"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 Canora, George Mendes and Seamus Mullen, he quickly put together "NYC Food Flood" to provide direct aid to those impacted by the storm.
When I heard Carmellini had a stash of truffles for a planned "Trufflepalooza" dinner that had to be cancelled, I suggested he send them down to Miami so we could do a fundraiser down here. The truffles found another home, but the idea stuck. Chef Carmellini suggested lining up some local chefs to team up for a charity dinner, and the outpouring of support was overwhelming. In only a couple days, Michelle Bernstein (Michy's), Richard Gras and Antonio Bachour (J&G Grill), Aaron Brooks (Edge Steak), Brad Kilgore (Exit 1), Jeremiah Bullfrog (gastroPod), and Bar Lab had all agreed to participate. Andrew Zimmern sent his AZ Canteen truck down for the event. Many others - Michael's Genuine, The Bazaar, Bourbon Steak, neMesis Urban Bistro, Wolfe's Wine Shoppe, South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Miami Wine and Food Festival, and more - contributed items for a silent auction.
And when we called for our Cobaya "guinea pigs" to come out and support the event, we received an equally enthusiastic response, filling more than 40 of the available spots for the dinner. South Floridians can surely empathize as New York recovers from the aftermath of a destructive hurricane, and I was gratified and moved by the generous support for the efforts of Chef Carmellini and so many others. Thank you for being "Cobayas for a Cause".
So, sure, it's all for a good cause; but what about the food?
It was a great night. My only regret is that I don't have more, and better, pictures to memorialize it.
As guests arrived, they were greeted by the AZ Canteen, Andrew Zimmern's food truck, which was parked in the driveway of the W South Beach, serving up mini cabrito burgers and cups of seafood and andouille gumbo. From there we were ushered to the Grove, the W's outdoor lounge, where W bartender Rob Ferrera and Bar Lab teamed up for a pair of cocktails. My choice of poison was the "Smoky Old Fashioned," with bacon fat-washed Knob Creek bourbon, BBQ and Angostura bitters, maple syrup, and orange rind.
Balance is tough to achieve when you go savory with the cocktails, but this one got it exactly right, not overpowered by smoke or spice but still offering a distinct sense of their presence.
Chef Aaron Brooks of Edge Steak + Bar supplied canapés for the cocktail hour, and they were all excellent. Baby potatoes were dolloped with trout caviar and impaled on a tiny squirt bottle filled with a horseradish-infused buttermilk cream. Tender lamb ribs were smoked over mesquite wood and glazed with a tamarind BBQ sauce. Cubes of silky hamachi were skewered with yuzu-pickled aloe vera and serrano chile. And possibly best of all were the foie gras hot dogs, served in little brioche buns with a tangy plum chutney. I was the Kobayashi of foie dogs last night.
We then made our way to the Terrace, The Dutch's idyllic outdoor seating area. Billecart-Salmon champagne was poured as the first course was plated.
Chef Michelle Bernstein served a very clean, pure crudo: slabs of ruby-hued tuna loin over creamy burrata cheese, topped with a delicate salad of poached fennel and mache, drizzled with a soy-lemon vinaigrette.
The next course kept things raw: lamb tartare "profiteroles" from Chef Brad Kilgore of Exit 1 paired the rich minced lamb with bright green buns spiked with fines herbes, a creamy almond anglaise and a vibrant emerald-hued dill purée.
Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog of the gastroPod and the opening-soon Freehand (the old Indian Creek Hotel which was home to the Broken Shaker pop-up) put together a dish that featured mussels and carrots in various forms: mussels both poached and smoked (and glazed with a sauce of their emulsified juices), multi-colored carrots, roasted, in a savory carrot cake, as a crumbly streusel and a powdery dust. The combination reminded me of the delicately grilled mussels in a carrot broth served at Asador Etxebarri, and sure enough Jeremiah confirmed that was the inspiration.
The beverage pairing here came courtesy of Michael Schwartz, who was on hand to pour his Michael's Genuine Home Brew and put together a classic match of mussels and beer.
One of my favorite dishes of the night came from Chef Carmellini and the Dutch's chef de cuisine Conor Hanlon: agnolotti stuffed with a white bolognese and topped with shaved black truffles. The truffles made it sound luxe, but it was really the pasta - soft as pillows - and the filling - such an intense, rich meaty flavor - that made this dish so exceptional. I'd not heard of Gothic Wines before, but I'll be looking for them now: the Hyland Vineyard bottling was a classic Oregon pinot.
By the time our table was served, Chef Richard Gras from J&G Grill at the St. Regis Bal Harbour had miraculously turned a squab into lamb belly (while you're sweating your Thanksgiving dinner, know this: shit happens, even in professional kitchens; just always be ready to improvise). It still made for a great pairing with the silky parsnip purée and fragrant cinnamon jus - in fact, it was gone before I remembered to take a picture. The meaty, peppery Gramercy Cellars Walla Walla Syrah likewise became another wine I was glad to have discovered.
As a pre-dessert, the St. Regis team also offered up a mini cheese course of sorts - a perfectly textured, crumbly then creamy blue cheese macaron, plated with cubes of blue cheese and sweet honeycomb.
And for a finale, a duo of desserts from Antonio Bachour of JG and Josh Gripper of The Dutch. On the left, Bachour's caramel-chocolate flexible ganache, with milk chocolate microwave sponge cake, compressed apple, toasted caramelized brioche and caramel ice cream. On the right, Gripper's lemon-lime coconut cake, with compressed pineapple, caramel lime crema, and lemon curd. There would be no picking favorites for me: they were both delicious.
There's a long way to go before things get back to normal for many who were in the path of Hurricane Sandy, but hopefully the money we raised Sunday night (in excess of
If you'd like to help, here is a list of charities involved in Hurricane Sandy relief and recovery efforts.