Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Red Light on the Boulevard

Chef Kris Wessel will do the dishes if he has to...

Chef Kris Wessel has a lot on his mind. But luckily, after nine-plus months trying to open 'red light', his 'regional dining lounge' on Biscayne Boulevard, it's not the crack dealers and their customers, who used to show up on bicycles to buy crack right where he is planning some outdoor, waterfront, seating. He points at the newly remodeled waterfront rooms that no longer serve as 24-hour crack cocaine convenience stores. Chef Wessel, a New Orleans native who came to Miami to attend FIU and never left, is opening his spot (hopefully in about three weeks) in the surprisingly upgraded Motel Blu, at Biscayne and NE 78th St., right on the even more surprising Little River. Although I haven't seen the river up this close for a while, I am still amazed at how clean and free-flowing it appears. He remembers garbage floating by, and getting stuck; and shopping carts rooted in the river, which flowed poorly due to overgrown brush. I remember at least one home appliance (dishwasher?), and the occasional sight of some hookers, dressed in heels and hotpants, fishing off the bridge with their pimps. Now that is what you call a slow day.
But with the Boulevard almost finished, Chef Wessel is starting to look like a genius. There was an old lounge on this spot, so he will have a full liquor license, with a bar right on the flowing river. (Seriously, I saw egrets, pelicans, and he says there are also manatees swimming by. It was shocking.) His cooking, which is legendary, mostly because his restaurants have closed so abruptly, leaving many who have never tasted his food wanting desperately to try it, has many people on the mainland eagerly anticipating another reason to avoid the trip to another overrated crap-shack on the beach. He likes the fact that there will still be a bit of the risqué to the neighborhood-the water view also includes a view of Black Gold, a landmark strip club. I mention that when people ask about the neighborhood (I live a few blocks away), I jokingly tell them that I have the Bay on one side, and strip clubs on the other three. Jokingly.
He is ready for the future, though. He plans on serving a mid-priced menu, emphasis on seafood, with a Florida/Caribbean sensibility, no white table cloths, and, did I mention, a big bar space downstairs facing the river? A potentially neighborhood-changing spot, within walking distance of the other places on the New Restaurant Row, NE 79th St. For a man about to embark on a possibly life-changing adventure, the tall and fit Wessel looks mightily relaxed. He even shows up at 8AM to make coffee for the community meeting taking place upstairs in the neatly-decorated dining room, which also, miraculously, has a bar. And he doesn't blame his delayed opening on red tape, but on “no money”. I don't think he'll be having that problem for long.

If he can get this excited about a dishwasher...