When the Vagabond restaurant opened at the beginning of 2015, the eatery was lauded for its blend of gorgeous art and enticing food. Then 25, Alex Chang was tapped as executive chef, and the wunderkind set about pickling his own vegetables and placing intricate dishes on the menu. Case in point: The chapulines, spicy Mexican grasshoppers served with peanuts, became the most-talked-about menu item in Miami. The Vagabond was voted Miami New Times' Best New Restaurant in 2016 for its style and taste in all aspects of its existence.
But even with the good intentions and bustling opening months, the restaurant soon saw empty tables. Specials, lunches, and themed parties were tried but failed to bring in business. Some said Chang's food was too ambitious for the MiMo District, filled with familiar foods like grilled cheese and pasta.
At the end of June, the restaurant changed hands, with Chang leaving to "travel" (the chef is now at River Yacht Club as part of its rotating chef program). French partners Julien Géliot and Fabien Chalard of Plethore & Balthazar in Lyon, France, took over the restaurant, promising to offer a menu of "Americana with a French twist." Roberto Dubois, with an impressive resumé that include stints at Juvia, Makoto, Klima, and Azul, has been charged with heading the kitchen. New Times was recently invited to try some new menu items, and Chef Dubois came out to chat. The humble toque was sincerely interested in opinions, taking into consideration the one note that a carrot risotto would benefit from something to balance its sweetness. He wants the menu to be more accessible for neighborhood diners. "I would like for people to come here a few times a week to have a meal after work or just a glass of wine and an appetizer."
Though the menu could be called a greatest hits of dishes, with everything from cheese ravioli to a whole rotisserie chicken, Dubois promises a dedication to sourcing local ingredients and listening to diners to tweak the menu seasonally.
Start with a few drinks from the revamped menu. All cocktails, including a barrel-aged negroni, cost $12 each.
Deviled eggs ($6) work as both a classic starter and as the perfect snack with drinks.
The Vagabond Kitchen & Bar has three versions of carpaccio for every taste. A salmon carpaccio ($14) is served with an olive oil drizzle and fried capers. Vegetarians will enjoy the radish carpaccio ($12), and carnivores can feast on a generous portion of roast beef carpaccio ($14).
A cauliflower steak, served with whipped feta, chives, and crisp garlic chips ($12), is a vegetarian option that meat eaters will also enjoy. The dish is reminiscent of one served at John Besh's Domenica in New Orleans and was one of the most craveable items on the new menu.
Branzino ($28) with cherry tomatoes, capers, and salsa verde is a solid entrée choice. The fish is sweet and buttery, with a hint of acid from the capers and salsa.
A carrot risotto ($20) shows promise, but as it is now, it's too sweet. If the chef makes good on his promise to add some blue cheese crema or other tangy foil, this item would be a hit with vegetarian diners.
In all, Vagabond Kitchen & Bar might not serve food that makes you think, but in its new form, with a new price point and more accessible dishes, it has turned into a wonderful neighborhood joint serving good food in a beautiful midcentury-modern setting.
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