Sunday, February 28, 2010

CSA Canistel Microwave Cake

Some CSA canistels had been hanging around in my freezer for several weeks now, but I had a plan for them: microwave cakes. This was actually one of the things I hoped to accomplish when I started blogging my CSA shares: to combine fresh-from-the-farm produce with some personal experimentation in contemporary cookery, a small, humble attempt to show that the two are not as antithetical as many people (i.e., those who insist on tags like "science fiction cooking" or use "molecular gastronomy" as an epithet) make them out to be. Well, best laid plans and all ... I've generally been lucky just to get the stuff cooked in the most primitive of fashions, though I've done some good eating along the way.

Anyway, like so many contemporary techniques, the microwave cake's genesis appears to trace back to none other than Ferran Adrià. It uses an iSi whipped cream canister charged with nitrous oxide to aerate the batter (the same tool chefs sometimes use to make those foams so dreaded by some), and is cooked in a single-serve cup in the microwave in 30-40 seconds, making a wonderful light spongey cake. There are a few recipes floating around the intertubes if you search for them, but they vary considerably, so I went to my resident experts - chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano - for guidance, who gave me a few recipes and suggestions as starting points.

Not surprisingly, none of the recipes use canistel, so my primary guide was one for a beet cake, figuring pureed beet is about as close as I'd get to canistel. Here's what went into it:[*]

100g almond flour (a little less than a cup) (couldn't find actual almond flour anywhere, simply ground up some blanched unsalted almonds in the food processor)
200g canistel flesh (about a cup)
250g egg whites (about 6 large whites)
160g egg yolks (8 yolks)
100g sugar (about 1/2 cup)
130g flour (about 1 cup) (recipe called for cake flour, I had none, and used all-purpose; no doubt cake flour would have yielded a lighter final product)

Mix all the ingredients in a blender (I suspect a stand mixer would have worked equally well) until smooth, and strain through a chinois. I had to stir it through vigorously with a wooden spoon for about 10 minutes.

cake batter

Then you break out the high-tech hardware:


The iSi canister, and - that's right: Dora the Explorer paper cups. Trust me, this is exactly how they do it at El Bulli.

Friday, February 26, 2010

There Will Be Boulud

Rumors have swirled for some time, now it's official. Uber-chef Daniel Boulud will be expanding his restaurant empire to Miami.

Boulud, whose flagship Daniel picked up three Michelin stars in the 2010 edition, will be opening a DB Bistro Moderne in the JW Marriott Marquis supposedly due to open in mid-2010. Boulud already has a toehold in Florida with Café Boulud in the Brazilian Court Hotel in Palm Beach. The DB destined for Miami is being described as a "sister restaurant" to the New York version and presumably will have a similar contemporary bistro format.

Good timing for the formal announcement: Boulud is the honoree at a tribute dinner during South Beach Wine & Food Festival Saturday night.

Oishinbo Style Miso Ramen

Several months ago, through a tweet by Chef Chris Cosentino, I learned of the Oishinbo books. Oishinbo is a Japanese manga series which ran to over 100 volumes in Japan, and which has been republished in several volumes here in the U.S. The comics are loosely structured around the premise that a newspaper has set out to create the "Ultimate Menu" - the best of all Japanese food. The protagonist, Yamaoka Shiro, is a lazy newspaper employee with an exceptionally refined palate who is tasked with the creation of the Ultimate Menu. Yamaoka has major issues with his father, Kaibara Yuzan, a reknowned artist, the founder of the "Gourmet Club," and the architect of the "Supreme Menu" that a rival newspaper has commissioned.

But I digress. Aside from the father-son rivalry plotline and others of equal literary depth, the books contain fascinating, well-researched, and often extremely detailed insights into all sorts of aspects of Japanese cuisine, and each of the U.S. volumes after the first one (broadly titled "Japanese Cuisine") is focused on a particular aspect of that cuisine: Sake, Ramen and Gyoza, Fish, Sushi and Sashimi, Vegetables, The Joy of Rice, and Izakaya--Pub Food thus far. I dare say I've learned more about Japanese techniques, ingredients, and cooking philosophy from these comic books than anything I've read elsewhere. As an added bonus, each book has an actual recipe or two, taken from the stories in that volume.

Frod Jr.'s gotten into the Oishinbo series too, and has also read through all seven volumes. So when we were in Sushi Deli recently, looking through the refrigerated cases waiting for a spot to clear, he said "Why don't we make the ramen dish from the Oishinbo book?" This is what's known as a proud parent moment. We were able to round up most of the ingredients that we didn't already have right there.

It's an unusual miso ramen dish, in that it uses a fish-based katsuobushi dashi broth instead of the chicken- or pork-bone stock that is customary, and the miso is not in the broth, but rather in the ground pork which goes atop it. I was a little dubious when I first read through it, but it turned out fantastic - good enough to be worth sharing the recipe. Frod Jr. helped all along the way.

