Saturday, December 12, 2015

Cobaya Niu with Chef Deme Lomas

Much of the talk in the Miami restaurant world these days is of all the big name chefs coming into town. I'm excited about some of them too, but it's the places like Niu Kitchen that really resonate with me: small, local restaurants with a distinct focus and vision. Niu Kitchen was opened about a year and a half ago by Chef Deme Lomas and partners Karina Iglesias and Adam Hughes. The compact restaurant, shoehorned into a downtown spot next to Miami Dade College that's about twelve feet wide, serves a tight menu of Lomas' modernized takes on the flavors of the Catalan region of Spain. I've been a fan since my first visit last July.

A couple weeks ago, we squeezed thirty guinea pigs in there for a Cobaya dinner and let Chef Lomas do his thing. He went entirely off-menu for us, but still created dishes that were faithful to his idiom. It was a really enjoyable dinner. Here's what we had:

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya Niu flickr set).

To start things off, a cup of golden creamed leek soup, topped with a drizzle of olive oil, a spray of crispy fried julienned leeks, and a little dollop of herring roe. Simple, but richly flavored.

A plump seared scallop, with a burnished crusty edge on one side, served over silky cauliflower purée with cubes of a pomegranate gel. I defer to SteveBM in matters involving scallops (one of his favorite things when done right; one that will draw his scorn if not): he liked it a lot. I concur.

One of the things I admired about Lomas' cooking was his confidence: he didn't try to cram twenty components onto the plate, instead composing most of his dishes from only two or three primary flavors. Another good example: this plate of baby artichokes, served over a black truffle aioli and topped with curled ribbons of bresoala (or maybe, as the Spaniards call their version of air-dried beef, cecina). Artichoke is notoriously difficult to pair with wine, but this worked some magic with the nutty, oxidized flavors of the Lopez de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja Blanco I'd brought.

(continued ...)

Lomas' next dish, which he called a "cod confit a la catalana," was my favorite of the evening and the best thing I ate that week. The shiny, unctuous fish made an unexpectedly great combination with the sweet flavors of honey, dried figs and caramelized onion.

There's usually some iteration of a steak tartare on the menu at Niu. There's also usually an excellent dish that combines a cold tomato soup with a tangy mustard ice cream. Here, Lomas grabbed pieces of both dishes and combined them in a lush tartare speckled with capers and then topped with crispy potatoes and a dollop of that same mustard ice cream. Here it may have skewed a bit too sweet without the acidity of the tomato to pull it back, but it was still a nice weird-but-good combination.[1]

Lomas' seared duck breast, plated with a cinnamon-y apple sauce, also veered too sweet for me, though I really enjoyed the earthy tug of the slivered chestnuts served on top.

A bright, refreshing glass of a cold melon soup brightened with lemon and mint served as a sort of pre-dessert, followed by a sort of layered parfait that started on the bottom with a pear "escalivada" (a term I've usually seen used to refer to grilled vegetables), then a plus crema catalana, then a shower of crispy crumbled maria cookies, topped with a scoop of pink grapefruit sorbet. This last addition felt a bit out of place, but I found it interesting how its tart, bitter flavor contrasted against and focused the rest of the dessert.

As tight as we were squeezed in the dining room, Niu's crew was squeezed even tighter in its tiny kitchen, and navigating their way between tables to bring out and clear plates. But I thought they turned everything out with efficiency and grace, and made everyone feel comfortable and cared for. We usually know it's been a good Cobaya dinner when the last dish has been cleared and nobody wants to get up and leave. Karina and her crew did a great job keeping everyone happy.

A big thank you to Chef Lomas, to Karina, to all of the team at Niu Kitchen, and as always most of all, to the guinea pigs whose interest and support makes these kinds of events possible.

Niu Kitchen
134 N.E. 2nd Avenue, Miami, Florida

[1] The best-known mustard ice cream may be the one Heston Blumenthal's done at The Fat Duck in combination with a red cabbage gazpacho, but Lomas' inspiration may have come from closer to home: here's a recipe for a steak tartare with mustard ice cream from Chef Joan Roca of El Celler de Can Roca.

1 comment:

  1. Niu Kitchen has 2 delicious items on their dinner menus that caught our attention. The Branzino Filet and the baby back ribs dipped in romesco sauce. Niu Kitchen is worth a visit.