Thursday, December 26, 2019

favorite dishes of 2019: miami version

More lists! I already spilled nearly 5,000 words in my last post recounting the decade of dining in Miami. I'll try not to do that for another ten years. But this one is an annual tradition: the best things I ate over the past year. I've always made clear that this in no way purports to be any sort of definitive "best of" type of list, but is based solely on my own personal experiences and as a result is heavily influenced by my own preferences and proclivities.[1] Something new for 2019: rather than throw them all in a bucket together,[2] I've made one list of the best things I ate in Miami, and another for the best things I ate everywhere else. These appear in chronological order.

unagi shirayaki - Hiden
For a while, Miami was behind the curve on the trend of high-end, omakase-only sushi dens that have overtaken New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco. We're catching up with places like Hiden, which opened in mid-2018 but which I didn't manage to book until January of this year. Hiden is an intimate eight-seat sushi counter hidden away in a private room in the back of the Taco Stand in Wynwood, serving a chef's choice menu of about a dozen courses of sushi and other raw and cooked things for, as of press time, $170 before tax and tip. It was excellent when I visited with chef Tadashi Shiraishi running the show, but he left in a split with ownership the following month and I've not been back. My favorite bite among many very good ones was this unagi shirayaki (grilled freshwater eel), seasoned only with salt and a dab of fresh wasabi rather than the typical sweet tare.

(See all my pictures in this Hiden flickr set).

(continued ...)

Sanguich de Miami - Sanguich de Miami
For years I've been stumped whenever visitors would ask where the "best Cuban sandwich" could be found.[3] Because, if we're being honest here, they were all kinda the same, slapping the same commodity products into the same, often kinda stale, bread. That's changed with Sanguich de Miami, opened by Daniel Figueredo and Rosa Romero last year in a space on Calle Ocho after starting in a portable shipping container the year before. They do a fantastic Cubano using house-made ingredients; but I have a particularly nostalgic fondness for the namesake Sanguich de Miami, a combination I first had at Luis Galindo's Latin American decades ago, with turkey, ham, bacon, Swiss, lettuce, tomato and mayo pressed inside toasty pan cubano.

(See all my pictures in this Sanguich de Miami flickr set.)

chicken parmesan sandwich - Paulie Gee's
Speaking of sandwiches:[4] this one goes in the R.I.P. category, but for a brief period of time this past winter there were some really special things happening at Paulie Gee's around lunchtime. Santo Agnello was running a menu of lunch-only specials consisting mostly of delicious puffy Detroit-style square pies, and some awesome Italian style subs. Maybe the best of them was this chicken parm, with a crisp breaded chicken cutlet, tangy marinara, and oozy mozzarella on crusty Sullivan Street Bakery bread. Perfect. Alas, Paulie Gee's closed the Biscayne Boulevard spot in February. Agnello can currently be found doing The Piefather at The Wharf in Fort Lauderdale with José Mendin.

(See all my pictures in this Paulie Gee's flickr set.)

lox supreme - El Bagel
El Bagel is SOOOO close to opening a brick-and-mortar location RIGHT along my path to work each morning. In the meantime, I'll reminisce over this "lox supreme" with locally cured lox and the works (cream cheese, tomato, cucumber, capers, pickled onions, dill), served open-faced as god intended on one of their outstanding poppy seed bagels. This is from the beginning of the year when their truck was popping up at Vice City Bean coffee shop on weekends.

(See all my pictures in this El Bagel flickr set.)

guarapo glazed turnips - Ariete
Turnips? Yes. Turnips. Turnips and kohlrabi could have a contest for "most unfairly maligned vegetable," and I'm not sure who would win. I love turnips (kohlrabi too). They're hearty like potatoes but lighter, yielding a lovely, silky, almost juicy texture with just a bit of graininess when braised – like a tasty, ripe pear – but they'll still take on a nice, crisp char on the edges when roasted or seared. And they happily absorb the flavors of what they're cooked with. Chef Mike Beltran is also a member of the Turnip Appreciation Society: at Ariete, he glazes them with guarapo and serves them with plumped raisins and house-cured bacon. Give me all your turnips.

