Friday, May 31, 2013

Tongue & Crux - Chefs Brandon Baltzley, Jamie DeRosa and Jeremiah Bullfrog

The last time Brandon Baltzley - chef, authorfarmer - came to town, it was a bit like Planes, Trains and Automobiles meets Supermarket Sweep. As Brandon had one travel mishap after another, I was racing through the grocery store filling carts from the shopping list he texted me so that there would be something to cook when he finally arrived for our Cobaya dinner. But as I said then, Brandon seems to thrive amid chaos, and it all turned out just fine.

This more recent Miami journey was not without its adventures, but Brandon got into town - a couple days early, even - and I didn't even have to do any shopping. The purpose of this visit was to collaborate on a brunch with the gastroPod's Jeremiah Bullfrog (which I sadly missed), and a dinner at the recently opened Tongue & Cheek in South Beach with T&C's chef, Jamie DeRosa, and Jeremiah. After several days of exchanging ingredient lists and dish ideas, here is what they came up with:

(You can see all my pictures in the Crux @ Tongue & Cheek flickr set)

And here is how it came out:

As an amuse bouche to start things off, a delicate composition of beets (in both lightly pickled and powdered forms), slivered radishes, dots of pea purée, wasabi peanuts, and a thin, airy, crispy sheet of toast. I was mystified by a flavor I could taste but couldn't find anywhere on the plate - something light, bright and intensely aromatic. After the dinner, Brad Kilgore (who was helping out in the kitchen, and who you can currently find doing a Tuesday night BBQ pop-up at Josh's Deli) gave away the secret: T&C pastry chef Ricardo Torres gave the plates a haze of orange oil from a squeezed peel (like a twist for a cocktail) right before service. It was a great touch.

I did not detect the carbonation in these "chilled, carbonated" oysters, but they were still very good regardless - plump and sweet, lacquered with a well-balanced chardonnay mignonette and topped with nasturtium petals, with some sea beans (a/k/a salicornia) alongside. Even Mrs. F, who is usually not much of an oyster fan, was a fan of these.

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Sunday, May 26, 2013

Turns of Phrase - May 26, 2013

Following up on something I started doing last week - some of my favorite passages from the past week's food writing:
"But some tricks, like the disappearance of a marble up someone's nose, can be more curious than delightful."
- Tejal Rao (recently resigned food critic at the Village Voice, following in the wake of Robert Seitsema who was let go last week), on the culinary sleight of hand at Alder.
"Just as you’re pondering how to say “opportunist” in Italian, the food arrives, and it’s great."
- Jeff Ruby on Café Spiaggia in Chicago Magazine.
"It isn’t pretty, this murky brown salad. Take a look at those splinters of green papaya, gnarly rings of fried shallots and clots of air-dried beef. It could be a box of matches spilled in dishwater—certainly too homely for the pages of any respectable food magazine. But we’re evolved eaters here in New York City, too sophisticated to deny ugly things their fair shake. Taste it and understand the moral of a thousand children’s parables about inner beauty: This funky, crunchy bombshell of compulsive flavor might be the most interesting salad in Kings County."
- Jordana Rothman on Nightingale 9 in Time Out New York
"The waiter bends low, in his burgundy tuxedo. “Let’s talk about the process,” he says. He refers to the fruits of the kitchen as though they are his. (“All my veal tonight.”) The delays he does not own: “We are working on the drinks.”"
- Nick Paumgarten on Carbone in the New Yorker

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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ten Great Things to Eat in Maui

While starting to mull over potential destinations for the upcoming summer, it occurred to me that I never really reported back on last summer's trip to Hawaii. Though this was not a trip centered around dining, we do always look to eat well, and it was actually just a bit of a challenge in Hawaii. Not for lack of good food; but as someone who lives in Miami Beach, I know from experience that when you're in an overwhelmingly tourist-driven destination, it can be tough not to eat like a tourist.

Honolulu seems to be the epicenter of interesting dining in the Hawaiian islands - crazily ambitious projects like Vintage Cave, refined tasting menus like Chef Mavro, pop-ups like The Pig and the Lady. That's not a surprise, given that it's the most populated city. But for non-culinary reasons, we elected to skip Oahu entirely in favor of Maui and Big Island.

The good news was that locavorism seems to run strong on all the islands. It ought to: Hawaii has ready access to a fantastic variety of fresh fish straight from the ocean, as well as great locally grown fruits and vegetables. And over the past couple decades, there's been an increasingly concerted push to incorporate those ingredients into the restaurant repertoire, instead of relying on flown-in products.

