Tasting Menus: Miami's Gateway to the Big Leagues
Perfectly ironed white tablecloths are topped with open glass orbs holding fresh-cut roses floating in water. The stems are twisted and tied around delicate blooms, creating bows that rise from the bowls. The rich cherry hardwood floor of Palme d'Or -- the opulent, awarded-winning French culinary temple in Coral Gables' iconic Biltmore Hotel -- is reminiscent of Versailles, Louis XIV's palace outside Paris. Wide, square mirrored columns with ornate crown moulding dot the room.
billwisserphoto.com Executive Chef and proprietor Michael R. Shikany; lemon rose sorbet.
For $175 before wine pairings, patrons can slowly fill themselves with a 12-course meal that includes sea urchin, jamón ibérico, and delicately turned vegetables cooked in butter. Each bite is the creation of 33-year-old Gregory Pugin, who once traveled the world alongside famed chef Joël Robuchon and took the reins in 2011. Each grand meal lasts at least three hours. The fixed menu offers no choices besides the wine.
"The smaller the portion, the more elegant we can be," says Pugin, wearing a black chef's coat, a long black apron tied around his waist, and wood-heeled clogs in Palme d'Or's kitchen. "And because it's only one or two spoonfuls, we can be more explosive with the flavors."
Pugin is just one of a growing group of South Florida chefs offering wildly expensive, lengthy, creative meals to a new generation of Miami diners who demand sophistication and off-menu experiences. In doing so, Pugin, Shikany's Michael Shikany, and others are moving Miami into a more sophisticated league, approaching more refined culinary capitals such as New York, Chicago, and San Francisco, where over-the-top menus stretching beyond 20 courses and commanding $400 per person are commonplace.
Shikany, whose restaurant opened two months ago in Wynwood, describes his meals in more artistic terms. He sees each of his plates as a blank canvas. The 35-year-old spent $2 million transforming a bombed-out-looking warehouse on NW 25th Street into an elegant restaurant-studio where he plies his craft.