Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cobaya "Dunch" with Chef Micah Edelstein

Many people probably think it's just a gimmick that we refer to our Cobaya events as "experiments." But we really do push chefs to push themselves. This is not simply an excuse to trot out the same old dishes in a fixed price, tasting menu format. If there's one "rule," it's that it has to be an off-menu experience.

What diners may not fully appreciate is that oftentimes, this means they're getting a dish that the chef not only has never served before - sometimes they've never even made it before. And since we're rarely working with chefs who have the opportunity or budget to do a full dry run in advance, often these really are experiments of a sort, and the diners really are the guinea pigs.

That was undoubtedly the case with our most recent Cobaya event, a late brunch ("Dunch") with Chef Micah Edelstein of neMesis Urban Bistro in downtown Miami. Which, to me, makes the meal she put together all the more remarkable.

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya "Dunch" at neMesis flickr set)

We wanted to do it on Sunday, when we could take over neMesis' cozy dining room, and that quickly turned to thoughts of brunch. Brunch became "Dunch" (dinner / lunch) when we proposed a noon-ish start time, to which Micah responded "I don't get up before noon on Sunday!" Though we didn't start until 3pm, I suspect she had to rise a little earlier than usual anyway.

The menus on the tables were actually the final iteration of sketches Chef Edelstein prepared both to brainstorm dishes and game-plan their preparation, an interesting insight into both the creative and logistical processes of putting together the meal. Afterwards, she shared with me some earlier versions, which showed how some dishes changed and evolved, and also how each of the components was highlighted or crossed off as it was prepared. I'll show each course here with both the sketch and the final realization.

(continued ...)

Have You Met the Muffin Man?

On the left (photo, not sketch): a vin santo and nutmeg infused muffin studded with Mallorcan raisins, topped with a button of garam masala spiced Parma butter and a shmear of local allspice and jackfruit jam. On the right: a muffin with lamb bacon and caramelized shallots, topped with a dollop of piri piri meringue and some passion fruit lavender mint jam. I usually can't be bothered with muffins, but layer on this many eye-opening flavors, and I have to reconsider.

Zucchini Currant Pain Perdu

This is French toast like you've never seen it before. Served family style for the table to share, a fat wedge of  zucchini bread studded with currants was soaked in eggy custard and prepared in the fashion of "pain perdu." Oh, and it was stuffed with a creamy filling of "Bleu Sunshine" cheese from Winter Park Dairy in upstate Florida. And topped with spicy duck sausages infused with sage. And drizzled with a syrup concocted of Peruvian "hierba luisa," a grass which I've seen variously compared to either lemon verbena or lemongrass. And moskonfyt, a traditional South African product made of syrupy reduced grape must. And crumbled spiced pecans. And I'm sure there's something else I missed.

One of the things I love above eating at neMesis is that even when the ingredient lists sound like an earthquake just struck the kitchen, the dishes - often implausibly - work. Another is that invariably, there will be at least one or two ingredients on the list that warrant a google search. This dish was a great example of both.

Beverage pairings were as creative as the food, starting here with a purple-on-purple chicha morada Lambrusco sangria (chicha morada being a Peruvian beverage made with purple corn and spices).

Bacon Bits

On the left: a crumpet, topped with a frozen curried duck egg custard and a sliver of house cured goat bacon. On the right, three differently hued poatoes over a minted Greek yogurt, a couple dots of pomegranate syrup, and on top, a slab of rosemary smoked lamb bacon (also house cured). The "duo" plating inevitaby invited comparisons. And while I liked the lean, chewy goat bacon, it was the richer, intensely "lamb-y" lamb bacon that was the real star here, that richness cut by the cool mint yogurt and tart-sweet pomegranate.

Rabbit Bulgogi

If there was a standout dish of the meal, it was this: a crispy jasmine rice cake, topped with shredded rabbit "bulgogi," a poached Lake Meadows Naturals Farm duck egg, and frizzled crispy chives, sauced with an orange and five-spice hollandaise. It was an inspired - and delicious - take on the classic eggs benedict, triggered in large part by the surprise availability of rabbits from a farm in upstate Florida. Everything about this worked, and I heard from multiple guests that it ought to become a regular menu feature.

