Showing posts from August, 2009

Hakkasan - Miami Beach

image via
Alan Yau, the pioneer of the Wagamama chain of noodle shops, opened the original Hakkasan in London in 2001. In many ways, it was a more contemporary take on the strategy coined by Michael Chow of Mr. Chow in the late 1960's and 70's: make Chinese food upscale, sexy and maybe a bit more accessible to Westerners. It worked phenomenally well, and has been a continuing success: Hakkasan London received a Michelin star in 2003, and is listed in the Pellegrino "World's 50 Best Restaurants." We were there a few years ago, and it's easy to see why it's popular. It's a slick-looking place, all black lacquer and silk, dimly but dramatically lit, carved up by wooden screens into intimate little spaces like a really elegant opium den; and the food was high quality, prepared well, and somewhat adventurous without being too intimidating. A good, fun place, though I have my doubts it really belongs on a list of the world's 50 best restaurant…

Fifth Floor - San Francisco

For a place that's been able to maintain a high reputation for several years, Fifth Floor sure has had a revolving door in the kitchen. It was opened by George Morrone, but he left for other projects and Laurent Gras (now garnering oohs and ahhs at L2O in Chicago) took over around 2002. He left a couple years later, and was replaced by Melissa Perello, who earned the restaurant a Michelin star during her tenure and was nominated for a James Beard Foundation Best Rising Chef award. Then in 2007 she left, to be replaced briefly by former line cooks Charlie Kleinman and Jake Des Voignes (who managed to successfully maintain that Michelin star). Last year Laurent Manrique (until recently also the chef at the Michelin two-starred Aqua, which he's also left after problems with ownership) briefly took over, but now he's gone. Shortly before we arrived in San Francisco, the baton was passed to Jennie Lorenzo, who had worked with Laurent Gras when he was running Fifth Floor, and wh…

Bruni's a Big Tipper

My favorite bit of advice from Frank Bruni in "Good Tips at the End of His Meals":
Scratch off the appetizers and entrees that are most like dishes you’ve seen in many other restaurants, because they represent this one at its most dutiful, conservative and profit-minded. The chef’s heart isn’t in them.
Scratch off the dishes that look the most aggressively fanciful. The chef’s vanity — possibly too much of it — spawned these.
Then scratch off anything that mentions truffle oil.
Choose among the remaining dishes.
More Bruni parting advice in the Diner's Journal.

Miami's Best Pizza - Reader's Poll Results Are In

The post-Pizza Crawl results are in for the Miami's Best Pizza reader's poll. With more than 150 votes cast, the winner is ...

[drum roll please]

photo credit: Jacob Katel


If you had been along with us for Round I of the Crawl, this would probably not have been your first guess. But the readers have spoken, and there you have it. The final results:

1. Andiamo - 36 votes (23%)
2. Sosta Pizzeria - 29 votes (18%)
3. Piola - 27 votes (17%)
4. Joey's - 21 votes (13%)
5. Casale - 15 votes (9%)
6. PizzaVolante - 10 votes (6%)
7. Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza - 6 votes (3%)
8. Fratelli la Bufala - 4 votes (2%)
9. Racks Bistro - 2 votes (1%)
10. Spris - 2 votes (1%)
11. Pizza Fusion - 1 vote (0%)

Congratulations to the winner, and thanks to everyone for participating. Now back to your regularly scheduled programming.

San Francisco Dim Sum - Yank Sing, Great Eastern

Our trips to Northern California always seem to start the same way. The non-stop flight from Miami gets us into San Francisco around noon, and after six hours in the air we are ready to stretch our legs and fill our bellies. While the order of those priorities sometimes varies, the former always involves a walk across town (typically starting from the hotel in SOMA or near Union Square, winding our way through Chinatown, then North Beach, and finally out to the Fisherman's Wharf to fulfill our obligations as tourists); and the latter invariably involves dim sum.

This time around, we elected to start with the belly-filling dim sum portion of the agenda, particularly since our hotel was only a few blocks away from Yank Sing. The commonly held wisdom among SF locals these days seems to be that the best dim sum is found in the farther reaches of the Bay Area: the Richmond District in San Francisco, and even further afield in Millbae and San Mateo. But for in-city eats, Yank Sing still…

Only Two Days Left in Miami Pizza Poll

Until yesterday, Casale and Pizzavolante had been running neck and neck comfortably ahead of the rest of the pack, but now there's been a late surge from Piola and Andiamo and it's all close to even. There's only two days remaining to cast your vote for the Best Pizza in Miami over on the right hand column. (Sorry, there's no category for "No Miami pizza can possibly compare to any New York pizza, even one scraped up off the sidewalk after three days festering in the sun").

Kingdom - Manliest Restaurant in America?

[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

I'm not quite sure what to make of it, but I'm comfortable enough with my manhood to admit that on more than one occasion, folks that have emailed me through the blog or responded to chowhound posts have assumed (erroneously) that I'm female. But I didn't volunteer that fact to the folks at when they asked for my suggestion of a Miami candidate for their "Manliest Restaurant in America" contest.

