Thursday, October 5, 2017

Food For Good

Given the latest spate of disasters and losses, it's been hard to summon the passion to write about my favorite last meal. But if you're looking for a way to feed your appetite and do some good, here are a few suggestions:


Chefs For the Keys | Friday October 6 @ Riviera Beach Marina Village

A lineup of more than two dozen Palm Beach chefs will be participating in this event, with all of the proceeds of the $125 per person admission going to benefit Florida Keys food and beverage hospitality industry workers who have been out of work as a result of Hurricane Irma (use the link above to get tickets).


Recipes for Change | Saturday October 14 @ Casa Florida

Next weekend, chef Santiago Gomez will host an international brigade of chefs at Casa Florida in the Roam Miami (a/k/a the Miami River Inn), including Carlos Garcia of Venezuela's Alto, and also opening Obra Kitchen in Miami; Sebastian La Rocca from El Mangroove in Costa Rica; Mirciny Moliviatis of Guatemala; Xavier Torres of Miami's Drunken Dragon, and Renzo Garibaldi of Peru's Osso Carniceria. $25 will get you 6 bites, $50 for unlimited bites and a drink, with 100% of the moneys collected going to the families of local farmers affected by Hurricane Irma (use the link to get tickets).


Or, you can make a contribution to World Central Kitchen, an organization spearheaded by Chef José Andrés, which was on the ground in Puerto Rico two days after Hurricane Maria, and has already delivered over 100,000 meals and plans to deliver another 20,000 meals a day for the next several weeks. You can read more about what they're doing here. It's absolutely remarkable and vital work. Maybe consider matching what you'll spend on a dinner this weekend with a contribution to help feed those in need.





Monday, August 7, 2017

first thoughts: Gaijin Izakaya by Cake - Midtown Miami


A couple years ago I got pretty excited over a tiny storefront along Biscayne Boulevard serving possibly the best Thai food I'd eaten in South Florida: Cake Thai Kitchen. Since then, Chef Cake (a/k/a Phuket Thongsodchareondee) has gone on to open a second, more polished Cake Thai in Wynwood, and has plans in the works for another location in the Citadel, a food hall and multi-purpose space currently in development in Little Haiti. It's been wonderful to watch the ascent of a chef whose talent is matched only by his humility.

And now, he's doing something else: a Japanese style izakaya in the Midtown Miami space of "The Gang," which he's calling "Gaijin Izakaya by Cake."[1] It's called "Gaijin" to dispel any notions of authenticity and because, well, Cake is as Japanese as I am, but it's really not such a huge leap: before opening his own Thai restaurant, Cake worked for years with chef Makoto Okuwa at Makoto in Bal Harbour, one of the best Japanese restaurants in town.[2] His menu at Gaijin is long and ambitious (I've not seen it posted online yet but I've got pictures: Page 1, Page 2 and Page 3) and after a couple visits, I've still only just made a dent in it, but have already found several highlights.

(You can see all my pictures in this Gaijin Izakaya by Cake flickr set.)


Back in the day, when Hiro's Yakko-San was in a tight little spot on West Dixie Highway and there was almost always an hour-long wait, they used to make okonomiyaki, an Osaka-style Japanese pancake / omelet type thing, usually topped with seafood and/or bacon, then bedazzled with Kewpie mayo, salty-tangy-sweet okonomi sauce, aonori, pickled ginger, and wispy katsuobushi shavings that wriggle in the heat. It disappeared from Yakko-San's menu some time around their move to a larger space, and is otherwise an elusive dish to find. But they're doing okonomiyaki at Gaijin, and it's a good version, with a hearty, chewy base and a layer of crisp, salty pork belly underneath all those toppings.

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Monday, July 31, 2017

first thoughts: Nisei - Miami (Brickell)


It's been quiet here at FFT, which is partly just the result of lots of other stuff going on; but it's also a sign that there's not been anything in the Miami food world that's gotten me excited enough to post. Happily, the latter of those issues got fixed this weekend.

The fix was a dinner at "Nisei," a pop-up dinner series which is taking up residence for a couple evening weekends at B Bistro + Bakery[1] in Brickell. It's the product of chef Fernando Chang, who had previously worked at 26 Sushi & Tapas in Surfside, together with Eric Saltzman (formerly of Taquiza and now at Dizengoff),[2] and features an omakase menu of Nikkei dishes fusing Peruvian and Japanese flavors. While this style of cooking is nothing new in Peru, where Japanese culinary influences have long held sway, Nisei's menu brought some smart new ideas and really nice execution, particularly considering our visit was on only the second night of service.

(You can see all my pictures in this Nisei - Miami (Brickell) flickr set).

The meal starts in mostly Peruvian territory: a ceviche of fresh locally caught grouper, marinated in lime juice and bright, spicy aji limo,[3] and flecked with slivered purple onions and cilantro. It's easy to find ceviche in Miami – it's not nearly as easy to find one this fresh and clean.


The next dish nods to both Peru and Japan: the fried shiso leaf is an item you'll find at Japanese tempura houses, but the sandy texture of the crisp fried shell is borrowed from jalea, a classic Peruvian fried seafood dish. The leaf practically dissolves in one bite and a shatter of crumbs, and is served with a sauce that melds sarza criolla (an onion-forward salsa) and aji amarillo. It's good, but what I really want is for them to sandwich some uni in between a couple shiso leaves and then fry it (like so).


