Monday, April 25, 2016
There are so many new places that have opened in Miami of late; and yet sometimes – often – I just want to go back to an old favorite. Mignonette, Chef Daniel Serfer's oyster bar in Edgewater, has become one of those old favorites: a place where I might very well order the same thing every time I go, and always leave happy.
But here's something new: "Oysters Frank," named after chef de cuisine Bobby Frank. Topped with smoked bacon, manchego cheese, a goodly amount of butter and a dash of sherry, then broiled, these will give Mignonette's excellent rendition of Oysters Rockefeller a run for their money. Round out the rest of the meal with their very good lobster deviled eggs, one of my favorite salads, and a fancy seafood tower, and I bet you'll leave happy too.
Monday, April 18, 2016
I'm a big fan of all the good things happening in Miami's "MiMo District" along Biscayne Boulevard, anchored of late by the refurbished Vagabond Motel. Yes, it's partly because it's a straight shot from home across 79th Street Causeway for me, but it's also because the neighborhood has some old 1950's Miami feel, which many of its new inhabitants are looking to preserve in some fashion while still bringing new styles and flavors.
Vagabond Restaurant, team up with Chef Phuket Thongsodchaveonde of Cake Thai Kitchen up the street for a Backyard Cookout around the Vagabond pool. Two of my favorite spots, at one event? Sold.
Together they did a Thai-style BBQ that included grilled corn slathered with coconut cream and palm sugar, a fragrantly spicy Isaan style pork shoulder larb dusted with roasted rice powder, BBQ chicken with papaya salad and sticky rice, grilled whole fish cooked in banana leaves, and for dessert, an ice cream sandwich tucked into a hot dog roll topped with toasted peanuts and fish sauce caramel (a LOT better than it might sound).
(You can see all my pictures on the back end of this Vagabond Restaurant flickr set).
But my favorite dish was this eggplant salad. Little golf ball sized Thai eggplants were halved and grilled so their edges blackened and their insides had just started to go soft and custardy. They were doused in a key lime vinaigrette packing sour, sweet, and just a little heat. But the clincher was the toppings: those crispy shallots, those chewy, funky dried shrimp, like little flavor bombs that keep you digging in for another bite.
It was the best thing I ate last week, and a really fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.
Monday, April 11, 2016
This is another one we've been trying to make happen for quite some time. Finally, all the right pieces fell into place and we had a date locked in for a Cobaya dinner at 27 Restaurant, the sibling to the wonderful Broken Shaker bar at the Freehand Hotel on Miami Beach.
27 is one of my favorite places on the Beach, foregoing the glitz and glam that's becoming ever-present for a cozy, homey atmosphere with the feel of an abuela's casita – if your abuela was also Israeli and had a thing for craft cocktails. The regular menu at 27 does a remarkable job of capturing that vibe as well: it's fresh and unfussy, and though visitors may puzzle over why arepas, shakshuka and kimchi fried rice are all coming out of the same kitchen, it somehow tastes and feels more like Miami than just about any other restaurant in town.
The Freehand actually played host to Cobaya #29 with Brandon Baltzley a few years ago, but this one would be an in-house affair. So Chef Jimmy Lebron was in charge, and we invited him to craft his own menu for forty guinea pigs. What he came up with was simultaneously unique and fully in the spirit of the place at the same time.
(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya #61 at 27 Restaurant flickr set).
We gathered at 27's upstairs bar and sampled the cocktails as the group assembled, then made our way back downstairs and settled in at a few communal tables stretched across the restaurant's multiple rooms. All the courses were served family style, and it had more of the feel of a dinner party than a restaurant meal.
After starting us off with some malawach, a Yemenite fry-bread, served with a really delicious uni butter dusted with za'atar spice, Chef Lebron sent out a round of "Fresh from Florida" seafood courses: Peruvian-inspired steamed middleneck clams swimming in a tangy leche de tigre, with salsa criolla and cancha corn; a crudo of fresh, sweet mangrove snapper, paired with ripe local loquats, tangerine juice, and a surprising – and really magical – dash of Chartreuse; a salad of green papaya from my CSA farmer, Little River Cooperative, with Thai chiles and halloumi cheese, which was one of the best versions I've ever had; and whole black belly rose fish done in an escabeche style, fried whole and topped with pickled vegetables.
Wednesday, April 6, 2016
Whenever we visit New York City, there's a constant tug of war between the new and the familiar. We're typically only in the city for a couple days at a time, and the list of places I'd like to try runs into the hundreds; but there are also the places to which we like to return, rituals that provide reward and reassurance through repetition.
