Restaurant rule No. 1: Make your guests comfortable.
This brings me to the Federal, Food Drink and Provisions, which I'd hoped to be able to recommend to folks traveling to downtown Miami for sports or entertainment. But the Federal needs to grow up. Its management needs to know that operating a restaurant is about more than filling a room with tables and chairs and creating a one-note menu in which every flavor is over the top. Chef Cesar Zapata specializes in fatty, smoky, creamy and sticky.
I'm all about nondescript settings, but the noise level inside the taxidermy-filled saloon was so deafening that we left. On our way out, we were offered a seat on the patio, and quickly regretted accepting it when we were escorted to a picnic table. Do I really want to eat $26 pot roast or order a $50 bottle of wine while sitting on a backless bench on the edge of a parking lot?
The menu is divided into three categories: Small Shares, priced from $7 to $14 and running from smoked tongue tostadas to Federal McNuggets; Big'Uns, priced from $16 for crawfish and grits to $26 for short-rib pot roast; and Complement'Uns, which are side vegetables priced from $7 to $9.
We started with barbecue-glazed, pork-belly bites ($7), accompanied by Carolina slaw, carrots and Brussels sprouts, which were sweet and nicely chewy. Charred octopus ($14) was nicely done, and was served with more greens, including Brussels sprouts. The peaches-and-cream burrata ($14) didn't have the usual creamy qualities, and we had a hard time discerning any peach.
Jar O' Duck ($12) is described as a Federal Classic. It's a classic duck-rillettes preparation that's served alongside charred marshmallow fluff and candied sweet potato. Maybe if I'd grown up with Thanksgiving dinners of marshmallows and sweet potatoes, this dish would resonate. But the word "cloying" comes to mind.
American Carbonara ($18) was delicious, but it took a high-fat dish and made it even fattier with the addition of smoked pork loin, along with duck yolk and peas tossed with wide egg noodles. Roasty toasty chicken ($18) had a smoky applewood flavor, and was served with very good creamed kale and charred corn. The cornbread croutons, however, didn't belong.
Brussels sprouts ($7) had a nice char, perhaps from the sugar in molasses vinaigrette. South West Mac and cheese ($9) — with roasted poblanos — was very good. It could have been creamier, even though it was made with three cheeses.
For dessert, there was Oreo bread pudding ($8), which I'd like with chunks of Oreo instead of crumbs. But I loved the sour tang that goat cheese brought to the cheesecake ($8).
The service was fine, but 16 months after opening, the Federal needs to work on making patrons comfortable before its menu can be taken seriously.
5132 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Cuisine: Eclectic American
Hours: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday, brunch Sunday
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Beer and wine
Sound level: Outrageously noisy
Outside smoking: Yes
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: Free lot