Monday, July 30, 2012

Goes Around ... Comes Around - Etxebarri Edition

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

The Bazaar for Dummies

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 peppers, aioli, piparra
Frozen Blue Cheese Sandwich - lemon marmalade, walnut bread
Mediterranean Mussels - olive oil, sherry vinegar, pimentón
Sautéed Catalan Spinach - apples, pine nuts, raisins
Pa amb Tomaquet - Catalan-style toasted bread, tomato
Patatas Bravas - fried potatoes, spicy tomato sauce, aioli
Escalivada with Blue Cheese - Asturias meets Catalonia, José's two loves!
Sea Urchin - butter, black pepper, toasted bread
José's Taco - caviar, jamón Ibérico
Banana Mojito - mojito sorbet, mint and caramelized bananas
Key Lime Pie - José's way

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Monday, July 23, 2012

The Bazaar - South Beach

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 Jaleo menu. There are more contemporary dishes, often derived from items that started as part of the minibar and é multi-course extravaganzas. And there's even a section of the menu described as "Miami Meets the World," an unusual conglomeration of Singapore street foods, ceviches and "nigiri," and several more items with Latin American flavors, similar to the Asian / Mexican mash-up he does at China Poblano.[3] It is a sprawling, ambitious menu - perhaps even more so than the original Bazaar in L.A.

The venue itself is not quite as grand as I might have anticipated, though it's growing on me. The Ritz Plaza is one of Miami Beach's old Art Deco hotels, built in 1939, and like many of the Art Deco properties, it doesn't really have a separate space set aside for a restaurant. What this means is that as soon as you pass through the hotel doors, you've stumbled into the "Rojo" room, the first of two dining rooms of The Bazaar, with the hotel's check-in desk off to the other side of the entrance.

(You can see all my pictures in this Bazaar - South Beach flickr set).

Done up in traditionally Spanish red and black colors but with a contemporary feel, this is the more casual of the dining rooms. Two- and four-tops line the near wall, while larger tables, some bar-height, occupy the middle of the room, flanked on the far wall by a bar and open kitchen.[4] A taxidermied bull's head wearing a lucha libre mask, by artist Mikel Urmeneta,[5] looks out from one wall, while above the bar is a mural by local artist Claudio Picasso that hearkens back to the hotel's original Art Deco style.

On the other side of the bar and kitchen is the "Blanca" dining room, simultaneously a little more posh and a little more cozy. Much of the seating is on well-cushioned sofas; knick-knacks and antique photos adorn ledges on the walls; a massive shell-encrusted chandelier hangs from the ceiling. It looks like it could be your abuela's living room, if your abuela hired Phillippe Starck as a decorator.[6]

A good way to start a meal is with a LN2 frozen caipirinha, a fun bit of tableside cryotechnics by which the traditional Brazilian concoction of cachaca, lime and sugar is mixed with super-cold liquid nitrogen in a dramatic billow of steam to a perfect slushy consistency.

At $5 each, it's also the "Joe's Fried Chicken"[7] of the Bazaar menu, even if the portion size has been tapered back a bit since my first round.

You could alternatively start with "The Ultimate Gin & Tonic," which at $18 is no bargain at all, but is still a very fine drink. Spaniards are obsessed with the "gintonic," and this version plays up that obsession by reintroducing the botanicals typically used in the spirit: Fever Tree tonic, juniper berries, fresh herbs and flowers, and lime mingle in the glass along with your choice of gins.[8]

This will also give you some extra time to peruse the menu, which you're going to need. With over sixty items - even more if you count the selections of Spanish hams and cheeses - it's a fairly daunting prospect, even for an avid menu decoder like myself.[9] Almost exclusively tapas-style small plates, the choices divide into two main themes - "Miami Meets the World" and "Spain Yesterday and Today" - which each get further broken down into several subdivisions. The "Miami" section includes a "Singapore Connection," "Yogurts and Cones," "New Generation Nigiri and Ceviche," "Seafood," "Fruits and Vegetables," "Meats," and "Some Little Sandwiches." "Spain" includes "Latas y Conservas," "Jamones y Embutidos," "Quesos," "Verduras Tradicional," "Pescado y Marisco," and "Carnes."

Ready? Let's dive in.

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Monday, July 16, 2012

State of the Union (of Miami Dining)

I'd been a bit despondent of late over the closing of a couple of my more favorite Miami restaurants. It is, of course, a known fact that the restaurant business is a brutally difficult one. Restaurants - even successful ones - don't live forever, and relatively few have the staying power to last more than a few years.[1] But that still doesn't keep me from becoming attached, especially to places that do things right.

Sustain, in Midtown Miami, was one of those places for me. It wasn't the best restaurant in Miami; it wasn't even the best of the farm-to-table, sustainable-sourcing themed restaurants in Miami (Michael's Genuine remains the category-killer of that genre).[2] But it was a good restaurant. The menu balanced the accessible (fried chicken, burger, pizza, all done quite well) with the exotic (roasted marrow bones with pineapple jam, turnip "carpaccio"). The execution was solid and improved with just about every visit. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable, the cocktails were outstanding, the wine list assembled by Daniel Toral offered some of the best sub-$50 selections in town, the music was great. The Sunday brunch they rolled out shortly before closing was becoming a regular ritual for us. It was the kind of place I could go to the bar and grab a snack, or bring a group of family and friends, and everyone would leave happy. And yet Sustain was - well, unsustainable.[3]

Michelle Bernstein's Sra. Martinez in the Design District was another place that kind of broke my heart a little when I heard it was closing. We were at Sra. Martinez the night after it opened in December 2008 for Mrs. F's birthday, and we were there again the night before it closed earlier this month. Both were outstanding meals, and we had many more in between. There is a long list of dishes from Sra. M that I will pine for if they don't resurface somewhere else: the crispy artichokes with lemon aioli, the eggplant drizzled with honey, the duck and foie gras butifarra sausage with gigante beans, the marrow bones with eel and apples, the egg yolk "carpaccio." But Chef Bernstein has always understood the magpie-like nature of the Miami dining market, the constant attraction to the latest shiny object, and I don't see the Sra. M closing - after a 3 1/2 year run - as a failure so much as a step towards yet another reinvention. Still, I will miss it.

Since I started writing this blog 3 1/2 years ago, I've been feeling increasingly positive about Miami's dining "scene." Though still prone to either chasing the latest trend (food trucks, Momofukian Asian mash-ups) or sticking with the tried and true (steakhouse, generic Italian), the restaurant population these days overall is much more diverse, much more open to creativity, than when I started keeping track.[4] Yet I was still led to wonder: were these closures just the usual market forces at work, or the sign of something bigger? So my co-conspirators in the Cobaya underground dining group, Chowfather, Steve BM, and I gassed up the Cobaya Bus and took it out for a spin to assess the state of Miami dining.[5]

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Sunday, July 1, 2012

I don't care if Monday's blue ...

Miami is not exactly at its most charming in the summmer: the constant 90°+ heat and sweltering humidity can wear just about anyone down. But for those of us who stick it out year round here, there are at least a few good things about summer. There's mango season, for one. And there are the dining specials, designed to bring the locals out from their air-conditioned caves until the tourists come back in the fall.

We're still a month away from Miami Spice season, but there are already enough restaurant specials to fill out nearly the full week of dining. Consider:

Monday - It's not quite every week, but Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill has been using Monday nights to host a "Dinner with Friends" series of guest chef events. Chef Timon Balloo has already teamed up with Jamie DeRosa (Tudor House), Paula DaSilva (1500°), Lee Schrager (SoBeWFF), David Bracha (River Oyster Bar), Dean Max (3030 Ocean), and Dena Marino (MC Kitchen). Coming up next: Cesar Zapata (The Federal) on Monday July 23, and Clay Conley (Buccan) on Monday August 27. Reservations open up on the 10th of each month, priced at $110 including beverage pairings. For more info, email Sugarcane.

Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill
3252 N.E. 1st Ave., Miami

Tuesday - Every Tuesday through the summer, it's "Bourbon, Beer and Q" night at The Dutch. Each week they will be featuring a different genre of BBQ, with a spread of several mains and sides for a fixed price of $30 (excl. tax, tip and beverages), plus $3 PBR tallboys and $22 pitchers of cocktails. This coming Tuesday, July 3, is Memphis-style, with dry-rubbed baby-back ribs, whole roasted and smoked BBQ turkey breast, and BBQ spaghetti with pork shoulder,[1] plus fried pickles, corn on the cob, and brown sugar sweet potatoes. Every week will bring a different style, with St. Louis, Carolinas, and Korean in the pipeline.

The Dutch
2201 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach

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