Sunday, December 26, 2010

Ten Best Bites of 2010

As the year winds its way to a close, we all partake in various traditions: it may be latkes and sufganiyot for Channukah, a Christmas ham or a feast of seven fishes (or the Jewish custom of going out for Chinese on Christmas), perhaps the New Years' traditions of cotechino and lentils or Hoppin' John. Here in the blogosphere, the traditional way to recognize the end of the year is to make lists. Since I resolved last year to actually do my "year in review" list before the calendar turned over, here are my "Ten Best Bites" of 2010, in no particular order, with some thoughts and pictures from the past year:

1. Gambas de Palamós at Asador Etxebarri (writeup here). Simply the best prawns I've ever eaten:

Gambas de Palamós a la brasa
Gambas de Palamós
There is so little going on here - prawns, salt, smoke, heat - and yet absolutely nothing else could make this any better. The tail was perfectly cooked, simultaneously tender, meaty, salty and sweet. And the juices from sucking the heads, enhanced by a smoky grace note, were just fantastic: nectar of Poseidon, if you will. A reference point dish.
2. Morcilla and Egg at Chef Jeremiah's gastroPod (P.I.G. event, writeup here). This isn't on the menu of the gastroPod (though you will find some other great things, like their banh mi trotter tacos or the Chinito Cubano sandwich), but if you go to one of Chef Jeremiah's special events like P.I.G. ("Pig Is Good"), you might find something like it:

morcilla and egg
Morcilla and Egg
"Morcilla and Egg" featured house-made morcilla, or pork blood sausage, crowned with a 63º egg and a sprinkle of crispy bread crumbs. I happen to be a huge morcilla fan and this was just one of the best bites I've had in some time. This was more pudding than sausage in texture (and indeed "blood pudding" or "black pudding" are common variants on the name), creamy and rich and well-spiced, with the egg offering another welcome layer of richness.
3. Scottish Salmon Belly Nigiri at Naoe (writeup here). The contents of the bento box at Naoe change all the time, and the selection of nigiri varies depending on what's fresh and seasonal, but the omakase procession almost always starts with this silky, marbled, luscious salmon belly which will make you forget toro long enough for the bluefin tuna stock to replenish itself.

salmon nigiri

4. (tie) Scallop Crudo, Tripe with Kimchi at Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill (writeup here). You didn't really think I was going to limit myself to ten dishes here, did you? If so, you forget: I have no editor. The scallop crudo at Sugarcane combines unlikely items - a slice of fresh sea scallop, draped over a button of crisp, tart apple, a sliver of jalapeño, a bit of earthy black truffle, a squeeze of lime - hitting your taste buds from all different angles but to surprisingly elegant effect. The tripe with kimchi is not as subtle but just as good: the tripe nice and crispy on the exterior (braised then deep-fried?), over a bed of fresh, spicy kimchi-ed brussels sprouts and carrots. Neither of these items were on the menu when I first wrote about Sugarcane, and that signifies something: this is a place that has continued to improve, and get more interesting, over the past year since it opened.

Tripe with Kimchi (photo via Jacob Katel)

5. (tie) Ham and Ginger Canapé, Endive in Papillote 50%, Ankimo Cracker at elBulli (writeup here). With 40+ courses, it's unrealistic to expect me to limit myself to one choice from our meal at elBulli. The truth was, there were many items at elBulli that I found more interesting, or thought-provoking, than delicious. But these three hit all the right spots:

ham and ginger canapé
Ham and Ginger Canapé
As if to stretch the note out for one more bar, another ham dish followed: this canapé of ham and ginger, a glass-like ginger-infused cracker with a bit of fatty, translucent ham perched on top, both with a candied quality to them, melting together to the point that it was impossible to tell where one ended and the other began. And absolutely delicious to boot, one of the most hedonistically pleasurable bites of the meal.

endive in papillote 50%
Endive in Papillote 50%
Our server first presented an envelope of charred paper. Then, (using some rather unwieldy long chopsticks/tongs), this was flipped and unfolded, revealing a row of baby endive heads, lined up like sardines, interspersed with walnuts. These were napped with a creamy walnut sauce, then topped with a generous dollop of glistening olive oil caviar. Half the endives were fully tender and entirely cooked through, while the other half were only partially cooked and still retained a bit of snap. Especially at points where the paper had charred, the smoky flavor had permeated its way into the endive, as had the perfume of the bay leaf which had been tucked into the package. The dish did a wonderful job of bringing out multiple flavors and textures from a simple vegetable.
Osaka monkfish liver with coconut
Ankimo Cracker
This was another of the most hedonistically pleasing dishes of the evening: an almost translucently thin cracker, topped with a thin tranche of ankimo (monkfish liver), with dabs of creamy coconut, jellied ginger, and a bit of wasabi. I'm already a fan of ankimo (often referred to as "foie gras of the seas"), and this was a preparation that elevated an already wonderful product.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Humbug - Miami Christmas and New Years' Dining Options

Another year is nearly gone, but before it's over, there are Christmas and New Years Eve to celebrate. And for many of us, that means a night - and a dinner - out on the town. I confess that I usually try to avoid holiday fixed menu "deals," on the belief that more often than not, prices go up while quality and choices go down, plus customers often tend to behave like asshats. (Though I should also note that last year, we snuck into Michael's Genuine early and had a perfectly wonderful time). We tend to keep things simple, ideally at Chez Frod - you know, a tin of caviar, a couple spoons, a bottle of grower champagne. But not everyone is as curmudgeonly and Scrooge-like as myself. For those with more festive holiday spirits, here are a number of dining options for the upcoming holidays (unless indicated, all prices are exclusive of tax and tip, and generally speaking, advance reservations required):

Eden Roc Hotel
4525 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL

6-course menu available 9pm-10:30pm for $145pp including welcome glass of champagne; also seating 6-7:30pm for $95

