Showing posts from 2009

Happy New Year

Sorry it's been so quiet over here lately. I'd love to tell you I've been deep in thought, reflecting and ruminating on the year and decade as they come to a close. But frankly I'm still coming out of a bit of a food coma after a three-day visit to New Orleans (here's a preview: Stanley, Lüke, Mr. B's Bistro, Dante's Kitchen, Cochon, and Stella - and one word summary: wow).

I thought perhaps this evening I'd take a shot at some sort of year in review (I'm not big on New Years' festivities), but when more modest plans fizzled out, we actually stumbled into seats at Michael's Genuine tonight when there was a cancellation. I'd take that as a promising omen for the year to come. In the meantime, here's some good year-end reading material:

Eater Miami gives recaps of several favorites and predictions for 2009 and the coming year (this post links to all their various lists), including from yours truly.

Lee Klein of Miami New Times gives an …

Tropical Chinese - Miami (A Traditional Jewish Christmas)

It is a Jewish custom nearly as old, and nearly as universally observed, as lighting Shabbat candles and saying the Kiddush and the Hamotzi: we go out for Chinese food on Christmas Day. Unlike our Christian brethren, we are not busy opening presents, singing carols, or preparing a ham or a goose for Christmas Dinner. And while most restaurants are closed for the holiday, it seems in most places the Chinese restaurants remain open. Though I'm not sure it's actually in the Torah, it is a natural and logical tradition. And possibly the best place to observe it in Miami - whether Jewish or not, and whether on Christmas Day or any other time - is Tropical Chinese Restaurant, across from Tropical Park on the west side of Miami.

While Tropical has a full menu, I've visited (many, many times now) almost exclusively for the dim sum, which is served daily during lunch hours. Service is pushcart style, with roughly a half-dozen or more heated carts working the sizable room, a glassed…

CSA Week 4 - the beginning, plus some leftovers

So what do we have here? Clockwise from the left, collard greens, hakurei turnips, dandelion greens, parsley,zucchini, tomato, green pepper, the dirtiest grapefruit I've ever seen, and Lula avocado.

Nothing much of note has happened to any of them yet. I quickly trimmed the greens off the turnips and stored them separately, until they eventually got together with last week's white chard, the dandelion greens, an onion, and some serrano ham that was lurking in the fridge:

This will eventually wind up with some pasta, over some toasted bread with a fried egg on top, or in an omelette. Need to dig up my friend's recipe for Ethiopian Yegomen Kitfo for those collard greens.

5 Countries in 5 Blocks - El Rincon de Chabuca - North Beach

[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

The food of Peru is possibly the original "fusion cuisine." Indigenous, Spanish, and Asian influences all have made their contributions. An abundance of produce, including more potato varieties than can be imagined, exotic chiles and herbs, as well as ready access to all sorts of seafood, also play a significant role in the uniqueness and diversity of Peruvian cuisine - which is represented in my "5 Countries in 5 Blocks" series on North Beach restaurants by El Rincón de Chabuca (or, as we call it in my household, El Rincón de Chewbacca).

El Rincón de Chabuca is a modest eatery along Collins Avenue just past 71st Street in the North Beach neighborhood where, as I've previously noted, you'll find a multitude of eating options from around Latin America. It's not much to look at, and it's probably not in contention for the best Peruvian food in all of Miami (most people think that honor goes to Francesco in Coral Gab…

Cobaya Experiment #3 - Chef Jonathan Eismann

When Chef Jonathan Eismann, of Pacific Time and Pizzavolante (and soon to be a couple more), and I first started discussing the prospect of doing one of our "underground dinners," he was completely into it. After months of trying to nail down a date and location, several weeks ago Chef told me "I have a spot" and everything quickly fell into place.

