Wednesday, October 28, 2009

goes around ... comes around Part III

A few months ago, as part of an ongoing fascination with food trends, a post here traced the origins of the "uni sandwich" back to local darling Chef Michelle Bernstein (though the Food & Wine story dubbing it "The Next It Sandwich" managed only to identify several New York variants).

image via All Purpose Dark
Such sharing can work in both directions, and it seems Michelle's borrowed a couple ideas from some big-shot New York chefs for her newly opened restaurant at the Omphoy resort in Palm Beach. One of the dishes on the menu, as described by All Purpose Dark, is a veritable Eric Ripert/David Chang mashup: a tuna carpaccio topped with foie gras "snow".

The parents of this concoction? How about the pounded tuna laid over foie gras at Eric Ripert's Le Bernardin, combined with David Chang's famous frozen foie gras "snow" at Momofuku Ko (named by both the New York Times and Food & Wine as their 2008 "best dish of the year"!).

Turnabout's fair play.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Cobaya Underground Dinner Experiment #2, 2.5

My weak joke the past couple months when people ask about "Cobaya", our underground dining experiment, is that South Florida really isn't made for underground dining, because as soon as you try to go underground you hit water. Well, we may be in the process of proving that premise (and any number of other reasons why people might think South Florida isn't made for these kinds of things) wrong.

After a great first dinner at Talula from Chefs Andrea Curto-Randazzo, Frank Randazzo and their talented Sous Chef Kyle Foster, we set out to try it again. This time around, Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog was the chef; and instead of going underground, we went up, to a fantastic Midtown penthouse courtesy of the good folks at The Factory Interactive.

The demand for more unorthodox types of dining experiences may be greater than many people give Miami credit for; we had so many people interested in the dinner that we ended up adding a second seating on Sunday, with a total of about 36 guinea pigs joining us over the two nights. If you've not followed this on the Cobaya site, the idea is pretty simple: get talented chefs to cook great, interesting meals for adventurous, open-minded diners.

The full set of pictures from this weekend's dinners can be seen here. Jacob Katel at Miami New Times got some great pix that are up on the Short Order blog. What follows here are some visual and textual snapshots of the meal; I welcome other diners to contribute their thoughts.

Edited to add: some more nice write-ups and pix here at Mango & Lime and Blind Tastes, and this awesome video shot by James Painter Belvin on Saturday night:

the view

The venue was truly special, a penthouse condo in one of the Midtown buildings, with great views south of downtown, east across Biscayne Bay and west on the setting sun.

operating table is ready

10-24-09 menu
10-24-09 menu

guinea pigs

greek salad
"greek salad"

This dish combined a clarified tomato water, gin-compressed cucumbers (the cucumbers combined with gin and then put under vacuum seal so the flavoring liquid is drawn into the cells of the vegetable), home-made feta-stuffed olives, and Hendricks gin (which itself echoed the cucumber notes). A great cross between a salad and a martini.

stone crab
stone crab, mustard emulsion, Meyer lemon oil

A one-biter with all the traditional flavors of perhaps our best-known local seasonal delicacy.

pumpkin burrata dumpling

Another one-biter, this one had some technical issues that prevented the burrata filling from flowing, but it didn't affect the flavors.

chef jeremiah
Chef Jeremiah plating pork belly

pork belly
pork belly, 63c egg, maple syrup

The pork belly was brined, braised, confited, seared and delicious. A nice "breakfast for dinner" effect was achieved by combining with an egg cooked at 63 degrees celsius in an immersion circulator, and - the clinching final touch for me - a drizzle of maple syrup.

halibut like a reuben

One of the most interesting and creative dishes of the night, Alaskan halibut was wrapped and rolled into a long spherical shape and cooked sous vide, topped with a sprinkle of crumbled rye streusel, and paired with a "pastrami dashi" poured tableside - a clarified broth redolent with the smoky, peppery spicy flavors of pastrami. I really enjoyed this unexpected but successful pairing of a delicate fish with these bold smoky notes.