First Course (Choice of One)
Kumomoto Oysters
Shrimp Cocktail
Local Ceviche

Second Course (Choise of One)
Local Burrata and Tomato Salad
Cured Salmon, Swank Farms Greens, Citron Vinaigrette
Steak Tartare, Frisée, Quail Eggs

Third Course (Choice of One)
Maine Scallops, Sunchoke Risotto, Black Truffles
Wild Striped Bass, Chick Peas, Fennel Confit, Rouille

Fourth Course (Choice of One)
Bone-In Beef Tenderloin, Winter Vegetables, Foie Gras Butter
Dry-Aged Rack Of Lamb, Sweetbreads, Salsify, Mint Sauce

Fifth Course
Artisan Cheeses and Homemade Chutney

Taster of Homemade Desserts

Area 31
Epic Hotel
270 Biscayne Boulevard Way, 16th Floor, Miami, FL

Christmas Day 3-course menu including butternut squash soup, roasted Muscovy duck, fruitcake with mint ice cream, $45pp ($20 for children 12 and under) from 1pm-8pm.

New Years' Eve 5-course menu with wine pairings from new Chef E. Michael Reidt, $150pp.

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

4-course menu, seating 8pm-midnight, $195pp (also 6-8pm seating 3-course menu $125):

Foie Gras Mousse
Black Truffles / Sauterne Gelée

Butternut Squash Cappucino
Cranberry Espuma
Paradise Farms Organic Brassica Salad
Confit Shallots / Jamón Iberico / Braised Salsify / Tomato Compote

Caramelized Nantucket Bay Scallops
Parsnips Purée / Satsuma Oranges / Dried Black Olive
Tuna Tartare
American Caviar / Meyer Lemon / Avocado Crema

Prime Filet of Rib Eye 10oz.
Red Wine Jus / Black Winter Truffles / Maitake Mushrooms
"Surf n Turf"
Caribbean Lobster / Harris Ranch Smoked Short Rib / Potato Gnocchi / Cipollini

"Rocky Road" Chocolate Praline Cake
Espresso Ice Cream / Cointreau Créme Anglaise
Coconut Flan
Piña Colada Sorbet / Caramelized Pineapples

Lemon Madeleines
Chef Allen's
19088 NE 29th Avenue, Aventura, FL

Special menu with 4- or 5-course dinner, pricing from $66 to $120 depending on seating time.

Laughing Bird Shrimp Ceviche
Cucumber, Starfruit, Frisee

Taylor Bay Scallops
Steamed with Lemongrass, Yellow Curry, Kaffir Lime, and Glass Noodles
San Marzano-Braised Lamb Ragout
Fresh Black Truffle, Tagliatelle, Basil

Watercress and Red Pears
Maytag Blue, Glazed Walnuts, Pickled Shallot
Escarole and Fresh Fig Salad
Dolce Gorgonzola, Crispy Serrano Ham, Caramelized Onion Vinaigrette

Rare Duck Breast and Crispy Duck Confit
Roasted Mushrooms, Brussels Sprouts, Edamame Succotash
Wood Grilled Swordfish
Smoked Tomatoes and Spinach, Roasted Onions, Ciabatta Toast, Chimichurri
Kobe Beef Short Rib
Yellow Corn Polenta Cake, White Truffle, Haricot Verts, Tomato Chutney

Bittersweet Chocolate World
Hazelnut Mousse, Pistachio Crema, Spicy Hot Chocolate

DB Bistro Moderne
JW Marriott Marquis
255 Biscayne Boulevard Way, Miami, FL

A la carte menu 6:30pm seating; 5-course menu, $199pp 8:30pm seating:

Citrus Cured with Toasted Coriander
Persimmon and Shiso Cream
Jean et Sebastian Dauvissat, Chablis
Premier Cru les Vaillons 2003

Compote of Turkish Apricots, Pistachio
Fennel, Muscat Gelee
Zind Humbrecht Pinot Gris Indice 2 2008

Creamy Endive, Marmalade
Black Truffle, Speck Ham
Thierry e Pascal Matrot
Meursault les Genevrieres 2007

Roasted Loin and Tender Brasied Cheek
Artichoke Gratin, Spinach Soubric, Porcini
Lucien et August Lignier Morey
St. Denis 2005

Jivara Mousse, Candied Buddhas Hand
Jianduga Ice Cream
Château Tirecule de Gravière Monbazillac 2003

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Special Guest Post - Michael's Genuine Food and Drink (Little Miss F)

I am honored (and relieved, given my less than prodigious output lately) to bring you a guest post today - and also fairly bursting with pride. You see, as we were going over my 10-year old daughter's school projects for the past quarter, I came across an assignment her class did on the five senses. The project was to write descriptive passages, in various styles (poem, newspaper article, essay, story) that involved the five senses. So what did the little bugger do? She wrote a restaurant review! She's been gracious enough to let me republish it (entirely unedited), and so here is Little Miss F's review of Michael's Genuine Food and Drink. It may be time for me to retire.

I am a food critic and today I am going to Michael's Genuine Food and Drink. I walked into the restaurant to be greeted by their friendly host who asked me, "Excuse me, do you have a reservation?"

I answered him, "Yes, of course!" After that, they seated me at a little table in the corner.

I waited barely over a minute before another waiter came and got me a glass of water. The same waiter came again and it was as if he knew exactly what I wanted, they brought me falafal! I ate it slowly but I enjoyed every bite! It was full of parsley, mint, and other earthy, warming flavors. It came with something to dip in in that was creamy and smooth. It was like a very soft yogurt.

I ended up ordering the burrata salad. I took a tomato, it was fresh and sweet. Then, I took a bit of burrata which was milky, creamy, mild and delicious! I tried them together and it was crisp but smooth and so good!

