Restaurant Reviews

Sustain's organic cuisine is the real deal

It is seemingly obligatory these days for any new restaurant to proudly tout local sourcing and sustainability — whether totally true or not. The word organic is planted on menus like corn in Nebraska. So when Sustain Restaurant + Bar opened this past December with a mission "to support farmers" and "provide customers with the purest and finest local ingredients," you couldn't blame folks if they were a bit skeptical. Yet one bite into Sustain's 50-mile salad and any thoughts of gimmickry evaporate like morning dew. The bright medley is made of wood-roasted beets, pickled red onions, caramelized carrots, mixed baby brassica greens from Paradise Farms, and soft crumbles of fromage blanc from Hani's — all sourced within the namesake distance. It seems midtown Miami residents have yet another fine restaurant in the neighborhood.

It looks good, too. Long, curved wooden sticks (dubbed a "mangrove installation") that line one of the main walls resemble a museum display of ossified dinosaur ribs; they blend in with other Whole Earth elements such as blond wood tables made from reclaimed cypress. Contrasting the natural trappings are steely urban features such as a poured concrete floor and an industrial ceiling masked by large mesh pods of recycled aluminum (small globes that cover hanging LED light fixtures are of matching material). A full bar lines the left side of the room, and an open stainless steel kitchen in back exudes smoke and enticing aromas. Owners have minded details large and small: Music is appropriate (not too loud in style or volume), the thermostat is set in sane fashion, and guests are attended to in a welcoming and competent manner at the front door.

We began our meal with water, filtered and free. During one visit, warm slices of house-baked ciabatta were served, but a subsequent dinner brought no bread at all. Service excelled on that first occasion, when our waiter was courteous, polished, and invisibly attentive. Service was still better than average, if not nearly as smooth, the next time out. The staff appears to have been trained well.

The menu is printed nightly. Foods are in season and, presumably, the menu is the brainchild of executive chef (and Miami native) Alex Piñero. There are Mediterranean influences, but most plates reflect creative, contemporary, well-crafted American cooking. A half-dozen appetizers tend toward the hearty; if supplemented with one of the four menu salads, most could ably serve as light entrées. These include steamed mussels with smoked bacon and fries; a charcuterie plate of homemade pork rillette, country pâté, Benton's cured country ham, pickled vegetables, whole-grain mustard, and grilled ciabatta bread; very thin-crusted, delicately sauced wood-oven pizza with spinach, smoked mozzarella, roasted garlic, and caramelized onions; and a swell preparation of sweetbreads, tenderly braised and draped over a moist square of rosemary focaccia, with pearl onions and oyster mushrooms glazed in a rich, shiny, marrow-sticky demi-glace of beef.

A nightly appetizer special was likewise hefty and heartwarming. Fatty shreds of a Berkshire pig's head were breaded and pan-fried, arriving on the plate looking like part of a big crab cake (a different cut of the same pig is used to stunning effect in a lunchtime porchetta sandwich). Thin shavings of carrot and turnip topped the trotter, which cost $15 — pretty much in line with Sustain's other high starter prices (mostly $12 to $15).

A crudo of cod and grapefruit is the only appetizer sprightly enough to qualify for a spa menu. But for those who don't want to fill up too much, Sustain offers a quartet of small "bites" ($4 to $6) : mini corn dogs, soft pretzels with orange blossom honey, fried chickpeas in herb oil, and meatballs in mushroom gravy.

The ten to 12 entrées include meat, poultry, and fish selections — plus one pasta, which may be culled from carrots on Monday and beets on Tuesday. Fried chicken included a meaty thigh, drumstick, and breast with crunchy, greaseless, well-seasoned crust and moist flesh within. A side of orange blossom honey proved revelatory in how good it tasted with the bird. The plate also contained sautéed beet greens and a mac and cheese that wasn't mac-nificent, but did boast a bold Vermont white cheddar flavor. It was a solid $20 American dinner.

We also relished a wide plank of pumpkin swordfish, grilled and finished in a wood-burning oven, that flaked into smoky, succulent bites. The fish was framed by cannelloni beans (too al dente), clams, sautéed Tuscan kale, and spicy half-moons of chorizo — a gratifying mosaic of tastes. Only question was: Where was the pumpkin?

Another captivating caravan of flavors pulled up alongside an entrée of barbecued quail: crisp Brussels sprouts, softly braised cippolini onions, a very small dice of beets (a larger cut would have been easier to eat), and mild horseradish sauce ladled on top. The two partially deboned quails were darkly colored by assertive grilling and a dry rub of onions, garlic, and New Mexican red chilies. They were deliciously zesty, except partially raw. The problem was fixed, but a few such over/under-cooked items suggest there needs to be tighter control of foods before they leave the kitchen.

The "fork and knife" burger might be the tallest in town, a fat round of ground, grass-fed beef piled with smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and cheddar cheese in a brioche bun — a thatch of thin, homemade, flawless fries alongside. Still, most folks would deem $18 too much to pay for a hamburger that isn't stuffed with foie gras. Main-plate prices, however, are reasonable: Most cost $20 to $28.

Carnivores can likewise lean toward pork loin with calabaza purée or a daily changing cut of steak from 4 Arrows Ranch (it's located between Ocala and Gainesville) garnished with oxtail marmalade — a creative and enticing touch. Carnivorous couples may want to share a "cowboy steak" for two ($70), which comes with potatoes Anna, bordelaise sauce, and roasted vegetables. I never even knew cowboys liked bordelaise sauce.

Sustain had just received its liquor license when we visited, so bar picks were limited to four red and five white wines (most in the $30 to $40 range), and a trio of draft beers (Chimay Tripel, Key West Sunset Ale, and Miami's favorite brew bargain, the $3 Pabst). Creative cocktails are concocted as well ($10).

A round of warm pecan tartlet in shortbread crust was not too sweet (relative to pecan pies) and lustily spiked with bourbon. A terrific quenelle of hazelnut ice cream on top offered a hot/cold, double-nut depth. Apple pie was an authentically prepared rendition of the heartwarming classic — fresh and warm, with delicate, lightly sugared crust, and cap of vanilla ice cream. Yup, Sustain is real. And it is real good.

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Miami New Times' restaurant reviewer for the past decade, and the world's indisputable master of disguise.
Contact: Lee Klein

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