Another creative beverage pairing was offered here - a carrot, orange and ginger spiked mimosa, the carrot perhaps offered in sympathy to the bunnies who became bulgogi.

Apple Cognac Gravlax

On a lighter note to close the savory courses, Chef Edelstein cured some nicely marbled salmon with apple and cognac, then served it with an apple and jicama slaw, crispy fingerling potatoes, dots of creamy mascarpone, and a drizzle of a mustard and fennel dressing, with pickled mustard seeds scattered about. To drink, she offered a twist on a shandy (an English pub concoction of beer and lemonade), here done with a hefeweisen and an hierba luisa soda.

Tropical Fruit Shortcake

To finish things up, Chef Edelstein put together a brightly colored and flavored tropical fruit shortcake, the pleasingly crumbly cake covering up magenta-hued dragonfruit, backyard mangoes, passion fruit, and balsamic must macerated peaches, a dollop of smoked whipped cream adding the final touch.

To pair with it, she served a soothing "tea-uccino" of rooibos (a South African bush whose leaves are oxidized in a process similar to tea) and amarula (a South African cream liquor made from the fruit of the marula tree).

When I looked back on what I wrote about neMesis a few months ago, the one comment above all others that I think best captured the food was this:
These unexpected bursts of flavor are characteristic of Chef Edelstein's cooking. She paints with a different spice palette than most of us are accustomed to.
We experienced more of those "unexpected bursts of flavor" with her Cobaya "Dunch," where Micah took traditional brunch classics - baked muffins, French toast, bacon, eggs benedict - and recreated them in her own particular flavor idiom.[1] It was a perfect way to spend a lazy cloudy Sunday afternoon: creative food, interesting drinks, and good company.

Many thanks to Micah and her small, hard-working crew; to Matilda for her contagious smile and good cheer; and to all of the guinea pigs who took part in another of our experiments. For those who had already been to neMesis, it was a good reminder of the unique cooking that's going on there; and for those who hadn't been before, I hope they'll go back.

neMesis Urban Bistro
1035 N. Miami Avenue, Miami

[1] Extra credit if you picked up the "Holy Grail" reference.


  1. This was one of the best Cobaya meals I've attended. Bold unconventional flavors that worked harmoniously and remained easily accessible. The drink pairings were particularly clever in conception and complemented the dishes they were served with well. I appreciated the expansion from the relatively constrained palette of just wine.

    I would have liked twice as much of everything, though; the shared courses were just a few bites for each person and, just when I was noticing the little nuances, they gone.

  2. I think you have nailed my personality: bold and unconventional, and I am thrilled you enjoyed my perverted food pairings and cross cultural manipulations. I wanted everyone to taste and experience each dish without being bogged down...once full you really don't get to enjoy the nuances of what I am putting in front of you...of course everyone has different stomach capacities...mine might be smaller than yours, but I was also working on a $40 budget per person for the food portion of the event...maybe I should have charged more and given bigger portions? When doing multiple courses it is just too easy to drown your guests, and I despise that feeling. Besides, I was always told to leave them wanting more! ;) Simply come back for dinner, and you can have the whole plate all to yourself (unless of course you wish to share with whomever you are dining with)!
    I hope to feed you again soon.
    Eat well, be well,

    1. I think you could have charged and served more; this was pretty inexpensive as Cobaya meals go. A full doubling in size would have been too much; maybe an extra 50% would have been about right. Just enough to bring the serving size from sampler to small-dish.

  3. I thought the flavors were fantastic. That rabbit dish was f'n awesome. I didn't do the pairing but I thought the food portions were perfect. Great late brunch (the word "dunch" is awful, sorry haha).

  4. Thank you Steve. I concur, the word Dunch is awful...but it was so bad I had to use it!

  5. So funny every time I read anything about this restaurant where the writer shares their experience, if they don't say it is the most clever, delicious, perfect meal they ever paid for the chef can't help herself and has to reply in a defensive nasty way .... What up with that?