After three visits to Slate (yet another restaurant employing shouty ALL CAPS in its branding), one oddity revealed itself: There doesn't appear to be any actual slate used in the design of the restaurant's interior or exterior. That peculiar fact seems lost on the dolled-up clientele at this popular Dr. Phillips sup spot, many of whom appear preoccupied with seeing and being seen, with nary a thought to spare for a metamorphic rock. Yes, being riddled with sidelong glances as you enter the dining room is an unavoidable initiation here, but the reward is a meal inside one of the more handsome restaurants in the city and the competent fare fired up by executive chef Dominic Rice and his capable staff.
The heavy hitters behind the restaurant – Chuck Whittall of Unicorp National Developments and Bob Amick of Atlanta-based Concentrics Restaurants – seemed bent on building the quintessential "Dr. Phillips restaurant" and, by all indications, they succeeded. The Johnson Studio, which worked on the interior spaces of both Luma and Prato, did a fine job in Slate's design, and when the weather is right, there's no better place to sit than next to the open accordion windows fronting a faux babbling brook. We had the pleasure of dining quasi-al fresco the first night said windows were opened – they had been shut since the restaurant opened in early June.
The fare? Well, it's safe. That is, it's seasonal, well-executed and lightly trendy, but there's nothing too out of the ordinary for Sand Lake Road's Westenders. Case in point: Green tomatoes ($7) were cleaved into half-moons before being battered, fried and served with a raita of sorts that provided a literal and figurative spice.
The focal point of the dining room is the enormous wood-fired oven; the sheen from the copper encasing the fire chamber likely blinded me, causing me to wrongly assume all items listed under the menu header "Dough" were pizzas. Then again, I would've been surprised, certainly intrigued, had gnocchi Bolognese ($16) been slathered all over a pie and served to me. That said, the wee dumplings were perfect, and the short rib Bolognese utterly stellar. Pizzas, by the way, are oak-fired at 650 degrees and cooked in about five minutes – not as fast as the oven at Bavaro's in Winter Springs, but fast enough. On a separate lunchtime visit, I quite enjoyed sitting at the bar in front of the oven while chomping on the finocchiona pie ($14) with its fennel-seed-flavored salami, shaved fennel, marinated tomatoes and oregano. Service seemed to lag a bit at lunch, which was odd considering the room was half-empty.
Our experience at dinner has been far more positive, be it the service or the steak – a succulent flatiron ($24), to be specific – served on a tree-ring plate. I did have issues with the Key West tilefish ($26), however. A heavy spice rub, pickled mustard seeds and a Meyer lemon aioli overwhelmed the fish's delicate, lobster-like flavor. Less is more with tilefish.
On the libationary front, Slate's healthy wine list is worth noting. A sommelier friend of mine applauded the list's coverage and range, noting how it stayed in people's comfort zones without being prosaic. Saucy sticky toffee pudding ($7) with maple-malt ice cream is certainly an ending within the zones of comfort, but the dry and crumbly brioche doughnut ($7) was a resounding fail. No worries – you can always wipe your dessert slate clean and purchase a box of kouigns-amann from Trader Joe's next door. Trust me, you won't regret it.