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Johnny V @ the Astor Report

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After much anticipation we got ourselves to Johnny V at the Astor this past Saturday night. I've been waiting eagerly for this for months now after hearing that Johnny Vincenz was reopening a restaurant in the Astor after about a 5 yr hiatus (he has a place on Las Olas but I haven't made my way up there). His last place at the Astor was one of my favorite local restaurants.

A menu is now posted on the Astor Hotel website - go to http://www.hotelastor.com/restaurant.... and scroll down, there's a PDF. It has already been tweaked slightly since it was posted, as there were some items on the online menu that we didnt' see at the restaurant, and vice versa. Their official "grand opening" is next week, but they've been doing a soft opening for about five weeks already.

We had:

Pato Frito - shredded duck confit w/ a black bean sauce, served w/ perfectly crisp and salty tostones (smushed and fried plantains). The duck and sauce were delicious, but a tiny bit heavy esp. for a starter. Confit is heavy as it is, the black bean sauce is too, this dish could use a little something to lighten it up.

Goat Cheese Pie - a salad with a hockey puck of goat cheese crusted with nuts, served over a bed of julienned beets, and topped with a fig & balsamic sorbet. I always like the combination of goat cheese and beets, and this didn't disappoint. I'm always puzzled why we are never able to get the nice baby beets you often see elsewhere in the country, here they make up for that absence by cutting the beets down to small strips and serving the cheese over a bed of them. You better really like beets because there's a ton of them (I do). The fig & balsamic sorbet sounded a little suspicious to me but it actually worked perfectly, adding its flavors to the dressing as it melted.

Caesar Salad w/ smoked shrimp - the smoked shrimp are delicious and are a typical Johnny V element (I remember he used to do them in mashed potatoes, which worked surprisingly well). Didn't quite work for me in a caesar though, and what was advertised as a "lobster caesar dressing" had no hint of lobster to it.

Pork Tres Maneras (three ways) - a grilled tenderloin, BBQ shoulder, and braised pork belly. The real standout here was the pork shoulder, shredded slow-cooked pork with just an eye-popping mix of spices. Not spicy, but incredibly flavorful - I think there's some cinnamon in the mix. Served w/ malanga fries and a grilled baby corn (neither really added much).

Cheese Plate - the cheese selection here is mindboggling. They have a whole separate cheese menu and there have to be at least 50 selections from all around the world. We had a Humboldt Fog goat cheese from Cypress Grove, a Sweet Grass Dairy cows-milk cheese, an English farmhouse cheddar, a Spanish tetilla, and a "Stilton" with ginger and mango (entirely unlike any Stilton I've ever had, not even blue-veined, but tasty nonetheless).

The accompaniments to the cheese plate were generally peculiar and off-putting, however (particularly for an after-meal cheese course) - pickled grapes (interesting but overwhelming and not complimentary to a cheese), marinated olives (maybe nice if you're doing cheese as a starter, but I wasn't), toasts which seemed to have been hit with some herbs or garlic, a hazelnut spread... I was also somewhat surprised that all of the firmer cheeses we had were served in thin slices rather than in wedges.

Servings are for the most part pretty generous and we had no room for dessert despite splitting a main (although the pork three ways was itself not a ton of food and could have done with some more sides other than a few malanga fries and a stalk of baby corn).

There are many other menu items that sound intriguing - alligator fritters, a "tongue in cheek" appetizer w/ braised veal cheek and smoked tongue, a smoked tomato soup with three little grilled cheese sandwiches (each a different cheese), a "green eggs and ham" salad w/herbed truffled egg salad and serrano ham, a grouper with a citrus dulce de leche sauce (!), a smoked and grilled ribeye w/ yorkshire pudding... also an extensive list of yummy-sounding veggie sides incl. wild mushroom polenta, yuca tater tots, callaloo stew, truffle fries, aged cheddar mac & cheese...

They also are taking their wine very seriously too, with an encyclopedic wine list that I started to glaze over as I was plowing through it. They have a sommelier who prowls the tables and is very eager to please, offering to either match menu selections to wines or to help plan a meal around a particular wine selection. We got a very nice Argentine malbec blend, the Achaval Ferrer Quimera, which he decanted and brought us out nice glasses for. The wine list was really quite impressive not only for its size but for the quality of the selections.

