Restaurant Brana - Coral Gables
It's sometimes tough to gauge a restaurant's worthiness by it's Miami Spice menu. Some restaurants go all out, some not so much. All, however, must at the very least execute whatever they are bringing out.
Restaurant Brana is fairly new, but the chef is apparently an old hand in Miami, previously manning the kitchen at Norman's. The inconspicuous space was a former crepe restaurant which I hated, the furnishings and decor of which are still there.
We walked in with no reservations on a Friday. The place was mostly empty but we were required to wait as the 9:00 reservations were to begin trickling in. We were seated after about a 10 minute wait and the restaurant ended up filling up. The Miami Spice menu has some items from the regular menu and some new items. All portions seemed smaller than on the regular menu. The restaurants "mission" is to use local ingredients where possible, a theme which is prevalent around the country but fairly rare in South Florida. Frog legs from Loxahatchee, Key west shrimp, red snapper, etc. Some things are obviously not Florida grown, but at least they're in season (fava beans). All dishes were well executed and service was good. A garlic soup was somewhere between liquid and foam with a sweet, garlic flavor. Frog leg pieces swam in the broth and due to the creamy color, could not be seen but only fished out as an occassional surprise. The shrimp entree was entirely dominated by the smoked trout roe which, if you like trout roe, was very good.
Entrees - again, well executed but minute. Snapper was well seared but not dry. Veal was fork tender. Desserts were a choice of sorbets, of which we both chose Jamaican mint (which we can swear is made with peppermint oil due to the slight greasy texture left on one's lips after eating). We ordered a cheese course which came with minute portions of cheese from Georgia and NY (accompanied by what the waiter called "dinosaur egg plums" to which I responded "they're just pluots").
The regular menu looked interesting, again focusing on Florida ingedients like lobster (accompanied by sweetbreads for a take on surf and turf). The wine list was limited and I think heavily influenced by Jeffrey Wolfe from Wolfe's Wine Shoppe (who happened to be dining with some friends that same night) since Lodi and other rising areas seemed well represented. It's definitely a friendly, neighborhood type of place where people see people they know and the chef comes out to chat, and a nice change from monstrous chains (City Cellars, Max's) that have unfortunately almost become the norm in Gables dining.
Fava beans are indeed grown in Florida! (and woefully underused too, although if you've ever prepared your own and gone through the shelling, boiling, and then the one-by-one peeling of the fuzzy skin around the bean, you might understand why).
We had a nice meal at Brana's the first week that it opened - food was great but agree that the portions were a little too precious. While we enjoyed it, there wasn't any dish that so floored me that I thought "We have to come back next week." From looking at the website it does seem they are regularly tinkering with the menu, which is nice (although my favorite item from our visit, a pork belly with a Pedro Ximenez reduction, appears to be gone!)
Thought the wine list was pricey and short (I suppose that could be called "carefully selected"); there are some great hard-to-find items (had a Sea Smoke Pinot that was outstanding).
Wolfe's is doing a wine dinner at Brana's tomorrow with latest releases of the Chateauneuf-du-Papes.
They've gotta be grown sometime in the winter. I think it's too hot in the summer. I'm all over them summer though, even though they're from California. If we had some local grown ones in the winter, I'd be all over them also. I just wonder how fava beans sell in S. FLA. I always see them going bad at Publix from which I've only seen them in the summer and they're shipped for California. Leave it to Publix to ship fava beans in when we have some here (even if the season is different). This is, after all, the same store that sold lychees shipped from Israel instead of sourcing locally. When people in Homestead are selling lychees in their front yards by the branch and you're shipping in produce from 8,000 miles away you've got issues.
But as for fava beans, I've bought some frozen ones at Lucky Chinese Market and they were good enough for a fava bean puree. Whole Foods now sells frozen ones which are also good in a pinch.
I think in my opinion that Brana Restaurant is amazing. The review about the food was great and who cares about the lights! At least they made the food their priority unlike so many other restaurants in town. I say BRAVO BRANA as well! Finally! Real and great food in Miami. I have travelled all over and dined at amazing restaurants (essex house, french laundry, daniel, alinea...) and Brana is there on my list.