(See all my pictures in this Ariete flickr set.)

smoked zapote and roasted chicken livers - Isabela pop-up
The past couple years have been marked by a notable trend:[5] highly pedigreed out-of-town chefs looking to start something here in Miami. I'm not talking about the satellite restaurants of big-name, big-budget chefs, though; I'm talking about folks like Jose Ramirez-Ruiz, who closed Michelin starred Semilla in Brooklyn in 2017, found himself in Miami the following year and is now looking to open a small restaurant in Little River. Or Carey Hynes, an alum of Momofuku Ko, Nishi, and Per Se, who's cooking clever, delicious food out of a tiny kitchen in the Jaguar Sun cocktail bar downtown. Or Luciana Giangrandi and Alex Meyer, who collectively worked at The Nomad, Eleven Madison Park, Carbone, Scarpetta, Animal, and Son of a Gun before opening Boia De in a janky strip mall in Buena Vista.

Ramirez-Ruiz did a pop-up dinner at Jaguar Sun in March[6] that got me very excited to see what he will do when he has his own restaurant (we did a Cobaya dinner with him later in the year, which will also show up in this list). My favorite among many good dishes – partly because of how unexpected and unusual it was – was this plate of smoked zapote (a/k/a mamey), served in combination with roasted chicken livers, crumbled goat cheese and pickled papaya. Ramirez-Ruiz is looking at our local produce in entirely new ways.

(See all my pictures in this Isabela @ Jaguar Sun flickr set.)

enoki carbonara - Ama at Kaido
In a private room behind a secret door in Kaido – Brad Kilgore's cocktail-focused space in the Design District which opened late last year – lurks Ama, where he serves an "ama-kase" tasting menu that combines dishes loosely inspired by Japan paired with cocktails, sake, beer and wine. My favorite dish from a visit in April was this enoki "carbonara" – the wispy, long-stemmed mushrooms treated like pasta in combination with iberico bacon, shio kombu and a duck egg yolk emulsion. Rich, creamy, silky, and loaded with umami.

(See all my pictures in this ama-kase at Kaido flickr set.)

Homestead mango salad - Ghee
In June, we paid a visit to Niven Patel's Ghee in the Design District with now-vegan Little Miss F home for the summer. Even with our inverted growing seasons, Niven's menu captured the essence of what's fresh and local, focused through the lens of Indian flavors: a salad of early summer Homestead mangoes and lychees, with thinly sliced Persian cucumbers and purple onion, in a tangy, bright coconut-lime dressing. Bonus points for having a very vegan-friendly menu without making a big deal about it.

(See all my pictures from our meal in this Ghee flickr set.)

tortellini in brodo - Boia De

cannelini beans, parmesan broth, maltagliati, clams - Boia De
We now come to the Boia De portion of our program. I have two dishes here; there really could have been several more. But they're representative of what I love about the place. First, the tortellini in brodo, silky pillows filled with duck and foie gras, bobbing in an intensely flavored but delicate, limpid duck consommé. Fancy but not precious, and most important of all, powerfully flavorful and delicious. This was on the menu when they first opened, was "DNP-rest" for a little while, and was back on the court for my last visit.

And also, the cannellini beans with parmesan broth, maltagliati, clams and guanciale, another deeply satisfying bowl which I previously described as "existing in that peculiarly Italian territory between soup, stew and pasta dish." I've already said quite a bit about Boia De – go read it, or better yet, just go.

(Read my thoughts on Boia De and see all my pictures in this Boia De flickr set.)

omakase chirashi bowl - Wabi Sabi by Shuji
Wabi Sabi by Shuji was one of my favorite additions to Miami's dining universe last year – a simple spot, conveniently right along my drive home, serving chirashi bowls with fresh, high quality ingredients. Then chef/owner Shuji Hiyakawa had to head back to Japan to tend to some family matters at the end of the year and closed up the shop for several months. I was thrilled that it reopened over the summer, and I could once again get my Dinner of Champions: the omakase chirashi bowl layered with a beautiful selection of sliced fish and seafood, some of which is flown in from Japan. Even better – Shuji has an omakase spot in the works for Wynwood with chef Masayuki Komatsu, which started doing pop-up previews at Wabi Sabi later in the year (more on that below).

