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Showing posts from 2012

Cobaya Gets Cruxed

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At some point fairly late Monday evening, after the last course had been served, somebody asked me how this all came about. I looked at the chef. He looked at me. I shrugged. The truth is, we no longer had any clear recollection how, exactly, we'd gotten to this point.

The chef was Brandon Baltzley, former sludge metal drummer and Chicago cooking wunderkind, mastermind of the Crux itinerant pop-up restaurant / culinary collective, author, and soon-to-be chef and farmer at TMIP, somewhere in the country an hour or so out of Chicago. We were decompressing in the Broken Shaker bar in the Freehand Miami (f/k/a the Indian Creek Hotel), which had just played gracious host to Brandon's nine-plus course dinner for forty Cobaya guinea pigs. It was a dinner that he'd really only started prepping some time around midnight the night before. The fact that it came together at all was still something of a surprise to me. The fact that it turned out so well was nothing short of remarkabl…

A Dinner with Chef Brad Kilgore

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It's not often that my photos draw much attention beyond a small group of food-obsessed Miami locals. But when I posted pictures from a dinner that chef Brad Kilgore put together a few months ago, discerning folks around the country took notice. I think Brandon Baltzley, the chef behind the nomadic Crux "micro-restaurant" traveling roadshow, summed it up when he tweeted: "Who the fuck is @brad_kilgore and why is no one following him?"

In direct answer to that question: Brad Kilgore is a local chef who until recently was working at Azul restaurant on Brickell Key. He was a sous chef under Joel Huff when Azul did our Cobaya dinner last year, and along with chef de cuisine Jacob Anaya, took on added responsibilities when Huff left a couple months later. Before coming to Miami for Azul, Brad had been working in Chicago, including stints at Alinea, L2O, and Boka, then became Executive Sous Chef at Epic. For his complete backstory, read here.

But you can't just …

Cobaya Hinckley at the Hoxton

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Unless you're a pretty hardcore genealogist of Miami's culinary family trees, you probably don't recognize the name Matt Hinckley. But if you've been a regular at Michael's Genuine for a while, you would know Matt on sight: for a couple years he was a regular fixture there, working the wood-burning oven as sous chef, then moved over to help open Harry's Pizzeria.

Hinckley is now the head chef at The Hoxton, which is the first of what are slated to be three related venues in the Axis building in Brickell. While the recently opened Hoxton puts together a beach house feel and New England seafood hut menu with a bar and occasional live music, next in line is Box Park, which will be a more food-centric farm-to-table venture. When we asked Hinckley to do a Cobaya dinner with us, the menu he created embodied a few themes which I anticipate will also be a focus of Box Park: whole animal utilization; local products; and "alternative" proteins - alligator, rabb…

Hurricane Sandy Relief Dinner at The Dutch

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"Superstorm Sandy" hit the eastern seaboard exactly three weeks ago on October 29, leaving a trail of damage that will have lasting aftereffects. Lower Manhattan went dark for days; some New York and New Jersey communities like Rockaway, Red Hook, Staten Island and Long Beach Island have been devastated by flooding, fires and ongoing power outages.

The restaurant community, with its thin margins, perishable inventory and dependence on customer foot traffic, is among the most sensitive to disasters like this. And at the same time, it is also one of the most apt to respond and assist: almost immediately after the storm cleared and the damage was assessed, chefs and restaurant owners were looking for ways they could help others.

One of the first to jump on the task was Andrew Carmellini: two days after Sandy, before the power was even restored, The Dutch in New York was serving up free soup and salad for anyone in the neighborhood. And together with fellow New York chefs Marco…

Cobayas for a Cause - 11/18/12

THE DUTCH AT W SOUTH BEACH TO HOST HURRICANE SANDY RELIEF DINNER Local Miami Chefs to Join Andrew Carmellini for Dinner & Silent Auction November 18, 2012
COBAYAS FOR A CAUSE
Miami is no stranger to hurricanes, and when Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast last week, thousands of businesses and residents were left struggling for survival. In an effort to provide relief for the victims of ‘Sandy,’ chef Andrew Carmellini and his team at The Dutch at W South Beach Hotel & Residences have teamed up with Cobaya – Gourmet Guinea Pigs, the organizers of Miami’s premier underground dining events, to gather renowned Miami chefs and businesses to join them in a five-course dinner and silent auction taking place Sunday, November 18, 2012.