For dessert I got a mint tea. Even though it was a tea bag, it tasted like it was freshly picked! The tea was an absolutely perfect way to end a fabulous dinner.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Vino e Olio e Cobaya - Experiment #8

One of the guiding principles of the Cobaya - Gourmet Guinea Pigs group is that it's intended as an opportunity for chefs to do things that they may not otherwise have the opportunity to do in their regular settings. We organize events both in restaurants and out, but one of the rules is that it has to be an off-the-menu experience, a chance for the chefs to show something different from their usual routine.

When I read about the opening of Vino e Olio in the Design District, it seemed like a good fit. The chef, Andrea Menichetti, was virtually born in the kitchen: his parents, Maurizio Menichetti and Valeria Piccini, run the Michelin two-starred Da Caino in Montemerano, Italy, where Chef Andrea cooked before making his way to Miami. And the menu at Vino e Olio suggested more imagination and creativity than most garden-variety South Florida Italian restaurants. So we tried the restaurant, spoke to the chef, and then gave him free reign to craft a menu. The result, as one of our diners aptly put it, "balanced on a knife's edge between Tuscan playful and orthodox." Here's the menu, and below, some pictures and descriptions (full set of pictures on flickr, or click on each menu item).

(Sandwich with veal tripe)

(Ravioli filled with olive oil, capers, anchovies served with fresh tomato coulis)

(Loin of rabbit stuffed with basil, served with a fennel sauce and black truffle vinaigrette)

(Sautéed veal sweetbreads served with asparagus)

(Lamb chop stuffed with pork, served with broccoli)

(Fruits and vegetables cold soup served with vanilla ice cream)

Panino con il Lampredotto
Panino con il lampredotto
A confession: though I claim the chefs have complete free reign in crafting the menu, I did have some influence on the inclusion of the first dish, a miniature panino con il lampredotto (a/k/a tripe sandwich). I am a huge fan of the underutilized and underappreciated tripe (tripe = stomach, though a cow actually has four stomachs, and lampredotto is the "fourth and final stomach"), and so when I learned that Chef Menichetti was also an aficionado, I made a special request for this dish.

These days we think of both organ meats and food trucks as trendy: in fact this dish's reference point is a long-standing Tuscan tradition, dating back several centuries, of tripe sandwiches served from street carts. (For a great look at one of these three-wheeled tripe carts in Florence, go to around the 20 minute mark of this episode of "Gourmet's Diary of a Foodie"). The braised strips of tripe were slippery, sticky, with a deep but gentle meaty flavor that was transmuted to its braising liquid as well, with which the little rolls were generously doused. There was a dab of salsa verde for some contrast, and even a bit more heat might have been welcome. I loved it. But this was, I'll admit, a dish for those who already love tripe, rather than one that will make converts of non-believers. Our end of the table was fairly evenly divided between the former and the latter, and some gave theirs away after sampling a bite, while others eagerly grabbed them.

Olive Oil Ravioli
Ravioli all' olio extravirgine di oliva
The ravioli dish which followed also has a backstory: it won an international prize for cuisine with olive oil, and uses olive oil produced by the chef's mother's family. The pasta is stuffed with a mix of olive oil, minced anchovies and capers, and the chef advised everyone to eat them in one bite in order to experience the burst of liquid as you chew (similar in effect to a xiao long bao, a/k/a soup dumpling).[1] The ravioli are purposefully served just barely warmed, and over a cool, raw tomato coulis, because the flavor of the olive oil is more muted at higher temperatures. This sensitivity to the temperature of the dish was a good thing, because it was indeed excellent olive oil. I enjoyed the dish, with its tweaking of traditional flavors and format - though the cool sauce would likely be even more welcome during one of the 350 days of the year that it's closer to 80º or 90º in Miami than during the cold weather we've had this week.

(continued ...)

Monday, December 13, 2010

CSA Week 2 and its Uses - Yuca Latkes with Spherified Hibiscus Caviar

So it turns out that a two-part series on homemade kimchi is not nearly as popular as writing about where to eat during Art Basel week. This does not come as a surprise to me. And yet here I am, persisting in writing about my humble efforts to dispose of my weekly CSA share yet again. (If the truth must be known, I'm also still only on Round 1 of my visits to several of the new places to open recently in Miami - including DB Bistro Moderne, Vino e Olio, Wynwood Kitchen & Bar - and am filibustering some here).

Week 2 brought an unusual assortment of goodies: yuca, roselle (a/k/a hibiscus or Jamaican sorrel), lemongrass, callaloo, green onions, eggplant, avocado. Once again, I set out to come up with a dish that would use up at least a few of the components at once. What I wound up with was a very unorthodox latke:

yuca cake w hibiscus caviar

What exactly is that? Well, it will require some explanation.

The roselle and lemongrass were the starting point, as I steeped them along with some fresh ginger to make a tea (which is exactly what I did with the roselle last year). OK, now what? Well, one of the things I'd hoped for in doing this was that the CSA would be an inspration to do more playing around in the kitchen, including with techniques that I've eaten but not necessarily cooked before (like last year's Adrià-inspired canistel microwave cake). So it was time to bring out the "chemistry set."

sodium alginate

Plus, it was Hannukah, so I was thinking of latkes, only maybe using that yuca instead of the traditional potato pancake. And then, what's good on top of a latke? Well, applesauce and sour cream. But also, caviar. So why not make some caviar out of that tea I just made, and then put it on top of a yuca latke? The hibiscus/lemongrass tea has some tartness and fruitiness like applesauce, right?

I'm not saying these are all good ideas. I'm just explaining the thought process.

(continued ...)

Friday, December 10, 2010

CSA Week 1 and its Uses - Part II

OK, so I've got some home-made kimchi that's been getting funky in the fridge for a few days. And I've decided that its mission in life is to ultimately become kimchi ramen. So far so good - except we need a lot more fixings for that ramen. Since I started with the Momofuku kimchi recipe, I decided to plow on ahead and make a version of the Momofuku ramen, and add some kimchi for extra punch. There would be some compromises along the way - no, I'm not making my own noodles,  and I can't easily source my own pork belly - but I was pretty happy with the end result.

kimchi ramen mise en place
the mise en place
First, a broth. The Momofuku ramen broth recipe is sort of a case study in building rich, meaty flavor: kombu, dried shiitakes, pork bones, bacon all get into the mix. It's also a long-term time commitment, needing about 8+ hours of simmering. It's worth it.

