Monday, April 18, 2016

best thing i ate last week: grilled eggplant salad at Vagabond Backyard Cookout

I'm a big fan of all the good things happening in Miami's "MiMo District" along Biscayne Boulevard, anchored of late by the refurbished Vagabond Motel. Yes, it's partly because it's a straight shot from home across 79th Street Causeway for me, but it's also because the neighborhood has some old 1950's Miami feel, which many of its new inhabitants are looking to preserve in some fashion while still bringing new styles and flavors.

So I was particularly happy to see Chef Alex Chang, who runs the Vagabond Restaurant, team up with Chef Phuket Thongsodchaveonde of Cake Thai Kitchen up the street for a Backyard Cookout around the Vagabond pool. Two of my favorite spots, at one event? Sold.

Together they did a Thai-style BBQ that included grilled corn slathered with coconut cream and palm sugar, a fragrantly spicy Isaan style pork shoulder larb dusted with roasted rice powder, BBQ chicken with papaya salad and sticky rice, grilled whole fish cooked in banana leaves, and for dessert, an ice cream sandwich tucked into a hot dog roll topped with toasted peanuts and fish sauce caramel (a LOT better than it might sound).

(You can see all my pictures on the back end of this Vagabond Restaurant flickr set).

But my favorite dish was this eggplant salad. Little golf ball sized Thai eggplants were halved and grilled so their edges blackened and their insides had just started to go soft and custardy. They were doused in a key lime vinaigrette packing sour, sweet, and just a little heat. But the clincher was the toppings: those crispy shallots, those chewy, funky dried shrimp, like little flavor bombs that keep you digging in for another bite.

It was the best thing I ate last week, and a really fun way to spend a Sunday afternoon.

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