I called Norman's 180 today and they are only open for dinner and will be open for lunch in August.
You do not know how badly I wanted to like norman’s 180. I was born and raised in coconut grove/coral gables. Norman’s was a family favorite for years. Needless to say, when it closed my family was distraught and has been pretty much waiting for his return to coral gables ever since. Despite our excitement over the opening we decided to wait at least a month to give him some time to work the kinks out. Finally, we broke down and could not resist going on Saturday night. Unfortunately our high expectations were not fulfilled.
The restaurant is quite big and noisy, the polar opposite of Normans’ prior spot. We were sat at a banquette about 8 feet from the open kitchen. It was so warm that my mother broke into a sweat. We moved, without much problem, to another banquette. While it was cooler, we immediately realized that the air circulation was quite poor. After about 5 minutes, everyone at the table realized that it was not only warm but that the ventilation in the kitchen must have been broken. It was as if they burned several dinners , had no vent to take in the burnt fumes, and refused to open any windows. It was not only so smoky that you could see the smoke moving near the overhead lights but the smell was so pungent it was almost disgusting. If it were any other restaurant I would have certainly left.
Our waiter was lovely and very attentive. His knowledge of the menu, on the other hand, was not so attuned. We ordered duck meatballs and fish tacos to start. We asked if the fish tacos were spicy, as my father has no tolerance for spice. He said absolutely not. When the tacos were brought to our table we noticed that there were only 2 large tacos. It was clear that four of us intended to split the apps… any skilled or perceptive waiter would have informed us that there were only 2 tacos (as one might realize that it is not easy to cut a stuffed taco in half!). Nonetheless, we were able to divide the tacos into fours without completely ruining them. While they were tasty, there was absolutely a perceivable spice. Not so spicy that my father was unable to eat the taco, but enough so to warrant a response from the waiter when asked about the spice. The fish was wahoo which was light and fresh. The taco’s were fine, but no party in the mouth.
The meatballs, on the other hand, were delicious. Absolutely the highlight of the meal. They were light and fluffy, sitting ontop of a cold carrot/parsnip mash and some corn slaw type deal. The mash didn’t add a whole lot to the flavor. But the meatballs were so good they did not require a sideshow act.
For our entrée’s we ordered the three little pigs, grouper pad thai, duck pizza and side of brussle sprouts.
The three little pigs comprised of bbq baby backs, a trotter cake and either a mashed potato or something of the like (I didn’t try it). The trotter cake was interesting and tasty. Again, it was spicy and the chef did not mention spice although we asked at the beginning of the meal to avoid too much spice. It was too spicy for my father to enjoy unfortunately. The ribs were spot on with flavor but not the most tender I have ever had. The brussle sprouts were perfectly cooked and simple. I have often times had very poorly cooked sprouts (burned on the outside raw on the inside), so I consider it worthwhile to have well cooked sprouts.
The grouper pad thai was tasty and light. My mother thought the grouper was slightly overcooked. I thought it had nice flavor. The pad thai was much lighter than your average... not soaked in any msg infused peanut sauce. It tasted very fresh and was generally enjoyable.
The duck pizza, however, was another story. I like lightly spicy food, but this was just ridiculous. It was SO spicy that I downed half of my wine in one gulp. There was absolutely no warning from the waiter or on the menu of this. Further, it was not quite pizza. It was a flat bread with pieces of pulled duck and what looked/tasted like a spicy mayo sauces drenched all over. This was extremely disappointing. My mother, who loves spicy food, ate a decent amount of it. However, she was still underwhelmed at the general unrefined nature of the dish.
As for desert, the options were less than desirable. He offered a guava/cream cheese bread pudding (which sounded sinful), some meringue, some ice cream and maybe one other dish. We were not so thrilled with dinner and were not inclined to be adventurous with desert given the options.
All in all, I would say that this was a huge let down. As a former diner at Normans, it was just a major downgrade…as if you were given a 5 karat diamond to wear for years and then one day your husband decided to trade it in for a cubic zirconium.
I would definitely go back for those duck meatballs and a glass of wine if I happened to be in coral gables for the evening. However, I would hope to see some improvements in the ventilation and the knowledge of the servers, as well as some changes to the entrée and desert menu.
