Michelin Chef Opens Gastrobar
Delighted was I when I found out that one of my favorite chefs, the Michelin pedigree Frederic Joulin, had resurfaced. We met when he was working his wonders at Villa Mayfair in Coconut Grove. Based on this past experience, he made my list of the 5 hot new restaurant openings this fall. Not wasting a minute,my French girlfriend and I made our way to his new place, Semilla , 1330 Alton Road, T.305-674-6522, first week of opening. Judging by the healthy number of diners the Thursday night, he has a lot of other followers as well.
“Semilla” means seed in Spanish. The farm is the theme of this new gastropub, whimsically announced with an entire wall of clay pots with fresh herbs, burlap runners on the tables, wood furniture, and earth tones as the color scheme. But this is South Beach, so hip isn’t forgotten as in the loft like ceilings, cooks in the open kitchen wearing plaid fedora hats, and minimalist contemporary lighting. It all works. As expected in a gastropub (think others like Bulla and Perfecto), the center of all the action is a large almost wrap-around bar with the open kitchen.
Frederic pays homage to his French roots in some of the dishes, presentations, and use of sauces, but Peruvian influences are not far behind. The menu is well thought out, and there are bound to be more dishes you want to try than you could possibly eat at one sitting. Everything we tried was uniformly delicious. We started with a lobster remoulade, a standout (check out the image on the Facebook page). The Maine lobster was squeakingly fresh and my French friend pronounced the remoulade “superbe”. Next up was braised short rib potstickers with green curry, certain to be a menu favorite. Croquettes seem to be everywhere these days but these were a cut above others, with creamy Vermont goat cheese and bacon. Especially good for sharing are the skewers, marinated, Peruvian-style organic chicken anticuchos and tenderloin beef with sweet soy, four pieces an order.
Another top choice in my book are the scallops on a bed of tarragon butter. Again super fresh and tasty, a meal in itself. Want to get someone to eat more vegetables? This is the place and bok choy with bacon crumble and baby spinach with garlic cream are your weapons. I don’t know how we managed to eat any more, but we did. I guess because I knew the desserts would be outstanding based on Frederic’s past creations I’ve sampled. Our absolute favorite were the dessert sliders. They looked like the magnets of sliders, but in fact were pastry “buns” with a chocolate “burger”, mango sorbet, and caramel ice cream. It’s all frozen, so it’s like you’re eating a mini ice cream sandwich. Do not miss it.
Portions are right sized, and prices are reasonable. Most plates hover around $12 with entrees ranging from $19 to $38. Sides are $7. There are especially good deals at happy hour, 6 to 8, including $6 wines by the glass, signature cocktails, and bar bites. Valet parking is offered at $9.