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best dishes of 2016: part 3

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We're coming in for a landing here – the final segment of my Best Dishes of 2016 (you can read Part 1 and Part 2 here).

(You can see pictures of all of them in this Best Dishes of 2016 flickr set).

Let me start here with the kind of superlative I'm usually loathe to state: Brad Kilgore's Alter was my favorite restaurant of the year, and for my money, the best restaurant in Miami right now (read my thoughts and see all my pictures from Alter). Brad's cooking is creative, smart, beautiful, lush without being overly heavy, and most important of all, flat out delicious.

Now a year and a half in, he's not afraid to change things up either. The dishes that appear here were from the last lunch service at Alter on October 1 (partly a result, I have to imagine, of the attention drawn by Brad's newest project, Brava at the Arsht Center). Then last month, Alter quietly switched its dinner service to a predominantly tasting-menu format, with either a 5-course $69 or 7-cour…

best dishes of 2016: part 2

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It's a tradition, here and everywhere else in the known universe, to do year-end "best of" lists. It's cheesy and facile, but it's also a good opportunity to reflect on the year that's passed – the highs and the lows. In a year that had a brutal number of untimely demises, the Miami restaurant world had some as well. The first four dishes in this Part 2 of my Best Dishes of 2016 (click here for Part 1) were all served at restaurants that are no longer with us.

(You can see pictures of all of the dishes listed in this Best Dishes of 2016 flickr set).

The story picks up here in late February with our second Cobaya dinner in conjunction with the South Beach Wine and Food Fest, which was hosted by Alex Chang at the Vagabond (read my thoughts and see all my pictures from the Cobaya / SoBeWFF dinner). Chang and the Vagabond parted ways several months ago. He's now back out in Los Angeles but still has some Miami connections: he'll be heading up the new Brok…

best dishes of 2016: part 1

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2016. Stick a fork in it. Put it on a boat, light it on fire and send it out to sea. Let me join in the chorus of those who wish this terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year a hearty fuck you and good riddance.

In the greater world, 2016 was lousy. So lousy that it often makes talking and writing about the food world, the way I usually do here, seem pretty trivial. But that food world can be a little corner of joy and connection, a place where people aim to make each other happy – and I suspect we can all use some of that. I've had more than my fair share of meals that made me happy this past year, and I'm incredibly grateful for the people who made them and the people with whom I got to share them. Here, then, are the best things I ate over the past year.

Despite that word "best," I make no pretense of this being any sort of objective listing, only my personal favorites of the places I had the good fortune to visit in 2016. They are not ranked, but rather are lis…

Cobaya Smokers with Chefs Andres Barrientos and James Bowers

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We've been on a run of fancier Cobaya dinners lately, inside swanky South Beach hotels and other posh places, some with some very well known chefs. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but for Experiment #67 we were looking to get back to our roots a little bit: a more casual dinner with some guys you may never have heard of, at a place you might not know.

Miami Smokers is a butcher shop and sandwich shop (they call it an "urban smokehouse") in a nondescript stretch of Little Havana run by Andres Barrientos and James Bowers. You may have never been in there, but if you've been eating around Miami for a while, you may well have already sampled Miami Smokers' bacon, which they supply to several local restaurants. They also produce a few different kinds of salumi, several sausages, some other charcuterie items, and a small supply of fresh pork cuts, which come from heritage pigs they're raising at a farm in Clewiston, Florida. They turn out a really ni…

first thoughts: Olla - Miami Beach

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I have always had a particularly soft spot in my heart for good Mexican restaurants. I'm not talking about taquerias, though I have another very soft spot for those too. Rather, I mean higher end restaurants that treat Mexican cuisine with reverence and genuine curiosity rather than an excuse to blanket everything in melted cheese and decorate with piñatas and sombreros. I don't remember much about my long-ago college years, but I fondly recall such a place on the outskirts of Atlanta called Mexico City Gourmet.[1] Even after a couple decades, I can still taste in my mind the outstanding duck fajitas they made at a spot called Las Puertas on Giralda Avenue in Coral Gables, and the gorgeous chiles en nogada that would occasionally turn up as a special.

