Saturday, November 30, 2019

Cobaya Arson with Deme Lomas



Almost exactly four years ago, we did a Cobaya dinner with Chef Deme Lomas at Niu Kitchen, the small, Catalan inspired restaurant he opened with Karina Iglesias and Adam Hughes in 2014. Since that time, as Niu has continued to thrive, the team opened up Arson right down the block, a restaurant dedicated to cooking with live fire. We figured it was time for another round with Deme, and brought forty guinea pigs to Arson earlier this month.

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya Arson with Deme Lomas flickr set).


It was another great experience – interesting, delicious food all touched by the flames, with equally interesting, exciting wines supplied by Arson and Niu's wine director, GM and ringmaster, Karina Iglesias. Here's what we had:


Ajoblanco, a traditional Spanish cold almond and garlic soup, topped with shavings of dried, salt-cured red tuna, served with fresh, ripe figs and a spear of charbroiled scallion. I've always been a fan of this "white gazpacho," and this was a really nice version.


Obscenely large but thoroughly tender white asparagus were topped with charbroiled green huancaina sauce (a creamy-spicy Peruvian blend of chiles, queso fresco and cream), and toasted sesame seeds.


One of my many favorites on the menu at Niu is a dish called "Clams - Deme's Mom's Recipe." This was a variation on that theme, with the clams steamed open and doused in a chipotle chile sofrito and a charbroiled garlic aioli. I could eat these every day.

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Monday, November 25, 2019

some thoughts on growing a Beard (Award)

There's been some griping from some quarters – OK, from me, among others – about how Miami has been under-represented in the annual ritual of bestowing James Beard Awards. On one hand, maybe it's silly to pay any attention at all – that argument's been made pretty eloquently very recently by Ghee's Niven Patel, who always has such a good perspective on such things. But the reality is that most chefs like to be recognized for their hard work, and a Beard Award happens to be one recognition that is still regarded as valuable currency by many in the industry and in the dining public.

Much can be questioned about the Beard Awards: that the voting process, standards, and accountability remain rather opaque, that some of the regional categories tend to disproportionately favor certain cities,[1] that the awards tend to go to chefs who have been around the block a few times over fresh new talent, and have historically been predominantly white and male. But that's not my purpose here, and I'll acknowledge that the Foundation has been taking steps to try to address all those issues.

Rather, my purpose is to consider what we, as South Florida diners, can do about it. And here's a simple thing: submit a nomination form. The link is right here – James Beard Foundation - The 2020 James Beard Awards – and anyone can create an account and submit a nomination, up until December 2.

Now, let me immediately make clear that I am not suggesting any sort of balloting campaign for anyone in particular. The awards are not popularity contests and the number of nominations submitted has nothing to do with whether someone is selected. Rather, what I'm suggesting is that if there is someplace or someone that you think is deserving of recognition, you should create an account, make your submission, and maybe most important, explain why you're doing so (each submission has a box for "Why are you recommending this chef/restaurant?").

I do think these are very good times for Miami dining, and that there are many people doing great things who deserve recognition for it. And I'm concerned that one of the reasons that's not as well seen from the national perspective is that there isn't a robust enough discussion of what's happening here. So FWIW, here are my nominations (which will be submitted to the Beard Foundation without pictures, those are just for your entertainment):

Best Chef South

Niven Patel (Ghee, Erba)


Niven Patel’s Ghee is not just a “great Indian restaurant.” It’s not just a “great Miami restaurant.” It’s a GREAT RESTAURANT. Period. If there is one place in Miami that I think would stand out in any city in the U.S., this is it. But at the same time, part of what makes Ghee so special is how closely it’s tied to South Florida - all the way down to sourcing a significant portion of the menu from Niven’s family’s backyard farm in Homestead.

Traditional Indian dishes like bhel puri, pakora, chicken tikka masala and saag paneer serve as inspiration but not a straitjacket, because the menu is equally inspired by South Florida’s local products – the bhel puri is topped with fresh local wahoo, the pakoras feature calabaza or taro leaf Niven grows himself, the tikka masala is enriched with local heirloom tomatoes, the saag paneer uses backyard kale. In season, a whole section of the menu is devoted to “Rancho Patel” local fruits and vegetables. Niven’s taken the farm-to-table ethos of his former alma mater, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink (where he was Chef de Cuisine for 3 years from 2013-2016 under Best Chef South 2010 winner Michael Schwartz) to a new level and introduced it to the vibrant, deep flavors of Indian cuisine. I love the bright flavors, fresh products, and how the menu is always in constant motion, in sync with the seasons.

The three-course family-style tasting menu (which features an assortment of dishes for each “course”) is one of the best $55 meals you will find anywhere. There is not a person I’ve recommended Ghee to or taken there that hasn’t left happy.

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