Oishinbo-Style Miso Ramen

(Note: I have adjusted the measurements in the book's recipe some, doubling up most things other than the noodles. The book's recipe supposedly got 4 servings out of 6 oz. of ground pork, which seemed unlikely. The measurements below are probably good for about 6 servings).


2 qts water
1 cup katsuobushi (shaved bonito flakes)
6 tbsp soy sauce
6 tbsp hatcho miso*
6 tbsp sake
2 tbsp sesame or peanut oil
4 garlic cloves, minced
1 large shallot, finely chopped
1 lb ground pork
6 scallions, finely chopped
1 cup mushrooms, finely chopped (recipe called for shiitakes, in their absence I used a mix that was available at the grocery store)
1 lb fresh ramen noodles (in the freezer case at Sushi Deli)
  1. Bring the water to a boil in a large pot. Once it's reached a boil, add the katsuobushi, turn off the heat, and let it steep for 2 minutes. Strain through a chinois and return the dashi to the pot. Add the soy sauce (to taste) and hold on low heat while you prepare the rest of the dish.
  2. Mix the miso with the sake until well combined and set aside.
  3. Heat up a wok or large skillet over high heat. Add the oil, then add the garlic. Once the garlic starts to make the room smell good, add the pork and shallots. Cook, stirring constantly and breaking the pork up into small bits, for about 3-4 minutes. Add the mushroms and the scallions, reserving some of the greens of the scallion for garnish. Cook for another minute. Add the miso-sake mixture and stir in well. Cook until most of the liquid in the pan has evaporated, about another 4-5 minutes. Hold over low heat.
  4. Heat a large pot of water to a vigorous boil. Add the ramen noodles and cook for 2-3 minutes, until they've just lost their firmness. Remove and drain the noodles and put them into bowls for service. Spoon some of the broth over the noodles, and top with the miso-flavored pork. Garnish with the chopped scallion greens.

This makes for an intriguing variation on a surf-and-turf. In truth, the dashi retains little in the way of fishy flavor once it's been bolstered with soy sauce and mixed with the miso-flavored pork, but it does provide a pleasingly smoky backnote, and has that unique combination of rich flavor and light texture that makes dashi so wonderful. And the pork, with the hatcho miso and mushrooms, is an umami-bomb of flavor. Together, and with some noodles to provide some ballast, they made for a great meal.

Fortunately, Frod Jr. and I were able to happily share credit for our preparation of this fine dish, and hopefully we won't be having any "Ultimate Menu" / "Supreme Menu" showdowns any time soon.

*Hatcho miso comes originally from the city of Hatcho and is supposed to be a very "pure" miso, with no rice or other grain added to the soybean base, consequently taking longer to ferment. It's very dark and rich, and less salty than other misos.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Best Cuban Sandwiches in Miami

There is only one true "Sandwich Cubano" - that classic combination of roast pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mustard and pickles, pressed on la plancha until the exterior is toasty and the interior is warm and melted.[1] But there are actually many varieties of Cuban sandwiches that can be found in Miami.

I was recently asked to recommend five Cuban sandwiches and give short descriptions for a publication (which may or may not actually appear, I don't know). Needless to say, I struggled to limit myself to five, to say nothing of the abbreviated word count. Here's an expanded, unedited version of some of my personal favorites.


For the classic "Cubano," there's still no better place to go than that most classic Cuban restaurant, the hall of mirrors that is the unofficial capitol of Cuban Miami: Versailles. Is it the best Cubano in Miami? Honestly? Maybe, maybe not. But eating one there, followed by a cafecito to wash it down - either in the mirrored, chandeliered dining room, or probably even better, outside at the counter from the take-out window, where the locals hang out and gossip - is a true Miami experience.

3555 SW 8th Street
Miami, FL 33134

Versailles on Urbanspoon


Enriquetas may not be much to look at, and it may not be in the toniest part of Miami (its location, near the warehouse district / art district that is Wynwood, is what a realtor might call a "transitional neighborhood"), but their Pan Con Lechón - tender shredded roasted pork, splashed with some garlicky mojo, topped with sautéed onions, and smushed into toasted buttered bread - is my favorite. I like mine with a side of tostones, with some more mojo for dipping. You won't be very kissable afterwards, but you'll be satisfied.

186 NE 29th Street
Miami, FL 33137
(breakfast & lunch only)

Enriqueta's Sandwich Shop on Urbanspoon

Luis Galindo's Latin American

I still fondly remember the original Latin American Cafe on Coral Way, an indoor-outdoor space that got decimated in a hurricane several years ago and never reopened. But the newer location on the outskirts of Coral Gables still tastes just as good. The dozens of whole hams hanging all around the restaurant are a good sign, but for nostalgia's sake I like one of my old-time favorites: the "Sandwich Miami," which features turkey, ham, bacon, Swiss cheese, lettuce and tomato, all pressed on la plancha just like the original.