“We got rocked up in New York, some much worse than others. Many people like myself have roots in both the tri-state and South Florida, so I knew I could count on the culinary talent of Miami for help. Cobaya has been instrumental in this rally,” says Carmel…

"The List" - Where to Eat in Miami - Updated

Back in February, with some trepidation, I added a new feature to this blog: "The List" - a compilation of my own most frequently voiced responses to the question, "What are the best places to eat in Miami?" For reasons I explained back then, I've always struggled to name "favorites," as so much depends on mood, preference and appetite any given day.

Still and yet I ventured forth, and of course, promptly infuriated many readers with both my inclusions and omissions. And to make it even worse, as the list sat there growing old and stale, at least a couple of the places listed up and closed.

Well, once more unto the breach.

"The List" has been updated. What's more, it's been broken down a bit into:

"The Short List" (Go to these places. You will have a great meal and a great experience);

"The Not-So-Short List" (A bakers' dozen of favorites - many are "everyday" restaurants where I'm a regular, oth…

The FFT Calendar

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If you're not on the twitter and don't inspect this site pretty carefully, you may have missed the latest addition to FFT:  the Food For Thought Calendar, a running list of upcoming food and dining events in and around Miami. This calendar will likely fall somewhere between the "carefully curated" and the "neighborhood bulletin board" kinds of lists: I don't intend to include every 50-cent discount day at the frozen yogurt shop, but I'll probably include more events than I might strictly intend to go to myself, even with an unlimited budget and caloric intake capacity.

Unless it's particularly exciting, I will likely not be doing separate posts every time a new event is added, even though that makes for great blog filler. Instead, consider this your invitation to periodically visit here, click the "Calendar" link underneath the banner, and see if there's anything you might find interesting. And if you think there's something I…

Goes Around ... Comes Around: Double Feature Edition

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I ate at two new restaurants this week. I’ll need to make return visits to give a complete assessment of the food, but just from looking at their menus I could tell something about both of them: they kind of want to be other restaurants.

First, Tikl. Or, to be more precise, Tikl Raw Bar Grill. Where the menu is divided into “snacks,” “raw,” “small” and “robata” sections, rounded out by a couple “large” dishes. Where said “raw” dishes feature creatively flavored seafood crudos, the “small” items are an eclectic mix of tapas style dishes, and the “robata” items include meats, seafood and vegetables with a mish-mash of Asian and Mediterranean flavors. Where the menu puts the main ingredient of a dish in boldface, followed by a lower-case list of the other ingredients separated by slashes.



If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is almost exactly the same menu format as Sugarcane. Or, to be more precise, Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill. Which has a menu divided into “snacks,” “crudos,” “tapas…

Josh's Delicatessen & Appetizing - Surfside

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When Edible South Florida magazine decided to do an issue dedicated to "classics," I was honored to be asked to participate. As a lifelong South Florida resident with many fond memories of places long gone, generally any opportunity to reminisce is enough to get me started. The piece I contributed is on Jewish delis, and I’ll try not to repeat it here too much - go find yourself a copy or read it online - other than to lay out the basic premise: that if the closing of the late, great Rascal House signified the death of the Jewish deli in South Florida, then Josh's Delicatessen & Appetizing, which opened earlier this year in Surfside, may be its reincarnation.

The "Josh" in Josh's Deli is chef/owner Joshua Marcus, who opened Chow Down Grill in this same spot a couple years ago. I was a fan of Chow Down, which brought a modern spin to Chinese-American classics with fresh, high-quality ingredients and house-made everything. But it (and its South Beach sibl…

Estiatorio Milos - Miami Beach

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I started this blog with the purpose of sharing great dining experiences in the Miami area, but I'll admit it: there are times that I'd like to keep some things to myself. There's a certain pleasure in having secrets, particularly when they're small, intimate places that for an hour or two you can sort of claim as your own.[1]


Estiatorio Milos, the newish Greek restaurant from Costas Spiliadis on the SoFi[2] end of South Beach, is far from a small, intimate place. To the contrary, Milos (which has siblings in Athens, New York, Montreal, and Las Vegas) is built on a grand scale. It seats a couple hundred in a breezy wide-open space with billowing white curtains and natural blond wood all around. The back of the dining room has an extravagant display of fish and seafood, flown in overnight from the Mediterranean and packed on ice. They're so impeccably fresh that even right next to the display, the only fish you smell are the ones cooking nearby in the open kitchen, o…

Lazy Bear - San Francisco

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When we started our Cobaya "underground" dinners, there was no pretense of originality; we were very deliberately copying things we had heard about in other cities. So for years I've been keeping track of what other like-minded people are doing around the country, including the Lazy Bear dinners in San Francisco.

