Jul. 31--When Niven Patel started cooking recipes for his new restaurant, Mamey, he couldn't have imagined opening in the middle of a global pandemic.
That hasn't stopped him.
Patel, whose Kendall restaurant, Ghee, earned him recognition as a Food & Wine magazine Best New Chef for 2020, will open his tropically inspired new restaurant inside Coral Gables' Thesis Hotel on Aug. 11.
Opening the restaurant now was a risk he had no choice but to take, he said.
Patel delayed Mamey's opening four months as fast-spreading coronavirus forced Miami-Dade restaurants to close, reopen, then close again with only outside seating and takeout allowed.
"The losses are already way too big on this project. We were at the point where we just had to go for it," he said.
He was encouraged to open regardless since the restaurant serves the hotel, which will be open, residences that are part of the complex, locals in Coral Gables and visitors to the neighboring University of Miami. In late winter, he expects to open a second restaurant in the Thesis, Orno, which will focus on wood-fire cooking.
Patel hired back a staff of 35, including many of his furloughed servers and chefs, and had his pick of others from other restaurants who have been out of work for months. Patel continued paying health insurance for his out-of-work staff as he reopened the original Ghee under new guidelines.
He had to close the Design District location of Ghee and says he does not expect it to reopen. He employed as many as he could at the Kendall location, which "is breaking even," he said. Meanwhile, he and his wife, Shivani, welcomed twin daughters six weeks ago.
Some South Florida restaurants completely changed their concepts and opened pop ups in their places to survive the pandemic. Preparing to open Mamey let him focus on something other than the industry-wide restaurant troubles.
"This has been a breath of fresh air," he said.
The menu is not exactly the one he set out to make when he first designed it more than a year and a half ago. The dishes have been tweaked to accommodate takeout and delivery, and to fit with outdoor dining in Miami.
But the flavors, he said, will be the same.
Named for the tropical fruit with a creamy crimson interior, Mamey takes inspiration from the tropics: the Caribbean, where the fruit is native, but also Thailand and Vietnam, he said. Patel, whose restaurant Ghee focuses on southern Indian flavors, said his goal was to reimagine tropical flavors with a familiar, accessible dish.
"We wanted to incorporate a little of all of that," he said. "I'm trying to represent not just Caribbean food when we talk about the tropics."
His crispy chicken sandwich is made with a jackfruit barbecue sauce that he says zips between tangy, sweet and sour. Tuna tostones are served with a piquillo pepper sofrito, Bahamian conch with cilantro tartar sauce and empanadas are stuffed with corn and callaloo, a popular Caribbean green prepared similarly to collards.
A housemade ketchup was created from roasted mamey, garlic and heirloom tomatoes. Most of the ingredients are seasonally grown in South Florida, many on his Homestead backyard farm.
"It's taking things like that and making it approachable," he said.
1350 South Dixie Highway, Coral Gables. Opening Aug. 11
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