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Alan Hughes on the First Year at The Embassy

After a couple year hiatus from the restaurant biz, chef/restaurant owner Alan Hughes opened The Embassy of Wellbeing and Debauchery. A year later, Hughes still serves up coveted dishes out of his small kitchen in Buena Vista, spends some nights serenading the crowd and does everything pretty much the same, except for a few things. For the restaurant's one-year anniversary Eater spoke with Hughes about how everything went this past year, changes and future plans.

How's it been this past year at The Embassy?
It's been great. I come from being like four or five years without having an open restaurant and this has been great. The response has been very, very cool. It's very nice to see my friends coming to the restaurant, old clients coming to the restaurant. I've been incredibly baffled and very surprised to have some customers say, "you know I've been to all of your restaurants." I was like, "whoa!" It's been great. It's been very good in that aspect. I think right now having a restaurant is very challenging. Things are very different now than they were before. There's a lot of restaurants, there's a lot of options and that's part of the game.

How did The Embassy come to be?
Well, The Embassy came to be a little bit because of the location I was looking for. The location dictates the type of place that you're going to do. You might be obsessed with doing a pizza place, but you're not in the right spot for it. I've always been somebody that has a lot of acquaintances and friends and The Embassy was a little bit of a gathering point, that's why I call it The Embassy.

Would you tell me a little bit about how you came up with the concept?
Well, it was a combination of things. It was the size of the space, it was my love for music, the current conditions of the space. I didn't have a kitchen so I had to come up with a menu that I could replicate from a kitchen like that. With all those given circumstances … I would have loved to do a full-blown restaurant, but I don't have the kitchen for it in this space, so it came out like something a little bit more casual, a little more toned down in the food, something that you can come and have a great time and eat. Always my places have been very relaxed and not very uptight.

You mentioned your love for music. As a musician how does that play into the restaurant?
Every night we have live music. From acoustic blues to experimental, sometimes we have a DJ, sometimes we have some celebrities that pop up from Argentina. We really don't mention them much because we like to make it like a safe ground for them. People come and check it out and hang and drink, have a bite. It's an integral part of the space. I play on Wednesdays. I'm coming up with a new record hopefully sometime soon and what I'm playing now is a little bit of a work in progress of my new stuff.

How did the opening go, what are some things that surprised you about it?
I wasn't very surprised by much. I guess my only impression was that … when I took this space, I didn't want to take a big space … when I had the idea to open a new restaurant I decided I'm not going to open a big space because I want to test the waters and how the market is … and I was very right to take a small space … I did notice that things are very different now. The restaurant was received well, but I'm impatient. I always want it to be packed. It's the nature of the business. You know, we don't go suddenly to the restaurant five times a week. We went slowly, we opened for dinner, now we just opened for lunch. Lunch is so far very well received. And brunch is beautiful.

What challenges did you face this year that you weren't expecting?
I always new that there were a lot of places and that I had to face the competition. People have many more options now than they had before. And something that I noticed is that it's more than what I thought. It's a challenge that it takes time to bring people in. Even though we have some nights that we're packed, it takes time.

Does your menu still change weekly?
No, it used to change weekly, but now we have a few core items that we keep we change it seasonally. Now, I have some Fall items.

Where do you get the inspiration for new items?
It's a combination. It depends on what's available and what I'm in the mood for. Maybe I could be drawn to North Africa and everything starts taking a little twist in that direction.

What are some of your favorite items on the menu?
I have some lunch items that I am really in love with. I have a lamb burger with goat cheese, marinated radishes and cucumber mash. It has a fennel and endive confit, which is very, very nice. We've been putting a lot of vegetarian and vegan items. For dinner I have a vegan platter, it's very cool and people love it. I've seen quite a big response. Actually, I must say a comment that what surprised me is how much people are drawn to vegetarian and vegan items these days.

What changed at the restaurant over the past year?
Well, the main concept that I started doing with small bites, tapas and pinchos. Pinchos are these tapas from the north of Spain and I love them and I used to have them every night and many of them. The people that knew Pinchos were in love and devoted, but the rest were few. So, in other words, now my Pinchos are limited to Fridays and, in general, I realized that all the small bites … people really wanted to eat an appetizer, main course and dessert. That's what I changed. I guess Miami's not ready for the small bites so much.

When you're not at The Embassy, where do you like to eat in Miami?
Well, it's challenging for me to go out and eat. It's weird for a chef, when you go and eat at a restaurant. I'm a meat eater so I go to Graziano's in Coral Gables or I like to go up the street to Shokudo for sushi. I also like Fiorito one block north from Churchill's.

Anything in store for the future?
Well, most immediate future is for the restaurant to take off. And we're almost there. For now we're going to keep getting this baby nice and then, of course, we have other options and possibilities of opening other places. We have a TV show in the works as well.
· All Coverage of The Embassy [EMIA]