Thursday, March 31, 2011

New Times' Route 9 Review Takes Some Twists and Turns - UPDATED

Yesterday must have been something of a roller coaster for Paola and Jeremy Goldberg, the young proprietors of Route 9, a humble neighborhood restaurant that opened up in Coral Gables almost exactly two months ago. The Goldbergs, who met while at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York (hence the name of the restaurant, for the area's main thoroughfare) woke up to find a fairly glowing, three-star review from Victoria Pesce-Elliott in the Miami Herald (full version now available here). She described Route 9 as "a cozy and endearing spot," and that the Goldbergs' "greatest talent seems to be creating a welcoming environment with good food and drinks at a reasonable price." So far, so good.

Then, the Miami New Times posted its review (yes, I know: you will get a "Page Not Found" message when you click on that link. We'll get to that. Here, try the cached version a revised version now appears on the site with the statement "This story was removed from the Internet overnight while several factual errors were corrected. We apologize for the inconvenience."), which was not nearly so kind. Though New Times' restaurant critic, Lee Klein (?) (just wait), starts off with the "sweet, old-fashioned story" behind Route 9 and its owners, things quickly go downhill from there. The menu "could have been written in the year the Goldbergs graduated from the CIA" - 1991, according to the review. And just about every dish has some flaw: the chicken wings should have been described as spicy, the poblano peppers stuffed with smoked marlin could have used another component, some of the meatballs were uncooked, the tomato soup tasted like Campbell's. The fish tacos were too expensive, the vegetable accompaniments to the entrées ranged from "meh" to "awful," the pasta was too thick. The menu should have had quotes around "pie" for the banana cream pie because of the sloppy presentation.[1]

No restaurateur likes a negative review. But upon reading it, the Goldbergs thought something wasn't right. Among other things, the facts. You can look at the picture of Jeremy and Paola that accompanies the review and pretty quickly conclude that it's fairly unlikely they graduated from the CIA in 1991. As Goldberg told the Random Pixels blog: "I was 9 years old in 1991."[2] The menu couldn't put quote marks around "pie" because - well, because the pie isn't even on the printed menu, it's a verbal special.

There was something else too: Jeremy Goldberg had his doubts that Lee Klein had even visited the restaurant. Why? Well, it's a small restaurant (about 40 seats), Jeremy is pretty much always working front of house, and it probably wouldn't be too difficult to recall a repeat customer who had ordered the items mentioned in the review. And, in fact, Goldberg eventually did recall a recent customer who had ordered many of those items, and was, as Jeremy described it to Random Pixels, "a difficult table." But it wasn't Lee Klein. Rather, it was Klime Kovaceski, formerly the chef at Crystal Café in Miami Beach, and recently tapped to be the chef at the about-to-open Trio on the Bay. Goldberg suspected that Kovaceski either wrote the review, or provided the information to Lee Klein from which he wrote it. Sound crazy?

Goldberg called New Times' editor, Chuck Strouse, with his suspicions. (You can get something of a real-time account from Route 9's twitter feed). After calling, he said that Strouse was "investigating major inconsistencies" with the article. A few hours later Goldberg tweeted:
Chuck Strouse, editor New Times is stand up. Killing the New Times story for first time in 13 years based on Lee Klein lack of credibility.
And indeed, shortly thereafter, the review was pulled from the New Times website. Strouse told Eater Miami, "Story had some error. Will be reposted tomorrow." So far that hasn't happened. Strouse also told me last night that he would be commenting on the review that was pulled, and why it was pulled, today. So far that hasn't happened either. (See update below.)

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Miami Food Trucks Keep on Trucking

Food Trucks

A year ago, Miami had only barely caught on to the food truck trend that already was sweeping New York, Los Angeles, Portland and several other cities. It was late 2009 when the trucks started rolling here - first Latin Burger, then very shortly after, the gastroPod. Now, only a bit more than a year later, there are more than 50 trucks on the road or about to launch (you can follow all of them on this Miami Food Trucks twitter list I compiled, or check Burger Beast's Street Food Locator).

Though some people were ready to dismiss the food truck phenomenon as a goofy and ill-fated trend like pet rocks, white-rimmed sunglasses, or jeggings, the turnout at recent gatherings like the Biscayne Triangle Truck Roundup ("BTTR") Tuesday at the Johnson & Wales North Miami campus, and Street Food Fridays at the Adrienne Arsht Center, would suggest it has staying power. These events, where as many as 20 trucks set up shop, and which lately have included additional amenities like tables and chairs, porta-potties, and live music, seem to have been a real win-win deal for truckers and their customers, with hundreds of people coming out and almost all of the trucks doing brisk business. It's been busy enough that some of the truckers have started expanding - gastroPod and Sakaya Kitchen (Dim Ssam a Gogo) both are adding second vessels to their fleets.

Indeed, one of the biggest problems facing the food trucks lately is not finding customers, but finding places to operate. Both Miami-Dade County and the City of Miami have recently started cracking down on some food truck gatherings, though their rules and policies remain ill-defined and inconsistent. In the meantime, events like BTTR, the Wynwood Food Truckers Meetup, Street Food Fridays and others have still managed to go forward, and trucks continue to find places to do business.

