Monday, June 29, 2015

best thing i ate last week: shrimp and eggplant dressing at Mignonette

I don't always think to take a picture of the side dish. It is, after all, just a side dish, right? And when there's a huge, whole roasted redfish literally flopping off either end of its plate as the main course, well, that has a tendency to draw some attention to itself.

That was the scene at Mignonette last Tuesday, as the restaurant hosted its first "Shucker Series" dinner, the first guest of honor being New Orleans chef Stephen Stryjewski (Cochon and Cochon Butcher).

There were also Pemaquid and Fat Bastard oysters served raw on the half shell, more of those Pemaquids slathered in chile butter and roasted, a ruddy, soul-lifting shellfish and tasso gumbo, a crudo of golden tilefish with favas and mustard greens, and a lemon and blueberry buttermilk pie that would make your eyes cross.

But what hit me hardest was the shrimp and eggplant dressing served alongside the fish. Such a great combination of the flavors of ocean and earth: bits of shrimp, creamy eggplant, surely some Cajun trinity (onion, bell pepper and celery), maybe some cornbread crumbs binding it all together, and a judicious addition of spice.

You can just barely see it, blurry and out of focus, in the bottom of this picture, as Stryjewski and Mignonette chef Daniel Serfer move one of those redfish out to the dining room. (You can see all my pictures from the dinner in this Mignonette Shucker Series flickr set). As I was busy dissecting our fish, Mrs. F was surreptitiously eating almost all of the dressing. Not fair. Because it was the best thing I ate last week. If you're in New Orleans any time soon, it's a staple on the menu at Cochon: get it.

210 N.E. 18th Street, Miami, Florida

Monday, June 22, 2015

best thing i ate last week: dim sum at BlackBrick

For Father's Day, the kids indulged me and let me pick where to go for brunch. It had been a while since we'd done a dim sum run, and I had it on the brain. The day before, we'd driven past Tropical Chinese territory (after already having eaten lunch) while en route to the Redlands to get the last of the season's lychees. We ended up bringing home about twenty pounds of tropical fruits from Robert Is Here: fantastic jackfruit, mamey sapote, canistel, sapodilla, ciruela, three different varieties of mangoes, and – oh, yeah – some juicy, perfumey Brewster lychees. Not wanting to trek all the way down south once again on Sunday, we headed instead to BlackBrick in Midtown.

Sometimes father really does know best. The dumplings – shrimp har gow, pork shiu mai, jade duck dumplings – were great, their silky, translucent skins encasing steaming hot, juicy fillings.

Runner up: I could have just as easily picked the shattering crisp bean curd skin wrapped around an unctuous mushroom filling, or the char siu pork served with fluffy parker house rolls for some DIY bao action.

3451 NE 1st Ave., Miami, Florida

Monday, June 15, 2015

best thing i ate last week: Grouper Cheek at Alter

I've been waiting a long time for Bradley Kilgore to get a place where he could really do his own thing. We first crossed paths when he was the sous chef at Azul, and we did a Cobaya dinner  there with Andrew Zimmern as a guest (who nicknamed Brad "Wall Street" for his slicked back hair). A brief stint at Exit 1 on Key Biscayne, a longer and more fruitful tenure at Jean-Georges' J&G Grill, and now that time has finally come with Alter.

The menu at this roughly 45-seat venue in Wynwood is all Brad's, honed down to seven appetizers and an equal number of mains. A five-course, $65 tasting menu selected from among those items is a good way to try a lot of it at once. That's what I did for my first visit, with a couple add-ons.

Cheeks are like the pork belly of fish: richer, fattier, moreish. This grouper cheek is meaty but giving, substantial enough to stand up to the intense shoyu hollandaise draped over it like a velvet robe. Various seaweeds and flowering dill are scattered about, like it just washed up on a black sand shore (that's actually creamy black rice). A couple twists of cucumber and thin rounds of chile pepper provide a bit of palate-cleansing snap.

It doesn't just look like a seascape. It tastes like one too, but with more butter and umami. It was the best thing I ate last week.

