Why isn't this restaurant busier?
My husband was called down to Miami on business this week. I had decided to join him for a few days, having tired of NY/NJ's continuing cold. Somehow, in reading through some guide books I came across Norman's and posted here before I left whether or not it was still worth giving it a try. Based on the two people who responded, Frodneser and Netmover, that was enough to push me over the edge into making the decision to give it a try.
Monday night I gave them a call, only about 1/2 hour before we were going to come over and asked if they had a table, not even thinking we'd be lucky enough. But they said come on over, no problem. Since we were staying in Kendell, this was an easy drive. We arrived about 8pm, got a spot right in front of the building.
We entered and found the place, well, empty pretty much. Only about 4 other tables were taken that we could see. This concerned us although, it was a Monday night. But, on the other hand, here it was a holiday week, and spring break to boot. It just should have been busier we thought. But, ok, whatever.
We were warmly greeted, seated and given our menus and the wine list. My husband was a bit concerned at first, because although he is an adventurous eater, he does have some peculiar limitations, such as no seafood, does not like eating meat on the bone and gets very turned off by fatty meats too. So, the one steak was a strip steak (not his favorite), the veal was a chop (bone!) and the rest of the menu was loads of seafood. Ummm, this was going to be tricky for him. For me - everything on the menu sounded like a jewel and was tricky for other reasons - I wanted all of it.
The room is very cozy, very hispanic in feel, with dim lighting (maybe a bit too dark, it was a little difficult to read the menu). It is also much larger than it first appears - there is a second floor and a couple of back rooms too. There were too very large kiva type ovens, we wondered if they ever use them?
As we looked over the menu, we we given wonderful herbed rolls, I believe they were Portuguese style, quite delicious. Excellent, high quality butter on the table but we opted to use the olive oil they provided instead.
After much debating back and forth for me, I finally chose the Cream Cracked Conch Chowder with Saffron, Clam & Mussell Liquer, Citrus Reduction, and Coconut "Cloud" as my appetizer and the Shrimp Veracruz with Herbed Gnocci. My husband chose the Mushroom Soup with Buttered Marrow Almond Toast and the Mongolian BBQ Veal Chop with Ginger Soy Scented Chines Eggplant and Thai Fried Rice.
First of all, my Conch Chowder was a revelation. They brought it to me in stages. A bowl of just the conch and various vegetables was placed before me. The soup was then ladeled in, sending up the scent of all the seafood and liquer/citrus/saffron and then the "cloud" was gently placed on top separately, which slowly melded itself into the soup. This dish tasted like the ocean in the best possible sense of the word, when the ocean was clean and pristine. This may well be the best soup I've ever eaten - If I had to pick a food for my least meal, I think this may well have to be one of the dishes. Just remarkable.
My husband's mushroom soup was extremely good too. Sometimes the mushroom flavor gets lost in these soups because of other ingredients they use in them - not this one. If my conch chowder was the ocean, this was the forest floor - but not dirt :-) Wonderful. I didn't get to taste his toast, but he was very happy with it.
My shrimp dish was excellent - perfect melding of flavors. The shrimp were perfectly cooked and the gnocchi were soft pillows of herbed perfection. There were stewed tomatoes, capers and olives in the dish - none of which overwhelmed the other.
My husband's veal chop was cooked exactly as veal should be, I did taste this and it was a very good piece of veal and the sauce was great. It was funny how he did not know how to tackle it, since he isn't used to dealing with bones. But, he did quite a good job - as he demolished it like a pro. The thai rice was very tasty as was the eggplant. This was one of the few dishes were they strayed from the latino/hispanic flavorings they are known for, and it worked very well.
I had a glass of Cloudy Bay Savignon Blanc with my meal - it did NOT work with the conch chowder, wasn't terrible, but I did ask what they would have paired with it (it was on their tasting menu) and they said a Reisling would have been better - which make sense. However, the SB did go great with the Shrimp Veracruz. My husband did not have any wine with his meal.
We split a cheese plate for desert - a Roaring 40's Blue (it's the only one I remember the name of), a sheep's cheese with truffles, a soft goat and a semi-soft goat. We ordered a glass of Muscat to share (we're not big drinkers at all, both of us take some medications which prevent us from being too indulgent ). The cheese plate was very nicely presented, some warm toast with fruit in it, homemade crackers that were kind of like grown-up Cheeze-It's for lack of a better way to describe them, guava paste (I'm pretty sure that was what it was) - very basic which is how we like our cheese plates.
The meal came out to just under $160 with tip and tax, which we though was a pretty fair price considering the quality of what we received. The food was excellent, the service was great as well. We were made to feel very welcomed and if we are ever back down there, we'd make a point of going back. I know that this restaurant used to be quite the hot spot years back, and I guess according to some, as fallen out of favor over the years. I for one, don't quite understand why this is, is it because it isn't in a "sexy" part of town? I guess these things happen sometimes. But, the restaurant is still there, has somehow managed to continue to remain open so they are apparently doing something right still. My recommendation is, if you haven't been there, go; and if you have but haven't been in a while, go again.