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Showing posts from December, 2015

first thoughts: Pao by Paul Qui in the Faena Hotel - Miami Beach

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Of the many big-name Miami restaurant openings of late, the one I've been most curious about is Paul Qui's Pao in the Faena Hotel Miami Beach. I've followed the chef since he was in the kitchen at Austin's Uchi, watched him dominate a season of Top Chef and win a James Beard Award in 2012, then go on to open both a tasting menu format restaurant (Qui) and several ragingly successful food trucks in Austin (East Side King and its sibling Thai-Kun, which was on Bon Appetit's list of best new restaurants of 2014).

Pao is Qui's first venture outside of Austin, and it's a big one: the Faena is perhaps the most ostentatious and over-the-top of many recent ostentatious, over-the-top Miami developments. The billion dollar project includes not only the hotel, where rooms start at $900 a night, but also a Norman Foster-designed condominium where units are selling for an average of $3,000 per square foot (including a $60 million sale to a billionaire hedge fund manage…

best dishes of 2015: part 3

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We're in the home stretch now. Here are the final fifteen of the best things I ate in 2015. Still hungry? Check out part 1 and part 2, and you can also see all the pictures in this Best Dishes of 2015 flickr set. This final group splits time between Miami and Northern California, starting with what was, for me, one of the most unexpectedly exciting – and unfortunately, short-lived – restaurants that opened (and closed) here in 2015.

Once again, despite the title, this makes no claim as being the "best" of anything other than the things I had the good fortune to eat over the past year. There are oodles of intriguing new restaurants just in South Florida that I've not yet made it to, or only started to get to know, much less the broader dining universe out there. These appear in roughly chronological order.


Gordita, Haitian Griots and Pikliz, Cotija, Raw Vegan Verde - Centro Taco (Downtown Miami) (see all my pictures from Centro Taco)

This Mexican-Haitian mash-up was dar…

best dishes of 2015: part 2

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Last week I kicked off part 1 of my "Best Dishes of 2015." It started with a dessert at the new Vagabond Restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard, one of my favorite new Miami restaurants, and ended with a brunch at Oakland's Boot and Shoe Service. Today, we pick up with another of my favorite additions to Miami's dining lineup, on the same stretch of Biscayne Boulevard as Vagabond, and spend some more time in Miami before a brief excursion to Chicago. Again, these are not "ranked" but listed in rough chronological order, and despite the title, make no pretense of really being the "best" of anything – only my personal favorites from a year of good eating in 2015.


Rice with Shrimp Paste – Cake Thai Kitchen (Miami MiMo District) (read my thoughts and see all my pictures from Cake Thai Kitchen)

I've often bemoaned the cookie-cutter nature of most Thai restaurants in Miami. Cake Thai Kitchen is something different: chef Phuket Thongsodchareondee, who previo…

best dishes of 2015: part 1

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With the calendar winding to its end, that means it's list season. Not Santa's list; I'm referring to the annual tradition of "best" lists among food writers. Locally, we already have "2015's Best Dishes" lists from the Miami Herald and Miami New Times, plus "Best New Restaurants" lists from both as well (Herald; New Times). In the larger universe, the New York Times' Pete Wells has his "Top Ten Dishes" and "Top New York Restaurants," Eater has Robert Sietsema's "15 Best Dishes of 2015," The Guardian has an intriguing survey of several chefs' and food writers' "favourite meals this year," and Alex Balk has an – unusual – "Top 5 Memorable Meals" list over at The Awl (#2: "Two cough drops, Hoyt-Schermerhorn stop").

Before we all get full on lists, here's mine. Unrestrained by page limits or editorial discretion, this one goes to 45 (or something around there – we…

Cobaya Niu with Chef Deme Lomas

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Much of the talk in the Miami restaurant world these days is of all the big name chefs coming into town. I'm excited about some of them too, but it's the places like Niu Kitchen that really resonate with me: small, local restaurants with a distinct focus and vision. Niu Kitchen was opened about a year and a half ago by Chef Deme Lomas and partners Karina Iglesias and Adam Hughes. The compact restaurant, shoehorned into a downtown spot next to Miami Dade College that's about twelve feet wide, serves a tight menu of Lomas' modernized takes on the flavors of the Catalan region of Spain. I've been a fan since my first visit last July.

A couple weeks ago, we squeezed thirty guinea pigs in there for a Cobaya dinner and let Chef Lomas do his thing. He went entirely off-menu for us, but still created dishes that were faithful to his idiom. It was a really enjoyable dinner. Here's what we had:

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


To start things…

best thing i ate last week: duck leg confit at Alter

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The best thing I ate last week could easily have been the Japanese wagyu beef shabu shabu at N by Naoe which I wrote about yesterday. But as good as that was, this was still better: the duck leg confit from the lunch menu at Alter.

The duck meat is pulled off the bone and served over a pearl onion kimchi that's given an extra jolt of flavor from little "sweety drop" peppers. These bright red, teardrop-shaped chiles are simultaneously fruity and spicy, and remind me of the Brazilian biquinho peppers which Chef Micah Edelstein of the late Nemesis Urban Bistro turned me on to a few years ago. Additions of a cashew condiment and black garlic tweak the umami dial. A sheet of drisp dehydrated cabbage mimics the usual crispy skin (Hey Brad - where'd the duck skin go?). Perky pea shoots add some contrasting freshness. This was a great dish.

It can also be part of one of the best value meals in town: Alter serves a 3-course, $29 lunch which may be the most effective use of $…

first thoughts: N by Naoe Shabu Shabu - Brickell Key, Miami

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It was nearly seven years ago that I first found my way into Naoe. Back then, I had no clue what to expect, having heard nothing about the place other than its short blurb on OpenTable. The restaurant turned out to be something of a portal to Japan located in an unassuming strip mall in Sunny Isles Beach, in which Chef Kevin Cory served a bento box of kaiseki style delicacies followed by a procession of what was, at the time, the best sushi I'd ever experienced.

Since then – as Kevin recently reminded me – I was the first to write about Naoe after its move to Brickell Key three years later, and also one of the first visitors to his side venture, N by Naoe, which he opened last year alongside Naoe in an adjoining space. N by Naoe did a pretty remarkable $80 lunch service similar to the opening salvos of a Naoe dinner, presented in a multi-tiered bento box. Alas, that is what you call a "niche market."

So N by Naoe has been repurposed. Now N by Naoe does shabu shabu.

(You…