You start like a basic dashi, by putting a rinsed piece of kombu in a pot with water (3 qts.),[*] bringing it to a simmer and then steeping it for 10 minutes, then removing the kombu. The next step in the recipe is to add dried shiitakes, of which I had none, so I skipped that, and instead added chicken wings (2 lbs.)[**] and simmered for another hour. Meanwhile, turn the oven to 400º and roast some pork bones (~3 lbs.; I found neck bones at Publix that were perfect for the job) for an hour and a half, turning them after an hour to brown all over. Skim any froth or scum that rises to the top of the stock every once in a while.

I took the chicken out of the pot and added the pork bones, along with 1/2 lb. of bacon. I would have loved to have used Benton's bacon like David Chang recommends, but if I had Benton's bacon I'd be cooking it and eating it out of hand till it was all gone. Keep the broth simmering, and remove the bacon after 45 minutes, then let it simmer for another 6-7 hours. Yup. 6-7 hours. Up until the last hour of cooking, keep adding water if necessary to keep the bones covered. For the last 45 minutes, add scallions (1 bunch, roughly chopped), carrot (1, roughly chopped) and an onion (cut in half). Here's a handy trick: instead of leaving the stockpot on the stove and risking setting my house on fire if I left it, I put it in the oven at 225º, went out to dinner, and finished it off late that night. Strain through a chinois (or cheesecloth), cool and reserve.

Notwithstanding the use of pork bones, this is not a tonkotsu broth. It was rich, and intensely porky, but it didn't have that dense, milky quality, which I think may come from using marrow bones and/or cooking for an even longer time. But it was some good stuff nonetheless.

Speaking of pork, I needed to make some. I didn't have belly, but I could easily get shoulder, and there are few things as simple and delicious as the Momofuku "pork shoulder for ramen" recipe. Again, it just takes some time. The ingredient list: 1 pork shoulder (I used a bone-in shoulder that was about 5 lbs but you can use boneless); 1/4 cup salt; 1/4 sugar. Mix the salt and sugar, rub all over the pork, and let it sit for a night in the fridge. Pull it out, brush it off a bit, drain off the liquid, and cook it (in a relatively snug roasting pan) for 6 hours at 250º, basting every so often with the rendered fat. I actually started the temperature at 275º for an hour to get some browning happening, and then turned it down for the rest of the time. Let it rest for half an hour, then shred the meat with two forks. Done, and awesome.

(continued ...)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

CSA Week 1 and Its Uses - Part I

Here in South Florida, as winter descends on the rest of the country, we enter our prime growing season, and the CSA I've joined (through Bee Heaven Farm) started up the week before last. My first experience with a CSA was last year, and I started the season with the ambitious goal of documenting my use of everything in each CSA box (you can see how that ended up). I've learned my lesson: often it's just not that interesting, and sometimes everything doesn't get used up. Which is embarrassing and lame. So this season I won't try to make this a regular topic, but instead maybe just an occasional feature.

CSA Week 1

Over at Redland Rambles, every Friday they give a preview of what is coming in the box the next day. Week 1 brought daikon radish, pak choy, green beans, "Japanese spinach" (a/k/a Savoy spinach?), dandelion greens, cherry tomatoes, garlic chives, parsley, and flowering thyme. I've been wanting to try to make a home-made kimchi for a while now, and decided that would be the fate of the daikon and pak choy.

Where better to start than the Momofuku cookbook for guidance?[*] Though Napa cabbage is the vegetable most typically used in kimchi, daikon is actually fairly common as well; indeed David Chang's book suggests substituting daikon for cabbage using the same recipe. The pak choy struck me as similar enough to Napa cabbage that it would work in the mix too.

I cubed the daikon in about 1/2" chunks (2 medium daikons) and sliced the pak choy in ribbons of about the same thickness. These were then aggressively seasoned with about 2tbsp each of salt and sugar, then sat overnight in the fridge.

daikon and pak choy

The next day I mixed up a paste of garlic, ginger, chile powder (1/2 cup),[**] fish sauce (1/4 cup), usukuchi soy sauce (1/4 cup), salted shrimp (2 tsp.) (more on this below), and sugar (1/2 cup). The Momofuku recipe called for a whopping 20 garlic cloves per one head of cabbage, which seemed a bit over the top, and I cut that in half. It also called for 20 "slices" of peeled fresh ginger - not knowing precisely what a "slice" is, I used an amount about equivalent to the garlic. Then some julienned carrot (1/2 cup) went in; I also threw in the CSA garlic chives, in lieu of scallions. The daikon and pak choy were then drained (they will throw off some water after being salted) and added to the mix. Here's the mise en place:

kimchi mise en place

and everything thrown together:

daikon & pak choy kimchi

(continued ...)

Monday, November 29, 2010

Eat Basel - Where to Eat for Art Basel

It's that time of year, when culturati from all over the world, like the swallows of Capistrano, descend upon Miami for Art Basel. There will be plenty of sources for information on art installations, events and parties: New Times has a comprehensive list of Art Basel events as well as a guide to the satellite art fairs, and the New York Times just published a more curated list. And though we've danced around the food as art question here occasionally, right now let me address the issue in a more pedestrisn fashion: where should you eat?

South Beach / North Beach

The Art Basel exhibition itself is in the Miami Beach Convention Center on South Beach. The good news is that from the Convention Center, you'll be in easy walking distance of the Lincoln Road pedestrian mall. The bad news is that there's hardly anyplace good to eat on Lincoln Road any more. If you must, consider Meat Market for a contemporary take on the steakhouse genre, or for smaller budgets, the new Shake Shack (my Shake Shack review here) in the Herzog & de Meuron designed building at 1111 Lincoln Road. Otherwise, keep in mind that any place with saran-wrapped food and the hostess' bodacious cleavage on display out front generally is not worth eating at.