I've had a few chances to try Norman's 180, at a couple preview events and then one dinner shortly after they opened. As a result I've had a chance to try a good bit of the menu (and most of what I've had has been great) though I hope to visit at least one more time before really forming an opinion.
That said ... I don't know how to say this gently - some of these comments just make no sense to me.
- To start: as for having expectations that Norman's 180 will be like the old Norman's: it is not. It does not try to be. It is clearly more casual and less formal. It has an open kitchen, it doesn't have white tablecloths on the tables. The menu is not completely downscale, but includes street food type dishes, burgers, and pizzas. Sure, I'd love to have something like the original Norman's still around too, but that kind of fine dining is still a tough sell in the current economy and is not the way most people eat in Miami these days.
- Ventilation/heat - again, I've been there a few times already, and this was not an issue despite the open kitchen. Presumably there was some sort of equipment malfunction. This happens, particularly frequently when a restaurant is first opening. A reason for temporary frustration? Sure. A reason to pass judgment on a place? I don't think so. It is, though, a somewhat noisy space, how much so seems to depend on where you sit. (for whatever reason I found the open seats toward the front of the restaurant noisier than the banquettes toward the rear).
- "It was clear that four of us intended to split the apps… any skilled or perceptive waiter would have informed us that there were only 2 tacos (as one might realize that it is not easy to cut a stuffed taco in half!)." How would that be clear unless you said so? Why did you assume there would be 4? If there had been 3 to an order, then what?
- It sounds like your father's tolerance for spice is fairly minimal. If that's the case, maybe the right thing to do is to order something in particular for him and to specify that particular item shouldn't be spicy. Or ask specifically for an item that is especially mild. Dishes that are prepared and spiced in advance (i.e. baby-back ribs, trotter cake) would seem like a mistake. Just ordering a bunch of stuff from the menu suggests you want them as the kitchen usually makes them; it is unrealistic to expect that the spice level of every single item you order will be adjusted because of a general comment to a waiter, or that it's the waiter's job to somehow police your order. Indeed, by your own comments it's clear that even in your dining group, tastes are divided ("my mother, who loves spicy food ...") and it actually seems like you liked most of the food, other than the duck pizza.
- As for that: the duck pizza on the menu includes an aji amarilla crema in the list of ingredients. That's a Peruvian chile pepper. Why order something with a chile sauce if you're trying to avoid spice? I would agree with you that it's really more of a flatbread than a pizza crust.
- The guava & cream cheese bread pudding is pretty awesome.
- Just in the couple weeks they've been open the menu has gone through repeated tweaking. My hope is that this continues to be the case.
Of the things I've tried thus far, I've enjoyed:
- the ceviche with shrimp and grilled octopus, in a tomatoey "vuelve la vida" style.
- the mussels with kabocha potstickers, soy butter and mango (though I find the shellfish and potsticker combo a little peculiar).
- the arepa topped with chicharrones, black beans, corn & crema - delicious.
- both the "Trade Route" (fried green tomatoes, mozz, ricotta & chow-chow) and "Chi Town" pizzas (fennel sausage & mushrooms). Love the toppings, think the crust could perhaps use some refinement.
- the Three Little Pigs (version I had came with baby-backs, trotter cake and ham 'n' mac 'n' cheese - seems like they're changing up the combination every few days) is a great dish.
Many of the things I've had so far at Norman's 180 have been highly flavored, even intensely so. That's a good thing in my book. If your father doesn't like that, then perhaps this isn't the best place to take him. No, it's not as refined as the original Norman's was, but it also comes in at a much lower price point too. If I can eat like this for $35-50 pp instead of $75+, that'll make me pretty happy.
I will try the guave desert when i go back for sure!
Im not saying that I expected white linen, but you cannot blame one for being dissapointed at the level of cuisine at normans 180 as compared to the original normans. I get the concept hes going for, but thats not the point I was trying to make. What I was saying is that it is hard to know what his food tastes like at such a high level and to then go from that level to a completely different level of restaurant which, whether you enjoyed it or not, is no where near as good or fine dining!
