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Where does a young chef go after he's sauteed for Madonna and filleted for Sylvester Stallone? What can he do after he's worked with a South Florida pioneer like Mark Militello (who helped coin the phrase "New World cuisine") and then hopscotched among the kitchens of some of the trendiest restaurants in South Beach? What does he do when he's ready to set out on his own but every South Beach venture he tries to headline fizzles and sputters after only a few months? He goes to Hollywood and opens his own joint on a quiet stretch of Harrison Street most notable for its low rents and paucity of culinary competition.
Once a rising star on the volatile, high-profile South Beach culinary scene, David Sloane believes in downtown Hollywood. He believes the new neighborhood of art galleries, nightclubs, and cafes is ready for his flashy, complicated, multicultural cooking style. Revolution 2029, the restaurant he opened last year with his partner, William Kassner, is a sleek and colorful place that is accessible to diners without any connection to that other Hollywood. It is also somewhat of a test case for downtown Hollywood, where many new restaurants have opened even though the neighborhood has yet to draw the traffic necessary to nourish a vibrant restaurant scene.
"Our first summer was very tough," says Kassner, who worked on the Virgin Islands before hurricane winds brought him to Hollywood. Over the past year, Sloane and Kassner have learned that what might fly in South Beach, where the priciest and most outrageous cooking tends to generate the most hype, does not necessarily work in Hollywood. Which is why Sloane has spent so much time tweaking the menu, regularly trimming away dishes that are overpriced or just too weird for Hollywood.
I was disappointed to learn that one dish that was recently excised was a duck-leg confit appetizer with andouille cornbread and apricot-onion sauce. (Sloane says he may replace the duck with an even more risky appetizer -- frogs' legs.) Duck confit, duck that is cooked slowly in its own fat until it is falling off the bone, is my favorite duck preparation. It certainly beats frogs' legs, which are comparable to emaciated chicken legs.
What's funny is, duck is one of the tamer dishes on the menu, which features such odd concoctions as banana-crusted goat cheese and garlic-miso grilled salmon. Both dishes fall under the rubric of what Sloane calls "New World fusion," a riff on the New World cuisine pioneered by chefs like Militello and Allen Susser of Miami. New World cuisine is a South Florida creation in which classic French cooking techniques are mixed with the indigenous flavors and ingredients of Florida and its neighboring islands. Sloane takes the concept one step further by adding a generous dose of East Asian cuisine to the mix. (For less adventurous diners, his menu also features Mediterranean-style dishes, such as osso buco, wild mushroom polenta, and portobello mushrooms with Parmigiano-Reggiano.)
The restaurant's decor is as eclectic and multicultural as Sloane's cooking. The dining room looks something like an art gallery; big, brightly colored geometric shapes are splashed on the walls and ceiling, and knickknacks -- a fish-shaped wine rack, a decorative Chinese screen, and wooden Harlequin dolls, for instance -- are scattered throughout the room.
We visited the restaurant on a slow Sunday night, rousing an undertasked waiter from his idle perch at the shiny, curved bar. He was upbeat, personable, and quick to offer menu advice. He heartily endorsed the grilled lobster cakes. Two delicious, crisp cakes were served with zucchini shredded into thin noodles and a tart Parmesan-caper aioli (a garlic-infused mayonnaise). Another recommended appetizer, the twin jumbo shrimp satay, was a busy fusion of Thai, Japanese, and Caribbean flavors. Two very large shrimp were splayed on wooden skewers, rolled in egg roll wrappers, and then deep-fried until golden. They arrived piled atop a pale green mound of mashed potatoes infused with wasabi (Japanese horseradish) and accompanied by a sweet-and-spicy Thai-chile pineapple relish. The shrimp were succulent and full of flavor but didn't quite mesh with the mashed potatoes, which, though delicious, overwhelmed the plate with the wasabi's sinus-clearing kick.
Among the main dishes, I was drawn to the tamarind-glazed sea bass by its odd accompaniment, hearts of palm stew. Heart of palm is the white stringy vegetable that comes from the center of a palm tree's trunk. Like an avocado, it's a vegetable served almost exclusively in cold salads. Sloane stews his heart of palm in a spicy, red achiote sauce, a Latin American sauce made from the reddish brown seeds of the annatto tree, and serves it as a tropical-themed base for a thick, moist hunk of sea bass. The fish is accompanied by a lobster pancake. The myriad flavors melded deliciously together.
We also tried Sloane's filet mignon, the most all-American item on the menu. A thick, charred block of steak was glazed in Kentucky bourbon and served with well-seasoned mashed potatoes, glazed carrot disks, and crispy onion rings. The rib-sticking dish will satisfy any yen for red meat, but it's a bit too heavy for a hot summer day.