No picture but a really neat little liquid shot of white chocolate and red curry over shaved ice. Not so much a palate cleanser as a potent flavor bomb, this was another of the more intriguing tastes of the night, with the unusual combination in an even more unexpected cold form being a real pleasant surprise.

short rib
72-hr short rib, parsnip puree, zin reduxx

Here was another use of sous vide technique, big meaty short ribs slow-cooked (really slow - three days' worth) at low temperature: enough heat to melt the collagen and connective tissue, but not so much as to cook the meat to shredding disintegration like a traditional braise; served with a drizzle of a Zinfandel reduction, as well as a velvety rich parsnip puree (reminiscent, dare I say it, of Joel Robuchon's famous potato puree) which also had a welcome brightness from what I thought was celery root.

another night, another experiment

I returned Sunday night for another round with another group of guinea pigs. Frod Jr. came along with me on Sunday, and some of these pictures are his. He also ate very well: the stone crab, the pumpkin gnocchi with short rib (below), and the krispy kreme flan (also below) were among his favorites. Fortunately we remembered to keep the gin out of his "greek salad."

10-25-09 menu
10-25-09 menu with a couple changes

pumpkin gnocchi
pumpkin gnocchi, short rib ragu, ricotta salata

The short rib from last night, reincarnated as a meaty broth to pair with pumpkin gnocchi.

chef jeremiah, chef k
Chef Jeremiah, Chef K helping out

A couple special guests came out for the second night: Chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano, the guys behind the Paradigm dinners. Chef Jeremiah put them to work.

whole piglet
whole piglet

A nice surprise for the second-night diners: a whole, 39-pound piglet, fresh from a Hialeah slaughterhouse that morning.

piglet leg and belly
piglet leg and belly

Chef Jeremiah completely boned out the pig before roasting, and made some rich trotter cakes from the head and trotters.

chadzilla, chef jeremiah
Chadzilla helping Chef Jeremiah plate the pig

Chef Chad Galiano dishing out the trotter cakes for the pig.

piglet plated
the piglet, plated

krispy kreme flan
krispy kreme flan

For dessert, a Krispy Kreme "flan." Donuts were pulverized and blended with a flan base, aerated and squirted into mason jars and then cooked; paired with a goat's milk cajeta (like a tangy dulce de leche). Mmm, donuts.

Many thanks from me to Chef Jeremiah and all the rest of his crew for a great meal, to Jason Inasi and The Factory Interactive for providing such a fantastic venue, and to all my fellow guinea pigs for coming out and really understanding the spirit in which this is being done. For those interested in future dinners, they will be announced on the Cobaya website, and you can also join the Cobaya - Gourmet Guinea Pigs Google group and you'll get notice by email when new events are announced.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Artisan - Paso Robles

ArtisanIf Bistro Laurent is the kind of restaurant that every wine region seems to have, then Artisan in Paso Robles is the kind of restaurant every wine region wishes it had. We had several great meals on our recent California trip, but this may have been the one that was the most purely enjoyable.

Clearly the locals know what they've got. The place was packed the first night we stopped by and there wasn't a table available for at least an hour, so we made a reservation for the following night. Our persistence was rewarded with a meal that highlighted local product with unfussy preparations and bold flavors.

The restaurant has a relaxed, casual feel to it, with lots of natural light coming in through the tall windows. The space is split by a line of banquettes, behind which is a partially open kitchen and a sizable bar area with additional seating. It was equally crowded the next day when we returned for our reservation, and the room feels convivial without ever becoming overwhelmingly noisy.

The menu listed 9 starters and equal number of main courses, which were supplemented with a few off-the-menu specials. I started with one of those specials: Santa Barbara spot prawns, their raw bodies just barely cooked with a drizzle of hot oil (a la Nobu's "new style sashimi"), the heads fried, all served over some grilled hot peppers, with a sidecar of a little salad spiked with fried capers and julienned preserved lemon. There were lots of bright flavors here, but well balanced and none so aggressive as to overpower the beauty of the pristinely fresh seafood. My only regret was that the heads were good for sucking on, but not crisped up sufficiently (as with ama ebi) to gnaw on in their entirety. Mrs. F started with an heirloom tomato and cucumber salad that was everything that Zuni Cafe's should have been. It was loaded with a generous selection of plump ripe tomatoes and slivers of cucumber, with a bit of richness contributed by some La Panza Gold, a washed rind sheeps' milk cheese from Rinconada Dairy near San Luis Obispo.

