Friday, October 26, 2012

"The List" - Where to Eat in Miami - Updated

Back in February, with some trepidation, I added a new feature to this blog: "The List" - a compilation of my own most frequently voiced responses to the question, "What are the best places to eat in Miami?" For reasons I explained back then, I've always struggled to name "favorites," as so much depends on mood, preference and appetite any given day.

Still and yet I ventured forth, and of course, promptly infuriated many readers with both my inclusions and omissions. And to make it even worse, as the list sat there growing old and stale, at least a couple of the places listed up and closed.

Well, once more unto the breach.

"The List" has been updated. What's more, it's been broken down a bit into:

"The Short List" (Go to these places. You will have a great meal and a great experience);

"The Not-So-Short List" (A bakers' dozen of favorites - many are "everyday" restaurants where I'm a regular, others may be visited less frequently, but all are places I readily recommend);

"The Long List" (Solid "neighborhood" joints, restaurants that maybe do one particular genre of food particularly well, and places that particularly capture Miami's local flavor); and

"Notable Omissions" (Restaurants I've just not eaten at often enough or recently enough to feel like I know them well, but want to. Several are places that that have put on great special event dinners but which I need to revisit to try the regular menu).

As always, suggestions and feedback welcomed.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

The FFT Calendar

If you're not on the twitter and don't inspect this site pretty carefully, you may have missed the latest addition to FFT:  the Food For Thought Calendar, a running list of upcoming food and dining events in and around Miami. This calendar will likely fall somewhere between the "carefully curated" and the "neighborhood bulletin board" kinds of lists: I don't intend to include every 50-cent discount day at the frozen yogurt shop, but I'll probably include more events than I might strictly intend to go to myself, even with an unlimited budget and caloric intake capacity.

Unless it's particularly exciting, I will likely not be doing separate posts every time a new event is added, even though that makes for great blog filler. Instead, consider this your invitation to periodically visit here, click the "Calendar" link underneath the banner, and see if there's anything you might find interesting. And if you think there's something I've omitted that ought to be included, please email me the info here.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Goes Around ... Comes Around: Double Feature Edition

I ate at two new restaurants this week. I’ll need to make return visits to give a complete assessment of the food, but just from looking at their menus I could tell something about both of them: they kind of want to be other restaurants.

First, Tikl. Or, to be more precise, Tikl Raw Bar Grill. Where the menu is divided into “snacks,” “raw,” “small” and “robata” sections, rounded out by a couple “large” dishes. Where said “raw” dishes feature creatively flavored seafood crudos, the “small” items are an eclectic mix of tapas style dishes, and the “robata” items include meats, seafood and vegetables with a mish-mash of Asian and Mediterranean flavors. Where the menu puts the main ingredient of a dish in boldface, followed by a lower-case list of the other ingredients separated by slashes.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is almost exactly the same menu format as Sugarcane. Or, to be more precise, Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill. Which has a menu divided into “snacks,” “crudos,” “tapas,” “robata grill” and “large plates” (though Sugarcane also offers sushi and sashimi). And which just happens to be one of the most popular and heavily trafficked restaurants to open in Miami the past couple years.

In fairness, though, Sugarcane uses a slash between ingredients on the menu. Tikl uses a backslash.

Now, to really be fair, I should point out that while the menu format at Tikl is clearly copied from Sugarcane, the dishes are not. Even if it’s in the same style, the particulars are certainly different. And none of this ultimately has anything to do with how well they’re actually executing what’s on that menu. But it’s impossible to look at Tikl’s menu and not realize that it’s trying to be the Sugarcane of Brickell.

(continued ...)

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Josh's Delicatessen & Appetizing - Surfside

When Edible South Florida magazine decided to do an issue dedicated to "classics," I was honored to be asked to participate. As a lifelong South Florida resident with many fond memories of places long gone, generally any opportunity to reminisce is enough to get me started. The piece I contributed is on Jewish delis, and I’ll try not to repeat it here too much - go find yourself a copy or read it online - other than to lay out the basic premise: that if the closing of the late, great Rascal House signified the death of the Jewish deli in South Florida, then Josh's Delicatessen & Appetizing, which opened earlier this year in Surfside, may be its reincarnation.

The "Josh" in Josh's Deli is chef/owner Joshua Marcus, who opened Chow Down Grill in this same spot a couple years ago. I was a fan of Chow Down, which brought a modern spin to Chinese-American classics with fresh, high-quality ingredients and house-made everything. But it (and its South Beach sibling, which opened about a year later) were on the front end of what seems to be an inexhaustible supply of contemporary casual Asian eateries in Miami - first Sakaya Kitchen, Pubbelly and Gigi, more recently, Bloom, Shokudo, PaoTown, Kung Fu Kitchen, Lantao Kitchen ...

Amid the glut, Josh decided to try something nobody else was doing: a Jewish-style deli. In April, Chow Down's Surfside location became Josh's Deli.

(You can see all my pictures in this Josh’s Deli flickr set, or click on any picture to enlarge.)

Though maybe the only thing that Chinese food and delicatessen food have in common is Jews' fondness for both, Josh’s approach to them has been similar. In particular, virtually everything at Josh’s Deli is made from scratch.[1] He cures his own corned beef and smokes his own pastrami. He prepares his own fish – salmon three different ways (cured, smoked and pastrami-spiced), smoked tilapia for whitefish salad.[2] The bagels are specially made for him by a local baker.[3] He pickles his own pickles. He even makes his own mustard.

