After a four-year tenure at The Forge, chef Dewey LoSasso decided it was time to move on and left to join forces with Acqualina Resort and Spa, where he and the team opened AQ by Acqualina. The New Jersey born chef, who brings with him over 30 years of experience to AQ, spoke to us about the first week open, light fare and "hedonistic" dishes, having fun with menu item names and the Sunny Isles dining scene.
What made you decide to leave The Forge for AQ?
Well, I loved working with Shareef and the Malnik family … it was really an amazing opportunity to reopen The Forge with similar menus. I looked at menus from the 70s and the 80s and the 90s and we really wanted to do some of the old some of the new and it was such a great opportunity. And really, what happened was that the Acqualina thing came up, I met with Jules Trump, who's been a visionary in the real estate world and he really wants to redo the food and beverage program, so it was just an opportunity to kind of further my career and really have fun doing AQ by Acqualina. I'm excited to do a restaurant on the ocean, which is in the works, a different restaurant as well, so the lateral opportunity was amazing. It was just time to take on a cool challenge and work with Jules and Stephanie Trump.
How was the first week at AQ?
It was great. There was a secret three weeks ago that no one knew. I originally kind of launched the menu about three weeks ago so we really kind of played and played. And this past week being open I was pretty surprised on a few fronts. One, I was really surprised that everyone was ordering the whole menu. And the staff was amazing. And I was just really pleasantly surprised from all the guests' feedback and the also from the public, now that we're bringing in more locals and dealing with more local products.
What direction are you taking with the food?
Local. I've dealt with Paradise Farms for, oh my god, like 12 years. I think it's really fun. I mean when you're at Acqualina, you look at the ocean and you're like a few hundred feet away, I mean, how can you not play with that? You hear the term modern American a lot and I guess that's a word you can use, but for me the direction has been lightness, healthy things. We'll throw something like farro risotto on the menu, it's a risotto method using farro and some feta and local vegetables, very light, using mushroom stock instead of beef and poultry. I wanted to do some things that were kind of vegan, kind of fun and then of course the opposite of that is skirt steak with wild boar and beans. Getting some wild boar from Florida and using the pigs out in the everglades and doing black beans with that, so that's kind of like a more hedonistic thing. We have something like that and also things like the farro risotto, so you kind of dictate your experience. You have to be sensitive also because we are a hotel. We have a really interesting global market at Acqualina, it's one of only 11 properties in the United States that has a five-star Forbes rating and a five-star AAA rating, so we get an influx of people that are very selective when it comes to food and wine and on the same token we have selective locals that want things that are price sensitive as well. If you want to order a $6 chicken basil meatball with porcini tomato, that's a great small plate, things that are meant to be shared. We're also playing around with some molecular stuff. We're doing a 20-hour sous vide Spanish octopus crostini, we sous vide for 20 hours, then we char it on our grill and it's really kind of buttery and creamy and fun. We're really having fun with the whole template.
What are some of the most popular menu items so far?
Well, one I did … and I like to write a little bit, I love literary inspiration, I like literary things, music things and I get a lot of inspiration from interacting with a lot of people at the resort. And I wanted a fun risotto that was a little lighter, so we did "Peas, Peas, Peas Me Baby," it was using peas in the risotto and pea shoots from Paradise Farms, so that's been doing really well. The skirt steak has been great, people have been really digging that. The octopus has been something that was a pleasant surprise, that's been doing really well. And then the other thing, going back to literary inspiration was "Green Eggs and Ham," so we take this really cool glass and we froth up some eggs with chives and basil, salt and pepper, a little crème fraiche and then we add ibérico ham and mascarpone and then a baked egg on top and then we bake the whole thing again, so it's like twice baked and its green eggs and ham. It has a layer of green and a baked organic egg and ibérico ham. Sometimes I think chefs, when they put things on the menu, we're all like what is it is it an appetizer, is it a side dish? So we let the people decide. Everyone's ordering it as an appetizer… I was thinking of it as a side, but I was wrong. And green eggs and ham is kind of fun with a glass of champagne and with the ham you could have a cool Spanish red with it. If you want to play, I've been playing a little bit with Schnebly wine, with some of their sparkling tropical wines, lychee and guava and stuff like that.
How do you think that Sunny Isles differs from Miami Beach as a dining destination?
Well listen, you have to give props to Tim Andriola, he was really a pioneer in Sunny Isles years ago and I've known Tim for twenty something years, he's a great guy and a great chef and Rodrigo, his partner, they were really ahead of the curve I think when it came to Sunny Isles dining. One of the big differences for me … obviously the late night dining thing in South Beach is totally different from Sunny Iles, there's that. I see a lot of the same people, but you see them in a more casual environment. You'll see people sitting on the beach ordering really light, fun food, having some champagne and chilling out and they may go out to South Beach afterwards. As a dining destination I think it's really evolving, I think it's gotten a little more mature.
What's in store for the future?
I think AQ is the first step, it's at a great resort. We love the outside dining element. I think we're one of the few properties where it's almost like a mini Vizcaya where you can step down and there's South African grass and then you have tables and chairs literally, not on a table overlooking the ocean, you're on the ocean, you're literally on the beach. That's only open during the day for residents and hotel guests, so I would say a sneak peek of a possibly pop-up over the summer, in conjunction with Miami Spice launch. I'm a big advocate of Miami Spice since it kicked off. I always embrace Miami Spice, I think it's fun to change your menu every week and not just do the same thing. I love it, it's an opportunity to showcase your menu and have fun. I see us really working that and also working on the outside element, but also working on our catering as well. Those are the things that are kind of on my backburner as of right now. I'm lucky that Jules Trump is someone that's really investing in the future of the property and it's nice when you have that kind of dialogue with an owner one on one. It's kind of an inspiration for me to push the whole thing forward.
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