Luis Galindo's Latin American
898 SW 57th Avenue
Miami, FL 33144

Luis Galindo Latin American 2 on Urbanspoon

La Camaronera

If Garcia's Seafood Grill on the Miami River has the best grilled fish sandwich in town (and it does), then the Pan Con Minuta at La Camaronera[2] is the best fried fish sandwich in town - and one of the best you'll find anywhere. The place started as a seafood market, and 25 years ago added fryers and a stand-up counter so they could also cook and serve their catch. There's still no seating at the counter, or anywhere else, so step up and place your order. Your fish will be freshly battered and fried to order, and come to you in a few minutes with a crispy, lightly spiced crust around some beautifully tender flaky fresh fish, topped with onions and ketchup. Hit it with a bit of the hot sauce that's out on the counter too. This is no "filet-o-fish" - the minuta comes with the tail sticking out of an edge of the bun! The best part: it's only $3.25. Get some bollitos de carita (black-eyed pea fritters), also expertly fried, to go with it, or if you're more adventurous they have fried fish roe. But I figured out when I last went that the item everyone was getting was the grouper soup; now I know.

La Camaronera
1952 W. Flagler Street
Miami, FL 33135
(Open 9am-5:30pm Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm Sun)

La Camaronera Fish Market on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

A Festivus for the Rest of Us

If you're skipping out on the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, or just looking for something to do in your downtime when not elbowing your way in to grab a burger or waiting to see what royalty Mario Batali offends this year, Mango & Lime has put together a great list of other good foodstuffs going on this week. I can't do any better than this list, so here it is:

Not going to SoBe Wine & Food Fest? Try these events

A couple comments:

The Seven Courses of Offal menu from Talula, for $78, available Friday-Sunday, is bound to be a winner. I just had a preview of the tripe cassoulet last night (brought some home after our visit over the weekend) and loved it. So did Frod Jr. (and, unlike the "lamb fries incident," this time he knew exactly what he was eating before he tried it).

The Q Miami opening party for Chef Jonathan Eismann's new restaurant on Thursday also ought to be a lot of fun. Barbecue, beer, blues - what's not to like?

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Goes Around ... Comes Around: Small World Edition - UPDATED

[Updated - see below]

I initially scoffed when South Miami restaurant Town Kitchen & Bar, which has been in business for a few years now, complained about their new neighbor, 72nd Bar + Grill. Town even went as far as issuing a notice that "someone in the neighborhood has copied us" and that Town was the "original neighborhood joint." Indeed, I suggested that after claiming to have invented the neighborhood joint, next Town would be claiming to have invented the question mark.

After looking at each of their online menus, I'm beginning to understand why Town is so sore. Here, have a gander yourself:

Town Kitchen & Bar:

72nd Bar + Grill:

Almost identical color scheme and font style, right down to the use of the "+" between descriptors in the menu. Pretty much the same menu groupings: salads; "starters"; pizzas; burgers; "certified angus beef steaks" vs. "from the grill"; "Old Town Favorites" vs. "72 Favorites". Even 72nd's circle logo bears more than a passing resemblance to Town's.

The actual food items are different in many respects, but it's hard to imagine how there could so many commonalities in the look, layout and format without it being a deliberate copy.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about it all is the incredible lack of inspiration from Juan Mario Maza and Vani Maharaj, the chef-owners of 72nd Bar + Grill. The husband and wife team, both Michelle Bernstein alumni, also operated Alta Cocina, which recently closed after a two-year run in South Miami just down the street from the location of their new restaurant. Is it wrong to expect a bit more creativity out of folks with that pedigree? Of course, it'll all be just fine if the food is good. If so, hopefully South Miami is big enough to handle two neighborhood joints.


After this post went up, I received an email from chef Juan Maza. With his permission, I am now reprinting it here in full. I'm glad to see that Town and 72nd have apparently cleared the air, and I thought this was a thoughtful and clearly heartfelt response:

I have read you post about the menus with Town. I would like you to know that we have allready apologized to Brandon "Town's owner" and are redoing our menu formats. We both talked like gentlemen and although we never intended to copy him or anything similar they just ended looking similar. As for the logo we agreed they are not similar as you can see on his webpage.

As for the comments of Chef Bernstein we have nothing but the greatest respect for her, when we left Michys and open Alta Cocina everyone seems to think we did it becuase we know it all, and it is not like that, we had only one option to stay in the country and it was to obtian an investor visa through opening a business. Alta Cocina was the toughest learning experience we faced and for two cooks with one year of experience in the kitchen we did well and we learned through very tough criticism. We risk everything we had and own for a better oportunity in the country, but no one knows that but Vani and myself. Now we are residents Alta Cocina did its purpose, we have a better oportunity for us and our future children for our future.

