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 ...)

Lombetto di coniglio
Lombetto di coniglio
A loin of rabbit was wrapped in bacon, stuffed with basil leaves, then sliced, plated over a fennel sauce, and drizzled with a balsamic black truffle vinaigrette. Chef Menichetti said that the rabbits he was able to source here were much smaller than he was accustomed to working with, but the bacon robe helped prevent them from drying out, and the remarkably fragrant basil tucked within provided a bright punctuation note to the mild rabbit meat. The fennel flavor in the sauce was so subtle as to be indistinct to me, as if it had been cooked for quite some time and/or blended with a meat stock[2] - though the rabbit, bacon, basil and vinaigrette would have made a happily complete dish on their own regardless.

Animelle di vitello
Animelle di vitello
We returned to organ meats for the next course, sweetbreads in particular. This was a fairly simple dish, just nuggets of sautéed sweetbreads, a bit of a balsamic glaze, spears of asparagus to accompany and a pool of a vegetal sauce (more asparagus?). The sweetbreads had a nice crispy exterior, contrasting against their mild, creamy texture within.

The final savory course was another iteration of Tuscan simplicity: a lamb chop, simply roasted, but larded through its middle with what I believe was a house-made pork head cheese, glazed with some thickened meat juices brightened with orange, and accompanied by a bit of broccoli. When you're with a group like this, there should be no hesitation about picking up the bone and gnawing on it, and I saw that most of the group were not bashful.

Minestrone di frutta e verdure
Minestrone di frutta e verdure
Dessert took a turn back to the inventive. When I saw a preview menu (yes, I sometimes get to peek) I was a bit puzzled by the reference to a "minestrone" in the dessert, and even more so by the reference to verdure (vegetables). In fact the dish was exactly what it claimed to be: a very fine dice of carrots, zucchini, apple, pear and banana were suspended in a fruit soup flavored with passion fruit, orange and a few other notes, including a subtle but distinct bit of chile heat, all crowned with a scoop of delicious, creamy vanilla gelato. I thought it worked quite well.

Though this was not a typical restaurant experience, I'll share a few additional words about the restaurant itself. It is an interesting space, with a big bar crowned with a sculputral wooden overhang, dark walls with back-lit colored glass squares interpersed throughout, and large-scale artworks on the walls, all giving something of a clubby feel. The kitchen is behind a floor-to-ceiling glass wall, providing the visual experience of an open kitchen without the noise (there is also a chef's table inside which could be an interesting space for a small dinner group). And though our line-up was all off-menu items, the restaurant's regular menu is, as I said earlier, more varied than most you'll find in Miami: you'll find both classic Tuscan items like a simple bean salad generously drizzled with good olive oil, and more inventive items like tortelli stuffed with pecorino and ricotta with a bright red beetroot sauce, sprinkled with poppy seeds.

Thanks once again to all the guinea pigs for taking part in another of our experiments. As always, we're very grateful for your interest and support.

Vino e Olio
139 NE 39th Street
Miami, FL 33137

Vino e Olio on Urbanspoon

[1]Chef Menichetti was reluctant to give away his tricks for thickening the olive oil so that it would hold within the pasta, but some intrepid googling has yielded his secret recipe. As for his secret ingredient? Micri, which, apparently, is a cassava-based thickener, and which also apparently can yield awful results in the wrong hands.

[2]Frommer's, of all sources, nails the stereotype when they say that "Tuscans have a Goldilocks complex whereby they undercook their meat, overcook their vegetables, but make their pasta just right."


  1. We've tried to source Micri in the past, but had no luck as it seemed it was only available in Europe. Wonder if that has changed, or where Chef Menichetti is getting it from?
    This menu looks incredible. Heartwarming and simply well-prepared food from someone who seemingly knows how to treat ingredients.

  2. Nice recap. Bummed I missed this one...