But all hope is not lost. South Beach has several promising new additions within about a mile of the Convention Center. The recently opened Pubbelly is an "Asian-inspired" (read "Momofuku-inspired") gastropub which brings the contemporary casual Asian meme to South Beach. Eden, in the late (and missed) Talula space, features a menu designed by New York chef Christopher Lee and a gorgeous outdoor patio space.[*]

For the high rollers of the art world, the Wolfsonian Collection is hosting a special event dinner on December 1 in conjunction with a site-specific installation, "Seduce Me," by actress/filmmaker Isabella Rossellini. While "Seduce Me" explores the mating rituals of various animals, big name chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten will be doing the cooking, Robert Mondavi Winery will be pouring the wines, and Bulgari will be providing a special Rossellini-designed handbag and a watch for a post-dinner auction. Tickets are $1,000 (!); more information can be had from Michael Hughes at 305.535.2602 or

If it's some local flavor you want, try one of Chef Douglas Rodriguez's venues, each of which takes a slightly different spin on contemporizing Latin American cuisines: Ola at the Sanctuary Hotel, the most pan-Latin of his restaurants (and also the closest to the Convention Center); De Rodriguez Cuba (my De Rodriguez review), in the Astor Hotel, for updated versions of Cuban classics; or the newly opened and seafood-focused De Rodriguez Ocean, on the south end of Ocean Drive. Or for something more casual and funky, there's Tap Tap, South Beach's only Haitian restaurant.

But if you want to really want to do South Beach like a local, consider a few more options: Altamare (my Altamare review), on the quiet western end of Lincoln Road (across Alton Road), is a local seafood specialist, and the menu has gotten more interesting and diverse since Michael's Genuine alum Simon Stojanovic took over the kitchen. Indomania (my Indomania review) is a hidden gem of a place, just a little bit north of South Beach proper on 26th Street, but worth the trek for their fun, flavorful Dutch-Indonesian food (the rijsttafels come with more than a dozen different dishes). And if you're up late and hungry, you'll be better off ignoring Anthony Bourdain's recommendation of T-Mex Cantina (f/k/a San Loco); it's not his fault, I'm sure he just had one too many at Club Deuce and his judgment was impaired. Instead, head over to the The Alibi, tucked away in Lost Weekend, a divey bar on Española Way, for their Philly Cheese Steak (on an authentic Amoroso roll) or a shrimp po'boy, with a side of hand-cut fries with Ranch Dust (open till 5am).

(continued ...)

Monday, November 22, 2010

This Little Piggy Went to P.I.G.

It's hard for me to believe it's been a year since the inaugeral "P.I.G." (Pork Is Good) event, a celebration of all things porcine by Chef Jeremiah, pilot of the gastroPod. Indeed, a year ago, there wasn't even a gastroPod yet: just a hard-working chef with the slightly crazy-sounding idea of retrofitting a vintage Airstream trailer with a 21st century kitchen, and bringing Miami some creative but budget-friendly mobile food.[*] We had some good stuff that day: chicharrones, banh mi trotter tacos, pork belly Cuban sandwiches, East meets South pulled pork char shiu bao, home-made hot dogs, a whole roasted pig done in the Caja China, and some moonshine/black cherry cocktails to wash it all down. Some of those items, in one form or another, eventually became gastroPod menu items.

With nearly a year of trucking under his belt, Chef Jeremiah put on the "second annual" P.I.G. event this weekend, at GAB Studio in Wynwood. Though I only had a short time to run in and out and would have liked to have stayed longer, I did get a quick sampling of this year's P.I.G.-fest.

prosciutto and melon

"Prosciutto and Melon" was actually not prosciutto, but rather some country ham from Allan Benton, paired with a cold and vividly flavored melon gelée. Benton's hams, produced in Madisonville, Tennessee and aged between nine months and a year or more, are a ridiculously delicious product and a real treat.

tongue in cheek

"Tongue in Cheek" was a, well, tongue in cheek take on tongue, and, y'know, cheek. Here, "tongue" = beef tongue, "cheek" = pork cheek, and the unifying inspiration for the flavors was a tongue sandwich from a New York deli. The meats - the tongue thinly sliced, the cheek in a heftier slab - were layered over a slice of pumpernickel bread, with a bright purple slaw and a squirt of deli mustard over the top, and pickled okra standing in for the classic pickle on the side. It was enough to get you thinking that what Jewish delis need is perhaps more pork products.

(continued ...)

Saturday, November 20, 2010

To Do List

You may have noticed that the pace here at FFT has slowed up lately. It's certainly not for lack of subject matter, but rather lack of time. In fact, despite the still-sluggish economy, these seem to be relative boom times for Miami restaurants, and not only for casual, modern Asian fare (though there is plenty of that to go around). Just the past couple months have seen a number of intriguing new places open, with more in the pipeline. Plus, there are still remnants of two trips (Maine and Spain) to discuss, including a really pleasant surprise in tiny Lincolnville, Maine (The Edge), some disappointment in another highly regarded Maine restaurant (Primo), and a tapas-fest in Barcelona.

Sometimes when things start to pile up it helps to make a list. So here is my FFT "to-do list." Which surely is going to be subject to any number of distractions along the way. Plus CSA season starts today, which means I may again subject everyone to my stumbling efforts to cook through my veggie share.

Any suggestions for other places that should be on this list?