We are not trying to be superstar or super chefs, all we want is to be able to learn and grow and pay our bills.

We are nice people who work hard , not copy cats or anything like that. If you may know we took a big risk, all food bloggers and critics seem were are just trying to shine on someone elses talent, it is not and never been like that I am the first one to tell that all i ever did in Michys was the most simple prep work, and you know I have trained my self almost everything including working the line and I really think for what we achieved at least for being a top Zagat new comer we should just get a little break.

Thank you for taking the time read this and I hope you are a gentleman with this email and if you ever come to us I will love to be able to get your opinions on our food and learn from you.

Juan Maza

I wish them the best of luck and much success.

Where Are South Florida's Best New Chefs? - Part 2

Not so long ago, the local press was bemoaning the absence of new young chefs in South Florida. When Food & Wine announced its "Best New Chefs" in the Spring of 2009 and there were no South Florida candidates, New Times instead offered its own alternative list of local "Best Old Chefs 2009." (Of course, they could have noted that two of the chefs honored by F&W, Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook of Los Angeles' Animal, actually do have Miami roots, having cut their teeth with Michelle Bernstein at The Strand). A few months later in August, Lee Klein of New Times posited that the Miami food scene was stalled, and pondered whether or not there was a "farm system" of younger talent that had trained under the chefs like Michael Schwartz, Michelle Bernstein, Norman Van Aken, Dewey LoSasso, Jonathan Eismann, Allen Susser, Kris Wessel, and so on, who were ready to "pick up the torch and start opening personal, passion-fueled places that showcase their own distinctive vision and approach to cooking?"[*]

A good question, and one that hadn't gone without asking here at FFT. Indeed, almost exactly a year ago when the 2009 James Beard Award semi-finalists were announced, I asked "Not a single Florida nominee for the "Rising Star Chef of the Year" category - what to make of that?" and in April asked again "Where Are South Florida's Best New Chefs?," actually trying to answer the question that New Times raised in response to the F&W announcements.

What a difference a year makes. All of a sudden, it seems you can't lift a fork without poking into a chef whose resume includes a stint with one of the venerable names of South Florida cookery. One of them was even nominated for a James Beard "Best New Chef" award this year: Samuel Gorenstein of BLT Steak is a Chef Michael Schwartz alum, something I probably should have figured out when I tried his porchetta di testa, done in exactly the same fashion as at MGF&D.

But Chef Gorenstein is not alone. Simon Stojanovic, another MGF&D alum, will be heading the kitchen at the reincarnated Altamare. Timon Balloo, chef at the newly opened Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, was in the kitchen with Michelle Bernstein, Allen Susser (Chef Allen's) and Tim Andriola (Timo) before going out on his own. Frederick Kelley, still another chef listing a stint at MGF&D on his resume, is co-chef with Jeremy Fernandez at the new JB Kitchen and Bar (f/k/a Badrutt's Place). A year ago Alejandro Pinero, who had worked at the Strand with Michelle Bernstein and Talula with Andrea Curto and Frank Randazzo, became chef de cuisine at Fratelli Lyon. Juan and Vani Maza spent a brief time in Michelle Bernstein's kitchen at Michy's before going it on their own at the now-closed Alta Cocina, and now the recently opened 72nd Bar + Grill. Gerdy Rodriguez, who has been everywhere, including at Mundo with Norman Van Aken, now is the chef at MIA at Biscayne. Maria Manso, who cooked the line at Norman Van Aken's A Mano on South Beach, is the executive chef at the Delano. As Michelle Bernstein has opened more venues, she's created more opportunities for younger talent like Berenice de Araujo, the chef de cuisine at Sra. Martinez, and Jason Schaan, who has that position at Michy's. Andrea and Frank are stockpiling some young talent in the kitchen at Talula with sous chef Kyle Foster (highlighted, among other places, in "Sous Chef Kyle's Tapa of the Day"). Edited to add: Norman Van Aken seems to be grooming a real, bona-fide next generation, with son Justin Van Aken working with him on the opening of Norman's 180.

It was interesting to see that in an interview today, Chef Kris Wessel at Red Light, (who himself got started locally with Mark Militello), also mentioned the importance of younger chefs breaking out on their own and spreading their wings. Edited to add: And Sam Gorenstein likewise says many of the same things in an interview which came out just hours after this was first posted.

