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EatBeat: Norman’s 180 Opens in Coral Gables

June 30th, 2010 · 1 Comment

Norman Van Aken is back on the scene in Coral Gables, with his family in the kitchen beside him at Norman’s 180.

Monday night’s media guests at the pre-opening party were treated to bold flavors in a comfortable, smaller space in the landmark Colonnade Hotel; this is representative of his new “180 degree” flip – from fine white-linen dining to the more approachable style here.

Back to his roots

Flavors are right out of his cookbook, Feast of Sunlight, which turns 22 this year.

We sampled foods from every region of the world. The ceviche “Salsa of Life” included charred octopus, shrimp, cucumber (a frequent vegetable in this repertoire, soothing to the heat he often adds), and Peruvian cancha.

The mini arepas sat on a smear of mashed black beans, with chicharones (fried pork rinds), corn salsa, a cool Salvadoran crema and a squirt of lime.

Duck like you’ve never had it

The duck meatballs were so tender many fell to the floor as they slipped from their thin bamboo skewers when guests tried to move them from plate to mouth. The flavor was there, and had many diners sneaking a second. Made with pork fat, coated in a Marsala-mustard reduction, and served with “Ruth’s corn relish” – an homage to Van Aken’s mom, these are destined to be one of the stars on his small plates menu.

The Vietnamese Banh Mi – called a Po’ Boy here to simplify things – was a standout dish, made with the tender natural pork belly from Palmetto Creek Ranch in Avon Park. Made on a French baguette, with duck liver pate, the braised pork belly, pickled paw-paw slaw – a green papaya and jicama slaw, with Sriracha (hot sauce) and fish sauce. Sliced cukes and cilantro sprigs brighten the flavor.

The only complaint was the heat in this one – Van Aken used an extra-strong fresh jalapeno on it that delivered more of a punch than he had planned, he said.

Bar at Norman's 180

Burger with a wig

The Wig burger is a well made burger wearing a “wig” of ropa vieja, Swiss cheese, cumin mayo and crispy yuca chips under the bun. Regular burgers also are on the menu.

Fried chicken, collard greens and Yukon gold mashed coated with turkey gravy is his nod to comfort foods.

Communal platters

Along with the chef’s Kitchen Table, where groups can gather to get a special chef’s menu, there are platters on the regular menu for sharing: Paella, which really needs to be made in big quantities anyway, East/West Duck – bang-bang bao – a sandwich of sorts, with duck marinated in molasses and hoisin, and grilled off, then pulled for the sandwich. A pork loin, roasted bone-in, with a boniato torta, and fruit chutney is family-friendly.

Speaking of family – they’re all wearing chef’s jackets

Janet, Justin and Norman Van Aken

Cooking alongside Norman are the rest of the Van Aken clan: Son Justin, 30, is all-around, but focusing on breads and pastries – his version of a Pavlova was a tasty delight and finished the meal without heavy ingredients. Bright tropical fruit flavors will make this a unique dessert around town.

Spouse Janet is also in the kitchen, mostly keeping Justin from doing in his dad, or vice-versa. Justin says the stubbornness is all in the family, but the fights over the foods are productive – fruitful, in fact and result in the streamlined menu.

More 180s

Van Aken plans to open several more Norman’s 180s, but hasn’t yet determined just where.

Norman’s 180

  • In the Westin Colonnade Hotel, 180 Aragon Ave., Coral Gables, FL
  • (305) 529-5180
  • Open soon for breakfast and lunch; now serving dinner daily; Kitchen Table by reservation only.

Tags: Talking Tables · The Eat Beat: Restaurant News

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 jimmy barron // Jun 30, 2010 at 10:12 am

    The food and drink was all ‘DELIOUS’ ! Along with the service as well. We had a wonderful time. And Coral Gables is my favorite part of Miami. Norman and his family were all very nice!

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