas in Jalisco. I've made tacos al pastor at 2 in the morning at the Embarcadero. Plus, my wife, Buffy, is from Southern California and a Baja aficionado. She's my spirit guide."
Though the menu is not set, expect "fun tacos and a killer breakfast" with offerings like chorizo and eggs. The average menu item will cost about $12. "Nothing will be more expensive than $19. I want the space to be easy to get in and get out when you're coming from the beach."
Pagano, a self-professed tequila guy, will also offer small-batch tequila infusions. Some flavors planned include honey-rosemary and coffee.
Asked whether the food will strive to be authentic or will reflect the chef's personal spin on Baja Mexican cuisine, Pagano replied, "I've traveled the world, and there's good, authentic food and, frankly, bad authentic food. I think it's more about flavor. I think the takeaway that I've gotten is that for most people, except the French, no one really tries to make food difficult. And the people of Mexico really hit it out of the box with their combination of sweet, spicy, and pickled flavors. Then they add herbs for a pop of freshness."
A lover of fresh seafood, the chef especially likes the foods of Mexico's Pacific coast. "I love the fish shacks on the streets of Ensenada where your meal was just caught. I'm simple. I don't proclaim to be the best chef. I just know what tastes good, so we'll straddle the line between authentic with a modern take on it. The real benchmark is when you put it in your mouth. If you love it, I've done my job."