Sunday, December 24, 2017

first thoughts: No Name Chinese - South Miami


2017 has been the year of the "to-do list" for me. The agenda of new restaurants I've been meaning to try continues to grow, and unlike the past several years, the usual forces of attrition (i.e., closures) haven't whittled it down quite as much as usual. Making it even more challenging, those openings haven't been limited to the ever-popular trifecta of Wynwood, South Beach and Brickell. It's good news for the residents of the outer bands of Greater Miami; it's a challenge for those trying to keep up with all the latest additions.

Witness, for example, No Name Chinese, which opened late this spring in South Miami, on a quiet corner behind the Shops at Sunset Place. No Name[1] is the second spot from the team of wine buff Heath Porter and manager Craig DeWald (their first is Uvaggio wine bar in Coral Gables), who decided they wanted to open a place serving contemporary Chinese cuisine using local ingredients paired with unusual wines.[2] They brought in Pablo Zitzmann to run the kitchen, who was last seen at the now-closed Trust & Co. in the Gables, and before that worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Jeremy Ford at Matador Room, Ricky Sauri at Nobu and then Bloom in Wynwood, and Michelle Bernstein at Sra. Martinez, among others.

(You can see all my pictures in this No Name Chinese flickr set.)

Zitmann's menu at No Name is inspired by traditional Chinese dishes and flavors, but takes plenty of liberties. So there's a crispy turnip cake (law bok gow), a Chinese dim sum standard, but it's done in the style of a Japanese okonomiyaki topped with lap cheong sausage, shiitake mushrooms, Kewpie mayo and katsuobushi, the shavings of smoked, dried skipjack tuna wriggling in the heat. Turnip cake and okonomiyaki are a couple of my favorite things, so this makes me very happy.


Shrimp toast, usually a greasy fried indulgence, here comes on as healthy-ish as avocado toast: house-made shao bing bread topped with a clean, bright minced shrimp salad, its flavors amplified with a squeeze of lime and a dusting of "crunchy garlic bomb."


Smashed cucumber salad, another Chinese staple which everyone is riffing on lately, sees the cukes marinated in soy sauce and chianking vinegar, then plated over a creamy sesame sauce and topped with a shower of sesame seeds and a bouquet of fresh herbs. It's the kind of thing you keep going back for more bites of as you eat the rest of your meal.


There's an abbreviated selection of about a half-dozen dumplings – not quite enough to start supplying a fleet of carts, but enough to satisfy some dim sum cravings. No Name's shu mai are nearly bursting with a juicy paste of Key West pink shrimp and crab, topped with trout roe for a little pop and contrast. The "angry dumplings" are filled with spicy minced chicken, and dressed with a zippy chili garlic sauce, crispy shallots, more of that "crunchy garlic bomb," and a last minute dusting of orange zest to perk up all those flavors.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Cobaya Ariete with Chef Michael Beltran


Cobaya's been on a long break, but we came back strong. Monday night, Chef Michael Beltran let us take over his Coconut Grove restaurant, Ariete, where he served forty of us an elegant eight-course dinner that hearkened back to another generation of fine dining. Canapés and terrines and consommés – nobody does this stuff any more![1] While I wouldn't want to dine like this every day, it was a beautiful reminder of what's been lost as we abandon the white linens for the unfinished wood tables and side towel napkins.

Ariete is usually one of those bare wood table kind of places – and a really good one, about which I've been meaning to write here at FFT. But for present purposes, let's focus on Monday's dinner.

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


Upon getting to the restaurant a couple minutes before our early 6:45pm start time to check our guests in, I was shocked to find the entire dining room already filled and seated.[2] Chef Beltran was at the pass getting the first course ready, and looking as tightly wound as the rubber band on a balsa wood flyer. I told him to relax; he said he'd relax after service was over. It's one of the things I love about Mike – he's a sweetheart and a wise-cracker, but he's got an intensity and focus about his work that takes priority over everything else.


To start, a welcome cocktail – "El Sueno," with dark rum, pineapple, Pavan liqueur and prosecco – and a bread service of soft, yeasty brioche with a duo of butters – herb and truffle – and some coarse salt.[3]


Just the word "canapés" brings to mind posh dinner parties of a kind I've mostly only fantasized about; the closest we came when I was growing up was parties where my parents would make pitchers of frozen daiquiris and warm up little frozen puff pastry doodads. Here, Beltran made silky beggars' purses filled with picked stone crab, a crimson cherry filled with chicken liver mousse, and a crispy tostone topped with smoked fish rillettes. Fancy.


At his Paris restaurant l'Arpège, Chef Alain Passard serves a dish that is now universally known as "l'Arpège Egg" – a soft-cooked egg yolk cooked in the shell, seasoned with fleur de sel and snipped chives, topped with cold whipped cream, sherry vinegar and maple syrup, for a perfect combination of hot and cold, sweet and sour.[4] Beltran's ode to the dish incorporated some local flavors: a silky malanga purée and sugar cane, plus some caviar for good measure. It was delicious.

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