Still, there's a huge gulf between the resort restaurants catering to the "haole" (foreigners), and the local joints with their loco moco and spam musubi (which we ate, and which was good, but there's only so much of that my Crestor can handle), and it's not always so easy to find the middle. But that's what we were looking for; here's what we found:

1. Fried Saimin at Star Noodle (Lahaina). Star Noodle was exactly the kind of place we were seeking out. Located in a business park well off the main drag, it felt more like a locals' hangout than a tourist trap. The menu, from Chef Sheldon Simeon (yes, the guy who was always wearing the "Where's Waldo?" hat on last season's Top Chef, and who also was a 2011 James Beard semi-finalist for Rising Star Chef and Best New Restaurant) was a happy hodge-podge of pan-Asian noodle dishes and other items, done with some contemporary flair.

From what I've read, saimin is arguably the "national dish of Hawaii" - ramen-style wheat noodles, either in a broth or pan-fried, often coupled with that other Hawaiian staple, Spam, as the main protein. Star Noodle's Fried Saimin hewed pretty close to tradition, the chewy noodles tossed with slices of Spam and kamoboko (fish cake), thin ribbons of cooked egg, bean sprouts and green onions. They were the best of the noodle dishes we tried there.[1] An assortment of pickled vegetables, seaweed salad, kimchi, and Momofuku-style pork buns rounded out the meal.

Star Noodle
286 Kupuohi St., Lahaina Maui

Star Noodle on Urbanspoon

2. Ahi Poke Shoyu at Safeway (Lahaina). Safeway? Really? Yes. As unlikely as it sounds, a Chowhound thread tipped me off that the Safeway in downtown Lahaina has a remarkably good selection of pokes. And sure enough, in the seafood market they had about a dozen different varieties of the Hawaiian marinated fish dish. Though most were made with frozen, thawed fish or octopus, a couple were made with fresh ahi tuna, including this one laced with soy sauce and sesame oil, chiles, onions, scallions and masago.

3. Reuben Sandwich at Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop (Lahaina). Maybe it was that we'd just spent the morning kayaking and snorkeling off the coast in Olowalu Village, and were starving. But in the moment, anyway, I've found few sandwiches as satisfying as the Reuben I had at Leoda's Kitchen, another place opened by Sheldon Simeon. Layers of shaved corned beef, oozy Swiss cheese, sauerkraut and thousand island dressing piled onto thickly sliced, griddled rye bread - what's not to like? The single-serve macnut-chocolate praline pie was a winner too.

Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop
820 Olowalu Village Road, Lahaina Maui

Leoda's Kitchen and Pie Shop on Urbanspoon

4. Shave Ice at Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice (Lahaina). You can get shave ice all over the islands - and we did - but the best we had was at Ululani's Shave Ice in downtown Lahaina. Unlike the typical, treacly day-glo syrups that look and taste like nothing from the natural world, Ululani's flavors its powdery, freshly shaved ice with all natural syrups made in-house, many from the plethora of tropical fruits that are available locally. Little Miss F opted here for green tea and lychee. I was partial to mango with li hing mui powder (salted dried plum), which became something of an obsession for me during our time in Hawaii.[2]

Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice
790 Front St., Lahaina Maui

Ululani's Hawaiian Shave Ice on Urbanspoon

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Saturday, May 18, 2013

Turns of Phrase

So much food writing is actually dreadfully repetitive. There are only so many ways to describe a cooked piece of meat, only so many synonyms for "delicious" (though there are a potentially infinite variety of ways to describe a terrible dining experience; it's like a variation on the Tolstoy quote: "Great meals are all alike; every lousy meal is lousy in its own way."). Still, often when I read a  good review, there is a sentence, a phrase, a description that resonates; it captures the ear, the mind, the appetite, maybe even all three.

With talented, dedicated, gainfully employed restaurant critics becoming an increasingly scarce commodity (yesterday Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice was "shit-canned," to use his own words; in the past month or so Michael Nagrant of the Chicago Sun Times and Hanna Raskin of Seattle Weekly were let go; locally, Miami New Times let Lee Klein go last year), I'm increasingly grateful for those who still provide a unique, perceptive, captivating voice.

Here are a few turns of phrase that recently caught my attention:

"This is food at its simplest and most elegant, food that doesn't want to slap your face. This is food that is simply good, and defines a sort of normalcy in eating that no longer exists."

- Robert Sietsema on the diner burger, in his last post at Village Voice.

"Two Guys Walk Into a Bar ..." (just this whole damn piece, as good an ode to Sietsema as there could possibly be, by none other than ...)

