One of 2019’s most anticipated restaurant openings in Miami was Ember Restaurant, by culinary director Brad Kilgore at 151 NE 41st Street, located in the Miami Design District in the new Paradise Plaza complex. It is actually situated directly below one of Chef Brad’s other restaurants, Kaido. In case you live under a rock and haven’t heard of Brad Kilgore, also the chef of Alter restaurant, he was named restaurant of the year by Eater, and has been a semi-finalist for a James Beard Award twice, as well as being named Best New Chef in America by Food and Wine Magazine.
Under Chef de Cuisine Nick Graves of South Carolina, the focus is on the wood-fire grill, meats, pastas, shareable plates and foods not traditionally done on the grill.
Enter the 3,200 square foot space and you are immediately hit by the noise of laughter, and chatter, by a young and vibrant crowd. The decibel level is so high you can barely converse with a person sitting directly across from you. This could be a deal-breaker for many. With 75 seats inside and an additional 36 on the outdoor patio, the place was full, and each table had several turns throughout the night. It could be because I went during Miami Spice and Ember offered a fabulous deal at $39 for a three-course meal with generous portions. They spent a lot of money on decor, with striped marble, wood and terrazzo floors. The ceilings were mirrored and had curved wood details. There were large sculptures of lacquered driftwood, marble tables with black wood trim, brown and grey leatherette banquets. I would request a curved banquet as the chairs at the smallish tables are rather low and very close together. They serve you on monogrammed black plates, of which they change, along with the silverware for each course. They get a gold star for that. You can also eat at the bar or at the chef’s counter and watch the action in the open kitchen, if you can take the heat.
This is southern American comfort food cooked largely on the wood fire grill. If you are on any kind of restricted diet, there isn’t much to eat here. If you enjoy rich delicious food, or are on a cheat day, then you should venture in. Many of the dishes are influenced by the chef de cuisines native South Carolina and cooking he did while working in New Orleans. Thus you will find things like crispy fried chicken, with a choice of BBQ sauce or caviar butter. There is cornbread custard, a great rendition of shrimp and grits, and the chefs take on beignets. There are also dishes inspired by Chef Kilgore’s youth in Kansas. So you will notice a lot of throwback dishes, when people weren’t concerned with fat or calorie intake.
There are lots of starchy dishes, thick cuts of beef, cooking with lots of cream and butter and cheese. The one dish that was lighter were the 4 charred, big, juicy shrimp served over a piquant cocktail sauce. The Caeser is actually yellow and green beans served in a creamy feta, with garlic croutons, capers and a side of a soft-cooked egg. The shrimp and grits was one of the best renditions I’ve had, and I’ve been to South Carolina. The 30 layer lasagna was finished on the wood fire oven. It is stuffed with herb ricotta, on top of a pool of gruyere, with a Parmesan Reggiano and mushroom ragout. I personally prefer a crispier top and a cheese with more elasticity in my lasagna. This one was too soft and creamy for me. Ditto the side of mac and cheese we had. I like mine to pull apart with a thicker base and be crispy on top. I hear the smoked mashed potatoes are great, so I’ll have to try those on my next visit. I do recommend the fried chicken, crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside, topped with a tasty slaw. I also have to try one of the steaks on offer next time.
The cocktail program was well done, with iconic classics and some innovative twists. The night we were there, they served a “cobbler”, made with Slipsmith gin, fino sherry, vermouth, kiwi, strawberry, lime and basil. They also make a strong old fashioned and a solid gin and tonic with cucumber. The wine list features some great choices, and about 15 different wines are offered by the glass.
Desserts are fun here. I didn’t order the Rice Krispies ala mode, because people on either side of me said it looked better than it tasted, and was lacking in the amount of marshmallow. One interesting dessert was not on the menu the night I dined there but can be requested, a maduro pie, with coquito ice cream. It has layers of meringue, banana cream, coconut and graham cracker crust. But my favourite was the chocolate chess pie. With a layer of cornmeal crust, fried bananas, dulce de leche and chantilly cream, it had all the right elements and components of salty, sweetness, crunch and creaminess.
Our server was friendly and capable of handling an extremely busy night.
I left with my stomach bulging but very content. This is definitely not the kind of food I could eat on a daily basis, but when I want to treat myself to some rich comfort food I would definitely head over to Ember.
Open for dinner only, Tuesday through Sunday.