The spot turned out to be the not-yet-opened location of his new seafood restaurant "Fin," which is nestled within his also not-yet-opened new restaurant "Q" (which will be a barbecue place). Both are in what Miamians will likely fondly recall as the location of the old "Sheba" Ethiopian restaurant which closed a year or so ago, along Miami Avenue in the Design District. The "Fin" space occupies a cozy corner of the space (I'm pretty sure this is where the little art gallery used to be in Sheba) and is decorated in a Cape Cod style, very clean and simple.

The fish-centric conce…

CSA Week 3 - roll 'em if you got 'em

When I first saw a bag of big, strange leaves in my CSA box, I didn't even know what I was looking at. Thankfully, the newsletter helpfully explained that these were piper betel leaves. They looked like they really wanted to be wrapped around something, and eventually my mind got to thinking about the Vietnamese dish called bò lá lốt, or grilled beef wrapped in leaves.

Lo and behold, the traditional wrapper for the dish would appear to be none other than betel leaves! I looked up a few different iterations of the recipe, all of which appeared to be variations on the same theme, and improvised some. For a pound of ground beef, I added about 2 tbsp. of finely chopped lemongrass, 2 tbsp. chopped green onion, a clove of finely chopped garlic, a couple tsp. of curry powder, a couple glugs of fish sauce, a spoonful of sugar, a pinch of salt, a grinding of black pepper, and mixed well with my hands. I laid out the leaves and added a torpedo-shaped spoonful to the upper third of the leaf …

CSA Week 3 - pesto and pisto

I've been making quick work of my CSA share this week. The Thai basil started changing color on me from green to purplish-brown, which told me it was time to make pesto, and fast.

It's sort of a shame pesto seems so dated and 1980's, as it's tasty, versatile stuff and the basic concept works with a broad variety of different combinations of herbs, cheeses and nuts. I went traditional here though, starting with three cloves of peeled garlic and about a 1/2 cup of pine nuts, lightly toasted in the toaster oven. Those went into the food processor, along with the basil leaves, were pulsed until smooth, and while doing so, I started adding a drizzle of olive oil through the feed tube. I don't measure the olive oil (OK, I don't really measure anything); the texture I look for is a loose paste. It could have been anywhere between 1/2 and 1 cup of oil.

I could try to convince you that I prefer to grate the parmesan separately and then add it to taste, but the truth is …

New Ocean in the Making - New AltaMare Too

There's apparently a new ocean forming in the desert in the middle of Ethiopia. A bit closer to home, there's a new AltaMar restaurant in the works too.

I'm a bit ashamed to say I've never been to AltaMar, which is a locals' favorite, particularly for seafood buffs. Apparently the locals have been loyal enough that the restaurant will be expanding to a space next door to its current location on the west end of Lincoln Road, and nearly tripling in size. With the bigger space comes an extra letter in the name, which will henceforth be "AltaMare".

Also of note is the resume of new executive chef Simon Stojanovic, who was the opening sous chef at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink and before that at Nemo (where Michael Schwartz got started locally too).

Projected opening date for the new space is mid-January, until then the current location will remain open.

1233 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139

CSA Week 3 - the beginning + ratatouille

I started CSA Week 3 with some of Week 2's bounty still in the fridge, which turned out to be a good thing.

In the box this week were some Swiss chard, green beans, a "suntan" pepper, a cucumber, an eggplant, cherry tomatoes, long stalks of Thai basil, curly parsley (extras box), and some piper betel leaves. Left over from last week still were a zucchini, yellow squash and a red pepper. Do you see where I'm going here?

I said last week I saw ratatouille in my future. It was meant to be. I briefly contemplated doing the fussy, layered version that Thomas Keller created for the movie "Ratatouille"[*] (a/k/a "Confit Byaldi"), but quickly abandoned that notion for a simpler approach. An onion from the pantry was chopped into about 1/2" pieces and sautéed in olive oil in a big sauté pan. Next in, the pepper, also given a rough chop. Next the eggplant - skin removed is up to you (I did so this time). The eggplant tends to soak up a lot of oil and yo…

5 Countries in 5 Blocks - El Rey del Chivito - North Beach

Most visitors coming to Miami, if they think of "ethnic" food, will think of Cuban food. And Miami indeed has plenty of Cuban food. But that one-note school of thinking fails to capture the diversity of Latin American peoples that have come to call Miami home - Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua and many others (without even considering the Caribbean, which is entirely another subject of discussion) all make their presence felt in the culture and cuisine of South Florida. And a good bit of that diversity is reflected in just a few blocks very close to my home.