Also, I find it interesting that you are defending the server rather than take my word for what had occured at the table when we ordered. We said to him that we would all like to sample a couple apps and we ordered two apps... I am sorry, but i think that a server should tell you if 4 people are ordering tacos, that there are not 4 TACOS! Unlike meatballs, which can be easily cut in half, a taco shell is hard and is stuffed to the brim with fillings, and cannot be easily cut in half. A good server would advise of such, i am sorry. I didnt assume there would be four, there could have been 6 little tacos... when dining at a restaurant with a name like norman's behind it, i believe that the service should have knowledge of the dishes and lead customers in the proper direction when they ask for assistance with the menu... most restaurants believe that the customer is always right, yet you seem to believe the opposite here? I have had many dining experiences where I was sharing food at a table and a waiter has said, oh thats not enough or thats too much or get 2 orders of these... even at dingy hole in the wall places like hy vong.
Further, we specifically asked about the spice in the tacos. I didnt say we asked specifically about the spice on the pizza. The waiter said absolutely no spice in the tacos, and he was wrong, plain and simple.
My point about the pizza wasnt that i necessarily expected the waiter to be intuitive, but when you ask a couple times about spice and then order an excessively spicy dish, a perceptive individual might think, hey yay... come to think of it, that pizza is EXTREMELY spicy! My mom was fine with it but shes not a foodie like all of us and probably had no idea what aji amarillo was first of all... and second of all, i thought the amount of aji almarillo sauce was excessive, whether or not expected or desired.
Also, My dad is 65 and has been ordering for himself in restaurants sucessfully for quite sometime, believe it or not... i suppose when ordering a bbq pork dish, however, neither he nor I expected a spicy component. My feeling is that if you are anywhere other than an indian restaurant, a spicy dish or component should be noted in some shape or form. I didnt say nor did I imply that I expected every dish to be adjusted because we discussed spice with the waiter or that its "the waiters job to police our order"... but I do think a good waiter, like the ones that used to work at normans, would pay attention to such thing when you discuss it with him AND usually at an american type restuarant, the majority of the dishes are not spicy AND if they are, it is noted or expected based on the type of dish you are ordering... im sorry but a rib/mac and cheese dish is usually not a spicy dish! I think its redic to say not to take him here bc there was too much spice in the majority of the food... i think the common eater in miami would not expect so much spicy food from this place as it is an ameican-type restaurant and like myself, would be thrown off after having such an experience.
I am glad to hear that you've had better dining experiences there. I thought my review of the food was generally not biased on the smokey smelly atmosphere, but i dont think its fair to blame me for making a point of this. It was not only unpleasent but something i do not think ive experienced in a restaurant dining room (other than maybe a random bbq spot). Whether your perception is that I am "passing judgment or not" I think it was an issue, and for me not to note it in my review would be on oversight considering the impact it had on the dining experience.
I do think the majority of the food was tasty, im not completely knocking the restaurant but the service could be improved, and hopefully the ventilation was, in fact, a temporary malfunction.
I'm not blaming you (nor do I see any need for name-calling) for bringing anything up or suggesting any bias, only saying that from my experience your ventilation issue was probably a temporary issue and not a regular state of affairs. I also understand that if you were hoping for another "Norman's," you would be disappointed, since N180 is not trying to be that.
I do think your expectations of the waitstaff may be a bit high, though at a minimum, specific questions about a specific dish (like the fish tacos) should get an accurate answer. There is no doubt that the staff does not have the same kind of experience as the kind of veteran team you would have found at Norman's. But keep in mind as well it's only been open a couple weeks.
I am very happy to find bold flavors, indeed it seems too often - particularly in the Gables, perhaps - chefs feel a need to tone things down (Ortanique comes to mind).
No, I've not tried the burger yet.
Cocktails, liquor variety, and beer variety is kinda weak IMO...
I was going to wait until one more visit to at least try a main course before posting my thoughts but then again I don't think they will change much. Let me first say that I never experienced the original Norman's so this is my first time trying his food and I have nothing to base it on except to compare it to similar restaurant concepts and price points.
Overall, I'm really not impressed with Norman's 180. Although I like the large, accommodating white marble bar, I find the design of the space to be really awkward and the decor somewhat unappealing. Having a bar that backs so far up to the door where a large part of it leaves patrons' backs to the door is part of the awkwardness I'm talking about. Maybe that's just me. I think my choice of seating for a group would be a booth where it is more quiet. The space is dark and almost medieval in decor which I find unappealing.