Both Mrs. F and I stuck with the starters portion of the menu for the rest of our meal. I followed with a "BLTA" - bacon, lettuce, tomato and ... abalone! This was a great dish, pairing tender Cayucos red abalone (in itself every bit as delicious as the abalone I'd had at Manresa a couple days earlier) with lightly crisped pancetta, fried green tomatoes, sprigs of peppery arugula, and cubes of avocado. It was an unexpected but effective combination, and months later I still pine for more of that fantastic local abalone. I also had the barbecue braised pork belly - yes, everyone's doing pork belly these days, but this was a nice twist on the theme, bringing some tangy barbecue flavors to the party, along with some tender stewed cranberry beans, and a drizzle of brightly flavored salsa verde to perk things up and cut through the fattiness of the pork. Mrs. F had a smoked gouda and porter fondue, which offered garlic toasts, cubes of andouille sausage and broccolini for dipping. This was probably the least exciting of the dishes we had, but it's hard to be unhappy with any scenario which combines pork product and bubbly cheese.

Thanks to the kids we also got to try some of the main course items. The salmon was pronounced by Little Miss F the best she'd ever had: a wild-caught West Coast fish, paired with a fava bean succotash enhanced by some applewood-smoked bacon, along with a rich, tasty corn pudding, fried little Italian squash, and a scatter of corn shoots. A steak from the specials list was also very good: a richly flavored grass-fed Hearst Ranch filet mignon (yes, that Hearst - the 80,000 acre ranch surrounds Hearst Castle), which came with roasted potatoes and shishito peppers and a drizzle of the same salsa verde which accompanied the pork belly.

Desserts were equally unfussy and satisfying. We tried a chocolate black bottom pie topped with marshmallow fluff; apple fritters with butter pecan ice cream and salted caramel; and a peach and blackberry crumble, served in a little cast iron dish, and topped with a blackberry creme fraiche ice cream. We were hard pressed to pick a favorite.

The wine list sensibly focuses predominantly on local producers, but if you've brought back some samples from a day of wine tasting, the corkage is an eminently reasonable $15 (which they were very happy to tell us when we made our reservation). I was pleased to find a Booker "The Ripper" Grenache (2006) for about $80 (release price was $55 with only 136 cases produced). If you're all wined out, they also had a great beer list with more than a half dozen on tap, plus a fine selection of bottles from around the globe.

The folks behind Artisan are brothers Chris (chef/owner) and Michael (general manager/owner) Kobayashi, who seem awfully young to have produced a restaurant that exudes such confidence and comfort in its own skin. There's nothing precious about the food here, but it's nonetheless clear that a good bit of thought and effort has gone into its preparation. It hits that great sweet spot of being refined and homey at the same time.

"California cuisine," with its focus on locally sourced product, seasonality and sustainability, is often accused - some might say justifiably, others would dispute that - of "just serving figs on a plate," to use David Chang's recent description. Artisan clearly shares that focus, but just as clearly is "doing something with its food" - something that's awfully good.

1401 Park Street
Paso Robles, California 93446

Artisan on Urbanspoon

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More News Flashes and Rehashes

When I started this blog, I pledged - to myself anyway - that it wasn't going to be yet another site that simply rehashed the same press releases that every other site regurgitates. Content is king.

Well, it's been a little hectic over here lately and I've not had much time to gather deeper thoughts about restaurant eats, so in the meantime, some more, hopefully marginally useful, news of restaurant openings and specials:

- Talavera, a Mexican restaurant in Coral Gables from the folks who brought you Jaguar Ceviche Spoon Bar and Grill in Coconut Grove, is set to open this coming Monday October 19. The location most recently housed Mari-Nali Gourmet Quesadillas, but when I walked by today I saw that they've recently taken out more space and their spot now extends out to the corner of Ponce de Leon and Giralda. They say the menu is inspired by old and new Mexico, from street food to classic restaurant dishes, including guacamole made to order, several styles of ceviches (no surprise to folks familiar with Jagauar), varieties of moles, and their "signature" huarache grill, featuring hand-made fresh corn masa shaped like a flip-flop and topped with beans, lettuce, salsa verde, goat cheese and more. How about a hibiscus margarita to go with that?

