Showing posts from July, 2010

(Miami) Spice of Life

Yes, it's that time of year again - when diners go off in search of the elusive $35 dinner that does not involve the same boring roll call of chicken paillard, farmed salmon, and churrasco, served by sneering waitstaff who seem less than eager to get into the spirit. Or, to look at it another way, the season when line cooks go slowly insane, chanting "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" as they crank out the same couple of dishes over and over again, while the owners calculate food costs down to the penny in the hope they're at least coming out even, and servers put up with customers expecting to be treated like royalty for their meager $5 per person tip. Ahh, Miami Spice time!

We've been through this before here, but I'll briefly repeat my basic rules for navigating Miami Spice season: (1) there's no reason to bother with restaurants where a $35 menu is not a meaningful discount from their regular prices (though, of course, go to them if you like…

Fin - Miami Design District

[Sorry, this place has closed]

I've come to realize that I am susceptible to the power of self-suggestion. When I was planning our upcoming trip to Spain, all I wanted to eat was Spanish food. We decided to take the kids to Maine next month, and all of a sudden I had hankerings for fresh, simple seafood. That's pretty much the mission statement of Fin, Chef Jonathan Eismann's latest restaurant to open in the Design District, which is where we ended up for dinner earlier this week. It was exactly what I was looking for.

We actually got something of a preview for Fin several months ago, when Chef Eismann used the space to host one of our Cobaya dinners back in December. It quietly opened for real about a month ago, occupying a small enclosed nook in the corner of Q American Barbecue on the west end of the Design District along Miami Avenue. Keeping track of Chef Eismann's restaurants has required a scorecard lately: through some wheeling and dealing with restaurateur Jef…

NAOE in Pictures - A Year Later

It was a little more than a year ago that I made my first, revelatory visit to NAOE. I've been back several times since then, and each meal has been a bit different, but just as good. I brought the camera for my most recent visit, something of a one-year anniversary celebration. You can see the complete flickr set here.

The bento featured hog snapper sashimi with shiso and seaweed (the snapper freshly caught by a spearfishing friend that morning); scorpionfish (also locally caught) two ways, fried, and braised with apricot and sprinkled with white poppy seed; a silky custard with aji and shiitake mushrooms; baby carrots, gingko nuts; slow-braised, falling-apart tender pork jowl with parsnip purée and mustard sauce; bamboo rice, daikon pickles; butternut squash and miso soup.

As always, after the bento, a procession of nigiri.

Chef Cory brings in live scallops and prepares them to order. You could see the scallop muscle still quivering after he sliced it.

(continued ...)

Sanibel-Captiva Restaurant Rundown (Part 2)

Sometimes the best things in life are the simplest ones. It's not exactly on the level of a dining mantra for me, perhaps more of a last resort. But after some mixed experiences in Sanibel and Captiva, we definitely found that we ate better when we kept things simple.

Over Easy Café

Case in point: the Over Easy Café. It's a modest place decorated in a cheerful provençal color scheme overlaid with recurring examples of a chicken motif, but the decor is not the story here. Rather, it's the hearty, straight-ahead, and well-prepared food that made me happy. I tweeted during our trip "Provided you don't get too clever, it is well near impossible to fuck up a club sandwich." Over Easy Café didn't. Sliced turkey, fresh lettuce and tomato, bacon that's still warm off the griddle, crisp but not shatteringly so, just enough mayo, nice crisp toast. It's a simple pleasure, but one that really hit the spot. A pasta salad for a side wasn't a mere afterthought…

Point Counterpoint - updated

This will be a short one. Yesterday, Shola Olunloyo, an opinionated and thought-provoking Philadelphia chef who is in the process of opening a restaurant called Speck, put up a post noting "We are desperately trying to find a reason why we should not cook virtually every piece of meat in this restaurant sous-vide." And the same day, chefs Alexander Talbot and Aki Kamozawa of the creative hive that is Ideas in Food, though not apparently in response to Shola, provided an answer:

Sure, functionality, speed and consistency are important, but there is something special about a gorgeous piece of meat (or two) cooked properly in a salt dusted skillet; it's fat renders into the pan and the constant turning (a la McGee) allows for uniform cooking and a beautiful crust. A quick pan sauce made with wine and butter, finished with fresh herbs snipped from the garden and a warm rest (we used a pyrex pan with a lid) resulted in different textures and flavors playing off one another wit…

Chow Down Grill - Surfside

[sorry, this restaurant has closed; but check out Josh's Deli, at the same spot with the same owner, which I've reviewed here]

I paid my first visit to Chow Down Grill the first week that they opened, about a month ago. This is often a somewhat dicey proposition, even more so for a place that is as unabashedly D.I.Y. as Chow Down Grill. And sure enough, the A/C wasn't working, they'd just gotten their license and hadn't stocked up on beer yet - but the food showed real promise. I went back recently to try it again. The good news is that the A/C is cranking, the beer is well-stocked and cold, and the food delivers on that promise, providing some interesting and well-executed spins on old-school Chinese classics (with some occasional straying into Vietnamese territory).

The chef behind Chow Down is Joshua Marcus, who spent some time in a number of Miami kitchens before venturing out on his own. His resumé includes China Grill, BLT Steak, Timo, and the now defunct Nor…

Sanibel - Captiva Restaurant Rundown (Part 1) - The Mad Hatter, Key Lime Bistro

We took a little expedition over the July 4 holiday weekend[1] to Captiva Island on the west coast of Florida. I grew up in South Florida, but have never spent much time exploring the west coast of the state. Just a few hours' drive provided a welcome change of scenery and atmosphere, with even the intermittent rains bringing with them the benefit of some cooler weather. As for the food? Well, we'll get to that.

Sanibel and Captiva Islands have an entertaining history: originally home to Calusa Indians, they were discovered by Ponce de Leon while searching for the Fountain of Youth, then later become a haven for pirates, including one Jose Gaspar, who supposedly held female prisoners captive on the "Isle de las Captivas" for ransom. In this century, the islands have been a vacation retreat for the rich and famous, including Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, Charles Lindbergh, and more recently, the artist Robert Rauschenberg.[2] Though Sanibel and Captiva offer many reasona…

Josh's Big Fat Free Wedding

A couple days ago I started writing a post which led off with the following line: "Not to go all Ozersky on you, but I just ate a couple free meals from a chef who I idolize and now I'm going to tell you how great there were." Then I realized: (1) such an admission might compromise my credibility with readers; and (2) some of you who do not compulsively follow the national culinary interwebs might not even know what I was talking about. Plus, Blogger was refusing to load the photos from my freebie meals.

So first, a recap, though the story has been covered extensively and others have had many smart things to say about it already. Josh Ozersky, a/k/a "Mr. Cutlets," is presently the master of ceremonies of Ozersky.TV and a regular food writer for, and formerly the online food editor for New York Magazine, editor of Grubstreet NY and Citisearch NY, grand poobah of The Feedbag, and restaurant critic for Newsday. A couple weeks ago, he penned a piece in Tim…