So far, I've stuck with small plates and sides. The main reason for that is that none of the mains really jump out at me and I find that the menu is kind of all over the place. I get the slogan, "Globally inspired, locally wired" but I guess I have a hard time believing that one chef can cook such a wide variety of cuisine better than those who focus on those cuisines. The simple fact of the matter is, if I wanted Pho or Pad Thai, I'd go to a Vietnamese or Thai restaurant. Same with pizza and a burger as Spris and Houston's are nearby and have those locked down. Paella? Spanish joint, please. I just don't get inspired by the mains, that's all. There are 2 mains that kind of appeal to me and I will likely go back to get the Key West Yellowtail because I know Norman spends a lot of time in KW so I imagine that will be a good dish. The other is the 3 Pigs dish that Frod mentioned, although I had the trotter cake as an app one time and found it unappealing. In fairness, it was a different preparation and not batter fried like in the 3 Pigs dish. The cake in my case had very little pork flavor and seemed to be lost in a mound of what I liken to Thanksgiving stuffing because of its texture and flavor. I also don't really like to have ribs for dinner so I've avoided that dish.
Out of the items I have tried, there have been 2 hits - the Mexican-style corn and the duck meatballs. The corn was incredibly good on my first visit but took a small step back on the 2nd visit due to it being overly sauced and a little watery. Still a good dish and thankfully served off the cob in a martini glass. The duck meatballs I had on my last visit were terrific. Very rustic in flavor and I loved the texture of the duck meat. Oh, I almost forgot, the cheese plate is an incredible value at $10. Easily can be shared by 2-4 people.
The misses have been the aforementioned trotter cake, the brussel sprouts (way too acidic/vinegary, slightly mushy texture), and, sorry Frod, the mussels/pot sticker dish. I was fired up to try that mussel/potsticker dish on my first visit and it bombed. The mussels were overcooked, the broth had little to no flavor, and the potstickers had a bland flavor with wrappers that were very chewy. I decided I would give the dish a second try on my last visit and I found that it had improved some. The flavor of the broth was more pronounced, perhaps due to more mango involvement, and the mussels were cooked perfectly. The potstickers, however, still are a fail to me and have no business being in that dish. It's just an awkward pairing and they don't properly sear the potstickers to give them that nice texture on one side. Kind of seem more like soggy ravioli. I will say that the flavor of their contents was a bit better the 2nd time. I think offering a larger portion of mussels w/o the potstickers at the same price would be a better idea and then maybe doing some potstickers as another app.
I really want to like Norman's 180 because its close to my home but I'm afraid it just doesn't do it for me. My meals/drinks have averaged $60 and I've not been impressed really. For that dollar, there simply are other options for me. I will probably give it one last shot to try a main but I really don't see this earning a spot in my rotation.
2305 Ponce De Leon Blvd, Coral Gables, FL 33134
re: Blind Mind
I think we visited on the same day, and the bartender on hand was not the best. She was acoomodating and eager to please which is a breath of fresh air in Miami, but lacking in experience. Prices on the drinks with non-well liquor crept up in price to make it less competitive than I initially thought. Foodwise we had the charcuterie plate and the short ribs and both were great.
I don't know about cocktails in general in this city. It's tough finding knowledgeable and consistent bartenders.
I am a long time Norman Van Aken fan (and Justin is adorable) but I am not loving the restaurant in concept, in design, in execution and - sadly - the cavernous Westin hotel dining room is a total non-starter.
And no offense to Fro' but the pricing is not "street food" on MY street. It is tough to reference "the current economy" when talking about a menu with $12 tacos, $14 flat bread pizzas, $14 pho and $24 fried chicken w/collards... that's more Wall Street than Main Street to me (Gah! How I hate that tea bagger phrase). But seriously - Isn't the fried chicken at Joe's Takeaway still under 8 bucks?
Reading this thread, I am firmly in Blind Mind's court on Norman's. We have had most all the starters and found the mains less successful or appealing. I also suggest the curious diner have a few apps at the bar rather than negotiate the cavernous dining hall.
