When Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth left Miami to open Root & Bone in New York City, the culinary community figured it was only a matter of time before they would make their return.
The surprise was when the partners (both professionally and in life) announced they were doubling down, opening two Miami Beach eateries — an American dim sum restaurant in the heart of South Beach and a seafood concept in Sunset Harbour.
The first restaurant, the Sarsaparilla Club, opened this past Monday, taking over the old Morimoto spot at the Shelborne Wyndham Grand. New Times was invited to sample some of the dishes.
The restaurant serves "American dim sum." For those of you still not sure of what you'll be eating, that phrase translates into a menu filled with shareable plates that combine familiar comfort food with the spices and brightness found in pan-Asian cuisine.
A good example is the fried chicken ($23). The couple's bird at Root & Bone, lauded by Eater New York in 2014, uses a sweet tea brine and a finishing of lemon dust. At the Sarsaparilla Club, the chicken is brined in green curry and lemongrass and then finished with kaffir lime. McInnis points out the key to the dish is to start with "happy" free-range chicken from Central Florida for the Miami restaurant and from Amish country in Pennsylvania for the New York eatery.
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The result is a piquant chicken that's satisfyingly crunchy on the outside and juicy on the inside, with a notable fragrance and tang. Smaller pieces, such as wings and legs, have more of a flavor impact, so be sure to snag one before everyone goes grabbing at the basket.
Before the main dishes, however, comes American dim sum. This evening, both McInnis and Booth took turns pushing the carts around, which are used both for savory appetizers and sweet finishes. Start with the heirloom tomatoes ($9) and drunken deviled eggs ($6), pickled with root vegetables.
The heirloom tomatoes are served with homemade ricotta and tomato sorbet made tableside. Though the plate is pretty, feel free to make a mess as you dip your toast.
The "little pumpkin" is also served from the dim sum cart. A mini pumpkin casserole is filled with quinoa granola and smothered with "pumpkin cloud" (charged pumpkin bisque). The sweet/spicy combination is a sense-memory trip to Thanksgiving dinner.
Vegetarians will be thoroughly pleased with the menu. Standouts include the grilled graffiti eggplant ($12), with black garlic aioli, tarragon, basil, and pine nuts. It's a beautifully constructed dish that brings out the smokiness of the vegetable. According to McInnis, most dishes can also be prepared vegan for guests who prefer a solely plant-based meal.
Sweet corn grits ($12), served in a mini crock, are a must (and the perfect foil to the fried chicken). More of a creamed corn casserole, the hand-cut corn grits are simmered with marscapone, green onion, and pecorino. It's a heaping dish of comfort. Opt for this over the corn four ways if you're torn between the two.
Rock shrimp laksa ($23), served in a coconut tumeric broth with tofu, egg noodles, bean sprouts, cilantro, and lime, is a straightforward foray into Asian flavors. The tofu especially captures the flavor of the nutty, spicy broth.
It'll be difficult, but save room for dessert. A warm-from-the-oven mini ginger-and-apple pie ($8) tastes like it has been laced with an entire stick of butter. It's drizzled with fresh sweet cream upon presentation.
From the dessert cart, try a sarsaparilla float ($4), made with toffee ice cream. Use the old-fashioned red-and-white straw to fish out the filthy cherry from the bottom of the glass.
Chef Booth says she and her team are trying to work the namesake soda, used in the past to cure ailments ranging from indigestion to fever, into more dishes. For now, find it in the chocolate cake ($7) and specialty cocktails such as the Licensed to Illa.
The Sarsaparilla Club is open for dinner Tuesday through Thursday from 6 to 11 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 6 p.m. to midnight. The restaurant is closed Sunday and Monday.