New & Have to Try:

DB Bistro Moderne
Vino e Olio
De Rodriguez Ocean

Newish, Need to Revisit & Write Up:

Il Mercato

Not So New, Still Worth Mention

Canyon Ranch Grill
Chu's Taiwan Kitchen

Waiting to Open

Wynwood Kitchen & Bar

(Lots of these I still need to try, or try again)

Fish Box
Yellow Submarine
Latin House Grill
Grillmaster Cafe
Rolling Stove
Doggi Style
Bites on Wheels
Feverish Ice Cream
Dolci Peccati Gelato

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Gigi - Midtown Miami

Fish is the new steak, and Asian is the new burger. Consider: the past couple years brought us the openings of a multitude of high-end steakhouses - Meat Market, BLT Steak, Gotham Steak, Red the Steakhouse, STK, the reopened Forge. Yet the construction of shrines to carnivorism seems to have slowed (the recently opened 1500° notwithstanding), and instead Douglas Rodriguez opens De Rodriguez Ocean, Blue Door has become Blue Door Fish, even untrendy Luna Cafe on Biscayne Boulevard is becoming Sea Bar.

On the other end of the restaurant market, burgers were everywhere for a time (as if they were using the trimmings from all those new steakhouses)- 8 Oz. Burger Bar, Burger & Beer Joint, Heavy Burger, Flip Burger Bar,[1] Shake Shack ... But burgers are yesterday's news. Modern, casual Asian is now the order of the day, as Sakaya Kitchen, Chow Down Grill, American Noodle Bar, and Gigi will all attest.

Sakaya (Richard Hales), Chow Down (Joshua Marcus) and American Noodle (Michael Bloise) each started with a chef's own vision, and were very much personal projects. Gigi came about things from the opposite direction: Gigi was a concept in search of a chef to execute it. Amir Ben-Zion, who also runs Bond Street and Miss Yip on South Beach, Sra. Martinez in the Design District, and the Bardot nightclub right down the street from Gigi in Midtown Miami, placed a Craigslist ad looking for a chef about six months before the restaurant's opening. The ad was not lacking for hype:
"Its cutting edge, high performance, Asian inspired and freshly prepared cuisine is affordable, innovative comfort food for the modern educated discerning palate."
It was also transparent about its inspiration:
"Located on the same block as Bardot, gigi is the first Miami outpost of the renaissance in affordable high-end food led by Momofuko [sic] in NYC’s Chinatown and lower East Side."[2]
Gigi lucked out: whether in response to the ad or otherwise, Ben-Zion managed to snag Chef Jeff McInnis to run the kitchen at Gigi. Chef McInnis, who is probably known as much for his appearance on Top Chef Season 5 as for his work as chef of the Ritz-Carlton South Beach's DiLido Beach Club, has put together a menu that delivers good, fun, flavorful food that carries out the mission statement well.

While Miami's other new casual contemporary Asian outposts have a distinctly D.I.Y. aesthetic, Gigi more clearly bears a designer's touch. On the corner of Miami Avenue and 35th Street, its exterior is wrapped in floor-to-ceiling glass, its interior in lots of blond wood and metal. A long, open galley kitchen stretches about twenty yards down most of the space, with counter seating and backless stools providing a distinctly Chang-ian look and feel.

photo via gigi Facebook page
The menu likewise shows a strong Chang-ian influence. There are buns to be had, filled with a choice of roasted pork, chicken or shiitake mushrooms; there is ramen, likewise served with roasted pork. But much of the rest of the fairly abbreviated menu appears to look closer to home for inspiration, with many items featuring more-or-less Asian spins on locally sourced ingredients. It's divided into sections that have no clearly defined correspondence to starters or mains: "basics" include not only those buns, but also a short rib "meat loaf," a pound of "southern boy" BBQ ribs, or a BLT made with pork belly and pickles; "raw" includes both salads and raw fish dishes; "snack" includes a variety of smaller bites, both vegetable and animal; "noodle bowl" offers the aforementioned ramen, as well as a few other noodle variations; and "rice bowl" seems to feature the most substantial, entrée-like items. Though the sub-heading to the Gigi sign says "noodles * bbq * beer," there are in fact only a few noodles dishes and even fewer BBQ items (like, um, one).

Those buns are a good place to start a meal. The roasted pork version was probably my favorite, though Little Miss F was partial to the pulled chicken variety. On a more recent visit, the latter had morphed into a tandoori chicken, which was a tad dry despite being garnished with a drizzle of yogurt nicely enhanced by some cucumber and mint. Even the pork, though, did not have quite the same explosive depth of flavor as the Sakaya Kitchen pork buns, which remain my local benchmark. The fluffy and lightly toasted bao, however, which I believe are made in-house, may be a notch better.

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

American Noodle Bar - Miami, FL - First Look

[Sorry, this restaurant has closed "for remodeling"]

I drive down Biscayne Boulevard to work every morning. As a result, I have been a spectator, on a daily basis, to the drawn-out opening of American Noodle Bar. In fact, I recall when the first sign went up on a small space in one of the dodgy, 1950's era "MiMo" style hotels along Biscayne, it was for something that was going to be called "Pineapple Express" and promised an opening date of "January 2010." The name changed. And so did the projected opening date, which dragged out for months.[*]

American Noodle Bar finally opened Wednesday night. I usually avoid opening nights; I also usually like to give a place a few visits and at least a few weeks, sometimes months, to find its footing before writing. But the lengthy period of anticipation left me eager to try it, and to provide a long-awaited "first look." (I also feel incredibly guilty that it seems like it's been months since I've written about a Miami restaurant).

The chef behind American Noodle Bar is Michael Bloise, a StarChefs "Rising Star" who is best known for his work at Wish on South Beach. His new project is something very different. The space is a tiny wing of the Biscayne Inn motel, into which he has squeezed one large communal table, a line of counter seating along one wall, and an open galley kitchen along the back wall. It's a got a funky, DIY aesthetic, with bonzai trees on the table and a bamboo tree print on the wall providing the primary decoration. There is also outdoor seating in front facing Biscayne Boulevard. (For those looking to get their bearings along Biscayne, it is right next door to Kingdom, and I suspect you can smell their burgers grilling from the outdoor seats). Service is semi-fast-food style: order at the counter, and they'll bring it out to your seat when it's ready (right now, at least, in plastic bowls and cardboard boxes, though I'm not sure if that's intended as a permanent state of affairs or just an opening week thing).