"Globally Inspired - Seasonally Wired" was really "Globally Unfocused - Too Much Hocus-Pocus."
Basic truth: It's July in Miami. It's broiling hot and many items on the "seasonal" menu seemed more appropriate to Winter. Heavy, spicy, porky, beefy, (ie. fried short ribs, spicy chicken wings, mashed parsnips & duck meatballs, French onion soup, Pho, fettuccine with Pecorino cream sauce with roast pumpkin and pancetta, paella, ropa vieja, pork belly).
Seasonally wired? OMG - it is 90 degrees after sunset.
LOTS of ingredients in dishes that should have a more simple preparation. As Blind Mind said - it leads to the "Jack of all trades and Master of none" problem. But let's be honest... Norman is a Master who is opting for a trend-driven (totally hit-and-miss) global menu that doesn't quite add up. And for the money, Michael's is waaaaaay more successful at this formula. Most Chowhounds already have go-to spots for pho, pizza, tacos, fried chicken, burgers and ceviche. I know I do.
After reading this thread (my sympathies to Morgan), I brought home a copy of the menu for reference.
My recent summer picks were those very pleasant fish tacos with fruit salsa (@ 2 for $12) and sadly muddled tuna tartare -- "w/ soba noodles, sesame oil, pickled ginger, spiced eggplant and spiced peanuts" -- Imagine all these flavors > wheat + sesame + vinegar + ginger + spiced eggplant + topped with powdered spices on roasted peanuts which totally overwhelmed the fish. The tuna appeared brownish orange when coated with the peanut powder. In contrast, I prefer the clean flavors of the tuna tartare at BLTSteak.
"Greens" Salad -- mixed greens, beets, citrus, Point Reyes blue cheese, peaches, smoked almonds, sherry vinaigrette. On the night we had this - this month - the kitchen substituted a bunch of roughly chopped dried figs for the peaches without warning. Seasonally wired in Miami should mean at least some fresh fruit - no? No. Blue cheese, roast beets, dried fruit, smokehouse almonds... clunk.
Also had the Vietnamese Pho - a $14 huge bowl of rich, oily brown broth, lots of noodles, lots of boiled off the bone short rib "flanken" chunks too big to navigate without a knife and fork and then two 3-4" denuded ribs were left sunk in the bottom of the bowl.
Main : 3 Little Pigs -- Not so little helpings of glazed pork belly, roast tenderloin and sweet glazed ribs w/starchy fufu. The belly was not totally rendered so it was very "blobby" in your mouth. Ribs were the boiled to that soft "falls off the bone" style and the tenderloin was thickly sliced but dry... served w/ mashed plantain/boniato. Heavy, heavy, squishy and heavy.
NB: If you choose to sit by the huge industrial open kitchen, the ventilation at Norman's is indeed still an issue. On the other hand, the place is cavernous and awkwardly designed making most of the far off outlying areas by the bar feel like restaurant Siberia. But in truth my clothes and hair smelled like I cooked dinner the night we sat near the action. (By "action" see below*)
@ mikek - While much of the service you get in town is just bad - the servers here were youthful and sweet but not well versed on the food nor drinks and our cute Australian waitress seemed to have wandered in from the Down Under Lucy Show. We asked about beer choices and she blushed and said, "I don't know. Do you want me to find out?" (Pause...) Yes. She returned 10 minutes later - beaming - and said, "Welcome! Can I start you on some appetizers?" And we said what about that beer or some drinks? "Oh! Riiiiight..." Brightening, she said the bartender told her to find out what kind of beer we like and he would tell us what he had "that was LIKE it..." 5 more minutes and she returned with some notes scrawled on a sheet of paper and said there was "Um - a Monk something..." If Normans is only going to serve specialty beers, perhaps a printed card is in order.
re: action* During our last meal (this time seated near the smoky kitchen) we tried to get the attention of our server but Chef Justin had emerged with a bowl of something and sat at the pass huddled with a second brown-shirted chef and they both ate it. A group of servers gathered around them chatting and - optimistically perhaps - I decided the young chef was telling them about his new dish. One waiter stood giving a backrub to a female server and after a while the group dispersed and Justin took his bowl and continued to eat it as he left the pass. Only then did our dinner service resume. I am not sure this is the point of an "open" kitchen.
