Nothing is left to chance at the carefully conceived Ad Lib in Coral Gables.
The Ad Lib dining room
Funny thing about the word “irony”—the irony of it is many people don’t know how to define it or how to apply it. Same goes, it seems, for “ad lib,” which means impromptu, spontaneously, offhand or without previous preparation. Ironically, Ad Lib, which opened in February, is the name of one of the most exacting, thoughtfully planned restaurants to open in Coral Gables, or Miami for that matter, in recent years.
Situated in the former Swine space by restaurateur John Kunkel under his 50 Eggs, Inc. hospitality firm, Ad Lib is a long, tall drink of mindful art and design. Director of Interior Design Giselle Fernandez took the Gold Coast as her inspiration, translating the everyday outdoor hues of sea blue, sun yellow and cloud white into a wide-ranging elegance that’s set off by floor-to-ceiling windows and 20-foot-high ceilings. And since the place resembles an art gallery, it’s been turned into one, with coordinated color-palette installations by Oregon native Betsy Eby, Los Angeles-based Tony Larson and, in the intimate second-story lounge, local artist Austin Kerr’s Monstera leaves, hand-painted in gold over wood paneling.
Likewise, the culinary crew is a team comprising local and new-to-town professionals, directors of this or that, who are all highly trained and anything but fly-by-night. For instance, executive chef and partner Jamie DeRosa, who has a stellar résumé working with James Beard and Michelin star talent, comes to Ad Lib after honing his skills for years on his own at Izzy’s Fish & Oyster and Tongue & Cheek. Here, the menu is elevated beyond what he was doing at Izzy’s, but retains the unimpeachable quality of ingredients. Meanwhile, it also harkens back to the creativity and unexpected flavor pairings of Tongue & Cheek, pulling from Mediterranean, Italian and Japanese cuisines.
Interpret all that to mean that you should start a meal with a trio of deep-cup shigoku oysters. “Ultimate” in Japanese, shigoku are designer mollusks that grow in the icy waters of the Pacific Northwest. Because they’re harvested in bags that are attached to floats, the oysters somersault in the tide; this stirs them to open and close their shells, making their meat firmer than other oysters. DeRosa and chef de cuisine Ricardo Torres dress them with a passion fruit mignonette; the staff, trained to an exceptional degree by service director Cristiano Azevedo, warns you that this topping is tart. The tongue tickling plays down the brininess of the oyster, however, and is a pleasant alternative to the usual vinegary notes of a classic mignonette.