(Read my thoughts on Wabi Sabi and see all my pictures in this Wabi Sabi by Shuji flickr set.)

snapper crusted with crab - Cobaya Isabela with Jose Ramirez-Ruiz
roasted pork chops stuffed with plantain - Cobaya Isabela with Jose Ramirez-Ruiz
Jose Ramirez-Ruiz already made an earlier appearance here for his pop-up at Jaguar Sun. We went back for more over the summer, planning a Cobaya dinner with him in August that coincided with our ten-year anniversary. It was one of my favorites. He's approached South Florida with curiosity and humility, and the result is a unique take on the "local flora and fauna," as he puts it. While he was known for his "vegetable-forward" cooking at Semilla, my favorites from his dinner with us were the animals:

I said "vegetable-forward." I did not say "vegetarian." And in fact, the two large-format fish and pork dishes were among my favorites of the evening. The local snapper was butterflied, stuffed with sweet crabmeat, roasted in the wood-burning oven, and doused with a tangy sweet papaya vinaigrette speckled with peppery papaya seeds, then showered with fresh herbs. I will confess that I rarely get all that excited over the whole family of cooked, flaky, white-fleshed fish, but this was just an outstanding dish.

The burnished, thick-sliced pork roast, also cooked in the wood oven, was stuffed with a plantain mash, but the real highlight here was the pork itself, a richly flavored Berkshire tasting like an animal that had lived a good life. I wish I'd brought a few more bones home to gnaw the next day.

(Read my thoughts on our Cobaya Isabela dinner and see all the pictures in this Cobaya Isabela flickr set.)

les gambas - L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon
Four years after they were first announced, the Robuchon team finally opened L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon and Le Jardiniere in the Design District this summer. I still haven't made my way into Jardiniere, which I very much want to try, especially with Alter alumnus Seth Blumenthal in the kitchen, but we did make it into L'Atelier. It looks very much like the other Ateliers I've visited, with a stark black and red color scheme, shiny surfaces, and an open kitchen surrounded by a long dining counter; the menu is similar as well. We freestyled with a la carte dishes rather than one of the fixed tasting menu options, and among many elegant, precise dishes, I especially liked this one featuring one of my favorite sea creatures, gambas de palamos, balanced over a delicate fennel royale, and plated with an assortment of summer vegetables.

(See all my pictures in this L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon flick set.)

whole wood grilled lamb shoulder - Cobaya Taymor
chocolate buckwheat torte - Cobaya Taymor
While Jose Ramirez-Ruiz immersed himself in the local flavors for his Cobaya dinner, chef Ari Taymor brought some Southern California to South Florida during a stint as "guest chef" at Wynwood's Three restaurant. While here, Taymor did a Cobaya dinner featuring versions of some great dishes he serves at Little Prince in Santa Monica, California.

And then the knockout blow: whole lamb shoulders from Jamison Farm, roasted and grilled over the wood fire, topped with a black vinegar chimichurri and a prom night corsage's worth of fresh herbs. The Jamisons run a family farm in Ligonier, Pennsylvania which provides some of the finest lamb you will ever eat. Taymor's preparation would have made them proud. This was one of the best things I've eaten all year.

I'm not usually big on desserts, and even less so on cake type things, but this one hit all the right spots for me. The chocolate buckwheat torte was not too sweet, instead highlighting more bitter, woodsy flavors, and had a really delightful texture, somehow rich and airy at the same time, instead of either cloyingly dense or insipidly fluffy. It was topped with a thickly whipped almond-scented cream, with a scoop of rosy plum sherbet riding sidecar.

(Read my thoughts on our Cobaya Taymor dinner and see all my pictures in this Cobaya Taymor flickr set.)

Geronimo pizza - Ash Pizza Parlor
Since 2013, Franco Stanzione has been putting out serious, delicious Neapolitan style pizzas at Stanzione 87 in Brickell. When The Citadel food hall opened in Little Haiti this year, he and wife Ashley expanded their operation with Ash! Pizza Parlor. While the choices are more limited, it is possible that I may actually prefer the slightly daintier pies at Ash. I'm a fan of the Sunday Sauce (with Bolognese sauce, available Sundays only), the Carbonara, and especially, the Geronimo pictured above, with San Marzano tomato sauce, fresh mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, 'nduja, Calabrian chiles, olive oil and fresh burrata added after it comes out of the oven.

