Cobaya Gabe at Bourbon Steak
It's hard for me to believe it's been six years. But sure enough, it's been that and then some since our first Cobaya dinner with Chef Gabriel Fenton of Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak in Aventura, back in May 2010. That was only our sixth experiment, and in our eagerness to push chefs to work outside of their comfort zones, we told Gabe that he could cook whatever he wanted – as long as it wasn't steak. It was our bit of rebellion against the then-common trend of big-name chefs opening nothing but steakhouses in Miami.
It was a great dinner, but man, was that dumb.
We've been looking to make a repeat visit for some time, and it finally happened last week. This time around, we told Gabe – who I think is one of South Florida's most skilled chefs – he could really cook whatever he wanted.
That was smart.
(Full set of pictures can be seen in this Cobaya Gabriel Fenton flickr set).
We started the same way every meal at Bourbon Steak starts: with some of their outstanding duck fat fries, here, dusted with truffle and accompanied by some candied bacon. While we usually insist that everything at our dinners be off-menu, these (1) are not actually on the menu at B.S.; and (2) would be worth making an exception anyway. Also making the rounds as folks gathered at the bar was some hearty antelope chili, served with fingerling potato chips, and flavorful Florida grass-fed beef satay skewers.
Once we settled into B.S.'s private dining room, dinner started with oysters a few different ways: Wianno oysters on the half-shell, garnished with ponzu and a brunoise of green apple, and also with crispy shallot and a coin of chorizo (?); and, even better, a really excellent rendition of classic Oysters Rockefeller.
Next, something you wouldn't likely ever find on the menu at Bourbon Steak, but executed at the exact same level: buffalo sweetbreads. The delicate, cloud-like sweetbreads were encased in a crisp shell laced with hot sauce, and served over a silky celery root purée topped with crumbled Pt. Reyes blue cheese.
Chef Gabe is a New England boy, and his next dish was something of an ode to the seafood he grew up eating. You don't see skate wing on many menus here, which is a shame, as a love its ropy, gelatinous texture. His version was scented with curry spices, pan-fried for a burnished golden exterior, and served over a creamy risotto bolstered with melted leeks and Alaskan king crab.
So here's a lesson learned: if you're going to a steakhouse, don't skip the steak. As you can probably guess from the intro here, I'm not a huge fan of steakhouses. But when I do crave a steak, I look for quality over quantity, and usually end up at Bourbon Steak because they have outstanding product and prepare it well (in fact, just a week before our Cobaya dinner, Mrs. F and I sat at the bar and split their 18-ounce dry-aged ribeye, which along with a salad and a few sides was a just about perfect meal).
Gabe did it right here. He served each of us a couple fat slices of gorgeous New York strip, plus a tranche of my favorite cut of all: the ribeye cap, a/k/a "deckle," or technically, spinalis dorsi. Even better, he topped these with a round of foie gras torchon, and then garnished that with a shaving of Burgundy truffles. This was like a minimalist rendition of "Tournedos Rossini," and the 150-year old combination of beef, foie and truffle still works: the foie just starting to melt from the heat of the beef, adding a rich, creamy texture and a hint of livery, ferrous tang, the truffle releasing a complimentary earthy forest-floor aroma.
For dessert, Bourbon Steak pastry chef Patty Lopez took on that most basic of fall tropes: the pumpkin spice latte. Though I'm not a #PSL guy myself, I won't begrudge anyone else their pleasures. And yet, this is something I can get into. Because Patty had the sneaky brilliant idea of taking an ice cream sandwich and a pumpkin spice latte and turning them into an affogato, dunking a delicate ice cream sandwich into a coffee creme anglaise topped with frothy milk foam, with an almond cranberry biscotti riding sidecar for dunking. Clever.
Bourbon Steak has one of the best wine programs in South Florida, and the pairings put together by wine directors Craig Teriaca and Kareem Zarwi were on point. I particularly liked the rich, spicy Knoll Loibenberg Gruner Veltliner that was poured with the sweetbreads, and the intense, Northern Rhone-like Vallin Syrah from California's Santa Ynez Valley that was matched with the steak.
It was great to do something again with Gabe, and to get back to Bourbon Steak, which always knows how to throw down the welcome mat. A big thank you to Chef Fenton, pastry chef Patty Lopez, to Craig and Kareem, to GM Anibel Macias, and their entire crew at B.S.; and as always most of all, to the guinea pigs whose interest and support make these events possible.
19999 W. Country Club Drive, Aventura, Florida
 As I said then, "It's a formula designed to capitalize on the name while minimizing the execution risk as they put others in charge of carrying the brand's flag in the far-flung colonies: given the inherently limited nature of a steakhouse menu, diners will expect quality, but not necessarily the same creativity or flourishes by which these big-name chefs garnered their reputation in the first place."