Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cobaya 31 - Area 31 with Chef E. Michael Reidt

Cobaya 31

It's always exciting when we have the chance to get a nationally recognized chef like Michelle Bernstein to cook for Cobaya, like we did last month. But for me it's equally exciting when we can find someone who may not be on everyone's radar screen already. From the number of our diners who weren't familiar with Chef E. Michael Reidt, or hadn't been to Area 31 at all, our dinner this past Monday would fall into the latter category. I hope they feel like they've made a happy discovery.

Area 31, a restaurant with a sustainable seafood theme, opened about two years ago; but being hidden away on the 16th floor of the Epic Hotel in downtown Miami it can easily elude notice, particularly by locals. John Critchley was the chef until about six months ago, when he departed for Washington DC (he's now at Urbana) and was replaced here by Chef Reidt (who was traded from Baltimore's B & O American Brasserie).[1] Chef Reidt actually has some Miami connections from earlier in his career: ten years ago he was the chef at Wish on South Beach.[2]

Chowfather, a fellow Cobaya instigator, was particularly excited about having Chef Reidt do a dinner for us and was instrumental in making this one happen. And Chef Reidt really delivered. Here's our menu for the evening (you can see all my pictures in this Cobaya 31 flickr set):

Cobaya 31 menu

Amuse Bouche
Heirloom Tomatoes, Peaches, Truffle Cheese, Flowering Basil
Roederer NV Brut Premier

Cobia Ceviche
Pressed Avocado, Puffed Rice, Granny Smith Apple, Red Pepper Sorbet
Pio Cesare Cortese di Gavi 2010

Foie Gras "Fluff"
Smoked Peach, Crispy Basil Sponge, Pineapple, Tamarind Gastrique
"Cobaya Cocktail"

Maine Lobster, Green Asparagus, Grapefruit, Vanilla Turnips
Luca Chardonnay 2007

Diver Scallop
Crab, Farro, Chorizo, English Peas, Coconut Broth
Turkey Flats Rose 2008

Sous Vide Duck
Confit Pork Belly, Carrot, Curry, Pistachio
Bell Syrah 2007

Dark Chocolate
Truffles, Dehydrated Mousse, Yogurt, Cherry Sorbet
Lindeman's Framboise Lambic

amuse bouche

Starting with the amuse bouche, Chef Reidt encouraged us to really dive into the experience, and in this instance to literally stick our noses right down into the bowl. It was a sensible instruction, as the flowering basil from Paradise Farms offered up a potent spicy fragrance. The basil was the highlight of a simple, pure composition of heirloom tomatoes, slivered peaches, a couple thin shards of truffle cheese, and pea tendrils, floating in a limpid tomato water. Crisp, racy Roederer NV Brut Premier Champagne played along well (and the wine pairings were mostly spot on with each of the courses).

(continued ...)

cobia ceviche

Area 31's local sustainable seafood theme showed itself in the next course, a ceviche of cobia. Cubes of the meaty fish were matched with equal-sized cubes of apple, jicama, and sweet potato, spread over a sheet of thinly sliced, pressed avocado, topped with a quenelle of red pepper sorbet and garnished with crispy puffed rice, pumpkin seeds (?) and mint. Lots of bright, vibrant flavors and colors here, but all working together.

foie gras "fluff"

The best dish of the night - and just an out-and-out great dish - was Chef Reidt's foie gras "fluff." "Fluff" was a good term for this feather-light aerated foie mousse, plated as a couple cylinders aggressively seasoned with flaky Maldon salt. Accompanying each cylinder was a crumbly, almost biscotti-textured "crispy basil sponge," in between which ran a slash of tamarind gastrique. But the real deal-clincher here was a smoked peach purée, much more smoky than sweet, an inspired foil to slash the richness of the liver. I've said before how I appreciate foie pairings that eschew the customary tendency to go all sweet and treacly, and this was another good example.The beverage pairing likewise sidestepped convention entirely, offering a "Cobaya Cocktail" with champagne, pineapple and orange juices, and basil leaves in lieu of the customary Sauternes or comparable sweetie.


The flounder was probably my least favorite course. I found the fish dry, and the accompanying vanilla-spiked turnip purée, while good on its own, overwhelmed the fish and other accompaniments: bits of lobster, coins of asparagus, red grapefruit segments, and chervil sprigs.

diver scallop

This fat diver scallop,[3] on the other hand, was cooked perfectly, burnished on one end with a crisp sear, but still tender and moist throughout. It was nestled in a bed of hearty, chewy farro, fresh English peas, cubed chorizo sausage, and generous hunks of crabmeat, with all the flavors brightened by a slash of vividly colored and flavored gingered pea purée.

sous vide duck

As a final savory course, Chef Reidt served a duck breast, cooked sous vide, paired with a cube of confited pork belly, a round of golden beet, a sprinkling of pistachios, all over a purée of carrot with a heady curry aroma. The flavors were on point, but the texture of the duck breast missed the mark for me: I would have liked a more vigorous sear to better crisp the skin and render out more of the subcutaneous fat.

dark chocolate

To close things out, a classic pairing of cherries and chocolate, in an unconventional format. Domino-sized blocks of a pleasantly wobbly yogurt panna cotta provided the platform for a deep red cherry sorbet, lozenges of dark chocolate ganache truffles, and sheets of a dehydrated chocolate mousse. Another great pairing note was offered by the Lindeman's Framboise Lambic, a tart, faintly sweet Belgian lambic beer that provided both another layer of fruit complexity as well as a nice foil for the rich chocolate.

Often, seafood dishes are more delicate and restrained, and with Area 31's piscine focus, you might expect that to be the "house style." But Chef Reidt's cooking deals in bold, assertive flavors. Pretty much all of our courses had one prominent and vivid note that stood out among the various other complementary components: the red pepper sorbet with the ceviche, the smoked peach with the foie, the vanilla turnips with the flounder, the ginger pea purée with the scallop, the curried carrots with the duck. Usually this was to pretty good effect.

My thanks to Chef E. Michael Reidt and his crew, to Area 31's General Manager Megan Ratti for her assistance in coordinating the dinner, and, as always, to all of the guinea pigs who came out for this experiment, including several new faces, which we're always happy to see. If this dinner sounds like something you'd enjoy, the good news is that several of the items we were served seemed to have worked their way onto the regular menu, so perhaps you can recreate a similar experience.

[1]If you're trying to make sense of the musical chairs, here is a hint: they're all Kimpton Group properties.

[2]Wish seems to be something of a good luck charm. Chef Reidt was named a Food & Wine Best New Chef in 2001 shortly before coming down to the restaurant. The year before, Andrea Curto-Randazzo was also named a Food & Wine Best New Chef while the chef there, before leaving to start Talula.

[3]I'm referring to the scallop. I have no idea what the diver's physique was like.


  1. Nice write up as usual. The flounder itself was my least favorite item of the night as well. My piece was overcooked and on the dry side. That may be the result of trying to plate 30 at the same time(?). I liked the rest of the dish though and really enjoyed the meal as a whole. Great flavors and combinations throughout. Good to see so many new faces.

  2. One of our former talented cooks, Ben, who was an instrumental hand in our past Paradigm dinners and even contributed a few dishes has been at Area 31 for a couple of years now (currently as a sous chef). I'm glad to see he has secured an environment for creative cuisine and is (still after Critchley's departure) again working with an inspirational chef. Very nice dishes.