Flying High in Miami's Design District

Flying High in Miami's Design District

Jonathan Eismann, who put Miami Beach on the culinary map 16 years ago with his acclaimed pan-Asian restaurant, Pacific Time, is showing no signs of slowing. He closed his legendary restaurant on Lincoln Road and last year reopened a newer version in the burgeoning Design District. He's also opened a more casual pizza place nearby, with plans to open more units later. On top of that, the chef/owner has plans for a third casual concept in the same area. We caught up to him during a busy lunch hour at Pizza Volante.

RH: So, why did you move Pacific Time?

Eismann: My lease was expiring and I was paying more than a half a million dollars a year. We were still profitable, but I'm a businessman as well as a chef, so it made sense to start over under better conditions.

RH: Why the Design District?

Eismann: When I opened Pacific Time in 1993 the Lincoln Road area was the place to be. But now the Design District is the up-and-coming cool place. Besides, I owned several buildings there at one time and I love the area.

RH: And the rent has to be considerably less than what you were paying.

Eismann: Considerably. But beyond that, the district is cutting edge and represents my clientele.

RH: How is the new Pacific Time different than the original version?

Eismann: When I opened the restaurant we were basically offering California cuisine with an Asian accent, and Pacific Time was about the only game in town. We got so much acclaim and press because we set the standard for food, service and atmosphere in Miami. As a result, we eventually became a more upscale white tablecloth restaurant. The new Pacific Time is a return to our roots.

RH : Meaning, a more casual approach?

Eismann: Yes. Our price points are much lower and we offer a small menu of 22 or so small plates. Not tapas, but small plates that are exactly half the size of a full entrée. This allows people to order more stuff and not be stuck with one entrée. Check averages (for food only) are about $32, compared to $60 at the original place.

RH: Sounds great, but what led to the opening of a nearby pizza joint?

Eismann: I grew up in Brooklyn, where there are a ton of great pizza places, but in Miami there is a dire need for good pizza. And because of the economy, it's a perfect time to open a pizza restaurant along with a mozzarella bar.

RH: Running two places is a bit trying, isn't it?

Eismann: Not really. Pizza Volante is within spitting distance of Pacific Time and it has only 30 seats. One thing I'm proud of is, unlike too many other chefs, I also have a good head for business. And this pizza concept will help me expand my empire.

RH: How many more restaurants do you have planned?

Eismann: That's hard to say, but from the moment Pizza Volante opened, we've been slammed. There is such a demand for good Roman-style pizza here in Miami that I want to be the one to capitalize on it.

RH: What do you mean by Roman-style?

Eismann: In Rome they do a Neopolitan style of thin-crust pizza that is now so trendy in this country, but I found that the pizza in Rome is a bit more sophisticated, a bit prettier than in Naples.

RH: We love the name.

Eismann: Yeah, Volante means flying in Italian and Spanish. The dough flies when we make pizza around here.

RH: And what about your beverage program?

Eismann: We have an incredible wine program; 18 very good wines for under $18 a bottle. We also offer $1 cans of Budweiser. It's about as affordable and consumer friendly as it gets.

RH: Indeed. And what other concept do you have planned?

Eismann: I'm keeping that to myself for now, but it will be another 30-seater casual concept within seconds of Pacific Time and Pizza Volante. I'm trying to create my own dining mecca here in the Design District.

RH: It appears you have a helluva good start. We'll be watching.