House Kitchen and Bar is Both Classy and Comfortably Down to Earth
By J.P. Faber//Photos by Michael Campina
When it comes to dining in Coral Gables, there is plenty of elegance. What House Kitchen and Bar delivers is casual elegance, a relaxed dining experience that perfectly blends its American comfort food with a sophisticated setting.
If you spend any time in downtown Gables, you can’t miss House. It’s on the corner of Ponce and Aragon, part of the Colonnade building – which provides House with a wrap-around veranda for outdoor dining at low slung tables. Inside is designer hominess, with dark couches and wooden tables and chairs enameled black. Low lighting from open bulbs overhead gives the dining room a vintage Edison look, and the semi-open kitchen provides the Edward Hopper glow of a late-night diner.
The dining area is attached to a dark, comfortable lounge, with one of the signature bars of the Gables, a horseshoe of two-inch thick white marble. It’s here that House concocts its own parade of classic and signature cocktails (we recommend Cynthia’s Tequila Sour).
The philosophy of House is posted on a chalk board hung on a central brick column inside the dining room, right behind an old armoire that now holds wine bottles. There are a dozen “House Rules” written here, a combination of hearty welcomes and motherly admonitions. Things like “Our house is your house” and “Leave your diet at the door” are followed by “Say please & thank you” and “Don’t play ball in the house.” My favorite: “No whining.”
What sets the House menu apart from the usual American comfort standard (good burgers and hearty salads and small pizzas), is an eclectic selection of dishes honed over the years by chef Michael Altman, with a leaning toward seafood.
The star of the show is the Daily Cast Iron Fish. There is only one choice of fish – the freshest that day, usually some- thing local like snapper or grouper. It’s filleted and grilled on an iron skillet, then perfectly seared on the bottom by the iron, which gives it a nice crisp edge. It’s accompanied by a forest of wild mushrooms cooked in garlic bits, with superb flavor and texture for both fish and fungi.
Another stand-out is the spinach dip. The name does not do it justice. It arrives in a round iron cooking dish, in a circle of brioche bread used for dipping. In the center is a hearty, rib-sticking pool of spinach cooked with cream cheese, parmesan cheese, and pepper jack cheese, delicious and easily enough for four.
With the exception of its steaks and the cast-iron fish, almost all of the dishes at House fall in the $10 to $20 range, even the entrees. You can treat them like small plates you can share, a kind of American tapas. Among the other dishes we sampled was the calamari, which came glazed in an addictively sweet chili paste, and a short rib risotto with pan-seared sea scallops, a surprisingly savory combination of flavors. The diners in our group declared the crisp Brussels sprouts with lemon aioli and maldon salt the best they’d ever had; and for dessert, House serves a key lime pie that actually tastes like tart lime and not lemon.
House is also one of the few places in the Gables where you can get excellent oysters. They are not cheap — $3 each — but consist (as of our visit) of a Davenport East Coast oyster and a Kumamoto from the West Coast. “The East Coast oysters are brinier and larger, while the West Coast oysters are sweeter and smaller,” says general manager Daniel Cahill. The quality, he says, depends on “a good relationship with your fish monger.”
Overall, Cahill defines House as “casual fine dining in an American bistro concept.” For us, it felt like nostalgic food, in the best sense, confidently updated with some clever tweaks and served in a modern, urban décor. We liked the generational mix, comfortable for large families or groups of young professionals blowing off steam. In a word, it feels like home – albeit one wrapped by a colonnade that acts like an outdoor café in the daytime, and a romantic European setting at night.