Edited to add: as of earlier this week (circa Oct. 28), a walk by Talavera confirmed that it is not yet opened, press release notwithstanding. PR peeps: this is an ongoing issue, both with your own releases and those you feed to places like UrbanDaddy and Thrillist. Please - don't announce an opening date until it is really, genuinely, absolutely, FIRM. Everyone knows that there are about a bazillion things that can delay an opening, but when a date is announced people tend to rely on it. When it's wrong, it just creates confusion and frustration, which is, you know, sort of contrary to the purpose of public relations pitches.

- Also in the Gables, Bijans Burger Joint says they're set to open next Monday as well, in the location on Galiano Street that last was the home to Karma (next to Graziano's Market). The menu is short and to the pont: burgers, in 1/2 lb. ($8) or full lb. ($14) versions; veggie or turkey burger options, as well as chicken or dolphin sandwiches, a foot long hot dog, a couple salads, a few "joint"-style snacks and sides (sliders, wings, potato skins, mini corn dogs; french fries, sweet potato fries, fried yuca, mac & chee, etc.). There's a brief list of custom toppings and cheeses for the burgers, but the most unusual options have a Colombian tilt: a "Pineapple Burger" topped with mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, pink sauce, green sauce, potato sticks and crushed pineapple, and a similarly adorned "Pineapple Specialty Hot Dog."

- Meanwhile, Talula on Miami Beach is going homestyle with "Buon Appetito Wednesday Pasta Night," offering garden salad with red wine vinaigrette, unlimited rigatoni and meatballs in "Andrea's Sunday Sauce" topped with ricotta cheese, and espresso panna cotta and chocolate chunk & cherry biscotti for dessert, all for $29. Between unlimited pasta at Talula and fried chicken night at Michy's, it may not be necessary to eat any other night of the week than Wednesday any more.

- Speaking of Chef Michy, Sra. Martinez, like many places, is having trouble saying goodbye to Miami Spice, and is doing a "Bueno, Bonito y Barato" ("Good, Pretty & Cheap") lunch special: Monday through Friday noon to 3pm, you can choose two small plates, one large plate and a dessert for $22.

Sometime soon we will get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Brunch Invasion

I've never been a big brunch person, particularly those where the approach seems to value quantity over quality. $50-60 and up just strikes me as a goofy amount of money to spend on the first meal of the day and I don't like feeling obligated to gorge myself like a goose getting prepped for foie gras to get my money's worth. So it's nice to find there's some new brunch options that are a lot more my speed.

BLT SteakBLT Steak on Ocean Drive is unveiling a $24 prix fixe Sunday brunch featuring, among other things, a "SoBe Burrito," ham & cheese croque monsieur or Black Angus burger with fries, along with a complimentary bloody mary, mimosa or white peach bellini. But what really got my eyes to light up was the "BLT Popover Poached Eggs," with spinach, ham, bacon, bechamel and gruyere cheese over one of their awesome popovers.

Not quite new but another good option on South Beach is the Sunday brunch at Talula, which offers a spread of salads and sweets that covers the entire bar, several different breakfasty and more savory hot items, as well as a choice of egg dishes cooked to order (I like the egg and chorizo sandwich, and the benedict with a tomato hollandaise), for only $29. Somehow their covered outdoor patio always seems a couple degrees cooler than the rest of the Beach.

Further north, I've not tried it yet but have heard good things about the Sunday brunch at Neomi's in the Trump Miami in Sunny Isles, especially if Chef Mike is doing some of his New Orleans style cooking. It's a little pricier at $39 but that includes access to their pool and beach too.