The next dish, maguro don, makes it all the way over to Japan, with a stop-off in Korea. Ribbons of lean tuna are mounted on a sheet of soft nori, nestled over short grain rice and kimuchi (an unfermented Japanese style kimchi), amped up with the rippling heat of Peruvian rocoto chile (Peru's not been abandoned entirely) and then rounded out with a bit of honey.

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Sunday, June 11, 2017

The Clove Club | London


We only had three nights in London on this last trip, our first visit in a decade, but I think our dinner choices – Rules, St. John, and on our final night, The Clove Club – successfully captured a meaningful cross-section. Each of these places might seem quite different on the surface – the red velvet banquettes and gold-framed portraits of Rules are entirely unlike the abbatoir-like black-and-white starkness of St. John, which is equally unlike the cool modernism of the Clove Club. Though the spare, contemporary plates at Clove Club might appear to be from a different world than the straightforward, traditional dishes at Rules, there's a thread which runs through them: a deeply ingrained dedication to British ingredients.

The Clove Club, which started as a living room supper club run by chef Isaac McHale, has made itself a home in a 150-year old building that used to be the Shoreditch Town Hall. Now, you enter into a smart, cozy bar – where, it should be noted, several smaller dishes from the tasting menu are available on an a la carte basis, something I'll be keeping in mind the next time in town. You pass from the bar into an equally smart dining room, the centerpiece of which is a shiny open kitchen. Sometimes these layouts feel like a stage, where the diners are meant to gaze in rapt wonder upon the chefs. This one feels more like the loft of your tasteful London friend, the one with a fetish for blue subway tile and 1960's Scandinavian furniture. It's elegant, in an understated way; but more important, it's comfortable – it still feels like it could be a living room supper club, though in a pretty fancy living room.

Dinner can be either a five-course affair, currently priced at £75, or a more elaborate tasting menu for £110, which was the route we chose.

(You can see all my pictures in this The Clove Club - London flickr set; these are from a meal in February 2017).


The meal starts with a series of snacks, the first of which is something of a signature dish: buttermilk-marinated fried chicken, dusted with pine salt, and presented nestled in a woven basket filled with pine branches. It is like the platonic ideal of a chicken nugget. A glass of Gusbourne Blanc de Blanc accompanies the snacks, and I'm pleasantly surprised to discover that very respectable sparkling wine is coming from this side of the English Channel, in West Sussex.



McHale turns his sights to his native Scotland next with a warm haggis bun, the funk of offal tempered by warm spices and a dusting of vinegar powder. Local ingredients take a Japanese turn with a rectangular laver (seaweed)[1] crisp that serves as the vehicle for a rich, oily mackerel tartare.

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Saturday, June 3, 2017

South Florida Syrian Supper Club Lunch


As much as discussions of immigration policy have dominated the news lately, I'll confess I didn't know until I read this Miami Herald story a few weeks ago that there were several dozen families of Syrian refugees who had been resettled in South Florida over the past couple years. Many have been relocated in areas where there is a bit of a community support network, like Miami Gardens, but others are in isolated areas like Homestead, making a difficult transition, after escaping from the horrors experienced in their homeland, all the more challenging.

Some local women have found a unique way to help. Shortly after President Trump signed an executive order implementing his Muslim ban, Kate Cruz was moved to action. Although she was already active in a non-profit (an organization called Project Motherpath that supports childbirth and parenting programs), her work until then had nothing to do with the Syrian refugee crisis. Still, she cold-called a local mosque in Miami Gardens and asked if there was anything she could do. They connected her with the Muslim Women's Organization of South Florida, and together they organized a "South Florida Syrian Supper Club."

It's a wonderful idea: a rotating group of Syrian women refugees prepare meals of traditional dishes in people's houses, typically for $50 per person, with the proceeds going to support the women and their families. In addition to sharing their food, they also share their stories – of what brought them here and what they've faced since arriving.


One of my work colleagues recently hosted a lunch at our office for thirty people, and it was a moving experience. Faten, Raja and Mona – with their children in tow – brought enough food to feed about three times as many people, Krista (herself a Syrian refugee) helped translate for them, Kate, along with Yasemin Saib and Sahar Shaikh of MWO, shared some more stories of what they're faced with and other ways people can help, and everyone ate incredibly well.

(You can see all the pictures in this Syrian Supper @ KTT flickr set)


This would have been worthwhile even if the food was lousy, but it was a pretty incredible feast. Some of it was familiar – kibbe balls with ground meat encased in a crisp bulgur wheat shell, smoky, creamy baba ganoush, tender grape leaves stuffed with rice, herbaceous tabbouli salad and fattoush salad garnished with toasted pita shards. Other dishes were new to me – chicken legs roasted with warm spices, served over rice studded with whole almonds toasted to a golden brown, an assortment of puffy pies filled with meat, or cheese, or generously dusted with za'atar spice. And still others had familiar names but were still different in their ways: falafel shaped like little doughnuts, chicken shawarma wrapped in thin, almost crepe-like bread, spiked with a tart green pickle and dolloped with a creamy, garlicky sauce.

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