The NoMad, which aside from having a great restaurant and a great bar, also has posh but comfortable rooms, great service, and a central location (28th and Broadway) from which both Lower Manhattan and the heart of Midtown are within range of a long walk. That's the view from our room down into the dining room at the top of this post; the view at ground level is equally nice.
(You can see all my pictures from The NoMad in this NoMad flickr set).
And when we stay at the NoMad, and arrive mid-afternoon, we like to drop our bags and get a snack at the John Dory Oyster Bar, April Bloomfield's seafood emporium one block up. Since it's between services, there's only a limited menu, which is fine: some oysters, a carta di musica, and a couple other fishy things (this time, a smoked char pâté with parker house rolls and half of a poached lobster) tide us over in very happy fashion until dinner.
(You can see all my pictures from the John Dory in this John Dory Oyster Bar flickr set).
The John Dory Oyster Bar
1196 Broadway @ 29th Street, New York, NY
For dinner, though, something new (for us anyway): Sushi Ko, an 11-seat, omakase only sushi den on the Lower East Side. Part of the draw for me was that the itamae, John Daley, was a mentee of Masato Shimizu, the chef of 15 East where we'd had an excellent meal a couple years ago. After working at 15 East, Daley went to Japan and worked for Chef Masa's mentor, Rikio Kugo of Sukeroku. At his own place – which he runs pretty much as a solo operation, which just one server pouring drinks and handling the check – he serves a $150 procession of about a dozen and a half rounds of nigiri.
His rice I thought was very good: faintly warmer than body temperature, each grain perfectly distinct without falling apart, seasoned just enough to enhance but not overwhelm the flavor of the rice itself. Though Daley has been characterized as something of a renegade, he is not the type that festoons his neta with a blizzard of different garnishes. Some were smoked or quickly seared, but otherwise his fish was touched only with a delicate swipe of wasabi, a brush of soy sauce or a sprinkle of salt, and maybe a touch of citrus juice or zest. I did find he was a bit heavy-handed on the salt, but this was something I could have remedied had I recognized it earlier: early in the meal, he invited each of us to ask him to calibrate his seasoning.
I liked how his selection of fish had themes: kanpachi fresh in one instance and lightly smoked in another; shima aji and aji in procession; three different kinds of uni (California uni, smoked, as nigiri; Maine uni in a maki; Japanese uni as gunkan maki) over the course of the meal; though I wished one of those themes hadn't been (endangered) wild caught Atlantic bluefin tuna.
New York Sushi Ko
91 Clinton Street, New York, NY
Monday, March 21, 2016
Don't make me pick a favorite. I just can't.
Last Tuesday was the second collaborative dinner hosted at Alter restaurant by Chef Bradley Kilgore. This time, he brought in Chef Virgilio Martinez of Central in Lima, Peru. These kinds of team-ups can be something of a crap shoot for the diner: even with talented chefs, it's unpredictable how effectively their styles will mesh, or how well someone's cooking may show on the road.
Yet this dinner was so in tune that for most of the night I couldn't tell who had cooked which dish, other than that Virgilio's sometimes had a tell: if I had to google an ingredient, it was one of his. But regardless of the creator, everything - everything! - at this meal was exceptional. If I had to narrow it down to two:
(You can see all the pictures in this Central @ Alter flickr set.)
"Valley Between Andes" – I later figured out that Martinez's menu at Central features dishes inspired by the products of different elevations of the Peruvian topography. This one included avocado, tree tomato (a/k/a tamarillo), and kiwicha (amaranth seeds). The avocado was so creamy and rich that it almost ate like tender braised beef, napped with a tangy sauce and speckled with the nutty, quinoa-like kiwicha, with shards of translucent, herb-dotted crackers for some textural contrast.
"Fallen Tree" – Brad started with a caramelized tranche of heart of palm as the base of the dish, with the other components evoking a tropical forest floor: snails, dehydrated mushrooms, a tangle of green (seaweed?) moss, a pouffe of spring garlic mousse with pickled honshimeji mushroom "spores" poking up out of it.
But these are just examples – every course of this menu impressed. It's unusual to have so many dishes that simultaneously achieve the delicious, the beautiful, and the unexpected all at once.
 I.e., kiwicha (amaranth seed, a pseudocereal like quinoa), tree tomato (which I'm more familiar with as "tamarillo"), airampo (a magenta hued prickly pear fruit), chaco clay (an edible clay which apparently has been consumed since pre-Colombian times).