Thursday, March 25, 2010

Cobaya Experiment #4 - Altamare with Chef Simon Stojanovic

The latest of our "underground dining" experiments brought us to the newly opened Altamare restaurant in South Beach. Well, sort of new, anyway. Actually, its predecessor, Altamar, quietly tucked away on the west end of Lincoln Road, was a long-standing locals' favorite for fresh seafood with an Italian bent. Altamar owner Claudio Giordano decided to move a few doors down to a bigger space, buy a vowel, and bring in Chef Simon Stojanovic (a Michael's Genuine Food & Drink alumnus) to take over the kitchen and update the menu. We gave Chef Simon free rein to craft a menu, and Claudio gave the 20 of us a cozy little semi-private corner in the back of the room behind the bar, plus a run of wine pairings to go with the dishes.

Unfortunately, I missed nearly half the meal, for reasons that are somewhat embarassing (it was Little Miss F's birthday - the date of which I had overlooked when planning the dinner - and so I joined in late, after B-Day dinner with the family). As a result, I didn't get to sample a sheepshead carpaccio, served with cara cara oranges and fresh hearts of palm (for those thinking we've gone overboard, please note: sheepshead here is a fish, not - well - a sheep's head), nor a triggerfish tempura.

Pictures: Jackie Sayet

I did get there in time for an octopus dish, the fat tentacles "confited" low and slow and then grilled, served with farro that had been spiked with local green tomato, grilled lemon and chorizo, along with a generous dollop of aioli. It's a great prep method for the octopus, rendering it tender with a nice crusty char on the exterior from the grilling (it's the same method used on the octopus dish that is a menu stalwart at MGF&D).

Picture: Jackie Sayet

Plus I always support the pairing of seafood and pork products, and the chorizo was just right here, balancing well with the rich chewy texture of the farro and the bright tartnesss of the green tomato and lemon. That combination also is one which has made appearances on the MGF&D menu, as a commenter here previously noted. Claudio took an interesting approach on matching a wine to this dish, going with a Cannonau, a red wine (grenache) from Sardinia which I thought worked well with the heartier flavors of the farro and chorizo in particular.

(continued ...)

Picture: Jackie Sayet

The next item was my favorite of the night, slices of grilled lamb heart from Deep Creek Ranch in Central Florida. I've had beef heart several times before, but never lamb, and I thought it was just wonderful: richly flavorful though not gamy, and surprisingly tender (beef heart can be a bit tough). Chef Simon paired it with a chutney that included kumquat and medjool date, as well as some fregola (a/k/a Israeli couscous) with some Mediterranean accents (tomato, red onion, parsley). Claudio poured an Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir with this.

Chef Simon followed that with some house made pappardelle, the fat noodles topped with braised short rib, sautéed beet greens, house-roasted tomatoes, and bufala mozzarella. Actually I couldn't detect any of the mozzarella in my serving, and some of the sheets of pappardelle wanted to cling together, but the tender braised beef and the roasted tomatoes made a luscious sugo. A Castello di Monastero Chianti Classico was a classic pairing.

Picture: Jackie Sayet

From there, Chef Simon turned it over to Pastry Chef Crystal Cullison (formerly of the Ritz-Carlton South Beach), who put together an interesting dessert, a chocolate mousse with a brûléed top resting over a fennel-spiked sponge cake, crowned with some cubes of candied lemon, paired with an olive oil gelato (the texture was more like a granita) and a bit of sweet braised fennel. The subtle licorice notes of the fennel worked well in the dessert - one of those moments that make you wonder why you don't see the combination more often. Claudio matched this with a lightly sweet moscato, which highlighted the flavors of the fennel and lemon.

Since Altamare only reopened a few weeks ago with Chef Stojanovic in the kitchen, it's not surprising that several of the dishes we had are similar to those on the newly unveiled menu. Though you're unlikely to find lamb heart there regularly, it seems you will see some other items from Deep Creek Ranch, including a grass-fed burger on their new lunch menu. And while the particular fish available may vary depending on what the locals are catching at any particular time, the names of many of the suppliers and products on the new menu- Deep Creek Ranch, Fudge Farms, Swank Farms - will look very familiar to frequent customers of Michael's Genuine, as will some of the menu items.

It's clear that Chef Stojanovic is both sticking with the strong focus on local seafood by which Altamar built its reputation, while also showing off some of the tricks he picked up while working in the kitchen at Michael's Genuine. And it works: I suspect both fans of the original Altamar and fans of MGF&D will find many things to like. I noted recently how we're seeing a wave of new chefs taking over their own kitchens after having honed their chops working with chefs like Michael Schwartz and others. I hope with some time, Chef Stojanovic is able to find more of his own voice at Altamare while working with some of the great product they bring in.

Thanks to Claudio Giordano for being such a gracious host, to Chef Simon and his crew for cooking a great meal, to Ellen Marchman of GetInk for helping to coordinate the event, and to all of our guinea pigs for joining us in another experiment.

1233 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Altamare on Urbanspoon


  1. M. read the review yesterday, and all I heard from the other room was "awwww, we missed lamb heart!" and she really meant it! It's not every day you hear that refrain. We look forward to the next one and this one sounded great (as always). And, of course, Happy B-Day to Little Miss F.

  2. Well, we know M is a fan of the blood and guts. Sorry you missed this one but we have lots more good stuff coming up.

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