The city of Miami Beach is situated on a series of man-made islands along the coast of Miami, and the "North Beach" neighborhood is essentially the northern periphery of the city. While tourist-inundated South Beach basically runs south to north from 1st Street to about 23rd Street, and the predominantly residential Mid-Beach area runs up to about 63rd Street, North Beach picks…

CSA Week 2 - the rest

I've already given the gripping account of how part of my CSA Week 2 share became a midnight snack after happily discovering that Mrs. F had cooked off the red chard and dandelion greens. So what about the rest?

I warned you it wasn't going to be that exciting. The romaine found its way into some salads. The garlic chives were perfect in an omelette along with some goat cheese. I did another take on bok choy with Momofuku miso butter - added just a tiny bit of honey, and that did a good job of balancing it out (also didn't add soy sauce to the stir-fry pan this time, as the miso was plenty salty on its own). After staring down My Nemesis (the Florida avocado) all week, I cut it open today only to find that it was still rock hard and unripe. Avocado Fail #2. The black sapotes still don't seem ripe, so they will continue to bide their time on the counter.

And I was glad to have hung onto the zucchini, yellow squash and bell pepper all week, as my Week 3 share included eg…

CSA Week 2 - Midnight in the Garden

It has been a pretty uneventful week with my CSA share so far, in part because I've barely been home to do any cooking. As a result I am sharing with you a "recipe" for what really amounts to a midnight fridge raid.

After getting home a couple nights ago after midnight without having had any dinner yet, I was thrilled to find that Mrs. F had cooked off the red chard and dandelion greens. My reconstruction (a strong hunch based on the usual methodology for greens in our house) is that she sauteéd off some sliced onion in olive oil, added the roughly chopped greens to the pan with a bit of their water still clinging to the leaves, wilted them till they were tender, and added some pistachios and some dried cherries (plumped first in some warm water).

There was also some leftover steak from Las Vacas Gordas from the night before (I am fairly certain you can reconstruct about 50% of an entire cow from the parrillada there), and one of my favorite leftover vehicles, tandoori n…

Paradigm Shift

A commodity appears at first sight an extremely obvious, trivial thing. But its analysis brings out that it is a very strange thing, abounding in metaphysical subtleties and theological niceties.  - Karl Marx

Very generally speaking, I think most of us tend to think of art first and foremost from an aesthetic perspective. Yet it is also in most instances - to a greater or lesser degree - a commodity. The financial success of the recent Art Basel weekend undoubtedly attests to this. By the same token, most people tend to think of food first and foremost as a commodity - nothing more than a thing to be bought and consumed. Yet food also has the capacity to strive for art, aesthetics, even perhaps metaphysical subtleties.

A recent dinner which put together Chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano (the guys behind the Paradigm dinners) and artist Stephen Gamson at PH2 provided an opportunity to explore the intersection points of art, culture and dining.

One of the things I so admire about Chefs …

CSA Week 2 - the beginning

So here's this week's take for my CSA half-share:

A head of romaine lettuce, a bunch of dandelion greens, some red chard (out of the extras box), a bok choy, some garlic chives, a zucchini, a yellow squash, a red bell pepper, a couple of black sapotes, and my nemesis: the Florida avocado (a Monroe cultivar this time).

What with the zucchini, squash, and pepper, I definitely foresee some ratatouille in our future. The greens, especially the chard and dandelion greens, may not need much more than some olive oil and garlic, though they often get along well with their friend the pig. Little Miss F is usually my go-to girl for the exotic fruits (she loves carambola, dragon fruit, mamey, persimmon) and even though I tried to explain that this is in the persimmon family, she was not entirely convinced by the "chocolate pudding fruit" description. I might well take a hint from this guy and break the ice cream machine out. Given the persimmon family relationship, I was thinkin…

What Would Alexander Pope Say?