MGF&DMeanwhile, in what may be the category-killer, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink now has a Sunday brunch menu, which they'll be starting up on October 25 according to a post on Chowhound (I've not yet confirmed that tidbit of info) which I've now confirmed. The MGF&D brunch menu is actually in large part a clever re-purposing of many of the regular lunch and dinner menu items. There are some new things, like a duck confit hash with a poached egg, or a wood oven roasted duck egg in spicy tomato sauce with chickpeas and queso fresco. But some make their way over pretty much unaltered, like the wood oven roasted double egg yolk, the burrata and tomato salad, the duck rilletes, and the rabbit pate, and all the "Snacks." Still others subscribe to the sound theory that everything is better with an egg on it, such as the roasted pork shoulder with cheese grits and a parsley sauce - with a poached egg.

Then there's a whole section of "Sweets" where Pastry Chef Hedy Goldsmith gets to show her stuff, with homemade pop-tarts, doughnuts, or "Hedy's assorted favorite childhood treats," along with more customary morning fare like lemon ricotta pancakes and almond French toast.

The real kicker? There's almost nothing on the menu over $10. Surely that won't last.

Edited to add: Here's the details on the MGF&D brunch. It's starting Sunday October 25, hours will be 11am - 3pm, and the menu, as linked to above, is on the website.

BLT Steak
The Betsy Hotel
1440 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139

210 23rd Street
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Trump International Beach Resort
18001 Collins Avenue, 2nd Floor
Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160

Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
130 N.E. 40th Street
Miami, FL 33137

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Ready for your Close-Up?

Top ChefLocal chefs, are you ready to become a TV star? Top Chef has issued a casting call for Top Chef Season 7, including October 25 in Miami at the Viceroy Hotel. Pack up your knives and go! Or, actually, don't bother packing your knives, they say you won't need them for the casting call. But do bring your completed application and your 5-minute video. You can see the complete application here.

Be ready to disclose "your most embarrassing moment," but make sure it's not too embarrassing. The application also asks if you have ever done or been involved in anything that would cause the producer or network "any embarrassment or monetary loss."

Monday, October 5, 2009

Mai Tardi Opening in Former Brosia Spot

Mai TardiThe good folks at Thrillist bring news that "Mai Tardi," a new restaurant from the Graspa Group (the folks who run Spris, Tiramesu, the Lincoln Road Segafredo, and Van Dyke Cafe), will be opening Wednesday in the Design District location formerly held down by Brosia.

Thrillist has a link to the menu, which appears to be more ambitious than any of their other ventures to date and mixes Italian and tropical motifs (Flor-Italian?) along with a fulsome list of pizzas from a new wood-burning oven.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Rotten Apple?

A few months ago, I gave Apple Restaurant & Kore Lounge, the South Beach project of Los Angeles-based Chef Bryan Ogden (yes, son of Bradley) some grief for having delayed its opening "on account of weather." Maybe "weather" is some LA-lingo euphemism for "ownership dispute," because the next week, New Times reported that one of the investors had sued South Beach Restaurant Authority, the operator of Apple, and the other partners, claiming they took nearly $1 million from him under false pretenses.

As recently as this past Monday, the lawyers had reported to the court that they had met several times in an effort to amicably resolve the dispute, and were close to completing a settlement to resolve the entire matter. So close, yet so far away? On Friday, South Beach Restaurant Authority filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

All perhaps reinforcing the adage that the way to make a small fortune in the restaurant business is to start with a large one.

Friday, October 2, 2009

How to Make Money Food Blogging

(M)Eater Miami
Loyal readers, allow me to introduce you to (M)Eater Miami - my attempt to cash in as a food blogger.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Three Hot Pots

Another home cooking post? Really? I know, it's weird. But not to worry, this isn't anything I cooked recently (though I did make some pretty awesome short ribs a couple days ago). Several months ago I volunteered to be a recipe tester for a cookbook-in-progress; the book, Japanese Hot Pots: Comforting One-Pot Meals, is now out, and I am released from my oath of silence.

