M Bar has quietly debuted at the corner of East Las Olas and NE 13th Avenue as a sibling to the evergreen Italian restaurant Mancini's. Owner Jack Mancini closed his namesake restaurant a couple of doors down with plans to open it next door to M Bar in August.
At this spiffed-up corner hangout, M Bar's plate-glass windows and 360-degree bar offers a slew of vantage points for people-watching. Flat screens animate overhead at the bar. Orange accents, dark floors, and leather upholstery warm up the 3,500-square-foot space.
Apparently there's a garden as indicated by the Handcrafted Drinks From the Garden list, which features herbal, fruit-forward cocktails such as the East Las Olas with
Mount Gay Eclipse, cilantro, mint, kiwi, lime, and simple syrup ($13). It's a
salad in a pint glass that's big on flavor but needs a tweak of
refinement; soggy greens aren't an ideal condiment. The drink menu also
chronicles a solid collection of hand-crafted beers and wines by the
glass as well as a laundry list of tinis.
"Have you had tapas?"
asks our server, an effusive Midwest transplant who flexes her training
on my dining companion Eric and me. The menu, arranged by small,
medium, and large plates -- with callouts such as foie gras PB&J
and lamb lolly pops -- makes it abundantly clear this tapas place isn't a
Despite the riffs on childhood food, the cuisine
at M Bar isn't child's play. Brother/sister chef team Kevin and Lauren
Anderson showcase a huge menu with an extensive ingredient list in its
first go-round of the farm-to-table concept, with ingredients that may
be local but many of which are in season elsewhere.
fiddlehead dish ($8), baby fern spirals that signal the first signs of
spring above the Mason-Dixon Line. The stunning presentation atop Swiss
chard is a bitter on top of bitter disappointment, says Eric, who says
it needs maple syrup or something sweet to offset the bite (it does).
More compelling is the super-fresh hamachi with an umami miso
butterscotch and shaved cucumber ($6), though at three bites, they're
not kidding about small plates.
We swooned over the
sweetbreads, a play on chicken and waffles garnished with a fried quail
egg ($13). Despite that the dish is overdressed -- potatoes and hazel nuts and a waffle? It's pretty freaking delicious -- as guilty a pleasure as
the plate that lends inspiration.
I hoarded the
dog-treats-gone-gourmet in the form of supercrunchy shredded pig ears
($5). With hope, they'll become more pliant as the chefs fine-tune the
side: Some bites were hard enough to crack a tooth but maybe worth it.
The stunner was our afterthought order: charred octopus, creamed fresh
hearts of palm, and sea beans ($7). I had never had fresh hearts, which
were a bright and savory complement to the protein.
On this first
visit to M Bar, we opted for adventure. More conservative diners can
gravitate toward flatbreads ($8 to $10), farm burgers ($8), or a good ol'
New York strip ($38), though if the Andersens' ambition prevails,
they'll be missing out on a series of compelling flavors.
as I look forward to a next time, I'm bothered by a series of
questions: How local is the farm-to-table menu, a hallmark of the genre?
How will the restaurant ensure quality control on a menu this large?
And how will locals in South Florida respond to a higher price per dish
for less food per plate than its competitors? We will soon find out.
The grand opening of M Bar is Thursday night.
Follow Clean Plate Charlie on Twitter: @CleanPlateBPB.