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.

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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

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