Service was eager and friendly but - unsurprisingly for a place that's only been open a month - still working some kinks out. When we sat, we got the cheese menu and the wine list but no food menus, and waited about 10 minutes before we got them. Our waiter was a little overintrusive in jumping in to ask how things were (including at least once before we'd had an opportunity to even try anything), but then disappeared for another 15 minutes after we asked for our check. On the plus side, all dishes came out at the right times, water and wine were promptly refilled, extra plates brought for dishes we were splitting, etc.

The cheese thing in particular seems like it needs some work. Maybe it's just that they're really pushing for cheese to become an appetizer (which would explain the presentation of the cheese menu before you even get the regular menu, and the accompaniments on the more savory side of the culinary map), but it sure seems to me that the folks most likely to be intrigued by their impressive selection are going to be used to having it at the end of the meal. Just give me those cheeses, some good honey and some nice plain bread and I'll be quite happy, thank you. Keep the olives and garlic toast away.

Despite a touted makeover of the restaurant by a designer (who coincidentally happens to be the chef's girlfriend!) I didn't notice much different about the place than when I was there 5 years ago, other than some tufted banquettes along the back wall and a very impressive glass wine case that goes floor to ceiling and forms a wall between the restaurant and bar (impressive in that it's about a 20-ft ceiling). I've always thought this was a beautiful space anyway, with old terrazo floors, a glass ceiling over the restaurant space and a curved wall looking out on the tiny pool and wall-fountain towards the front.

There are a lot more things I want to try and I'm looking forward to going back.

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  1. Wow, nice run down Frod!

    The thing that impressed me the most, in addition to the interesting menu items, was the fact that they have been doing a soft opening for about 5 weeks now. Few operators "get" the importance of this. I am glad to see Johnny V does. The menu sounds great and I look forward to visiting +/- 5 weeks after the "official" grand opening which ought to give them more than enough time to work out all the aforementioned kinks.

    Thanks.

    1. For only being open a month, I thought they generally had everything together. Certainly on the kitchen side, everything came out when it should have and was done right. The service was just a little awkward but certainly no worse than many places that have been open for years.

      BTW, place was empty when we got there at 7pm, but by about 8 -8:30pm about 3/4 of the tables were full. Never completely filled up but they haven't done any marketing yet.

      1. Adding to this thread, thought it was good-very good overall but not great. Some things however were very good (the duck). Some things were underflavored such as the aforementioned "alligator fritters, and "tongue in cheek"". I liked the cheese plate but I had it as a starter. Bananna creme pie was the only dessert I really liked. They got too cute with the lemon in the rice pudding. Does not work. The mac and cheese is a huge disappointment. Very bland. If you decide to get it, you might want to try it with the bacon to add some flavor to it. I tried it plain. Cream corn was awesome.

        Bottom line is this place just may need time to get in its groove. Lots of potential...

        1. looking forward to trying it, loved the review. quick question though- we are only seasonal in miami, 6 months for work. i thought i remembered metro kitchen at the astor being a hot spot last year? what happened, or am i wrong?

          1 Reply
          1. re: gingersnap

            You're not wrong.

            Some years back, under Johnny V's tutelage, it was a great restaurant. He left for FLL and Metro Kitchen took the space...more of a party/hot spot. Now the original chef is back and they are trying to re create a top restaurant..and abandon or minimize the party crowd.

            My limited experience was that it was successful...and I'll be back.

            1 suggestion...Stop serving the cheese at the beginning of the meal...:)

          2. I just had another great meal at the Las Olas location. Looking forward to trying the Astor spot.

            1. I tried the spot just before new years and had mixed impressions. It started badly when the hostess tried to sit us at a table for two next to a column close to the center of the dining room. It was the only table that looked like it had been plopped into the room without rhyme or reason. When we asked for another table she said "Oh, that one is reserved". This is one of my supreme pet peeves when you ask for another, more desireable table and the host says it's reserved. How could a place that had only been open two weeks already have a clientele knowledgeable enough to request a favorite table. The look I gave must have said volumes because we were seated at the table immediately.

              Service began a little spotty with the waiter and wine steward bumbling about. Everything eventually fell into place and we opted for half bottles of Barbaresco and Chardonnay given our different meal tastes that evening.

