Van Aken shutters Miami Beach’s A Mano – Norman Van Aken closes his Miami Beach, Florida-based restaurant

Van Aken shutters Miami Beach’s A Mano – Norman Van Aken closes his Miami Beach, Florida-based restaurant – Brief Article

Jack Hayes

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. — Norman Van Aken, the south Florida chef who helped launch and nurture a popular regional culinary movement called “New World Cuisine” at Louie’s Backyard in Key West and at Hoexter’s Market in Boca Raton, has pulled his popular 2-year-old restaurant, A Mano, from the 76-room Betsy Ross Hotel here.

Declaring the concept a success for the property owners yet a diminishing opportunity for himself since he remained on the outside financially, Van Aken said he hopes to reopen A Mano at a new site with new partners in time for the fall season.

Van Aken said that when he agreed to open A Mano, the hotel’s owner indicated that he would eventually become a financial partner in the property. But, he added, “the deal never got consummated.”

Having trademarked his restaurant concept, Van Aken intends to reuse the A Mano name at the next location. A Mano, which means “by hand,” is meant to reflect the influences of the region’s Spanish, Cuban and Caribbean heritages.

“I’m looking for another spot in Miami — maybe back on the beach, maybe not,” Van Aken said.

Meanwhile, the Betsy Ross’ owner, Novel Penabad, is not certain of plans for the hotel restaurant. With less than two months remaining in the season, Penabad admitted he would have to move quickly.

“I’m not sure yet, but if I do something, it will certainly be right away,” Penabad said.

Van Aken was hired as an operating consultant by the hotel when only six restaurants operated on Miami’s redeveloping South Beach.

Since A Mano’s opening in March 1991, the 62-seat concept has been hailed nationally and was named among the top 50 in the U.S. by Conde Nast Traveler. Meanwhile, a dining explosion in the South Beach neighborhood brought at least three dozen new restaurants here since.

“Eventually, the stage got too small,” added Van Aken, who recently contracted with Random House to write a cookbook on New World Cuisine. He said he intends to spend the summer writing that book and working on a food art poster for Ten Speed Press.

New World Cuisine is a marriage of classical European techniques with the rich and exotic produce and seafood found throughout the tropical United States. A typical New World dish created by Van Aken called Rum & Pepper Painted Grouper uses a brushed-on syrup of rum, cloves, sugar and soy that caramelizes as the fish is seared.

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