The menu at American Noodle Bar is superficially simple, but actually presents many more choices than might be immediately apparent. The focus - no surprise, given the name - is on noodles, though presently of only one variety. A bowl of noodles can be had for $7 with a choice of one sauce and one "add-on." But here's where things get complicated: there are nearly ten sauce options, and just as many "add-ons" (a couple vegetable options but mostly various proteins). Additional "add-ons" can go in the bowl for another $1 each.

There were so many possible to directions to go: if I spent less time focusing on food and more on math, I could maybe tell you how many. Nearly paralyzed by the seemingly limitless combinations, for my inaugeral meal, I had a bowl with sriracha butter for a sauce, and roasted duck and Chinese sausage for the "add-ons." The noodles (I did not ask questions as to their provenance, though I'm curious; I doubt they're made in-house) were of a lo-mein style variety: a bit thicker than a typical ramen noodle, but with that slightly springy texture, versus the more supple smootheness of an Italian pasta. They were hearty and pleasing, but on their own, nothing to get too excited about: it's really the sauces and toppings that will make or break things.

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Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Koy Shunka - Barcelona

Koy Shunka

Spaniards are fiercely proud of and loyal to the culinary traditions of their native country, and for good reason: I think it's some of the greatest food on earth too. Yet with that loyalty comes a certain - parochialism may be too strong a word, so let's just say that Spain doesn't often seem to take much interest in other countries' cuisines. You won't find many notable Italian restaurants in Spain, for instance.[*]

But lately, Spain does seem to be paying some attention to the Far East. The celebrated DiverXo in Madrid leans heavily on Asian flavors and stylings (the resumé of its chef, David Muñoz, includes a stint at Hakkasan). Kabuki (also in Madrid) applies a distinctly Japanese sensibility to Iberian ingredients. Alberto Raurich, formerly elBulli's chef de cuisine, now runs Dos Palillos in Barcelona, whose very name (meaning both toothpicks and chopsticks) is a play on the connection its food seeks to draw between Asia and Spain.

Perhaps because the Spanish curiosity about foreign cuisines is a relatively new thing, the restaurants that explore those cuisines seem to be perceived as somewhat revolutionary in their native country. Whereas, as I noted after our visit to Dos Palillos last year, much of this stuff just may not seem particularly remarkable to a reasonably well-rounded American eater. For us, Asian food is so ubiquitous that even mediocre shopping center chains carry pre-made sushi.

All of which is primarily to explain why I was a bit skeptical when I heard about "the best Japanese restaurant in Barcelona." But I had indeed heard many good things about Koy Shunka, including that it is a favorite of Ferran Adrià's. And after several days of the indigenous foods, and with a big meal at elBulli on the horizon, we were looking both for something different and something a bit lighter. So we gave Koy Shunka a chance. I'm glad we did.

Koy Shunka

The restaurant is hidden away on a short street in a quiet dark corner of the Gothic Quarter behind a black door that you could easily walk by several times without noticing. You enter upon a dark hallway lined in shale and wood, which ultimately opens up onto a sizable open kitchen positioned in the center of the dining room. There are several seats at a counter that wraps around one side of the open kitchen, as well as tables arranged mostly along the back wall of the dining room.

Koy Shunka

I believe the counter seats are reserved for diners going with the omakase tasting menu, which was our desired format regardless. (You can click on any picture to see it larger, or view the entire flickr set: Koy Shunka)

Tomato salad

The meal started with a cool dish composed of cherry tomatoes, a dashi gelée, shaved bonito, and local Galician seaweeds, presented in a free-form glazed earthenware bowl. It offered pure, simple, clean flavors, and was, interestingly, more than a bit reminiscent of one of the dishes Katsuya Fukushima had served at our Cobaya dinner only a week earlier.

Berenjena con miso

Rounds of Japanese eggplant were grilled with an intensely salty-sweet miso glaze, with the skins removed and crisped up a bit, then wrapped back around the eggplant. A guindilla pepper provided a hit of spice to contrast with the richness of the miso and the smoky, sweet eggplant flesh. I've had a number of different iterations of grilled Japanese eggplants, and this was certainly among my favorites.

Vieira sashimi

Our first fish course was a sashimi of super-fresh sea scallop, sliced crosswise into coins, drizzled with good olive oil, sprinkled with coarse sea salt and chive, and plated with little rounds of baby corn. The star here, rightfully so, was the scallop itself, with the other components providing a bit of variety and interest without overwhelming or interfering.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

Restaurante Arzak - September 2010

Last month was our second visit to San Sebastian and likewise our second visit to Restaurante Arzak. Our first Arzak meal was about a year and a half ago, and the timing proved to be just about right. Though the format of the tasting menu was pretty much identical, roughly 3/4 of the actual menu items had been changed, so the experience offered a sense both of familiarity and freshness.

The menu progression is a fairly customary one: an assortment of "pintxos" or "tapas" to start, followed by a series of dishes primarily focused around various proteins, concluding with a couple sweet courses and mignardises. One of the pleasant things about ordering the tasting menu at Arzak is that nearly every course actually offers at least two options, giving the ability to either tailor the menu to individual preferences or just to provide multiple diners with some additional variety.

At our first Arzak meal we were seated in the more modern downstairs dining room, while this time we went upstairs. For those who have requested seating in the "non-smoking section" at Arzak and been advised that it is not available, I can only tell you that I have now eaten in both dining rooms, and both times we were in the "smoking section." I am starting to think that the "non-smoking section" may be apocryphal.

Like our first meal, this one started with a selection of little bites.[1] (You can see all the pictures from this meal in this flickr set: Arzak - September 2010).

