This is where Art Basel meets the art of basil, a restaurant devoted to stunning, visual presentations on the plate.
I suppose this is to be expected when that restaurant is located in a multi-use art space, and when it calls itself a “culinary studio.”
Tucked into the new EmKo art space on South Dixie Highway in the Flamingo Park neighborhood of West Palm Beach, Jereve restaurant certainly lives up to the visual expectations of an artists’ studio. Dishes pop with brilliant bursts of color: deep ruby beets juxtaposed with pearly-white goat cheese, bright green peas scattered around a seared, glistening lamb breast, jewel-toned fruit in a hibiscus consommé, hand-crafted fruit gels hung and presented like stained-glass windows at a meal’s end.
But do any of these visual delights taste as good as they look?
Yes, they do, for the most part.
That’s because Jereve’s chef, Nick Martinkovic, is a cook of considerable skills. Among his kitchen experiences, the Johnson & Wales grad worked under acclaimed New York chef Carlo Mirarchi at the Michelin-starred Roberta’s eatery in Brooklyn, an experience he calls “life-changing.”
At Jereve (which means “I dream” in French), Martinkovic was given a blank canvas by EmKo founder and resident artist Leo Koel. The chef took that canvas and painted it with a menu that’s vibrant, sophisticated and modern, yet accessible in a way that’s both comforting and revealing of his confidence in the kitchen.
Sure, his exceptional shrimp and grits ($26) are a study of the deepest Renaissance hues, with brilliantly red, head-on shrimp perched atop violet-blue corn grits and crowned with cloud-like lobster foam. But sharing the same menu is a batch of tender, down-home fried oysters ($21), served hot and crispy and resting on a rich ramp aioli.
“I like the occasionally whimsical dish, but grounded in technique,” chef Martinkovic said in an interview some weeks ago.
But, yes, he’s a bit of a daredevil in the kitchen. Perhaps even more wild than the modern art that gives EmKo’s exterior its flair were the barnacles the chef brought in from British Columbia for his culinary experimentation. And then there are the basil-fed snails he finds fascinating and delicious.
“I like to nudge people out of their comfort zone,” he said.
And Jereve’s lodge-y dining room is an ideal place for such explorations. The structure that once housed The Museum at Ragtops Motorcars is an almost cavernous space that manages to achieve a cozy feel.
This is the kind of place where I would encourage a tapas route of shared plates, whether they are designated as “small” or “main” on the menu. Consider this menu a gallery to be explored – and discussed. One does not devour a serving of Jereve’s stunning wild mushrooms ($23) without commentary. This enchanted-forest mix of mushrooms is served atop a quinoa and hemp seed base and amid “twigs” of locally grown baby greens. A rich pine nut milk is poured tableside, so that the elements of the composition are not muddled as they are carried from the kitchen.
And the taste? Earthy, woodsy, satisfying.
I found the Three Beets plate ($16) to be slightly less successful, though perhaps even more beautiful to behold. On their own, these locally grown beets, roasted in a mix of earth and coffee, deliver faintly acidic notes. It’s only when they are combined with the rest of the elements on the dish – the creamy goat cheese and pickled red onions – that they are lifted.
What does work, both as separate elements and a combined dish, is Jereve’s lamb breast dish ($21). A gorgeously seared rectangle of lamb breast is served with intensely flavorful peas, thick yogurt and refreshing cubes of mint gelée. It was my favorite dish on the night of my visit.
Should you prefer a meal without foodie commentary, you might consider sharing one of Jereve’s meat or/and cheese boards with a glass of wine. On these boards ($18 to $29), you’ll find artisanal cheeses, cured meats, fennel-rhubarb mostarda, spicy pecans, spun honey and such.
And should you prefer a more mainstream entrée, rest assured: There’s meat and potatoes on the menu in the form of a wagyu skirt steak with smashed fingerlings, creamed spinach, king oyster mushrooms and bordelaise sauce ($38).
But if you do choose a hefty, mainstream meal, make sure to leave room for one of pastry chef Arielle Curasi’s stellar desserts. I had the opportunity to try a dessert special, Curasi’s version of a root beer float: luscious vanilla ice cream atop an icy root beer granita, all topped with popping sugar (pop rocks candy made with a dehydration technique in molecular gastronomy). It’s a dessert so simple, so complex and so delicious that it may land a spot on the regular menu soon.
Already on the menu, her Tropical Fruit Soup ($10) is a beautiful bowl of fresh-cut fruits (raspberries, mango and kiwi on the night of my visit) surrounding a rich coconut sorbet in a tuille nest. Completing the composition: a splotch of freeze-dried raspberry puree, passion fruit sauce, floral bits of lavender paper and a sweet hibiscus consommé that’s poured tableside.
It’s the fruit salad that went to the Louvre.
Of course, one does not go wrong here with a simple scoop of house-made ice cream or sorbet ($7), served with fresh baked cookies.
Even minimalist choices can be delicious in this culinary studio.
Jereve Culinary Studio
ADDRESS: 2119 S. Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach
HOURS: Open Monday through Saturday for lunch from 11:30 a. m. to 3 p.m. (with the lounge open till 4 p.m.), for dinner from 5 to 10 p.m. (with the lounge serving a late night menu from 10 to 11 p.m.).
CREDIT CARDS: Major credit cards
RESERVATIONS: Reservations suggested; walk-ins welcome
WHEELCHAIR ACCESS: Yes, including restrooms.
NOISE LEVEL: Quiet, serene, nice for conversation
FULL BAR: Yes, with a separate bar area
WHAT THE GRADES MEAN:
A — Excellent
B — Good
C — Average
D — Poor
F — Don’t bother
JEREVE’S SUMMER LUNCH
A good and affordable way to sample chef Nick Martinkovic’s cooking at Jereve is to try the eatery’s three-course summer prix fixe lunch, which runs through Labor Day.
On the menu: a starter choice of chilled tomato soup or beets and blue cheese salad, a main course (options include Korean pork belly bulgogi, charcuterie hash with a poached egg, fresh fish, or buttermilk fried chicken), and a dessert choice of banana-walnut bread pudding or bittersweet chocolate brownie sundae.
Price: $21.19 (a play on Jereve’s Dixie Highway address), plus tax and tip