- Jonathan Gold in LA Weekly.

"There isn't a plate he won't paint with limp berries or kumquats, smears of pastel-colored sauces, or nests of spun sugar—dishes that look as if they shot through a wormhole from 1993."

- Mike Sula on Vu Sua in Chicago Reader

"Caravaggio is defiantly elegant in an age that sees white tablecloths as a medieval relic whose sadistic power to stand in the way of a good time is second only to that of the chastity belt."

- Pete Wells on Caravaggio in the New York Times.

"For those who have yet to do so: eating these pigs was like seeing an old friend from high school who had lost a lot of weight and now dresses well. You can still recognize them; they are just better now."

- Joshua David Stein on the "pigs in a blanket" at Alder in New York Observer.

"The Caesar salad, the golden retriever of restaurants (friendly, good with kids, dumb), is smartly redone as Caesar nigiri."

- Joshua David Stein again on Alder.

"You might get to thinking that DeLucie is a bit of a carpetbagger, who hasn’t rescued the memory of Bill’s so much as co-opted it—lopped off its balls and sold it back to you at a staggering markup."

- Jordana Rothman on Bill's Food & Drink in Time Out New York (Rothman, the TONY food and drinks editor, is filling in as the restaurant critic on an interim basis after Jay Cheshes, who held the post for five years, recently left).

Monday, May 6, 2013

Cobaya Macchialina with Chef Michael Pirolo

Too often, I feel about Italian food the way I feel about handjobs: even when it's done well, it's satisfying but rarely very exciting; and when it's done poorly, I may as well do it myself.

After our Cobaya dinner at Macchialina, perhaps I should reconsider (about Italian food; not handjobs). Macchialina is the fourth restaurant opened by the Pubbelly boys, and to head this one up they poached Chef Michael Pirolo from Scarpetta in the Fontainebleau, where he had been chef de cuisine. Chef Pirolo put together a dinner for us that was hearty and satisfying, but also showed off a real range of flavors and techniques, classical in inspiration but contemporary in style.

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya Macchialina flickr set.)

We entered the restaurant to find the long bar counter completely blanketed in the finest meats and cheeses of the land: parmigiano reggiano in rough chunks, waves upon waves of prosciutto, mortadella, salami, and best of all, Macchialina's house-made porchetta, served in thinly sliced, fat-laced ribbons. As guests arrived, GM and wine director Jennifer Chaefsky offered glasses of Baldini Lambrusco dell'Emilia, a refreshing sparkling Lambrusco that was perfect with the salumi (yes, Lambrusco is back).

The meal followed a classical Italian progression: antipasti, pasta as a "primi piatti," followed by a hearty "secondo piatto," mostly served family style. First up, a couple of crudo-style cured fish items:[1] tuna, cured like prosciutto, wrapped around compressed melon; and swordfish, cured with citrus zests, topped with a dab of a bright green dill purée, and finished with shavings of bottarga.

For the next round, a fritto misto of seafood, each diner was handed a paper cone, stuffed with fried shrimp, calamaretti, whitebait, baby eels and anchovies. Delicate and crisp, the real standouts here were the gorgeous head-on shrimp - though all were good, especially after being dragged through the anchovy-infused salsa verde offered alongside. To accompany, Jennifer poured the Vietti Roero Arneis, a crisp, floral white from one of my favorite Italian producers, better known for their Barolos.

(continued ...)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Miami Gets Cruxed - Chef Brandon Baltzley, 5/19/13 & 5/20/13 - UPDATED

If you're on the Cobaya mailing list, then you may have been at, or heard about, our dinner with chef 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) back in December. If not, you can read about it here:

"Cobaya Gets Cruxed"

Well, he's coming back in town as part of a "farewell tour" for his Crux series of collaborative dinners before diving full bore into his next project, a farm/restaurant in northern Indiana.

And you've got two different chances to be a part of it this time.

(1) On Sunday May 19, Brandon will be collaborating with Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog for a podBrunch at GAB Studio in Wynwood - 5 courses for $35, running from 12pm-3pm. You can get tickets here.

(2) On Monday May 20, Brandon will be collaborating with Chef Jamie DeRosa for a blow-out dinner at DeRosa's new restaurant, Tongue & Cheek, on South Beach. One seating, 7:30pm, $125 per person (inclusive of tax & tip). To get seats, use the PayPal link below - first come, first served! To request spots, please email - purchase details will be available by Tuesday. Please note how many spots you're requesting in your email.

Come get Cruxed.


How many seats?