Puding de kabrarroka con fideos fritos
Puding de kabrarroka con fideos fritos
A couple of these were repeat performances from our last visit: the ones in the foreground of this picture, described as "puding de kabrarroka con fideos fritos," are a signature Arzak dish, a mousse of scorpionfish wrapped in crispy, light threads of pastry. Arriving on separate plates were a tartar of bonito (a lighter-fleshed tuna relative) with corn pancakes, little sandwiches of crispy rice crackers around a mushroom mousse, a shot of a frothy white alubia bean soup with matchsticks of apple, and perhaps the best bite of all, a little mound of serrano ham and tomato, wrapped in flower petals, and infused - through the plate it rested upon - with a mint vapor.

Jamón con tomate
Jamón con tomate
I enjoyed the presentation of these, with each on their own dishes mimicking the feel of casual abundance you find at San Sebastian's many tapas bars, and each was a delicious bite.

Cromlech y cebolla con té y café
Cromlech y cebolla con té y café
This was certainly one of the more unusual-looking things I've ever eaten. Described on the menu as a "cromlech," I assumed this was some culinary term that was beyond my savant-like multilingual food vocabulary. I was wrong. A "cromlech" is a megalith or stone slab - like Stonehenge.[2] That would explain the peculiar shapes. Though named after gigantic stone structures, these were incredibly fragile, with a delicate paper-thin casing (reminiscent of the "tent" over the egg dish we had last year) enclosing a filling of creamy foie gras and caramelized onion. These had to be picked up with the hands and eaten quickly in a couple bites before they fell apart completely. A sprinkling of powdered coffee and green tea provided a welcome delicately bitter note, playing the contrasting role to the rich foie often played by a sweet fruity component.

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Monday, October 11, 2010

Great Moments in Food Truck Tweets

It's nice to see the spirit of cooperation overcome any rivalry among South Florida's food truckers:

Grillers stick together, I guess.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Good Food Good Cause x2

Some upcoming events of note that should offer some good food and the chance to do some good, too:

Ceviche Throwdown - October 17

Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill is playing host to a "Ceviche Throwdown" to benefit Friends of the Fishermen, a non-profit organization set up by the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board to assist Louisiana fishermen impacted by the BP oil spill in the Gulf. Competing for the title of Ceviche King (or Queen) will be Sugarcane's chef Timon Balloo, Douglas Rodriguez (Ola, De Rodriguez Cuba and the newly opened De Rodriguez Ocean), Andrea Curto-Randazzo (Water Club), Tim Andriola (Timo), Philip Bryant (Norman's 180), Jonathan Eismann (Fin), Kris Wessel (Red Light), Bernard Matz (Books & Books), Juan Chipoco (Cvi.che 105), Dena Marino (formerly Devito South Beach) and Clay Conley (formerly Azul and soon-to-be Buccan). Tickets ($40) can be purchased at the Miami Wine Fair website.

Ceviche Throwdown @
Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill
3250 NE 1st Avenue, Miami
October 17, 3pm-6pm

Food Truck Battle / Wine on Harvest Moon
Deering Estate Fundraiser - October 23

The next week, two of Miami's mobile chefs take their trucks to the Deering Estate to duel it out as part of the Deering Estate Foundation's annual "Wine on Harvest Moon" fundraiser. The gastroPod will be facing off against Jefe's Original. Each will be cooking some of their regular specialties (including Chef Jeremiah's Mo' Better Burger and Jefe's Ensenada Style Fish Tacos), but also will be facing a secret ingredient challenge. And as they say on TV, "But that's not all ..." The evening also offers the Florida debut of Deering Wines, a Sonoma winery founded by descendants of the Deering McCormick family. There will also be more food samples from Bizcaya at the Ritz-Carlton, Anacapri, Smith & Wollensky, Sawa, Kaliapy's, Delicias del Mundo, Wendy's Chocolates, Donna's Delights, and Sugar Shack. Tickets ($90, $75 for members, VIP $175, $150 for members) are available at the Deering Estate website or by calling 305.235.1668, x263.

Food Truck Battle / Wine on Harvest Moon
@ Deering Estate
16701 SW 72nd Avenue, Miami
October 23, 7:30pm-10:30pm

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Where Angels Fear to Tread

A freelance writer for the Miami New Times took it upon herself to give a "critique" of the Cobaya dinners in their Short Order blog today. I put "critique" in quotes because what was most interesting about her comments - to me, anyway - is that she has never actually been to one of our events.

Unfortunately, New Times was too craven to publish my response, which I attempted to post on their site. So instead, you can read my response here.

Monday, October 4, 2010

The Return of the Truck Party - Dim Ssam a Gogo, Jefe's Original

The last time we mentioned a "truck party" here, it was a two-part taste test featuring the gastroPod and Latin Burger. That was more than half a year ago, and since then several more food trucks have started up operations in Miami. In fact, the twitter list of South Florida food trucks I've compiled now numbers more than twenty, though not all of those are in regular circulation (and conversely, there are others who shun contemporary social media such as Twitter in favor of - I don't know, paper cups and string?). As I mentioned Friday, several of the food trucks were gathered in Haulover Marina Park on Saturday for the South Florida Dragon Boat Festival, and I stopped by for some more samples. There was not much in the way of dragon boats actually racing when we were there at mid-day, but there was some good eating.

One of the newest trucks on the block is the Dim Ssäm à Gogo truck from Sakaya Kitchen. Chef Richard Hales has been doing a fantastic job at Sakaya putting out creative, vibrantly flavored, Korean-influenced food (my raves over his "Dim Ssam Brunch" and the regular menu have already appeared here), and the Dim Ssäm à Gogo takes that show on the road (I think I've now officially used up every corny "street"-related reference). On board, Chef Richard Hales is offering a nice short-form sampling of items from the restaurant menu, both some "greatest hits" (Korean Fried Chicken, Honey Orange Ribs) and a grab-bag of other creations.

Family Frod split some KFC, a "K-Dog," and some "Covered & Chunk'd Tots."

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