But the question remains: can the progeny cook? Or perhaps more to the point: do they have the creativity, vision, and drive to create unique, distinctive restaurants that will add something meaningful to our local dining landscape? And - to be fair - will they be given the opportunity?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

CSA Week 11 and its uses

CSA Week 11

Clearly I have fallen out of the habit of doing weekly CSA updates, seeing that Saturday, Week 12 is upon us and I've not even posted on Week 11. Here it is above, working clockwise from the left: new potatoes, spinach, celery, lettuce, grape tomatoes, green pepper, green beans. These particular weekly "what's in the box?" updates seem a bit superfluous, given that the Bee Heaven newsletters are available online and that Redland Rambles provides such nice pictures every week too, a day in advance of the delivery even.

Those potatoes were exciting, if for no other reason than that we hadn't gotten any potatoes yet, and I was torn between doing a Pommes Anna and a Tortilla Española. The tortilla, a Spanish classic which can be found in just about every tapas bar in the country, won out. This recipe is taken from Anya von Bremzen's wonderful cookbook, The New Spanish TableNew Spanish Table.

tortilla miseThe recipe calls for 3 medium-sized potatoes, peeled, sliced thinly (a food processor's slicing blade is recommended), dried on paper towels and rubbed with salt; 1 1/4 cups of olive oil; 1 onion, thinly sliced; 6 large eggs; and 2 tbsp chicken stock.

Heat the oil in a large skillet (it's a lot of oil, use a big pan) over medium-high heat, then bring the heat down to medium-low and add the potatoes. Cook, stirring periodically to keep the potatoes from browning or sticking, for about 7 minutes; they won't be cooked through. Add the onion, stir it in, bring the heat down to low, and cook for another 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Everything should be nice and soft but not browned.

Remove the potatoes and onions from the pan with a slotted spoon, and drain in a colander set over a bowl to catch the oil. Salt the potatoes and onions to taste. Reserve the oil, you'll be using some of it again shortly.

Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the chicken stock and a couple pinches of salt. Once the eggs are scrambled, stir in the potatoes and onions (break up the potatoes a bit with a fork) and let them sit for 10 minutes.

Put an 8" skillet (non-stick is a good idea) over medium-high heat and add a couple tablespoons of the reserved olive oil. When it's hot, add the egg-potato-onion mixture and bring the heat down to medium-low. It will just about fill the pan. Use a thin spatula to pull the edges away and let more egg mixture seep underneath. Cook it this way for about 6-8 minutes, until the top is no longer completely liquid.


Now comes the fun part - you need to flip the tortilla. It's all about confidence: if you think you can do it, it'll work. Run the spatula all around the edges, and as far underneath as you can, to ensure the tortilla won't stick. Put a plate (bigger than the skillet!) over the top of the skillet, then with one hand holding the plate and one holding the skillet, invert the pan (and the tortilla) onto the plate. In an ideal world, you'll now have a tortilla with a still-somewhat gooey bottom on the plate, and an empty pan. Add a little more oil to the pan if needed, reduce the heat to low, then shuffle the tortilla back into the pan, gooey side down, to finish cooking. It should take about another five minutes. The recipe recommended one more flip and trip back into the pan for another minute, this seemed unnecessary to me. Check to see if it's done all the way through by sticking a toothpick in the middle and seeing if it comes out dry.


When it's cooked through, slide it out of the skillet onto a plate and let it cool a bit, then cut into wedges (or however else you might like) to serve.

A couple thoughts. First, I wonder if all that oil is really necessary for cooking the potatoes, though it might well be, since the idea is really to sort of poach them rather than sauté. Second, as you can see in the final photo, mine seemed to separate a bit, with the egg retreating to the exterior of the tortilla and the potatoes layered in the middle, more like an omelette than the homogeneous egg-potato-onion concoction I'm accustomed to at tapas places. Maybe a longer soak for the eggs and potatoes before cooking was in order.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill - Midtown Miami

Unlike professional restaurant critics, I'm allowed to admit certain biases. One of these, which I'll readily confess, is that I tend to prefer chef-driven restaurants to concept-driven restaurants. A chef-driven restaurant is one that starts with the chef: the menu, often even the environment, follow from the chef's personal vision, which is more often than not centered on the food. Michy's is a chef-driven restaurant; Naoe is an even more extreme example. Concept-driven restaurants start with an idea: a marketing ploy around which everything else is assembled. The chef, typically, is simply a cog that fits into the wheel of the restaurant's concept, the menu just a piece along with the decoration, the music, the drinks, the scene. China Grill is the prototypical concept-driven restaurant.

No doubt my bias toward chef-driven restaurants is naive and overly romanticized. After all, chefs (and their backers) want to make money just like everyone else. But as someone who cares mostly about the food, I've learned that the odds of finding the best food are improved by going to places where the decisions are made by the person who creates it.

Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, the new spinoff from the creators of Sushi Samba, is a concept-driven restaurant. But I'm not too proud or stubborn to admit that it's a darn good one, one for which the food is far from a mere afterthought.

Located in Midtown Miami, Sugarcane occupies a long space whose voluminous feeling is multiplied by the two-story high ceilings, with rattan fans turning slowly overhead. There's a large indoor/outdoor bar as you walk in, with most of the main space bisected by a row of red leather-clad banquettes. Off to the right side, backed by a stone wall, is a raw bar with seating around it. Toward the back is the robata station, housing a sizable grill under which they burn Japanese bincho-tan charcoal (which generates high heat without much smoke). Off to the left is still more seating. The decorations have the purposefully haphazard look of a very expensive haircut, with mismatched chairs and partially painted walls throughout. (Some of those mismatched chairs, I will note, are too tall for the tables, leading to a hunched-over seating posture more conducive to hard-nosed contract negotiations than dining).

The "concept," I suppose, must be tapas with a Japanese tilt, though the influences are more global than the Brazilian/Japanese mashup that characterizes Sushi Samba. The Sugarcane menu is pretty much exclusively comprised of the "small plates" that are taking hold on so many local menus lately. It is divided among "snacks," "tapas," "robata grill," and "raw bar," the last of which includes traditional raw bar items, crudos, sushi, sashimi, and rolls. A blackboard features a short list of entreés, including a roasted chicken that has been getting raves all over twitter of late. Food comes from either the raw bar, the robata, or the hot kitchen, and like a tapas bar, items come out as they're prepared. This orchestra is directed by Chef Timon Balloo, whose resume includes stints with some of Miami's big name chefs (Michelle Bernstein, Alan Susser, Tim Andriola) and at Sugarcane's local cousin, Sushi Samba Dromo on Lincoln Road, before he took the helm at the now-closed Domo Japones.

I've not tried that roasted chicken yet, but I have tried most of the rest of the menu during our two visits. Among the snacks, edamame come out steaming hot and generously salted. Even better may be the shishito peppers, their skin blistered, and brightened with a squeeze of lemon and big flakes of (Maldon?) sea salt. From the raw bar, a half dozen Blue Point oysters were presented on one of those impressive seafood tower contraptions with a raised stand and a gigantic bowl of ice. Accompaniments were simple: lemon, cocktail sauce, horseradish, mignonette. The conch salad was light and refreshing, strips of the mollusk matched with orange segments and shreds of lettuce or cabbage.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Laissez les Bon Temps Rouler avec les Cobayes - Cobaya Gras Underground Dinner

who dat?
Lest anyone think we are latecomers to the New Orleans bandwagon, know this: the "Cobaya Gras" dinner had been months in the conception, even if the final execution of it came about incredibly quickly.

In fact, the origin of the Cobaya underground dinners can be traced back to Chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano, when over the summer they reached out to several local food enthusiasts with a unique proposition: "Help us design a new menu." We all spent a good bit of time and effort on it, and sampled a lot of good food; unfortunately, their hotel's management had its own ideas on that front which had little to do with any of our opinions. But one of the best things to come out of that little project was a conversation a few of us had while waiting for the valet to bring around our cars: Why couldn't Miami have an underground dining scene? And if nobody else was doing it, well, why not us?

And so it came to be. The Cobaya - Gourmet Guinea Pigs group now has over 280 members and we've put together several fun dinners and other events, most of which have filled up in only a couple hours. The approach has been a simple one: find creative, talented chefs, and give them a forum to cook what they really want to cook.  That was exactly what we wanted to accomplish when we started talking around year-end with Chefs K and Chad, both of whom have Louisiana ties, about doing a Mardi Gras themed dinner.

Though the idea got everyone jazzed up, I still wasn't entirely sure up until the very moment that it was really going to happen. We had kicked around dates for mid-February, right before Mardi Gras, but then K and Chad got buried at the hotel with preparations for Super Bowl festivities, and communication and planning became difficult. We picked a date - February 12 - and trusted that everything would fall into place.[1]

I think it all worked out perfectly. The Saints came through and won the Super Bowl last week. The weather, though ominous and stormy earlier in the evening, cleared enough to let us have a relatively dry night. The Guinea Pigs, despite the bad weather, came out in force, with perfect attendance and good spirits. And Kurtis and Chad, with help from their sous Chef Mike Marshall, along with pastry chef Jenny Rissone (who also hosted the event at her house, which has a converted garage containing a completely bad-ass professional pastry kitchen) and chef Chris DeGweck, put out an awesome spread of New Orleans favorites, with their own unique twists.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Su Shin Izakaya - Coral Gables

Su Shin
"HELLO HOW ARE YOU?!?!" Invariably, this is the greeting you will receive when you walk through the doors of Su Shin Izakaya - usually at a decibel level that will make you jump, even when you're fully expecting it. It's the owner's Americanized variation on the Japanese tradition of welcoming customers with a shout of "Irashaimase!"

