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first thoughts: Gaijin Izakaya by Cake - Midtown Miami

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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…

first thoughts: Nisei - Miami (Brickell)

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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 pictu…

The Clove Club | London

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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 …

South Florida Syrian Supper Club Lunch

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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…

first thoughts: Charcoal Garden Bar + Grill - Wynwood

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Ken Lyon is something of a grizzled veteran of the Miami dining world, one with a knack for spotting valuable restaurant real estate. He was way ahead of the curve when he opened Lyon Freres, a Franco-philic market and cafe, on Lincoln Road in the early 1990's, well before the tourists thronged and the rents skyrocketed.[1] More than a decade later, he was also one of the early pioneers of the then-sleepy Design District: in 2008, he opened Fratelli Lyon, an Italian restaurant, in the space which is now home to MC Kitchen. His jump into the Design District came not very far behind Michael's Genuine, which just celebrated its tenth anniversary.

Though Lyon's been around for a while, his latest project – Charcoal Garden Bar + Grill – is very much on-trend. It's in Wynwood. It's built entirely out of semi-portable shipping containers. And everything is cooked using a Josper charcoal grill/oven, the new favorite toy of chefs who like to play with live fire.

This time,…

Cobaya Olla with Chef Scott Linquist

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Mexican cuisine is one of several that gets saddled with the "soft bigotry of low expectations." The common perception is that it's all chips and salsa and guacamole, tacos and burritos and fajitas, with maybe some tequila shots, mariachi bands and sombreros mixed in for good measure. In fact, it's an incredibly complex and varied cuisine, which is finally starting to get the attention it deserves in the U.S.: witness the success of Enrique Olvera's Cosme in New York, or Alex Stupak's Empellon, or places like Taco Maria and Broken Spanish in L.A., or Californios and Cala in San Francisco, or Rick Bayless' restaurant empire, plus new Chicago places like Dos Urban Cantina and Mi Tocaya. I could keep going; but instead, let me bring this back home.

Because someone is trying to help Miami catch up. At Olla, Chef Scott Linquist's new restaurant on the west end of Lincoln Road, you'll find a menu that goes well beyond the customary tropes, ambitious bo…