Restaurant Reviews

Ted's at YoungArts: More Fun Than a Restaurant

The afternoon crescendos suddenly. Just as the rose-petal-infused Plymouth gin shaken with lemon juice and sweet pear purée takes hold, singer-songwriter Rachel Goodrich appears brandishing a kazoo and a ukulele.

Ted's is a glorious fusion of food, drink, and art that feels like a neighborhood haunt.

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Soon, the musician (who turned 31 this past Sunday) begins cooing a mélange of indie-sounding, almost-Vaudevillian tunes. The sun slips below the horizon, painting the sky burnt orange and turning patrons at the bar of Ted's at YoungArts into inky silhouettes.

A crowd has gathered here at the National YoungArts Foundation's headquarters, a unique architectural campus that once belonged to rum-maker Bacardi. They're watching the show while nibbling on crisp fried shrimp tucked into steamed bao buns with a twist of napa cabbage.

It's almost as though they're taking advantage of a well-kept secret. Ted's opened this past January, more than two years after the foundation — which has provided grants and mentorship to countless young artists since it was launched in 1981 — acquired the 3.5-acre complex for $10 million. The space, named for Carnival Cruise Lines founder and YoungArts patron Ted Arison, is a blank canvas. Three walls are used for an ever-changing exhibit of artists' works. A wall of floor-to-ceiling windows framed by blue lights sets up a stunning view of downtown and the bay.

The top of the iconic eight-story tower, covered with more than 20,000 blue and white tiles, has long been the subject of dreams. "The idea was to create a sort of cultural hub that was not only a place for our alumni to perform but also a place for the community to experience a variety of different art forms," says Vanessa Leitman, the foundation's vice president of external relations.

So as architect Frank Gehry began reformatting the tower, Philadelphia restaurateur Stephen Starr (who also oversees the café at Pérez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and Bal Harbour's Makoto) was tapped to help complete the transformation of what was once Bacardi's cafeteria.

The result is an intimate artistic venue that smartly caters to locals on both sides of the microphone. Though large nearby cultural institutions like PAMM offer sort of a one-way experience, Ted's is a glorious fusion of food, drink, and art that feels more like a neighborhood haunt than a premier place to enjoy the work of young talent.

Starr's menu, executed by Spanish-trained chef Nicolas Caicedo, complements it all with a brief list of what one might call small plates but are more like the appetizers you hope to find at a wedding. They pair well with $12 drinks, which are pricier than almost half the dishes. The Sunshine is a bright repurposed mimosa that mixes a tart orange granita with floral St-Germain. Meanwhile, a warm Midnight Express, served in a glass tumbler wrapped with a metal handle, can start or end a night with a blend of coffee, amaretto, and roasted walnuts. At times the kitchen seems to struggle with pacing, which is common at restaurants that proffer small plates: Cooks and servers sometimes seem to lose all ability to course out a meal. However, here it seems due more to the unpredictable nature of eating at Ted's rather than any fault of the staff.

It's easy to swill a round or two while waiting for the night's performance to begin. Soon you realize the need for a small bite, so you order the burrata. The creamy hand-pulled cheese arrives surrounded by a ring of sliced sweet yellow and orange heirloom tomatoes. It's topped with a sprinkle of anchovy breadcrumbs that provide salt, crunch, and a savory shock in the same bite.

Later, probably near 9 p.m., it's time for dinner. There are juicy lamb koftas — satisfying Middle Eastern meatballs spiced with garlic, cumin, coriander, and turmeric — resting atop a knot of velvety spaghetti squash. Those steamed buns filled with shrimp can also be packed with thick slabs of pork belly lathered in a guava barbecue sauce topped with spicy jalapeño rings. There is also an off-menu shrimp ceviche whose garlic-and-ginger-laced leche de tigre also gets a squirt of ketchup and mayonnaise in the Central American fashion.

For those who don't wish to share, Ted's offers three full entrées, including a crisp-skinned duck breast that arrives a juicy medium-rare perched atop toothsome bomba rice flecked with loamy trumpet mushrooms.

But this isn't a spot to sit quietly and polish off your plate slowly. Ted's embodies the breathless praise often lavished on Biscayne as an emerging arts district. Sure, the area has a growing population of young professionals, restaurants, and cultural spaces, but never before has there been a place where folks from all three mingle effortlessly throughout the week. Ted's is that place. And with the thousands of residents slated to move into new condo buildings nearby, it's here just in time.

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson