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NEIGHBORHOOD JOINTS

by Danny Brody

Often a 'neighborhood restaurant' can help redefine a neighborhood-something that Michy's did for
the 'Upper Eastside', or Michael's Genuine may have done for the Design District; paving the way
for other brave chefs and entrepreneurs to pick up the gauntlet of creative chef-driven menu's,
fairly-priced wine lists, and an informal environment that masks a very substantial ambition. Of
course, just because you live in their respective neighborhoods, that doesn't make them mere
'neighborhood' places-although there are still plenty of those around. Two new spots on Biscayne
Boulevard in the 70's come from completely opposite directions to arrive at that 'neighborhood'
designation, and both please equally on their own levels.

Bruce and Lucia Brill, owners of Asia Bay Bistro in Bal Harbour, have re-energized the old Cafe Le
Glacier, now called Le Cafe, which is located in a small strip a few blocks north of Michy's. The
idea for a French place came from the fact that their sushi bar is located next to a French bakery,
and, almost by osmosis, the aromas of fresh-baked goods began to permeate their thoughts. The
result is a low-key spot with mustard-colored walls, framed French posters, lazily turning overhead
wooden fans, and a small bakery in the back turning out fresh baguettes and croissants every day.
Every neighborhood needs at least one or two good bakeries to be taken seriously, and the Upper
Eastside finally has its first. The whole-wheat loaves are crusty outside and fluffy within, and are
great plain or with a little butter alongside the Segafreddo coffees they serve. The croissants are
crusty without being too much so, and their healthy aroma is mostly of butter. The chocolate
croissants, however, are beautifully over the top, with the filling oozing out-no need to take a few
bites to locate a measly bit of filling-it's everywhere. Bread and chocolate as only the French do it.
And although Bruce hails from Holland, and Lucia is from Colombia, their chef is from France. All
of the soups and quiches are made from scratch, and the 'lorraine', loaded with ham, has a nice
custardy zing to it, with a light crust holding it together. The 'vegetarian' is mostly spinach, which
is a healthy but substantial alternative. I wasn't too fond of the lackluster seafood quiche, as I'm not
a big fan of 'surimi', or imitation crab, and it would probably taste better at room temperature, rather
than reheated, in any event. But something as pedestrian as chicken salad really tasted refined
tucked into a slim, fresh, baguette. The entrees are not too bold, with Messrs. Salmon and Snapper
leading the way. But for $14, I'm sure there are a lot of folks in the neighborhood who would rather
have someone else do the cooking, while they sit out on Le Cafe's little patio, enjoying their $25
bottle of 'Vivir, Vivir', and snacking on some Escargots in Garlic Butter Sauce.

At Red Light, just a few blocks north, but light-years away in aspirations, chef Kris Wessel's goal
was to do the improbable-turn out a full menu of ambitiously sourced and prepared food, night
after night, from a tiny kitchen with barely any prep space. Of course it has turned out to be
impossible, for now, and Wessel has had to be content with sending out a limited menu of modern
American cuisine, with some flourishes like sous vide, or vacuum-packed slow cooking, mixed in
with more traditional items like burgers and BBQ shrimp. The menu may list just one soup, like the
conch-rich chowder, one salad, and maybe seven or eight main dishes, most of which are served in
small and large portions. Some items are phenomenal, like the fried baby conch ($8/15)-man's got
a way with conch-while some mystify, like the slow-cooked ribs that mange to be dense yet
flavorless. The menu's items rotate, although two of them-Wessel's signature-worthy BBQ Shrimp
($10/18), done New Orleans-style, which means they are not barbecued at all, but floating in a
tangy Worcestershire-based sauce; as well as another trendy rendition of eggs as a main course for
dinner- a 'pan roast' of organic eggs, applewood bacon, morbier cheese, and tomato toast ($9/17)-
are always available. There's usually a 'local catch of the day', like pompano, served in one of chef
Wessel's fruit-forward sauces. I especially liked the 'Spiny Lobster', served with leeks, orange
confit, red bliss potatoes, and little neck clams ($12-half portion), a dish that is cooked sous vide,
which means the ingredients (at least the lobster and one or two other ingredients) are cooked in a
vacuum pouch in a thermal circulator (which keeps water at a constant temperature) at low
temperature, 110 degrees, for twenty minutes, . For serving, the pouch is opened table side, and
poured over the other ingredients. I've never eaten 'spiny lobster' that tasted quite like this, although
I will say that this dish is both fascinating and frustrating at the same time. And perhaps that is my
only real beef with Red Light. If the chef is going to introduce new cooking methods to the table,
perhaps they should be accompanied by better service. Dumping a bag of food on the plate is
inelegant at best, especially when the cooking method is described by the server as "like papillote"
(cooking in parchment), which is nothing at all like sous vide. Or when a bottle of wine is brought
to the table and the server asks if we'd "like to taste it first, or should I just pour it?" That is simply
a question that should not be asked. Of course, all neighborhood joints are granted special
exemptions to work out some of the kinks, and, in the end, I'm sure the allure of Kris Wessel's
innovative cooking, as well as the 'banks of the Little River' location, will outshine any early
missteps.

Le Cafe
7295 Biscayne Blvd
Miami
305-754-6551

Red Light
7700 Biscayne Blvd
Miami
305-757-7773