UPDATE JAN 2018:
Chef de Cuisine, Palacio, abruptly left Habitat after two months. Things are still running smoothly at José Mendin’s restaurant, but the cuisine isn’t as fabulous as it was when Chef Palacio was at the helm.
Miami’s newest restaurant, just two weeks old when I visited, has replaced Beachcraft, last years hot restaurant by Tom Colicchio.
Habitat stands for the four elements – fire, water, air and earth. This is the theme of the menu by José Mendin of Pubbelly fame, who has been nominated five times for a James Beard Award and his chef de cuisine, Two-star Michelin, Spanish Chef, Angel Palacios. They have united to create this new flavour profile, a little Spanish, a little Latin, a little American and a little Asian. Using farm fresh ingredients, daily catches, freshly picked vegetables, grass-fed meats, the menu will have these items under categories such as sea, land, fire, sides and air.
The 170 seat restaurant has largely remained the same, it’s attractive, finished in all natural materials like wood, stone, hand-dyed textiles and soft lighting. The music is also in the background and you can have a conversation. When you walk in you will still find the raw bar packed with all kinds of fish and seafood, and the flame in the open kitchen which is used to cook a majority of the food.
I was impressed with the level of service from everyone in the restaurant. We were constantly checked on and it is evident that the staff has had excellent training. Our server Juan is a holdout from Beachcraft and he took great care of us.
The menu focuses on seafood, although there are quite a few meat selections as well, with ceviches, sashimis, clams, stone crabs, paellas, and mussels, and I thoroughly enjoyed my choice of Hamachi Aguachiles, with watermelon, radishes and cilantro. We tried a few selections from the land section and we were glad we did, as they were all impressive. The salt-cured foie gras, that had a brûlée coating, came with delicious Zak the Baker raisin bread and an outstanding tomato chutney that I wanted to take home with me. The creamiest croquetas, wrapped in Iberico ham were another standout dish. If croquetas were always this good I would order them more often. We also had the baked burrata with a side of pumpkin romesco, in an almond brown butter and a side of Zak the Baker’s sourdough bread. From the fire, a whole Maine lobster with miso lime butter – it was tasty but a little chewy. I imagine this was because of the method of cooking on a hot flame. I preferred the langostinos, in a lemongrass butter, that had a little bite to it. We had some maitake mushrooms with a yuzu truffle butter and parmesan cheese. I much prefer them here than at Upland restaurant. There was a nice selection of seasonal vegetables as well, which usually are so boring for me.
Spanish pastry chef Patricio Larrea offered six desserts under the air section. We enjoyed a bread pudding with sweet potato pie custard, caramelized miso, chai tea, ice cream and black sesame, although it was a little too sweet for my taste. Then they bring around an adorable dessert cart laden with chocolates and macaroons. Just a warning, they are not on the house.
José Mendin – who was named among the sexiest chefs in America and the only chef selected in South Florida by People Magazine – took over the food and beverage at the 1 Hotel, South Beach, and this is the first project for the newly formed Food Coma Hospitality Group. Along with partners Sergio Navarro and Juan F. Ayora, who also ran the Pubbelly empire. They have some exciting things like planning collaborative series with some world-renowned chefs and having a coffee cart on their 60 seat patio offering coffees and snacks in the mornings and cocktails and snacks in the afternoons.
I thought the food to be delightful, and the pricing fair. The food respects the elements and honours simplicity. Chef Angel used to cook gastronomic, molecular and very expensive food at his restaurant in Madrid. Now that he has joined forces with Mendin, he may use his elegant techniques, but he will cook more down to earth, new world food. I think it sounds like a great partnership and we are lucky to have them at Habitat in Miami.