While I've welcomed the food truck invasion, I've also been concerned at times with the quality and the variety - or lack thereof - available. For a while, it seemed like every new truck hitting the road was doing burgers, or tacos, or both.[*] Now it's true that everyone who has a soul loves burgers and tacos, but I had my doubts that Miami really needed twenty, or forty, trucks all serving the same things. But lately the mix has improved. I can't claim to have tried anywhere close to all the new offerings out there, but here are some thoughts on a few. (In earlier posts I shared my thoughts on gastroPod, Latin Burger, Sakaya Kitchen's Dim Ssam a Gogo, and Jefe's Original.)

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Tomatoes, Top Chefs and Pop-Ups

A few upcoming events that may be of interest to discriminating eaters:

March 23, 2011: "Celebrate the Florida Tomato," a Slow Food Miami event at Sustain Restaurant + Bar. Sustain will be putting together a 4-course menu featuring local heirloom tomatoes from Teena's Pride Farm. Starts at 7:30pm, $90pp including cocktails, four courses and wine. Click the link or the invitation below to reserve.

April 1, 2011: Johnson & Wales Distinguished Visiting Chef Dinner with Chef Kevin Sbraga, winner of Top Chef Season 7 and a graduate of J&W's North Miami campus. The menu preview includes lobster bruschetta and veal sweetbread hors d'ouevres, caesar salad with sous vide chicken, fish and chips with "a variation of tartar sauce," meatloaf with chanterelles, bacon marmalade, pickled onions and truffles, and a banana split with strawberries, chocolate ganache and pineapple. The event, which is a scholarship fundraiser for the University's College of Culinary Arts, starts at 7pm at Johnson & Wales' North Miami campus. Seats are $85pp, RSVP to 305-913-2108.

And, perhaps most intriguing of all:

April 2, 2011: "Room4Dessert 2" - a 6-course, pop-up dessert tasting by Chef Will Goldfarb, the self-styled "ultimate outlaw of pastry." Two seatings (8pm and 10pm), $75pp, with assistance from some local suspects and paired wines. Click the link above or the picture below for more info.

The preview menu:

Key Lime Margarita
Geisha 2011: Geishysoisse of coconut with black sesame and raspberry
Rouge featuring hibiscus, cherry, beet, red wine and Campari
The Sugar Refinery
Nobody says I love you anymore with shortbread and epoisses
And introducing:
That’s the best part about the Jeffrey, it goes away and then it comes back

Friday, March 4, 2011

Cobaya / Ideas in Food Dinner

While the teeming hordes invaded the sands of Miami Beach for the South Beach Wine and Food Festival last week, fifty intrepid souls ventured to the Wynwood Arts District for a very different dining experience. When we heard that Chef Alex Talbot of Ideas in Food was interested in coming in to town to do a dinner, we jumped on the opportunity.

The names of Alex Talbot and his wife and partner Aki Kamozawa may be more familiar to chefs than to diners. But for anyone with an interest in contemporary cooking, their blog, their classes, and now their book serve as an indispensable source of inspiration and guidance. Just one small example: I recall a couple years ago sitting at the kitchen bar of the now-closed, and missed, Talula, watching sous chef Kyle Foster roast off some marrow bones. When I asked what he doing with them, he gave me a sample of a dish he was playing with, pairing marrow and pickled bananas. Where did that idea come from? Right here. There are probably countless other similar instances of dishes where Aki and Alex provided the ignition spark for their creation, or the practical guidance for their execution.

So it was a particularly exciting experience to be able to try their cooking first-hand. Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog of the gastroPod lent his shiny Airstream trailer to serve as the kitchen for the evening and also was a huge help with sourcing, logistics and cooking; still more prepping, and schlepping, was done by local chefs Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano of Sol Kitchen, Albert Cabrera, and others. GAB Studio provided a great venue, with two long tables stationed in the middle of their photography studio, surrounded by works from local artists. You can see all my pictures from the dinner in this flickr set: Cobaya / Ideas In Food.

the room
the dining room

the guinea pigs
the diners
The whole meal was prepped on the gastroPod, with everything served on recyclable disposable plates. It was interesting to me that Chef Alex arrived in Miami with no food prepped in advance, and no menu planned, with everything from idea to execution taking place in the few days after he arrived.

the kitchen
the kitchen
Here's the menu he put together:

Surf and Turf
steak tartare, seaweed mayonnaise, bean sprout batons

Clams in Green Sauce
parsley, coconut, garlic-mustard

Steak and Eggs
beef tendon, onsen egg, culantro

Kimchi Cavatelli
kimchi gravy, torn basil, benton's ham

Twice Cooked Scallop
pumpkin, citron-sriracha, furikake

green mango, rum raisin, lime vinaigrette

Sticky Pork Belly
cream soda, crunchy turnip, charred scallions

Powdered Goat Cheese
strawberry relish

Malted Milk Custard

the menu
the menu
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