In many ways, Lazy Bear is very similar to our Cobaya events: it's a set menu, with a focus on creative, contemporary cooking; events are announced only by mailing list and website; seats are assigned by lottery; the location is only disclosed to confirmed attendees.[1] But there are differences as well: whereas Cobaya was organized by a few avid diners, and features a different chef for every event, Lazy Bear is a chef-driven affair: specifically, David Barzelay, who cooked at Nopa and Commonwealth, and staged at McCrady's and Aldea, before going the underground dinner route.

When the opportunity presented itself to attend one of his dinners on our rec…

Cobaya 1500° with Chef Paula DaSilva

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"What would be your last meal?" Given their line of work, it's a question chefs are often asked - often enough, in fact, that someone's devoted an entire book to fifty famous chefs' answers to that very question. To the surprise of many people on the other side of the kitchen door, who might expect chefs to favor elaborate, extravagant, fancy food, the answers are often very simple dishes. For José Andrés, it's tortilla española and fresh seafood; for Gordon Ramsay, roast beef and Yorkshire pudding; for Sean Brock, chicken and dumplings (and, of course, a gigantic glass of Pappy); for Tony Maws, it's either a hot dog or a pastrami sandwich. When you spend your days arranging complicated, fussy plates, it turns out to be, for many chefs anwyay, one of the last things you want to eat when you get off work.[1]

When we do Cobaya dinners, we don't dictate any theme, giving the chefs freedom to realize on their own vision. We push them to give voice to the…

AQ - San Francisco

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Three years ago, New York chef David Chang (of the Momofuku empire) caused a bit of a ruckus when he declared: "Fuckin' every restaurant in San Francisco is just serving figs on a plate. Do something with your food."[1] It was not quite Biggie-Tupac material, but it did spark something of an East Coast / West Coast rivalry; nearly a year later, San Francisco chefs were still defiantly crafting "figs on a plate" dishes as they thumbed their noses eastward.

While Chang's gibe was preposterously reductivist, it may have stung precisely because there was an element of truth within the hyperbole. With the quality of product available, it's easy to understand why "California Cuisine" is so ingredient-driven: eat a perfectly ripe Frog Hollow Farm peach and you'll wonder if food can ever be better than that. Perhaps as a result, while there are many great restaurants in the Bay Area, using great ingredients, prepared well, it has not always been e…

Cobaya St. Regis with Chefs Richard Gras and Antonio Bachour

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In a recent column for the San Francisco Chronicle, restaurant consultant (and former Square One and Chez Panisse chef) Joyce Goldstein bemoans the prevalence of what many pejoratively call "tweezer food." She imagines "an underground team of tiny elves with tweezers, carefully placing tiny little pieces of food in regimented lines across plates all over the country" and rails, "Where is the passion and energy?"

It is, of course, a false dichotomy. Attention to detail and passion are not opposites, nor are they even somehow mutually exclusive. Food that is delicate, or technical, even artful, can and often is prepared with every bit as much passion and energy as any long-simmered braise or sizzling sauté.

There is no better evidence than the dinner that the crew at the J&G Grill[1] in the St. Regis Bal Harbour put together for our Cobaya "underground" dining group earlier this week. The restaurant's chef de cuisine Richard Gras, executi…

State Bird Provisions - San Francisco

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I keep lists of restaurants for just about any town I might conceivably visit. I don't get to do nearly as much culinary tourism as I'd like, but it's always good to be prepared. Drop me in just about any major city - several minor ones too - and in fifteen minutes I'll find a good meal.

When I get to the point of actually planning a trip, the list gets even more detailed. For a true dining mecca like San Francisco, which we've visited several times, the difficulty is not in coming up with the list but in paring it down. There are the old favorites, there are the well-known places we've still not yet gotten to, and then there are the waves of intriguing newcomers, and the challenge is figuring out what to squeeze into the limited dining opportunities.

On this particular visit, the paring down process is made both easier and harder by a couple factors. First, we've got very limited time in San Francisco, only three real dinners, in fact, as we're only i…

(Miami) Spice of the Week

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I've missed the first few weeks of Miami Spice season while on vacation, and frankly, after two weeks in Hawaii, could use some bargain dining. We go over this every year here at FFT, so here's the short-form version of my "Spice Rules":

(1) there's no reason to bother with restaurants where the Spice menu is not a meaningful discount from their regular prices (though, of course, go to them if you like them; just don't do so because they're offering a Miami Spice menu);

(2) the infamous chicken breast / farmed salmon / churrasco (or substitute short rib) "trifecta" is usually a tell that a restaurant doesn't have its heart in it; and

(3) look for food that actually interests you. If a restaurant doesn't excite you the other ten months of the year, it is unlikely there's going to be something really inspiring on their Spice menu.