Su Shin's menu is something of a mix of Americanized and traditional, too. Yes, you'll find your California rolls and salmon and cream cheese "JB rolls"[1] here. But if you're looking for something more authentic, don't let this dissuade you. The real draw here is not these inexplicably ubiquitous standards, but rather the extensive selection of "izakaya" dishes.

An izakaya is, as I understand it, sort of the Japanese equivalent of a pub: a place to drink beer or sake, often in copious amounts, and which serves food, often in smaller tapas-size portions, to accompany those libations. Hiro's Yakko-San in North Miami Beach is an izakaya style of restaurant which, as I've noted before, always requires explanation to first-time visitors that it is not a sushi restaurant: no nigiri, no maki (though there is sashimi). Su Shin, though, goes both ways, offering both the typical panopoly of sushi and sashimi, teriyaki and tempura, as well more varied fare, both on the regular menu and on a blackboard that stretches across one long wall of the restaurant, typically featuring roughly a dozen or more daily specials of both raw and cooked dishes.

Since I work in Coral Gables, Su Shin is typically a lunch stop for me, when it is typically busy. There are a half-dozen lunch specials featuring miscellaneous permutations of the usual suspects for $8.75, as well as a mysterious additional list, written only in Japanese. During several visits we've asked about or randomly pointed at some of these, but have yet to encounter anything tremendously exotic. Rather, one of my favorite mystery lunch items is buried away in the "Makimono" (cut rolls) section of the menu, under the name "Porque Mt. Fuji" with the description "Not a roll, let us surprise you." Needless to say, as soon as I noticed this I had to try it.

Monday, February 8, 2010

CSA Week 10 and its uses

CSA Week 10

What's in the box this week? From bottom left: thyme (one of my favorite herbs), arugula, green onions, komatsuna, radishes, cilantro (very boisterously scented), Ponkan tangerines, carambolas, and a canistel.

Some of the green onions went into an omelette this morning, along with last week's avocado (ehhhh...). Little Miss F is making quick work of the Ponkans. We tasted one of the carambolas tonight: beautifully fragrant and juicy, but still just a touch over-sour. And then this afternoon, the thyme, green onions and arugula got me thinking: Zuni roast chicken.

While my last experience at Zuni Cafe was less than ideal, the cookbook remains one of my all time favorites. And one of the best recipes in there is the famous roast chicken. You can find the recipe online and there's plenty of walk-throughs on various blogs as well, so I won't belabor it too much here. Plus I was scampering to get the bird done before the Super Bowl started, and my photos - and my presentation - were not so sharp, so no pix. But you won't need much else outside the CSA box to make it happen - a chicken, some currants and pine nuts, the rest is just pantry staples like olive oil, vinegar, salt and pepper - and it's a fantastic recipe that can be made in about an hour. I encourage you to try it.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

CSA Week 9 - Grilled Spring Onions with Romesco Sauce, Olive Oil Fried Egg

When we were last in Spain, we were fortunate enough to be there during calçot season. Calçots are a Catalan specialty, where they take a typical full-grown white onion and replant it, keep it mostly covered with soil while it sprouts, and then harvest it in late winter, when it's grown long shoots like a small leek. Traditionally, they're grilled over an open fire till blackened on the outside and tender within, then served with a romesco sauce for dipping. To eat, you peel off the blackened outer layer, then dip and dangle the onion over your mouth like a sword-swallower. In parts of Spain they have festivals - calçotades - dedicated to their consumption.

The four spring onions that came in last week's CSA box were hardly enough for a festival, but I find their mild sweet flavor pretty similar to calçots, and thought I'd duplicate the preparation on a small scale.

There are many variations on romesco recipes, but the standard components are dried peppers, hazelnuts, bread crumbs, olive oil, paprika, and a touch of vinegar. Tomatoes make an appearance in many recipes, as do roasted red peppers - sometimes singly, sometimes in combination. I had not done a shopping trip in preparation, so my romesco was more of a raid-the-pantry version. The mise en place:

spring onionsromesco mise en place

Spring onions; dried guajillo pepper (soaking in hot water); toasted pine nuts; toasted bread; garlic; pimentón (Spanish smoked paprika); jarred piquillo peppers; olive oil; red wine vinegar. Not quite right, but it'll do.

The garlic, pine nuts, and bread (cut into small cubes) went into the food processor and were chopped to a paste. Then the chile pepper was chopped into small pieces and added, along with a drizzle of the soaking water, and processed. Next, the piquillo peppers, and a spoonful of pimentón. Then drizzle in olive oil - about 4-5 tablespoons - until it gets a glossy, creamy texture. The guajillo pepper was still pretty fiery, so I added a bit more water too. Finally, a drizzle of red wine vinegar to taste to perk up the flavors (I used about a tablespoon), and salt to taste.