I am almost nearly at a loss for words over this, wherein local food writer decides to go to war with a new pizzeria and the local charter school for which said pizzeria is doing a charity event: Free Pizza, New Blue Collar Food Blog (make your way down to the comments for the real fireworks). Just two things:

(1) You can read more of Lee Klein's art reviews here on this blog.

(2) Amidst all the kerfuffle over ridiculing schoolkids, it apparently falls to me to note that he also saw fit to use this opportunity to take shots at a blog that hasn't published anything in three years.

It would seem we are clearly on turf where angels fear to tread.

CSA Week 1 - the rest

Before picking up my Week 2 CSA share (no delivery last week over Thanksgiving break), I thought I should wrap up what happened to the rest of the Week 1 share. Sorry to say, not much of interest.

For the corn, my kids decided what to do with it. This is something called "Daddy's Special Pasta" and I have been cooking it for them for years now. It is not exactly Heston Blumenthal material. Rather, it follows what I call the "What Could Be Bad?" principle: if you only use ingredients that taste good on their own, it's pretty likely what you end up with is going to taste good. (This is also why I struggle so much with baking. Baking is the exact opposite of the "What Could Be Bad?" principle. You start with any number of things that don't taste particularly good on their own, yet they come out - if you do it right, of course - delicious).

Depending on how fresh and sweet the corn is, I will either boil it in a big pot of salted water first or jus…

The Food Trucks Are Coming!

Just in time for Art Basel, Miami is finally hopping onto the trend du jour, as not one, but two, food trucks are hitting the streets.

First: gastroPOD, a mobile gourmet kitchen from Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog. The one that will be roaming Wynwood this week is actually not the official gastroPOD - a vintage Airstream trailer getting outfitted with a bleeding edge kitchen with all the latest bells and whistles - but rather a backup, the "Shiny Twinkie". But it's still all nice and shiny, and it'll still be putting out good vittles - if you're lucky, some of the banh mi style trotter tacos we sampled at the P.I.G. Fest. You can follow the gastroPOD on twitter at @gastroPODmiami.

Next: Latin Burger and Taco, from Food Network celeb Ingrid Hoffman. You could get the recipe here, but you couldn't have someone serve it to you from a truck - until now. She promises "It'll be like nothing you've ever seen." Which might actually be true, if you've neve…

Lemon Twist - North Beach

[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

Lemon Twist is an example of restaurant reincarnation. Years ago, there was a restaurant in this little spot on Normandy Circle, towards the northern end of Miami Beach, called Lemon Twist (which, alas, was not that good). Then the space went dark for a while. Then it was a very lightly trafficked sports bar. Now it's Lemon Twist all over again. This time around, it's under the tutelage of Alain Suissa, whose resume also includes Grass Restaurant and Lounge in the Design District. Maybe this Twist will stick around a while longer.

It's a genuinely charming venue, with a pressed tin ceiling over the bar, a long velvet sofa serving as a banquette, roses and candles on the tables, and dark lace, linen-covered sconces, and French posters on the walls. It looks and feels exactly like what it aims to be, which is a classy neighborhood bistro. The menu likewise hews pretty closely to the line of straight-ahead French bistro fare. A short list of…

Burger & Beer Joint - South Beach

When I first heard that a new burger and beer joint in South Beach was being touted as a "concept" - nay, three "concepts": burger joint, sports bar, and lounge - I was a bit dubious. And that it was going to be called "Burger & Beer Joint"? Well, nice to keep it simple and direct anyway. Shows what I know: after hearing multiple reports of hour-long waits for tables, clearly they were on to something, and I put Burger & Beer Joint onto the back burner as a place to go to after the fuss had died down. But this weekend I found myself on South Beach in the middle of the afternoon with nothing better to do and an empty feeling in my belly, and the stars aligned themselves for a visit.