(See all my pictures from Ash and others in this The Citadel flickr set.)

clams - Deme's mom's recipe - Niu Kitchen
Repeating myself a bit here from my last post, but Niu Kitchen is the template for the kind of restaurant I'd like to see more of in Miami: a modest build-out in a lower-rent neighborhood with a distinct culinary viewpoint and a focus on great food, warm hospitality and interesting, reasonably priced wines. At Niu, Deme Lomas captures the balance of tradition and modernity that characterizes so much great Catalonian food. This particular dish swings to the traditional side; described on the menu simply as "Clams: Deme's mom's recipe," it offers briny pops of the sea awash in an intense, rich sofrito. Ask for some bread to soak it all up.

(Read my thoughts on Niu Kitchen and see all my pictures in this Niu Kitchen flickr set.)

brisket taco - Hometown Barbecue
I know this doesn't sound right, but Miami's best barbecue has arrived by way of ... Brooklyn? It's true. Despite nominally being in the South (it's really not – locals know Miami is really part of Latin America), Miami does not exactly have a great barbecue tradition. Ask people the best barbecue in town, and most will respond, "Shorty's?," without a particularly strong level of conviction or passion. And Shorty's, while it's been around forever, is terrible. Enter Hometown Barbecue. Will Durney first opened Hometown in Red Hook, Brooklyn in 2013 after being inspired by Louie Mueller Barbecue and learning from some of central Texas's best. His brisket, smoked over smoldering oak for up to fifteen hours in a huge Oyler Pit, is – and I don't say this lightly – fucking awesome. And while it is great on its own, it is just maybe even better when you tuck a too-big slice of it inside a puffy flour tortilla, then top it with warm queso, salsa roja, chopped white onion and flecks of cilatnro. (Only available at lunch.)

sujiko nigiri - Hiyakawa at Wabi Sabi
Chef Shuji, after returning to Miami and reopening Wabi Sabi on 79th Street, also announced that he has an omakase style venture – Hiyakawa – in the works in Wynwood. While that's getting built out, he started doing preview dinners at Wabi Sabi, with chef Masayuki Komatsu wielding the knives behind the counter. I've done it a couple times, and it's been excellent. My favorite bite among several very good ones was this nigiri of sujiko – young salmon roe, still in its sac, cured in miso paste and laid on shiso leaves before serving. The immature eggs are soft and delicate compared to the pop you typically get with ikura, and the membrane dissolves away in your mouth, leaving a pure taste of the sea. Beautiful.

(See all my pictures in this Hiyakawa at Wabi Sabi flickr set.)

whitefish platter, everything bagel - Zak the Baker
After revolutionizing Miami's bread game with the opening of Zak the Baker bakery in Wynwood, Zak Stern's decided to set his sights on bagels, and we're all going to be better off for it. Lots of experimenting and test runs have resulted in a really outstanding, chewy, crusty bagel – made with his sourdough starter, fermented for days, boiled in a honey-water bath, and baked until blistered and browned. They're only available at the bakery, here served with a whitefish platter that includes juicy tomatoes, cucumbers, red onion, capers, fresh dill and cream cheese. I'm looking forward to a bagel face-off when El Bagel opens its brick-and-mortar.

(See all my pictures in this Zak the Baker flickr set.)

roasted curry calabaza - Balloo
curry goat - Balloo
Five years ago, we did a Cobaya dinner with chef Timon Balloo of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill. It was a great meal all around, but what really stood out for me were a couple dishes that were inspired by his family's Trini roots. I always wished we could see more of that kind of cooking from him, but that was not likely to happen at a place like Sugarcane. Last month, he opened a small, intimate space in downtown Miami with Bar Lab boys Elad Zvi and Gabe Orta, and it's exactly the kind of thing I always hoped he would do. Balloo: Modern Home Cooking has a short menu that been changing up a bit, so you don't always know exactly what you'll see. But here are a couple that should not be missed. First, the roasted, curry-spiced calabaza squash, plated with a dollop of creamy labneh and a dusting of black lime, served with some flaky buss up shut (a/k/a paratha roti) for scooping it all up with your hands. And second, the Jamaican style curry goat, the meat braised on the bone into melting submission, redolent with spice, served with aloo chana, an herbaceous green sauce, and more roti.

