Get Caught in Charlotte's Web: Chef Elida Villarroel Dishes on Her New Bistro and the Beauty of Imperfection
|Marie Antoinette's gaze beholds the dining room. Behold, Villarroel's muse?|
Pensive and profound, yet uncomplicated. Calculated with a penchant for impulse. The mother of two and a half year old Andrea at home, whom she refused to name Charlotte (despite a love for the name) since it sounded "too snobby," is a lover of contrasts.
To understand how Villarroel arrived at Charlotte's Bistro, her "other baby," ironically parked on the Mile next to Le Provencal's new home, you need to know a few facts about her journey. It was a sprint to the finish, but to get here, a beautiful story, chapters taking their own sweet time to unfold.
Hailing from Caracas, Venezuela, our Miss Universe has traveled the world, studied the philosophy and literature of its greatest thinkers, and lived in some of its grandest capitals like London and Paris, to now rest her box of souvenirs in Miami a mere six months ago.
|Chef Villarroel (on the right) admiring her young team of four in the back, including one pastry, one app and one entrée chef, and dishwasher. "I have only been with them three weeks but I love them."|
|Die, and go to chocolate heaven|
"The client would come in and say 'I have a deer' or 'I have huge lobsters from Los Roques'... 'What can you do with them?'" explains Villarroel, of her ultimate collaboration with diners, where guests are allowed into a space traditionally reserved for farmers and suppliers. Concepts like this -- although Villarroel will be the first to shun the deduction of such an intimate experience into a commercial convention -- are few and far between, reserved perhaps for market-based restaurants abroad. We're speaking of the spontaneous creations that happen when shoppers can bring their spoils to stalls where cooks improvise a dish to be devoured on the spot.
"I would say 'This is my menu today,'" she recalls of this most exquisite of scenarios. "'We have very beautiful weather there. It's not too hot and not too cold. It was romantic, like your own home. Well, it was my home -- and mi casa es su casa. Nobody knew about it at first, and then once word got out, everyone wanted wanted to know what it was all about."
What drew parties from eight to 30 per nightly seating is likely the same curiousity -- the allure in both the mystery and the challenge of improvisation -- relished with gusto by Villarreol.
To say Charlotte Bistro opened up on a whim is no hyperbole. In Villarroel's case, the flitting moment was a stop in Miami on her way back to Paris, escaping disillusionment with politics at home. But the Magic City is a familiar place, too, where a friend from her days in French culinary school, Angela Garcia of Lovely Daze Dessert Bar, and her two older brothers, live. It has been her point of arrival and departure in the States over the years, for family holidays to New York, D.C., and Philadelphia.
New Orleans made a bewitching, lasting impression, particularly its French Quarter. Villarroel's playful approach to the culinary craft comes to life in a image recalled from a stroll down Bourbon Street one afternoon. A girl was swinging, legs popping in and out like a pendulum from where she was ensconced in a nook in the storefront facade. Tick tock.
|Bacon-wrapped shrimp with coconut curry emulsion, specked with sweated white onion dices and ribbons of tender zucchini, will suprise you when subtle anise suddenly enters the picture after enjoying a few bites.|
264 Miracle Mile
Mon - Fri 11:30 a.m. - 3 p.m. (daily lunch specials)
Mon - Sat 6 -10:30 p.m. (dinner)
|Special flat bread rulers, no one alike, meet calamata olive tapenade flecked with parsley|
|The devil and the angel are in the details|
|Home sweet home|