Aleric "AJ" Constantin has come a long way in just a year. From launching his gourmet-fare-on-a-bike company, Sear'N Gears (and being arrested for it), to working in the kitchen of Eating House, Michael's Genuine, Nemesis, and now Mandolin Aegean Bistro, the chef is only getting started.
Last month, for Valentine's Day, he hosted his first pop-up dinner at his home with the help of good friend and fellow chef and colleague Camilo Blanco. That dinner was a trial of sorts to see whether they could make a pop-up work out of the comfort of AJ's home (he lives in a residential/commercial property on NE 42nd Street in the Design District). It did, so this Friday, March 14, at 9 p.m., the duo and other local artists and musicians will join forces at AJ's place for the first official Social Cena (cena meaning "dinner" in Spanish).
Originally, AJ planned to move either to the West Coast or Japan and launch his Sear'N Gears Cycling Chef and Beyond concept. "I then realized that I wanted to represent my city till the day I die," says AJ, who is originally from the Magic City. "This pop-up is all about bringing together Miami's local artists from all planes. The courses, drinks, art, and music will progress, build, and complement one another throughout the course of the night."
Speaking of drinks, art, and music: GG artwork will be featured throughout AJ's backyard. You can check out the banner design he's done on the Facebook event page. Pelvic Thrust will provide entertainment for the evening, and Louis Salgar, formerly of Gramps and now at the Broken Shaker, will sling cocktails. As far as the food goes, it's six courses.
The menu isn't set in stone yet, but AJ gave us some insight into the general direction. For starters, "Cam's pan con tomate" is a modern take on the famed Spanish premeal dish -- local tomatoes, olive oil, and salt on a baguette. It's that simple. Follow that with a shaved salad, which combines thinly shaved root vegetables, cucumber, radishes, zucchini, squash, nuac cham dressing, and puffed farro. "Abuelo's ceviche mixto" sounds nothing like grandpa's. Local grouper, gulf shrimp, spicy citrus mojo, and papaya make for a mishmash of all things South Florida. As if all of that weren't enough, it's topped with house-made tostones and potato sticks. Because every great meal involves pork belly, AJ couldn't leave swine off his menu. He'll pair it with creamed corn, smoked maple, cornbread crumbs, fried kale, and pork belly drippings. You've heard of "Mary Had a Little Lamb," but how about "Mary Had a Mustard Lamb"? Mustard-beer-crusted lamb chops, charred cauliflower-apple ricotta purée, preserved lemon bitter greens, graham cracker, and a shot of beer make this nursery rhyme totally grown up.
To end the night, AJ will give a nod to the cops who arrested him for peddling his ice cream. The deconstructed "popo pop" will comprise Krispy Kreme ice cream, house-made doughnuts, chocolate candied bacon, café colada ice, and a salted glaze.
Dinner is limited to 12 people and costs $85 per person, including wine and cocktail pairings. The monthly event will take place the second Friday of every month, with the hope of regularly aligning with Art Walk, with the exception of this month because March 1 was a Saturday. "Miami is full of amazing talent. We're in the initial phases of a cultural renaissance," AJ says. "We want to be at the forefront of it."
Follow Carla on Twitter @ohcarlucha