Monday, June 18, 2012

Animal Pizzeria

chefs at work

Not long after Chef Michael Schwartz opened up Harry's Pizzeria, he started putting the space to use for more than just baking pies. In a twist on the "pop-up" genre that is the restaurant industry's latest trend, Schwartz has brought in chefs from around the country to cook for an evening in his little pizza parlor. In November 2011 Harry's held its first pop-up dinner with Gabrielle Hamilton of New York's Prune. Since then, Harry's has played host to a distinguished list of visiting talent: Jonathan Waxman, Marc Vetri, Jonathon Sawyer, and Kevin Sbraga. Last night, it was chefs Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook, of Los Angeles' Animal and Son of a Gun, who took over the restaurant for the night.

Some folks may know Shook and Dotolo from their successful L.A. restaurants. Some may remember back to their short-lived stint on the Food Network with "Two Dudes Catering." Though I didn't know it at the time, I've actually been eating their food since even before then - they both cut their teeth at the Strand here in Miami Beach (now long gone) more than a decade ago, back when a young Michelle Bernstein was the chef and I was taking Mrs. F there for date nights.

Though Dotolo and Shook had not crossed paths with Michael Schwartz back in the day, they'd become acquainted more recently on the charity circuit, and - lucky for us here in Miami - came back home to put together a dinner at Harry's.

(You can see all my pictures in this Animal Pizzeria flickr set).

kumamoto oysters

Some passed appetizers started things off, including these kumamoto oysters. A cucumber and serrano chile gelee provided a great balance of cool and heat to set off the briny pop of the oysters. Crostini topped with sautéed porcini mushrooms and a rich truffle fondue offered a more earthy starting point for the meal.

triggerfish crudo

Though I enjoy it, often fish crudo seems like a "throwaway" of a dish - fish, oil, salt, citrus, done. Too easy. So this was actually a pleasant surprise: mild, faintly sweet slices of triggerfish swam in a colatura vinaigrette with that unique umami zap fish sauce provides of intense flavor without heaviness. Fresh basil and mint, chopped peanuts, and crispy fried shallots pulled things further in a Thai direction, with a little something different in each bite.[1] I might have worried that the fermented fish funk of the colatura would be a bad pairing with the fresh raw fish, but I loved the combination.

(continued ...)

pickled and raw beets

This salad offered equally bright flavors: perky lettuce, beets both raw in slivers and pickled in little knobs, fresh chervil, a tangy creme fraiche dressing, and a shower of crumbled croutons for a bit of crunch.

chicken-fried sweetbreads

Some people hate sweetbreads. I love them. This dish of chicken-fried sweetbreads, served over a lime aioli, was one for people who hate sweetbreads. The little nuggets were fried almost beyond recognition, with only the larger pieces still offering the contrast of their fluffy, cloud-like interior against the crispy coating. But put together crispy, creamy, and tangy like this, and you'll make a sweetbread convert of just about anyone (including Frod Jr., who still has not quite forgiven me for the lamb fries incident of 2009 but gladly nibbled on these sweetbreads without hesitation).

balsamic pork ribs

While not everyone loves sweetbreads, only a diehard vegetarian could hate these ribs. Tender meat, offset by a tangy glaze redolent with balsamic vinegar, these were an absolute crowd-pleaser.


Things got even more caveman-style with massive bone-in ribeyes, served with pickled charred onions. While everyone else at the table grabbed for the pink ribbons of sliced steak, I unobtrusively grabbed the bone and happily gnawed away. Particularly in a meal like this, side dishes could easily be overlooked, but the wood-roasted corn, amped up with toasted garlic, and the crispy fried potatoes with rosemary were every bit as good as the steak.

panna cotta

The dinner finished on a lighter note, a creamy panna cotta in a jar, topped with a jam of mango and hog plum, a crunchy biscotti riding sidecar.

Though Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook are still best known for cooking "Dude Food" - the signature dish at Animal is their take on loco moco with foie gras, spam, and a hamburger - what impressed me most about the meal they did at Harry's was the deft balance. Even the heavier dishes - the ribs, the steak - had just the right dash of acidity to cut through the richness and keep the palate alive.

The wines selected by sommelier Eric Larkee were all from the Rosenthal Wine Merchants portfolio, and fortunately they were all quite good because their rep was at our dinner table. I particularly liked the Yves Cuilleron "Sybel" rosé of syrah, and the De Forville Langhe nebbiolo.

The lineup for the next several pop-ups at Harry's bears an uncanny similarity to the list of this year's James Beard Award winners: Paul Grieco (2012 Outstanding Wine, Beer or Spirits Professional) will be in for "Riesling Pizzeria" on July 17, then it's Chris Hastings (Hot and Hot Fish Club, 2012 Best Chef South) on August 15, Hugh Acheson (Five and Ten, Empire State South, 2012 Best Chef Southeast) on September 12, Andrew Carmellini (Locanda Verde, The Dutch - he's already got two Beards, so he sat 2012 out) on October 22, and Mindy Segal (Hot Chocolate, 2012 Outstanding Pastry Chef) on November 5. Talented national chefs still seeking recognition from the JBF may wish to take note.[2] For more information on upcoming dinners, check here.

It's a great thing for us locals to be able to get a taste of what's cooking around the country without leaving home, and I'm grateful to Chef Schwartz for using his national connections to make these guest chef pop-ups happen. The team at Harry's also does a great job of creating a relaxed, laid back feel for these events: most dishes are served family-style, the wine flows freely, and last night, anyway, the Heat game was on the TV (in the picture at the top of this post you can see Vinny Dotolo checking the score). With Frod Jr. joining me for the dinner, and the Heat pulling out the win, it was a pretty perfect Father's Day.

[1] Both in flavor and presentation this reminded me of Eating House's tomato dish. Eating House's chef, Giorgio Rapicavoli, who was a few tables over, agreed.

[2] Most of these visits were scheduled before this year's JBF awards were announced.

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