(Full disclosure: this course, a small sample of one of the larger entrées, was a gift from the kitchen in addition to the tasting menu; I did my best to make up for it with the tip).

Runner up: the soft egg dish from the same meal. More to come on that after at least one more visit, in order to do a more fulsome write-up.

You can see all the pictures from my first visit in this Alter - Miami (Wynwood) flickr set.

223 NW 23rd Street, Miami

Monday, June 8, 2015

best thing i ate last week: Pork Tonkatsu Sandwich at Vagabond

In the interest of encouraging myself to post more frequently, I'm trying something new, and simple: the "best thing I ate last week." There were a couple other contenders, but this week, it was the pork tonkatsu sandwich at Vagabond Restaurant and Bar.

It starts with a panko-breaded and fried pork cutlet in the Japanese style (most people think of sushi when they think of Japanese food, but they are also expert fryers, and not just with tempura; I'm coming around to the opinion that the Japanese just do everything better). The pork is nestled between layers of sauerkraut brightened with  the citrus-chile sting of yuzu kosho. It's all squeezed between fat slices of Japanese-style milk bread (see?) that's softer and whiter than Brian Scalabrine, spread with a little spicy mustard for some extra zing, the edges of the cutlet flopping off the sides.

There's a lot going on here: Is it a Japanese-style Indiana pork tenderloin Reuben sandwich? I don't know. But it was the best thing I ate last week.

This was originally a brunch-only item at the Vagabond, but you can also now find it at their lunch service which started a couple weeks ago (Tue-Fri 11:30am - 2:30pm).

Runner up: the somewhat unorthodox, but delicious, arroz con pollo at the Matador Room.

Vagabond Restaurant
7301 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami

Monday, June 1, 2015

first thoughts: Myumi Omakase Sushi Truck - Miami (Wynwood)

For a long time, I've been bemoaning the dearth of good sushi in Miami. I'm not even talking about in comparison to what I had in Japan; just good quality fish and properly prepared rice is frustratingly difficult to find.

On the very high end there is Naoe, but it requires a commitment of at least a couple hundred bucks and a few hours. I'm also a fan of Makoto in Bal Harbour, but it's become a difficult reservation many days. I've actually got an excellent little spot in my neighborhood, but it's so small, its hours are so limited, and it's become so popular that it is now the Sushi Bar That Shall Not Be Named.

Then what? I had a good meal when I went omakase at Morimoto (pictures here), but the sushi wasn't really the highlight. A few years ago I made a return to Nobu after several years away and the sushi was reasonably good, but the value was entirely out of whack, as has always been the case there. I was actually pleasantly surprised by my first visit to the recently opened Soho Bay (pictures here), a Brazilian import that poached a Nobu alum, Ricardo Sauri, for its executive chef. I'll have to go back and try more.

What else? I'm not nearly as enamored of Matsuri as some folks are. I've got a couple izakayas I love – Hiro's Yakko-San and Su Shin – that serve sushi, but it's not their strong suit.[1] I'll go to Pubbelly Sushi for their reimagined Japanese gastropub stuff – a good rendition of tuna poke, the hamachi ceviche with tostones, the ridiculous but delicious pork belly and clam roll – but it's also not a place to go to for traditional nigiri. Everything else I've tried is crap.

Enter Myumi. It's not your typical sushi bar. In fact, it's a truck – a converted FedEx delivery truck, currently stationed in a lot in Wynwood. Which I suppose makes a bit of sense: I've read that sushi was originally street food. From that truck, Chef Ryo Kato[2] serves an omakase only (chef's choice) menu with only two choices: do you want to spend $40 or $60?

The omakase-only format means they know exactly what they need to buy, so they buy some very good stuff: fish and shellfish straight in from Japan, uni and ikura from Alaska, tuna from Ecuador. Some items get just a brush of shoyu, others more elaborate garnishes. Our $60, 12-course selection went like this:

(You can see all my pictures in this Myumi - Miami (Wynwood) flickr set).

Madai (sea bream), garnished with a dab of ume (salted, pickled plum paste), finely julienned shiso leaf, and a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds.

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