(See all my pictures in this Balloo flickr set.)

Silverlake Burger - Silverlake Bistro
I am not really a burger obsessed person, but every time we go to Silverlake Bistro it seems either Mrs. F or I order this burger. And we’re there a lot.[7] It’s maybe my favorite burger in Miami right now: two crisp-edged but juicy prime beef patties, melted white cheddar, bacon, and the clincher – porcini mayo and steak sauce. On a perfectly sized, toasted, soft but not squishy bun.

(See all my pictures in this Silverlake Bistro flickr set.)

duck a la presse - Ariete
Recycling from Instagram:

As if opening three new restaurants in the past year wasn't enough – Chug's Diner, Leña at Time Out Market, and Navé just last month – chef Michael Beltran just got a new toy for his flagship, Ariete - a duck press. This antique piece of kitchen machinery is used to press a cooked duck's carcass to squeeze out all the blood and marrow, which is then used to make an incredibly rich and flavorful sauce. At Ariete they're now using it as the centerpiece to a 3-course duck dinner. It starts with a Rohan duck, a hybrid breed supplied by D'Artagnan – the breasts are aged for a couple weeks, briefly smoked, then interval cooked (on the heat, off the heat, back on) to render all the fat and crisp the skin without overcooking the flesh, and glazed with sugarcane juice and guarapo – the legs are confited (we'll get back to them later) – some of the bones go into making a duck consommé – and the neck and internal organs end up in the press.

First course is a duck consommé with some wild mushrooms and black truffle shavings, doing that consommé magic of intense, pure flavors in a clear, delicate package. Next, the duck breasts are brought out and carved tableside on "El Carrito," while all the good bits get put through the press. The drippings from the press are blended into a sauce of reduced red wine, red wine vinegar, and a seasonal jam (cranberry on our visit), then served with the sliced duck breast, which is also topped with a pistachio dukkah. It is among the most concentrated, intense, heady bites of duck I've tasted, with everything working to concentrate those flavors, and just the right hit of sugar and acid - the jam and vinegar in the sauce - to balance everything and refresh the palate. Riding sidecar: a tamal with the confited duck leg meat, wild mushrooms and foie gras; delicious, rich creamed yucca; and a bright salad of local greens, again something fresh and bright to refresh before you go back for another slice of the duck. And then for dessert, pain perdu with duck fat caramel, JoJo Tea ice cream, crispy meringue, and pomegranate seeds.

This is a pretty sensational meal, a great experience, and a good value at $125 (for 2 people) for a three course dinner.

(See all my pictures in this Ariete "Duck Press Experience" flickr set.)

Here's hoping that the holiday season is treating everyone well. As we head into a new year, I always think of what my grandfather used to say: Always better, never worse. Still to come: the best things I ate in 2019 everywhere other than Miami.


[1] Next year it may just be sushi, bagels and turnips.

[2] "And don't skimp on the pâté!"

[3] I say this even though, back when I started this blog, I wrote a clickbait-y piece on that exact subject.

[4] Speaking of speaking of sandwiches: I wrote a thing for Edible South Florida earlier this year that lays out my entire sandwich philosophy.

[5] One I should have picked up on in my "decade in review" post, doh.

[6] He'd done a pop-up at the end of last year at All Day as well.

[7] It helps that it's only five minutes from my house. It also helps that it's an utterly charming place, that the owners Sandy Sanchez and Benoit Rablat and all their crew are such warm and welcoming people, that there are several other really good bistro-y type things on the menu – like a bright, tangy butter lettuce salad with buttermilk dressing, duck fat seared gnocchi mac and cheese, a brined and roasted chicken breast with sorrel yogurt and chile sauce, a cheesecake parfait with seasonal fruit and kumquat jam – and that they have a fantastic, thoughtful wine selection focused on small-scale producers.

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