SEVEN SECONDS. That’s the amount of time an average museum visitor spends looking at an artwork before moving on to the next one. That’s only long enough to form the most ephemeral impression, not nearly enough time to understand how a painter has modified mediums to create texture, for instance, or the way a sculptor implies kinetics with materiality.
Translate those seven seconds to a restaurant. That’s about the same length of time it takes for typical social media status seekers to shine an iPhone flashlight on a dish and snap it for their accounts before digging in—if eating is, indeed, even a factor. There’s little closed-eye appreciation of aroma, or gleeful, close-up approval of protein-and-sauce arrangement. Analysis comes after, when choosing a filter for the photo and then seeing how many likes it receives.
This shoot-it-and-flee tactic is not going to work, however, at Stubborn Seed, the snug 74-seat establishment that former Matador Room chef Jeremy Ford has opened with the Grove Bay Hospitality Group. In fact, diners tend to gaze at both dishes and drinks in delight for so long here that they sometimes forget to take pictures before consuming them. That’s because Ford and his team, which includes his friend, chef Joe Mizzoni, and Pastry Chef Dallas Wynne, have added interactive movement to their craft. Not everything happens at the same tabletop level, on the same tabletop surface. Sometimes fire is involved. Sometimes there’s dry ice that smokes. Sometimes it’s both a hot and cold transformation, taking place in a space that’s simultaneously industrial and Art Deco, complemented by Pop art and a palette of hues that would make ’70s-era Missoni proud.
To wit: The Negroni a la Ford is a concoction comprising five liquors and liqueurs (Vida Mezcal, Campari, Cocchi Di Torino, Ancho Reyes and white crème de cacao), stirred with Xocolatl Mole and strained into a rocks glass over an ice cube so big it stands in the liquid like a tanker in a pond. Along with the cocktail, which is served on a wooden board with a burning sugar cube, is a passion-fruit marshmallow that the diner roasts over an open flame. We were so fascinated by the whole thing that the flame burned out before we reached so-called “golden globe” consistency, so the server brought over a tea light for us.
With ideas like this incubating in his brain, it’s no wonder that the 32-year-old Ford leaped at the chance to debut two concepts after winning the 13th season of Top Chef. Like an artist with a robust catalogue of work ready to hang, Ford must find it a relief to finally put all these précises into circulation.
Though the menu is small and relies on what’s coming into season, it’s nearly impossible to get tired of his creativity and bold vibrancy. Even relatively simple dishes, such as the two cheeses he serves, offer clever elements. The Papillon, a creamy, sheep’s milk Roquefort aged in the caves of France, is smartly paired with dots of brown butter date purée that offset the tanginess of the cheese. A log of house-made ricotta, bristling with shiso leaves, is plated next to a chunk of grilled sourdough bread blooming with fig jam and quartered figs, and paired with a golden port wine for moisture and sweetness.
While it’s easy to wax poetic about appetizers—everything from the charred beets to the smoked foie gras offer presentations that are delightfully unexpected—the main courses easily deserve as much attention. The most crowd-pleasing, the organic chicken, alternates juicy slices of skin-on breast meat with tender gnocchi, quartered baby turnips that are lightly charred and a few crisp croutons. It’s finished with a smattering of fava beans and a few spoonfuls of Burgundy truffle sauce for a lovely winter dish.
Also a favorite among friends and fellow food lovers, the umami short rib lives up to its name with a lid of miso-mustard butter that melts into the succulent meat. It’s accompanied by trumpet mushrooms and a variety of playfully done carrots: shaved into a curl, peeled and roasted, puréed, or turned into sweet, pale bubbles.
Both fish on the menu are worth investigating, depending on your mood. Feel like something substantial? The wild ora king salmon is a slickly magnificent fillet, the natural oiliness enhanced by a caper sofrito, a dollop of meaty Anson Mills Sea Island red peas, peeled whole heirloom tomatoes, and a tomato-dill vinaigrette that commingles beautifully with all the smoky flavors on the plate.
If you’ve partaken in the cheese as a first course, then order a couple of Dallas Wynne’s desserts. They arrive on columns and on plates, arranged as resourcefully as the savory bites. The rich stout cake with bourbon caramel, bruléed banana and ginger ice cream is usually recommended by the servers, as are the chewy Snickerdoodle cookies, and rightly so. But if you want something more unusual, try the exceptional corn Pavlova with a bay leaf meringue, accented by pickled blackberries and buttered popcorn ice cream. You also can’t go wrong with the coconut semifreddo with passion fruit, caramelized bits of pineapple and raspberries.
Here’s another suggestion: Bring a portable phone charger with you. Menus are dated by the month and are apt to change that frequently, and even those who visit strictly for the food are going to want to document this chef’s growing oeuvre. After all, as Ford gets more comfortable, he’s only going to become more inventive.
101 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 786.322.5211
House-made breads, $6; raw bites and snacks, $6-$28; meat and fish, $26-$42; cheese, $13-$14; desserts, $8-$12; cocktails, $15-$18; wines by the glass, $11-$30; wines by the bottle, $42-$495
Dinner only: Sun., Tue.-Thu., 6-11pm; Fri.-Sat., 6pm-midnight
WATCH THE ACTION
If you’re expecting Gordon Ramsay drama, you will be disappointed. Stubborn Seed’s culinary team, which can be seen from the tables through a large picture window, is calm, cool and collected.
EASY ON THE EYS
Into design details? Then this is the place for you. We’re talking Muslim-style napkins wrapped in twine in which blossoms are tucked. Yep, little things matter here.
You can’t keep good talent down. Afishionado, the next concept from chef Jeremy Ford and Grove Bay Hospitality Group, arrives in 2018.