The transformation of this little pocket of turf on the periphery of South Beach is really quite remarkable. For years nothing more than a warren of auto repair and body shops, there are now a number of places worth visiting here, between Joe Allen, Sardinia, its siste…

Talavera Restaurant - Coral Gables (updated)

(Note: this was first posted November 3, it's been updated after a couple additional visits to the restaurant). I paid a visit to the now-really-actually-open Talavera Restaurant, a new restaurant in Coral Gables opened by the folks who run Jaguar in Coconut Grove on its opening day, and have now been back a couple more times since. Jaguar has been one of the few restaurants in Coconut Grove with any staying power, thanks to an interesting selection of ceviches (cleverly offered in spoon-sized samples if you like to try several) and what I'd found to be a surprisingly decent grab-bag of Latin American entrees, with something of a focus on Mexican dishes. That focus is explained by the fact that owner Lalo Durazo, managing partner Martin Moreno, and partner-executive chef Oscar del Rivero all came from Mexico City. And their new restaurant in Coral Gables, Talavera, hews more closely to an exclusively Mexican theme.

It seemed like they had been working on a space on Ponce de Le…

CSA Week 1 - Callaloo and Momofuku

So here's what I started the week with:

Four ears of corn, a bundle of callaloo, a bag of green beans,a head of lettuce, some cherry tomatoes, a Florida avocado, a bunch of dill, a few stalks of lemongrass, a bok choy, and a bundle of roselle (a/k/a Jamaican sorrel a/k/a Jamaican hibiscus).

First things first: the red petals of the roselle were steeped along with a stalk of the lemongrass and some fresh ginger to make a tea:

The dill became a tzatziki, after being chopped and mixed with some Greek yogurt, grated cucumber, garlic and lemon juice:

I know, so far we're not winning any James Beard awards.

From there, I drew much of my inspiration this week from the Momofuku cookbook, after being immensely pleased with my first experiment with the bo ssäm recipe.

Some more lemongrass found its way into these pork sausage ssäms, as did the lettuce for the wraps:

I liked this Vietnamese-flavored spin on the Korean ssäm (basically, a wrap) idea, and it was "easy peasy" as Ja…

Notorious P.I.G. [Pork Is Good]

This past Sunday was the P.I.G. (Pork Is Good) fest by Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog at Harvey's By The Bay, east of Biscayne Boulevard off 64th Street, and a good number of VIPs (Very Important Pigs) turned out for the occasion.

Our group of about 25 took over the bay-windowed back room of Harvey's for the afternoon, when we weren't outside monitoring the progress of the whole boned-out piglet cooking away in Chef Jeremiah's new-fangled high-tech caja china. While the pig roasted, we were given samples of a number of his other pork-centric creations. The underlying theme was to revel in all the glories of the porcine, with dishes created from just about every part of the pig. Belly, butt, skin, and trotter were all well represented (I saw a headcheese, too, though I didn't see where it ended up). Some of the dishes may be previews for the menu of the gastroPOD, a shiny Airstream trailer Jeremiah is retrofitting with a high-tech kitchen to bring mobile cuisine to Miami.

CSA Week 1 - the beginning

Yesterday began the season for the Community Supported Agriculture program run by Bee Heaven Farm. The "subscription agriculture" program offers the opportunity to buy directly from local farmers by paying in advance for a season's worth of their produce, delivered each week to several drop-off points around Miami-Dade County.

One of the challenges of CSA programs is figuring out what to do with your share. This isn't shopping at the supermarket, where you make your shopping list and pick it up. Rather, you get whatever happens to be growing and ready for harvest at local farms at that time. From what I've heard from people that have participated in prior seasons, this often involves a lot of callaloo. Fortunately there are some good resources out there. Bee Heaven has its own blog, there's Redland Rambles, which will be giving a preview of the box contents every Friday, and more: Tinkering With Dinner, Eating Local in the Tropics, and, hopefully, Miami Dish