The book is exactly what it says: a compendium of recipes for Japanese hot pots, or "nabe." It was written by Chef Tadashi Ono of Matsuri restaurant in New York City, and Harris Salat, author of the Japanese Food Report blog. I tested three recipes: beef shabu shabu, lamb shabu shabu, and a pork and greens hot pot. While I am not a complete stranger to the kitchen, I don't do much in the Japanese idiom, and I'm also not big on strictly following recipes, so this was an interesting experience for me.

The recipes I tested each followed the same basic formula: a broth base, several varieties of vegetables and/or tofu simmered within it, and a last minute addition of thinly sliced protein cooked in the broth, sometimes with a dipping sauce alongside. Simple stuff, really, but that's not to say I didn't learn some valuable things along the way.

First and foremost, dashi. Three ingredients: water, kombu (dried kelp), and katsuobushi (dried, smoked, shaved bonito flakes). A fantastic complexity of flavor: oceanic, vegetal, smoky, even meaty, yet still with a great purity and lightness. And remarkably easy to prepare a serviceable version, though probably something you can spend a lifetime perfecting in order to maximize the umami extraction and balance. Second, "shime." The Japanese custom of adding noodles or rice to the hot pot toward the end of the meal, a great way to soak up the flavors and complete the meal.

These hot pots were easy to prepare, had great depth of flavor, and were simultaneously hearty and healthy.

beef shabu shabu
This is the initial prep for the beef shabu shabu: tofu, napa cabbage, scallions, enoki mushrooms, and portabello mushrooms (couldn't find shiitakes anywhere that day). Underneath are a couple pieces of kombu and a handful of cellophane noodles.

beef shabu shabu
After the vegetables simmer in the water for a few minutes, spinach and thinly sliced beef are added on top; it's "done" as soon as the beef is cooked to your liking. That's a sesame seed dipping sauce on the side. My kids loved this one. I'm sure they would have liked it even more if they had gotten to cook their own beef in the bubbling pot.

lamb shabu shabu
Lamb shabu shabu. Similar recipe, with thinly sliced lamb, shiitake and oyster mushrooms, bean sprouts, scallions, and an intriguing green called "shungiku" in Japanese. I turned this up at the Lucky Oriental Mart in South Miami, where they were calling it "tong ho." I've now figured out it's also known as chrysanthemum leaf. You can often find tempura-fried chrysanthemum leaf at Hiro's Yakko-San and it's quite nice.

lamb shabu shabu
The dipping sauce for the lamb shabu shabu, primarily flavored with tobanjan (spicy fermented bean paste) and sesame paste, was outrageously good. It was great with the lamb but it was equally great on my finger. Addictive stuff.

pork and greens hot pot
This pork and greens hot pot was a little different from the other two recipes I tried, primarily because it started with a dashi broth which was fortified with mirin and usukuchi soy sauce (lighter colored than regular shoyu but possibly saltier). It used napa cabbage, scallions, spinach, shungiku and watercress, thin sliced pork belly (I got some great kurobata pork from Japanese Market), and a dash of white pepper. With the richer broth, no dipping sauce was called for. The real highlight was adding some soft ramen noodles (also in the freezer case at Japanese Market) at the end of the meal, with the starch in the noodles thickening the broth to almost a stew consistency for a hearty, filling finish. This may have been my favorite of the three recipes I tried, because of the more richly flavored broth and, well, pork belly.

The hardest part of these recipes was hunting down some of the ingredients. Japanese Market gets in Japanese vegetables but only once every week or two, though they had all the other dry and prepared ingredients I needed (kombu, katsuobushi, tobanjan, noodles, etc.). Lucky Oriental Mart had a pretty staggering selection of Asian produce, which only required some educated guesswork to make the jump from the Japanese to the Chinese names of things. Otherwise, these dishes were easy to prepare, had good flavors, and with the one-pot cooking, cleanup was easy, which is always nice. For more info on the book, including some videos from the authors, and some pictures that are much nicer than mine, visit the authors' website. Serious Eats is also running a giveaway of 5 cookbooks and featuring several of the recipes this week. I can't find any easy way to steer to all of them at once, so here are the links for dashi and chicken stock, salmon hot pot, sumo wrestler hot pot, and kabocha pumpkin hot pot.