The Miami Spice format is a bit different this year. There are now two categories: "Luxury Dining"…

A Key West Weekend

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Maybe it's the three hour drive that sloughs away petty worries and aggravations, as south Miami suburbia gives way to Homestead farms and nurseries, which in turn give way to islands and open water. Maybe it's the people, the motley historical confluence of traders, fishermen, treasure seekers, drug dealers, Cubans, Bahamians, gays, hippies, writers, musicians and miscreants of all sorts that make it feel so different.  Maybe it's just that feeling of being completely enveloped by ocean, the Atlantic on one side and the Gulf of Mexico only fifteen blocks away on the other. Even for a native Miamian like myself, Key West really feels like something of an escape.

Key West is an easy trip from Miami; still, it's also one I find strangely easy to overlook in favor of other more exotic, more distant destinations. But with nearly 5,000 miles of air travel coming up (we headed down there the weekend before taking off for Hawaii for two weeks) and a couple days free, it was …

Summer Reading List

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Well, I forgot to hang the "On Vacation" sign out before leaving, but indeed I've been gone - in Hawaii for most of two weeks, with too-brief stopovers in San Francisco on the way to and from. Some reports from the islands - Maui and Big Island in particular - will follow. We also ate incredibly well in our few days in San Francisco, starting with State Bird Provisions (named Bon Appétit's "Best New Restaurant of the Year" a few days after our visit), AQ, and finishing our trip with a Lazy Bear underground dinner. Lots of pictures are already up on flickr if you're interested in a preview.

To phase back in gently, here is the tried and true crutch of those lacking the energy to write their own material: the "What We're Reading" list. It just so happens that there were a number of interesting things I read over the past couple weeks which seemed worth sharing (and, it's easier than writing my own right now):

Top 50 Best New Restaurants …

Goes Around ... Comes Around - Etxebarri Edition

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Clearly I'm not the only fan here in Miami of Asador Etxebarri, the wonderful temple of grilling in Spain's Basque Country that I visited a couple years ago:


Gambas de Palamos, Asador Etxebarri, Axpe, Spain, September 2010

Florida Soft Shell Shrimp, Tuyo, Miami, Florida, July 2012

Mejillones a la Brasa, Asador Etxebarri, Axpe Spain, September 2010

Mediterranean Mussels, The Bazaar, Miami, Florida, July 2012




The Bazaar for Dummies

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So let's say you want to eat at Bazaar South Beach, but you don't have the patience to wade through 4,000 words and 19 footnotes to figure out what to order. Here's my version of "The Bazaar for Dummies" - a simplified (and opinionated) guide to the 60+ item menu. For more details, consult the long-playing version.

Must Have:[1]

Papas a la Huancaina - Peruvian potatoes, sea urchin
Baby Japanese Peaches - fresh burrata, hazelnuts, arugula
Black Rossejat - paella-style pasta, squid ink, shrimp, aioli

Really, Really Good:

Kueh Pai Ti - Singapore's favorite street food - shrimp, peanuts, chili sauce
"Colada Cubana" Yogurt - coffee with foie gras
Almond Yogurt - tomato granite, fresh almonds
Smoked Oysters - ice and smoke, apple mignonette
Jamon de Toro - salt-cured fatty tuna like Spanish jamón with picas
Yuca "Churros" - with peanut butter and honey
Ajo Blanco - mango, sherry ravioli, king crab, fresh almonds
Butifarra Flauta - piquillo pepper…

The Bazaar - South Beach

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If it wasn't the most eagerly anticipated restaurant opening in Miami, The Bazaar was certainly the most long-awaited. Speculation that Chef José Andrés might be opening a Bazaar in Miami started all the way back in early 2009, shortly after the original Bazaar Los Angeles opened, when the SLS hotel chain started work on the Ritz Plaza hotel on South Beach.[1] The patter continued in 2010. And then we waited. And waited. And waited, as is the customary Miami style.

Finally last month, Bazaar South Beach opened. It was worth the wait.[2]

I've not been to The Bazaar in L.A., but I've been to several other of Chef Andrés' establishments - Washington DC's Jaleo several times, minibar back in 2008, the now-closed Café Atlantico, plus more recent visits to é and China Poblano in Las Vegas. (For more background on Chef Andrés, read my post on é.) The Bazaar borrows bits and pieces from each of them. There are traditional Spanish tapas, many of which are mainstays on the …