This is more pungent and spicy than a typical romesco, but still pretty good. Most recipes I saw called for sweet rather than smoked paprika, and the guajillo probably packs more heat than the ñora peppers traditionally used in Spain, but if you're not afraid of bold tastes, both modifications will still pass muster. Next, the onions are rubbed with olive oil and hit the hot grill pan:

spring onions

I covered the pan for a few minutes to let them steam and grill at the same time, and with about 2-3 minutes per side these were tender with nice char marks. Then, since this was going to turn into breafkast, I toasted some bread, cooked a couple eggs sunny side up in hot olive oil, and final assembly:

spring onions w romesco and fried egg

These onions are marvelously sweet and tender, with just a hint of the typical allium bite. And the romesco has lots of other functions. Even made with more traditional components than I used, it's a robust, hearty sauce. It's good just with plain vegetables, raw or cooked. It's also very good with all but the most delicate fish, where I find it makes a nice flavor bridge to enable a pairing of red wine with fish. And it's got enough substance to match up even to a hearty steak - at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, for instance, you'll find it paired with a grilled short rib.

It's not quite a calçotada, but it's not a bad breafkast either.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Sakaya Kitchen - Midtown Miami

It is not often that I am at a loss for what to have for dinner. Yet I found myself driving home from work this evening, knowing there was not much in the fridge to cook (yes, there are some pig trotters, but that's more of a project than a quick Tuesday night meal), pondering: "What's for dinner tonight?" Fortunately an idea occurred to me before I made it home to the near-empty fridge: Sakaya Kitchen, one of several new places that have recently opened in the Midtown Shops. (While the Five Guys next door has been open for some time, the Cheese Course and Sugarcane Raw Bar have finally come online after extended waits, and Mercadito is supposedly close).

photo via Sakaya Kitchen

Sakaya's setup looks like a fast food place, with a mostly open kitchen fronted by a long counter that has room for multiple cash registers (a sign either of unbridled optimism, or of a space that was originally built out for another tenant). But there aren't many fast food places where the menu is scrawled out daily on a chalkboard, where almost all the menu's components are made in-house, or where the menu brags about all-natural meats, organic dairy, and fresh produce. You may order at a counter, but this is real food.

When I visited, there were about a dozen items on the menu, plus a few things available by the piece or as side orders. The list is a bit of a pan-Asian hodgepodge with something of a Korean focus, playing in particular on flavors and dishes that David Chang has recently made ever so popular through his Momofuku empire - pork buns, Korean stye chicken wings, noodles with ginger scallion sauce. Which just happened to be what I ordered.

The pork buns were the standout of the group, 2 puffy clamshell buns filled with tender, meaty slabs of pork belly butt that had been slow-cooked for eight hours. The richness was cut by some thin-sliced cucumber pickles stuffed into the buns, along with a generous dollop of a sweet-ish ssamjang (Korean chile sauce). If I could have had my druthers, I would have taken the sticky-sweet-spicy sauce for the pork in a more spicy, less sweet direction, but these were some fine bites.

The Korean chicken wings can be had either by the piece ($4.69 for 6, $8.99 for 12, $14.99 for 20) or as a "combo" of six wings with jasmine rice, kimchi and more of those cucumber pickles ($7.45). The wings had been given a good long bath in a marinade redolent with kochujang (Korean chile paste), the flavor of which was infused throughout. It would be unfair of me to address the crispiness of the wings, as they had to travel 10 minutes in their take-out containers before I got home. I liked the rice, which was moist and just a bit pleasantly sticky, and generously sprinkled with fresh slivers of green onion. I also really liked their kimchi, which had a nice hint of that distinctive fermented, lactic tang.

The noodles, which came with cubed tofu and green beans, were a generous portion, but could have used a much more generous dollop of ginger-scallion sauce to perk them up. The green beans themselves also hadn't been seasoned and wanted some salt. With some minor tweaking I'm sure this could be a fine dish too.

Other items that intrigued included Angus beef bulgogi lettuce wraps, kimchi egg rolls (rolled fresh in house daily), and the promise of a "dim ssam" brunch menu coming soon. There's also about a half dozen sakes available by the bottle as well as a decent selection of Japanese beers.

Sakaya has only been open about a month and I'm sure is still tweaking the recipes and the menu. (My hope is that they turn up the bright spicy flavors even more. "Fortune favors the bold.") But even now it delivers good food at a good price that you can feel good about eating. Plus, it's conveniently located between my office and my house.

Sakaya Kitchen
Buena Vista Avenue btwn 34th & 36th Streets
Miami, FL 33127

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