So when I saw a preview menu for Olla, a new restaurant which opened last week from chef Scott Linquist (who also runs Wynwood's Coyo Taco), I was pretty excited. Far from the garden variety selection of tacos, burritos and …

review: Proof Miami - Midtown

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Someone asked me recently[1] "So, when you are going to write an actual review of a Miami restaurant again? You know, like you used to?" Fair question. Like the food writers I used to berate, I'm probably more than a little guilty of the Magpie Phenomenon – being constantly distracted by the latest shiny object. I try to keep relatively current on Miami dining with the "best thing I ate last week"  and "first thoughts" posts, and I report on our roughly monthly Cobaya dinners; but then the bulk of my more expansive writing lately seems dedicated to "travelogues" or other recaps from "further afield," rather than locally focused.[2] Mission creep has taken hold.

So let's fix that. And let's start with a place that may not be among the most talked-about restaurants in Miami, but one which I think deserves more attention for what it does: Proof. Chef Justin Flit[3] opened "Proof Pizza & Pasta" almost exactly two…

Willows Inn - Lummi Island, Washington - October 2016

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Our first visit to Willows Inn was almost exactly three years ago. It still stands out as one of my most memorable dining experiences. (I wrote quite a bit about it here.) It was so good, in fact, that when we finally made a return visit last month, just seeing this dock – for the Whatcom Chief ferry that traverses between mainland Washington and Lummi Island – triggered a Pavlovian reaction.

There's nothing particularly showy or ostentatious about chef Blaine Wetzel's cooking. Quite the opposite, he willingly sets his ego aside and let the ingredients take center stage. That's not to diminish the skill with which he handles the wonderful things he finds in this little corner of the world, but rather to say that he really knows how to tell a story of time and place through a meal, eschewing unnecessary embellishment in favor of clarity.

So here, then, is the story of Willows Inn, and Lummi Island, on October 9, 2016.[1] More pictures, less words from me this time. (You ca…

best thing i ate last week: banchan at Gabose Korean BBQ

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Can someone explain to me why there is no good Korean BBQ in Miami? How is it possible, with a population of over 2.5 million in Miami-Dade County, that I have to drive across the county line to Broward to sate this particular craving?[1] Fortunately, Gabose Korean BBQ is only about an hour away, and we happened to already be heading in that direction this weekend.

I was too hungry and impatient to wait for one of the charcoal grill tables, so we let the kitchen do the cooking instead. The gochu pajun (a sort omelet / pancake hybrid like Japanese okonomiyaki) was generously studded with green onion and fresh chiles, a welcome recipe for bad breath. The daeji tofujigae, a spicy soup with tofu and slivered pork, came to the table ferociously bubbling, its broth redolent with Korean chile flakes. The marinated galbi was good as always; the haemul dolsot bibimbap, a rice dish studded with seafood and vegetables cooked in a blazing hot metal bowl, was actually a bit bland before we perked…

highlights from P.I.G. (Pork Is Good) #7

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Seven years ago, about twenty-five folks gathered at the Harvey Seeds American Legion Hall for a celebration of all things porcine, orchestrated by Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog, and P.I.G. (Pork Is Good) was born. I faithfully reported on the event here. Jeremiah's done P.I.G. every year since, and every year it's gotten bigger and better. No longer a one man show, the event now brings together dozens of my favorite chefs in South Florida, plus some special out of town VIPs, and hundreds of attendees. I have repeatedly said that this is my favorite food event of the year, and the latest iteration only validates that.

There were so many stations this year that I couldn't make my way to all of them, but here are some highlights:

(You can see all my pictures in this P.I.G. 7 flickr set).



Aaron Brooks of Edge Steak with some fire-roasted pork belly, served on a blood and black olive flatbread baked on the embers, topped with pork fat tahina, pomegranate chermoula, and hot pink pick…