Monday, April 11, 2016

Cobaya #61 at 27 with Chef Jimmy Lebron

This is another one we've been trying to make happen for quite some time. Finally, all the right pieces fell into place and we had a date locked in for a Cobaya dinner at 27 Restaurant, the sibling to the wonderful Broken Shaker bar at the Freehand Hotel on Miami Beach.

27 is one of my favorite places on the Beach, foregoing the glitz and glam that's becoming ever-present for a cozy, homey atmosphere with the feel of an abuela's casita – if your abuela was also Israeli and had a thing for craft cocktails. The regular menu at 27 does a remarkable job of capturing that vibe as well: it's fresh and unfussy, and though visitors may puzzle over why arepas, shakshuka and kimchi fried rice are all coming out of the same kitchen, it somehow tastes and feels more like Miami than just about any other restaurant in town.

The Freehand actually played host to Cobaya #29 with Brandon Baltzley a few years ago, but this one would be an in-house affair. So Chef Jimmy Lebron was in charge, and we invited him to craft his own menu for forty guinea pigs. What he came up with was simultaneously unique and fully in the spirit of the place at the same time.

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya #61 at 27 Restaurant flickr set).

We gathered at 27's upstairs bar and sampled the cocktails as the group assembled, then made our way back downstairs and settled in at a few communal tables stretched across the restaurant's multiple rooms. All the courses were served family style, and it had more of the feel of a dinner party than a restaurant meal.

After starting us off with some malawach, a Yemenite fry-bread, served with a really delicious uni butter dusted with za'atar spice, Chef Lebron sent out a round of "Fresh from Florida" seafood courses: Peruvian-inspired steamed middleneck clams swimming in a tangy leche de tigre, with salsa criolla and cancha corn; a crudo of fresh, sweet mangrove snapper, paired with ripe local loquats, tangerine juice, and a surprising – and really magical – dash of Chartreuse; a salad of green papaya from my CSA farmer, Little River Cooperative, with Thai chiles and halloumi cheese, which was one of the best versions I've ever had; and whole black belly rose fish[1] done in an escabeche style, fried whole and topped with pickled vegetables.

(continued ...)

The next round was a vegetarian Ethiopian feast. Over platters layered with fermented injera bread, we had a variety of stews perfumed with exotic spices: yellow lentils, chickpeas in a brick-red broth, soft braised greens, cabbage and carrots, plus hard boiled eggs dolloped with a thick, spicy sauce. I love Ethiopian food and it is painfully hard to find in South Florida, and so this was a welcome surprise (even if the injera was stiffer than other versions I've had).

Next was "Family Meal," and it was a double-feature. (1) A platter of confited rabbit, the tender shreds of meat enveloped in a thick, earthy, nutty mole sauce warmed with chiles, blanketed with cotija cheese and diced tomatillo, and served with Taquiza tortillas and tomatillo salsa. (2) Peking duck done Korean style, the skin lacquered brown, with an assortment of kimchis and other pickled vegetables, plus crisp, fresh lettuce for making wraps.

Desserts were a spread worthy of a Jewish grandmother: creamy tehina ice cream; dense, chewy rugelach; crumbly tehina shortbread cookies as good as Michael Solomonov's (whose recipe I suspect was cribbed); and flaky, honey-oozing baklava, some of the best I've ever had.

These were all served with warm tea infused with preserved lemon, as well as fresh mint leaves you could pluck from the stem at the table. Speaking of beverages, given the Broken Shaker connection (the bar has been recognized as "Best American Hotel Bar" by Tales of the Cocktail and a James Beard Award semi-finalist), there was a cocktail-heavy pairing for the dinner in lieu of the usual wines and beers. Often I find it difficult to match cocktails with food – the former overpowers the latter – but 27 bar manager Randy Perez made it work, and the drinks were another highlight of the evening.

As the malawach made its way to the table, so did a bright, clean Bombay Gin based cocktail mixed with fresh Florida citrus, then given a few extra layers with preserved grapefruit and a jasmine rice reduction.[2]

He followed that with the only wine of the night, a light, lean Trebbiano from Lugana. For the next course, they broke out a Japanese drip coffee device which has been repurposed to slowly infuse cocktails – here, a fantastic twist on a Thai iced tea which started with Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond Rye and Meletti Amaro, which had been slowly dripped through thai tea, hazelnuts, cinnamon and clove.

To go with the "Family Meal," they even crafted some "homemade Coke" which had been paired up with some Old Forester Bourbon and re-bottled in Coke bottles. And for a final nightcap, a soothing blend of manzanilla sherry, Aperol, Montanaro Bianco vermouth, cassis, and lemon bitters.

This was a really fun night that even while going off-menu, fully captured the spirit of the restaurant: tasty, unfussy food with some unexpected touches, creative drinks, all in a relaxed, comfortable, festive atmosphere. A huge thank you to Chef Jimmy Lebron, sous chef Sasha Ullman, bar manager Randy Perez, to 27 and Broken Shaker masterminds Elad Zvi and Gabe Orta, to the entire crew at 27 Restaurant, and as always most of all, to the guinea pigs whose interest and support make these kind of events possible.

27 Restaurant
2727 Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach, Florida

[1] A deep water fish which I think is in the scorpion-fish family. I don't think I've ever seen this on a restaurant menu before, maybe because they like hanging around in 800' deep waters and it takes a long time to haul them up. They're also a bony fish, and it wasn't easy in a family-style setting to do the kind of picking I'd typically perform on a whole fish.

[2] I will also be forever indebted to the photographer taking pictures for 27 who wordlessly, in two seconds, showed me a great trick for the often-difficult task of taking a picture of a cocktail (light it up from behind with a votive).


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  2. My pleasure! Only wish I could have tasted any of this epic meal!
    -the other photographer