This kind of cooking is a labor of love that many deli owners abandoned years ago in favor of the convenience of pre-prepared, pre-packaged products. It’s a lot more work than cutting open a plastic wrapper, but it’s worth it.

His cured salmon, sliced to order, is beautifully silky, achieving that uneasy feat of tasting like fish without being fishy. We brought home some of each variety to break the fast on Yom Kippur, and while family members all had strong opinions on which they preferred and there was no consensus, everyone had a favorite (for me it’s definitely the pastrami-cured salmon). His whitefish salad, which I initially quibbled with as too chunky, has grown on me, with just enough chopped onion, celery and hard-boiled egg to provide some contrast to the flaky smoked fish without overwhelming it.

(continued ...)

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Estiatorio Milos - Miami Beach

I started this blog with the purpose of sharing great dining experiences in the Miami area, but I'll admit it: there are times that I'd like to keep some things to myself. There's a certain pleasure in having secrets, particularly when they're small, intimate places that for an hour or two you can sort of claim as your own.[1]

Estiatorio Milos

Estiatorio Milos, the newish Greek restaurant from Costas Spiliadis on the SoFi[2] end of South Beach, is far from a small, intimate place. To the contrary, Milos (which has siblings in Athens, New York, Montreal, and Las Vegas) is built on a grand scale. It seats a couple hundred in a breezy wide-open space with billowing white curtains and natural blond wood all around. The back of the dining room has an extravagant display of fish and seafood, flown in overnight from the Mediterranean and packed on ice. They're so impeccably fresh that even right next to the display, the only fish you smell are the ones cooking nearby in the open kitchen, on massive open grills with grates that can be wheeled up or down to control their proximity to the heat.

fish case

(You can see all my pictures in this Estiatorio Milos flickr set, or click on any picture to view it larger).

The menu at Milos is minimalist: basically, you can choose from among a few raw seafood items, several typical Greek meze, salads and vegetables. Then go pick your fish and decide if you want it grilled or perhaps baked in a salt crust. There are lamb chops and a few steaks for the landlubbers. And that's it.

But the menu also has prices to match the grandiosity of the venue: The "Milos Special" appetizer, a tower of fried zucchini and eggplant with cubes of kefalograviera cheese and tzatziki, is around $30;[3] four little slices of avgotaraho (cured mullet roe) on crostini ran me $32; those fish you see have price tags in the $40's and $50's per pound. These tariffs quickly add up to make Milos one of the most expensive dining propositions in town.

Whether it's worth it depends a lot on how passionate you are about über-fresh seafood: yes, it's very pricey, but the red mullet (barbouni, for the Greek) we had one visit was so fresh it seemed still ready to jump back into the water.[4] An item rarely seen around these parts, this is one fish they elect to delicately fry instead of grill, and it was fantastic: plump, firm flesh with an almost crustacean sweetness. And there really is something inspirational about that display case: my 12-year old daughter has seen me pick apart plenty of whole fish, but was never inclined to do so on her own until she saw those mullets.

Curiously, Milos is both one of the most expensive restaurants in town and one of the most affordable depending on how you do it: while the regular menu is borderline prohibitive, they also offer a much more wallet-friendly three-course lunch special (recently increased from $20.12 to $24.07), and a $49 four-course dinner special from 5:00-7:00 pm (and all day on Sunday).[5]

But I'm not really here to tell you about the regular restaurant.

(continued ...)

Monday, October 1, 2012

Lazy Bear - San Francisco

Lazy Bear menu

When we started our Cobaya "underground" dinners, there was no pretense of originality; we were very deliberately copying things we had heard about in other cities. So for years I've been keeping track of what other like-minded people are doing around the country, including the Lazy Bear dinners in San Francisco.

In many ways, Lazy Bear is very similar to our Cobaya events: it's a set menu, with a focus on creative, contemporary cooking; events are announced only by mailing list and website; seats are assigned by lottery; the location is only disclosed to confirmed attendees.[1] But there are differences as well: whereas Cobaya was organized by a few avid diners, and features a different chef for every event, Lazy Bear is a chef-driven affair: specifically, David Barzelay, who cooked at Nopa and Commonwealth, and staged at McCrady's and Aldea, before going the underground dinner route.

When the opportunity presented itself to attend one of his dinners on our recent trip to San Francisco, we eagerly did so.

(You can see all my pictures from the dinner in this Lazy Bear flickr set, or click on any picture to enlarge).

Lazy Bear dining room

The location was a secret, so let's just say that it was a funky warehouse-type space, with two long tables set up for a total of 24 diners. The attached kitchen had plenty of room to work; if the equipment was not exactly cutting-edge, it's still a leap up from several of the facilities we've used for Cobaya dinners.

Lazy Bear kitchen

This is a preview version of the menu from when the event was announced:

Lazy Bear menu

Nine courses are listed, though in actuality it was even more generous than that, with several "snacks" and "treats" bookending the start and finish of the meal.

First, a little amuse bouche of a "scrambled egg mousse." Like breakfast in a shot glass, the creamy mousse was infused with bacon and topped with snipped chives, but finished sweetly with a dollop of maple syrup. Some might recognize this as a variation on the "Arpege egg," Alain Passard's iconic egg yolk poached in its shell with creme fraiche and maple syrup. But you don't need to know the reference to know it's delicious.

Another small bite: tombo, or albacore, tuna, aged and cured in lime ash. The tuna had an intriguing, slightly waxy texture, and a deep, concentrated flavor that was further brought out by doses of acidity and umami from translucent cubes of pineapple compressed with tamari.

(continued ...)