If you have $50, eat at the bar; have the $12 tacos, $12 ceviche, $14 duck pizza and maybe a cool new beer.
I've now been back several times since Norman's 180 opened, and have expounded on some more detailed thoughts here ->
The Cliff Notes version: Norman's 180 is not trying to be what Norman's was. It's more casual and more affordable, with almost everything on the menu under $30. The food is for the most part pretty boldly and assertively flavored and seasoned, which I regard as a good thing. The menu does quite a bit of globe-trotting, which is something Chef Van Aken has been doing for 20+ years, and in my experiences it hits the mark a lot more often than it misses. The menu is also a work in progress, as I've seen tweaks just about every week - keeping in mind that we're talking about a restaurant that's been open for all of a month now.
A few follow-ups on some particular comments here ->
- I've now sat both at the bar towards the kitchen side, and at a banquette fairly close to the open kitchen, on different occasions, and did not notice it being at all hot or smoky. Must have been a temporary issue. Food smell in your clothes is always a bit of an issue with an open kitchen.
- I have no problem with the bar layout. If you don't want to sit with your back to the door, there is a long stretch along the right-hand side where your enemies cannot sneak up on you. The bar already seems to be becoming a magnet for Gables denizens.
- AG, I never suggested these were street food prices, only that the menu was partly street-food inspired. Clearly when you're paying Gables rents after building out a reasonably nice restaurant, you can't charge the same as someone whose overhead consists of a cart and a milk crate to sit on. Small plates that range from $8-15 and mains that run mostly from $16-30 are certainly within the range of the competitive set.
- AG (again) - I would agree with you that a good bit of the food is somewhat heavy for summer. Though the slogan is actually "Globally inspired - regionally wired," not "seasonally." Nonetheless a good point.
Yes, the globe-trotting may occasionally lead to some dishes where the reach exceeds the grasp, but there's still, and mostly, plenty of good eating here. It will certainly be a regular rotation place for me, even more so when they start doing lunch service (hopefully later this month).
seriously, if you are going to make a correction get it right!
It says at the top of the menu "globally inspired - seasonally wired"
so AG +1!!!
I thought this was one of the worst restaurants i have ever eaten at; had it not been for our server, I would have left. She was very knowledgeable of the food; her english accent took a little getting used to, but she knew what was going on. We did order a wine, which she didn't know about the blend of grapes, but she did find out.
I may go back for cocktails but not for food.
"seriously, if you are going to make a correction get it right!"
Here is a link to the opening night's menu:
You can read for yourself what it says on top. I'll spare you the three exclamation points. More current iterations of the menu have omitted entirely any version of the slogan.
I see this is your first post here, so welcome. Can't imagine a better way to start than to try to call out another poster and to bash a place without explanation. Well done all around.
cranky.coy: I clicked on the facebook page twice and did not see anything like...
it may say seasonally wired now, I have not been over there in a few weeks. it wouldn't be the first time a slogan is tweaked. If anything I would draw more attention to his quote floating a bit unfortunately amongst far more eloquent words made famous by people (imo) more famous than he's likely to be in the annals of history.
Anyhow, if we could focus more on food now...
OH NOS! I was wrong! Or at least, AG wasn't wrong either.
Anyhoo, had my first lunch there today. The "banh mi" sandwich has become a "Vietnamese po'boy" (probably a more apt description since the bread isn't right for a banh mi), Decked out with pork belly, paté, sriracha mayo, cukes, pickled carrots, cilantro, some root vegetable chips on the side, a pretty tasty lunch in some nice surroundings for $12.
Oh come now, "Vietnamese po'boy" is some long-standing Louisiana nomenclature ->
Besides, there is hardly anything that can not be slapped on a bun and called a po'boy in New Orleans, from Alligator to Veal Parmesan anyway ->
Calling it a "sandwich" seems infinitely less descriptive to me. It's like Chow Down Grill, where you can get a "sandwich" on a bagette, with cilantro, pickled carrot, cucumber, radish, jalapeño, onion and paté aioli, and it takes 20 words to register: oh, you mean a banh mi?