After finishing a beer or three, scratching myself, and doing a little tribal drumming, my recommendation was Kingdom, the bar and burger joint on Biscayne Boulevard and 67th Street. The burgers are great, the beer is cold and reasonably priced, the TVs are always tuned to whatever sporting event is in season, and your choices are to sit at the dark dank bar, or to sit outside on the sidewalk along Biscayne Boulevard, where if you're there at the right hour you'll still see folks working the oldest profession. The…

Phony Bagelmania Has Bitten the Dust

I know it seems odd that after a week in northern California I should be talking about bagels. A case of recency trumping primacy (there are many good things to eat in San Francisco - the bagels are not among them).

After returning home to South Florida, I was intrigued to read on the Florida Chowhound board of a new bagel place opening up in Delray Beach called "The Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co." The pitch is that they claim to have found a way to duplicate, through "purification and modification," the supposedly magical effects of the New York public water supply on bagel-preparation.[*]

Opinions among the chowhounds seem decidedly mixed, with some pronouncing them the "Best bagels in S. Fl.," while others declared them "really nothing special." As is somewhat typical, many of the posters (particularly the cheerleaders) are first-time posters, miraculously roused to action by the appearance of a new bagel place.

Anyhoo ... I happened to be up…

Going to California ...

... with no aching in my heart. Actually gone last week and came back, late last night, which explains the dearth of posts here of late. But fear not, I'm working up my reports from the other coast. A preview of what's to come: Yank Sing, Great Eastern, Fifth Floor, Zuni Cafe, Incanto, Citronelle Carmel, Manresa, Bistro Laurent, Artisan, Le Colonial.

Experiment #1

The first run of the "Cobaya - Gourmet Guinea Pigs" dinner was earlier this week at Talula with a menu crafted by Chef Andrea Curto-Randazzo and her sous chef Kyle Foster. There was a preview of the menu here the evening before the dinner, and now there's some feedback in the comments there from some of the other guinea pigs.

Before recapping the meal, some general thoughts. The goal here is a very simple one - to get talented chefs to cook great, interesting meals for an audience of adventurous, open-minded diners. That may happen inside a restaurant, it may happen outside of one. It may be a multi-course tasting menu, it may be a family-style whole hog dinner (here's hoping). For those who question the "underground" street cred of this mission, those questions are perfectly legitimate. My answer is, "I don't care." We're not limiting ourselves to meals cooked in abandoned warehouses in secret locations disclosed the day before the dinne…

Old Spice

I know it feels like it was only yesterday we were talking about "Spring Spice," but the seemingly never-ending seasonal parade of "Spice" specials has finally come full-circle to the original summer Miami Spice program, with a multitude of restaurants committing to the 3-course, $22 lunch, $35 dinner regime for August and September.

I gave my fairly obvious Miami Spice "strategy" in the earlier post - "look for interesting food, and look for places where the Spice menu actually offers a meaningful discount off the regular menu prices." Implicit in that strategy is "avoid the ubiquitous Spice trifecta of farmed salmon, skirt steak and chicken paillard if at all possible." And, as always, keep in mind that restaurants frequently change their Spice menus, so don't kvatch because you saw something different online. This is important if for no other reason than the sanity of the line cooks who grow weary of cranking out the same dish o…

Pizza Crawl Part IV - il fin

They say all good things must come to an end, and "Pizza Crawl" finally did so earlier this week - just in time for the Miami Herald to get on the pizza bandwagon. Another troupe of pizza fans came along for the final edition, which made its two last stops in South Beach at Fratelli la Bufala and the newly opened Casale.

Fratelli la Bufala

I had always been curious about Fratelli la Bufala, which came to South Beach with an authentic Italian pedigree. The brand was supposedly started by the sons of a family of Italian buffalo mozzarella producers who thus dubbed themselves the "Fratelli la Bufala" and has nearly 100 locations, mostly in Italy but also including such far-flung outposts as Hannover, Strasbourg, Istanbul and Dubai.

The full contingent of pizza-tasters had not yet come on board when we arrived at Fratelli, so we limited our tasting to only four pies. When we first started the pizza crawl, we had the idea of sampling a "control group" margherit…

Steingartening at Night

I started reading Jeffrey Steingarten's "The Man Who Ate Everything" recently. I picked it up on the recommendation of Chef Norman Van Aken, who gave a "reading list" as a preview of his new restaurant in Coral Gables, due to open (fingers crossed, everyone) this fall. I had read Steingarten's pieces here and there in Vogue and found his writing wildly inconsistent. Sometimes it seems he'd really nailed a subject with insight and wit, other times like the piece was a first draft thrown together at deadline. I enjoyed him early on as a judge on Iron Chef America but think he's now limited himself by being the self-appointed panel curmudgeon. The book, a collection of essays mostly written in the late 1980s and early 1990s, has been much more consistent, showing a willingness to really dive in and research subjects and also a great comedic touch.

I just came across his latest piece in Vogue, "Favorite L.A. Restaurants." Perhaps not surprisin…