When I went to Paris for the first time, I was most looking forward to eating, and people warned me that the portions would be a lot smaller than they were in the United States. I wasn’t terribly concerned about that detail, and what I found out after dining in Paris was that despite the smaller portions, the food was so flavorful that I left each restaurant satisfied but not stuffed. French cuisine has a reputation for being rich, but French people have a reputation for being thin...at least thinner than Americans. The reason being, I discovered, is that they eat good food in moderation, and trying to find good food in moderation stateside can prove to be a challenge in a country that loves overabundance and has industrialized food to the point that it has lost much of its original flavor. Meals that have the same effect as those I enjoyed in Paris are usually reserved almost exclusively to haute cuisine, but that seems to be changing as eateries like OTC in Brickell make a very European concept of dining something that can be enjoyed at least once a week, if not every day. While the menu is very American in character, a meal at OTC ended with the same afterglow I experienced while dining in Paris.
An acronym for "Over the Counter," the title of this casual neighborhood eatery in the heart of Brickell indicates the service at OTC. Similar to a Pei Wei restaurant, diners place their orders with a cashier at the front of the restaurant, are given a numbered chip to place on their table, and the food is brought to them. However, the similarities between OTC and a Pei Wei end there. For starters, the décor at OTC is unique and has an industrial, almost steampunk aesthetic with chandeliers made from reclaimed metal grates with vintage sockets and exposed bulbs, walls covered in reclaimed wood from a barn in northern Florida, and Xavier Pauchard’s icon Marais A chairs surrounding iron bistro tables. Additionally, although there are no conventional waiters at OTC, it appears as if everyone who works at this eatery is committed not only to making sure a diner’s every desire is met, but also to taking the time to chat with customers making sure they feel at home. While the food at OTC speaks for itself, it is the convivial and intimate service that will draw me back again and again.
Like the counter service, the menu at OTC also follows an unconventional model that allows diners to craft their own meals by selecting from a concise, but thoughtfully chosen, array of entrées, sandwiches, sides, salads, and appetizers. Each menu item can confidently stand on its own, but the possibilities that arise from combining items - what the restaurant calls pairing and sharing - are far more rewarding. Of the several combinations that I sampled, everything seemed to work together seamlessly, and I owed it to a combination of chance and my impeccably good taste until I was later informed that everything on the menu at OTC was formulated so that anything will pair almost naturally with anything else. It’s hard to believe otherwise after having a meal at OTC. The added benefit of having an open format, à la carte menu like this is that each unique combination of dishes will bring out different flavors in a dish, so that if a diner likes a particular dish, they can taste another facet of that dish by pairing it with something different on their next visit...or even during the same meal. This is just one other element that ensures that discerning foodies will come back for more.
The décor, the service, and the menu format are all appealing, but the rightful star at OTC is the food, and it is primarily the food at this restaurant that has me caught up in a spell. My dining partner and I ordered three separate pairings that arrived on the table on large wooden cutting boards and ranged from the familiar to the more exotic. Preparing a simple grilled or roasted chicken dish is a measure of a chef’s prowess, and the grilled herb chicken breast made with FreeBird chicken was our first proof that there is some serious talent and skill in the kitchen. Tender, juicy, and subtly spiced, the sliced breast acted as a perfect accompaniment to the more robust warm bacon and peach salad consisting of frisée, radicchio, and goat cheese with a generous handful of thickly sliced chewy/crispy bacon pieces and thinly sliced peaches. While not necessarily health food, OTC’s grilled chicken breast and warm bacon and peach salad definitely offer a lighter combination than a cheese-lover’s dream of a short rib and brie grilled sandwich paired with a cheddar mac n’ cheese. Made with corkscrew macaroni and encased in a parmesan crust, the small cast iron skillet of mac n’ cheese offered a luscious béchamel and just enough power from the cheddar to give it character while not detracting from the grilled cheese sandwich, which was just a lovely combination of creamy brie with boldly flavored and tender pulled short rib.
Perhaps the most memorable dish at OTC, however, was a small skillet containing two large marrow bones resting in a puddle of parmesan infused braising liquid that was nothing short of transcendental. If you are a virgin to bone marrow but love the texture of foie gras (which the restaurant does offer in the form of a mousse), OTC’s bone marrow is the perfect introduction. The velvety marrow spread smoothly onto crispy, thin slices of baguette, and the richness was balanced by a small dollop of house-made mustard or roasted garlic purée. The most addictive part of the dish was the the braising liquid in which the bones were nestled, which caressed my palate with intense flavor and silky texture. I swirled the garnish of crispy fried leeks - a much more elegant version of the tired onion straws - into the liquid and then used the sauce as a dip for the grilled cheese sandwiches, the chicken breast, the macaroni, and anything else that could feasibly be dipped into this meaty potion. The bone marrow at OTC should definitely be ordered with french fries for dipping, but one should make sure to also get an order of the pesto quinoa that I paired with this dish. Al dente and offering that unmistakable little pop in my mouth, the quinoa was perfectly cooked and the basil pesto and sundried tomatoes perfectly accented the nuttiness and sweetness of the grain while acting as a refreshing complement to the bone marrow.
In talking with the chef, I learned that the secret to the bone marrow’s addictive braising liquid was a demi glace that is regularly made in house over several days, a task that is rarely seen in restaurants anymore. In addition to the demi glace and the mustard mentioned above, OTC makes many of its own condiments like jams, pickles, mayonnaise, and ketchup. It is rare to see such devotion to food even in some higher-end restaurants, making it very refreshing to see in a casual neighborhood joint like OTC. And what’s a neighborhood food spot without a good selection of beers? OTC offers an ever-changing array of craft beers on tap that include Cigar City, Lagunitas and Dogfish Head, as well as a Shipyard XXXX IPA that I sampled on my visit. The restaurant is focusing on the savory for the time being, meaning that they don’t really offer any desserts at the moment. However, the chef is experimenting with some homey desserts with unique spins and seeing how the are received. If he brings us more desserts like the dense, moist guava cake with cream cheese frosting we sampled, I say there should be a whole separate menu just for desserts! It would definitely be just one more selling point on a restaurant that already has a perfect combination of great service, great drinks, and spectacular food. I finished my meal with my appetite and palate wholly satisfied and pleasantly reminiscent of the same feelings I had in Paris.
1250 South Miami Avenue
Miami, FL 33130