              I had the yellow tomato gazpacho with shrimp and it had to be the most tasteless gazpacho I've ever had. First off, it was chunky, another peeve of mine as my preferred gazpacho is the smooth Andalusian version. It was way underseasoned and served in what looked like one of a set of serving bowls that I use for salad. It was oval with peaks on each end making it difficult to both spoon the gazpacho and cut the shrimp. Awful.

              My girlfriend started with the portobello pancake stack, a carryover from FLL (and possible from Astor Place). It was as good as ever.

              My main was crab crusted mahi (originally supposed to be grouper but they were out). This dish was also a little bland. And one thing crossed my mind as far as terminology goes: when do you refer to something as "crusted" and when do you call it "topped with"? Crusted to me seems like it should be something that would have a crunch (e.g. nuts, peppercorns, whole spices, etc.). The crab was soft and mushy and didn't offset the mahi particularly well.

              My girlfriend had the duck and it was good. Can't really remember it though.

              Was saved the meal was dessert. The aforementioned banana cream pie was good. I had the pudding trio of which the chocolate pudding was far tastier than the other two.

              Our waiter was extremely pleasant (a transplant no less so hopefully he won't get south beach-ified as far as service). The wine steward was great. The front house manager was the former manager at River Oyster Bar so I'm sure the place will run smoothly. He gave me a tour of the wine cellar which separates the restaurant from the bar (Like a mini Vegas Aureole without the angels). Overall I expect the kinks mentioned in this and other posts will be worked out and the restaurant will have a good run.

              Let's hope JV decides to open a hogie shop again. That place I truly miss.

              1. It is odd given Johnny V's style that the most consistent food complaint so far seems to be blandness. I'd have to agree. A couple things we had really popped (the fig/balsamic sorbet on the beet and goat cheese salad, the bbq shoulder in the Pork Three Ways), many others were really just nondescript - caesar salad, the tenderloin on the Pork Three Ways.

                I was tempted by the "Tongue in Cheek" but aside from the clever name (and a couple of my favorite ingredients), even the menu description left my yawning - braised cheek and smoked tongue in a natural demi glace? meat, meat, and meat flavors? The duck confit app we had was delicious but even that could have used something to liven it up.

                9lives - completely with you on the cheese course. They've got some great choices but the execution is just terrible (both timing and accompaniments, as I noted earlier). I wonder if anyone in the restaurant biz actually pays any attention to this site for some constructive criticism.

                L2M - oh, the diner/hoagie shop! The rib meat hoagie is on my top 10 dishes of all time! (which would make a good posting subject itself!)

                1. I loved his sandwich place on Alton. He had one sandwich that was amazing. I can't remember what it was. Anyone have an old menu?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: Sobe

                    My fave was the rib meat hoagie.

                  2. Found some old details.

                    Johnny V's Kitchen
                    DETAILS
                    Johnny V's Kitchen
                    1671 Alton Road
                    Miami Beach
                    305-534-0815
                    The key here is "dine." You can grab a fast-food burger by yourself just about anywhere, but the only thing you'll be treating yourself to is a Pepcid AC. Replace Mickey D's with Johnny V's, and instead you'll munch on corn-crusted snapper stuffed into a soft taco with avocado tartar sauce, a basil-roasted turkey with plantain stuffing, or grilled rare tuna over baby greens with sprouts and wasabi-soy vinaigrette. What makes these gourmet items ideal for the single diner is the setting: Chrome stools line a counter in this narrow, SoBe dining room, and people-watching is at a premium. If you tire of staring at hung-over entertainers or at the jars of homemade pickles lining the shelves behind the counter, you can always pick up a Magic Marker and write on the walls; many of the tiles bear messages from grateful, solitary customers.

                    1. This type of place would be perfect somewhere along Biscayne. Can we collectively try to talk him into opening a sandwich shop again?

                      1. Great idea - next time at the Astor I'll lobby for it. (Johnny V was "in the house" when we went last weekend, saw him in his baseball cap peeking out from the kitchen).

                        Incidentally, from looking at reviews of his Las Olas place, it looks like the jarring cheese accompaniments were already being used at the Las Olas place, so I suppose they must be a "trademark" (I don't care, next time I'm asking them to keep it simple and hold the olives and other stuff).