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August 08, 2008
First look: Chef Allen's (redux)  by Sara Liss
First look: Chef Allen’s (redux) The goods: In true South Florida fashion, Chef Allen's recently underwent a facelift. After a rapid 2-week renovation, the 22-year-old namesake restaurant of cherubic foodie favorite Chef Allen Susser is redesigned, more streamlined and ready to enter the new millennium. Gone are the Miami Vice-era flourishes -- pink neon lighting, glass-block wall behind the bar, carpeting. Now the dining room has opened up, there's a warm color palette of brown and light green, dark wooden chairs and better lighting.

The popular chef, known as one of the founders of Florida's "Mango Gang" cuisine, has also revamped his menu, moving toward a smaller-plates approach with an emphasis on local ingredients and sustainable fish. As a result he sources many of his greens like arugula and microgreens from Paradise Farms, an organic farm in Homestead. "I want to focus on local fish and seasonal organic produce. People eat differently today and our goal is to provide great food served in a casual environment at a reasonable price. This is a restaurant for the new generation," says Susser.

The grub: Eclectic nouveau American fare with influences from Thai, Indian and Middle Eastern traditions. Prices are lower, the tasting menu is gone and entrees rarely climb above $30. Snacks and starters range from $4-$14, mains of fish and steak are in the neighborhood of $20 and sides are $5-$7. Though the shift is to casual, the restaurant is still a white tablecloth affair and there's plenty of formal service like the Caesar salad tossed tableside and the 24 oz. "cowboy" steak carved by your server. Start off dinner the with Devils on Horseback, a platter of bacon-wrapped dates stuffed with mango chutney and segue to a bowl of lobster "mac" redolent with shiitake mushrooms, tarragon and cognac sauce. The fish menu is extensive and includes innovative pairings like grilled swordfish bathed in Thai tomato salsa spiked with kafir lime. Or try the blackened red snapper nestled in a pool of orange raita made with thick Greek yogurt. Sides like green beans seasoned with zaatar and eggplant fritters dusted with confectioner's sugar and drizzled with fiery sambal olek are fitting companions to the diverse dishes.

Desserts like the peanut butter mousse bomb and banana bread pudding paired with banana ice cream, and caramlized banana tart are sweet caps to the re-launched menu. Home made ice creams in flavors like mamey fruit, coconut lime and watermelon demonstrates the chef's affinity for local flavors.

The verdict: Miami's beloved Chef Allen is dishing up creative seafood dishes and now has a sleeker, more nimble restaurant and menu to match.

Chef Allen's, 19088 NE 29th Ave., Aventura; 305-935-2900

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