Showing posts with label 5 Countries in 5 Blocks. Show all posts
Showing posts with label 5 Countries in 5 Blocks. Show all posts

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Art Basel Dining Guide: Off the Beaten Path in Downtown and North Beach

This week has seen no end of Art Basel guides: art fair guides, music guides, party guides, and, yes, food guides, some even in handy Q&A format. I got into the act myself last year. And while many of last year's recommendations will still hold up, I thought I'd take a slightly different approach this time, while expanding a bit on some of last year's list.

See, here's the thing: if you're just getting around to looking at this now, it's going to be too late to snag a table at most of the hot spots in South Beach where Art Basel proper resides, or in the Design District / Midtown / Wynwood enclave where you'll find most of the satellite fairs and local galleries. But! You shouldn't starve, just because you didn't have the foresight to make a reservation or don't want to wait hours for a table. Just expand your horizons a bit, there are good eats to be found elsewhere. May I humbly suggest you explore a couple of Miami's less heralded destinations: Downtown and North Beach?


Downtown Miami has a lot more office buildings than art galleries, but the city is running a free shuttle during Art Basel (11am - 11pm) that will take you between the downtown area and most of the major fairs and hot spots in the Wynwood / Midtown area. So try:

Phuc Yea! - Miami's first contemporary Vietnamese pop-up restaurant is open only for another week, but that's just enough time for you to get in there. They're rolling their own Viet-style porchetta di testa or coming up with creations like "When Elvis Met 'Nam" (seared foie gras, caramelized banana, peanut butter, jalapeño jelly, and nuoc cham caramel on french toast) along with more customary items like spring rolls, banh cuon, and salt n pepper calamari. Read all my thoughts on Phuc Yea! here.

Oodles of Noodles

19 SE 2nd Avenue, Miami

neMesis Urban Bistro - Chef Micah Edelstein's shoebox of a restaurant in the deserted northern outskirts of downtown serves up a very personal vision of global cuisine: shepherd's pie gets crossed with an empanada, "sushi" goes Tuscan with prosciutto, mascarpone and gorgonzola dolce, South African bobotie is served with passion fruit vinaigrette and garam masala pecans. I went in skeptical and came out very pleasantly surprised. There's often strange stuff brewing here - including, one time, a house-made coffee-infused beer - but it's often delicious.

1035 N. Miami Ave., Miami (LegalArt Building)

Little Lotus - this tiny Japanese restaurant is also hard to find, buried inside a nondescript office building, but serves up a nice selection of izakaya classics - lots of meats on sticks, takoyaki, chicken kara age, noodle dishes and rice bowls - along with a standard lineup of sushi items and some Indonesian classics thrown in for good measure. The team includes folks from local izakaya stand-out Yakko-San and Morimoto NY.

25 N. Miami Ave. Suite 107, Miami

Sparky's Roadside BBQ - it may not be competition-level 'cue, but it's better than a lot of BBQ pretenders in Miami, you can get a plate of pulled pork with a couple of sides for $10.50, they've got a super selection of brews, and you won't meet nicer guys in Miami than the ones running this place.

204 N.E. 1st St., Miami

(continued ...)

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

5 Countries in 5 Blocks - El Rincon de Chabuca - North Beach

[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

The food of Peru is possibly the original "fusion cuisine." Indigenous, Spanish, and Asian influences all have made their contributions. An abundance of produce, including more potato varieties than can be imagined, exotic chiles and herbs, as well as ready access to all sorts of seafood, also play a significant role in the uniqueness and diversity of Peruvian cuisine - which is represented in my "5 Countries in 5 Blocks" series on North Beach restaurants by El Rincón de Chabuca (or, as we call it in my household, El Rincón de Chewbacca).

El Rincón de Chabuca is a modest eatery along Collins Avenue just past 71st Street in the North Beach neighborhood where, as I've previously noted, you'll find a multitude of eating options from around Latin America. It's not much to look at, and it's probably not in contention for the best Peruvian food in all of Miami (most people think that honor goes to Francesco in Coral Gables), but some things are quite good.

If there is one item that people think of when they think of Peruvian food, it would most likely be ceviche, or its cousin, tiradito. Traditionally, a ceviche features raw fish or seafood that has been marinated in citrus juices, the citric acid in effect "cooking" the fish. With Chabuca's shrimp ceviche, the shrimp seemed to have been previously cooked, which with shrimp is not that unusual, doused in a mixture of lime juice, salt, garlic, and chile paste (they ask how spicy you want it and it is prepared to order), served over a bed of lettuce, topped with slivered red onions, and plated with traditional accompaniments of steamed sweet potato, choclo (a South American variety of corn with starchy, gigantic kernels), and corn nuts. Ours was good if a tad oversalted (a common refrain for many of the dishes we tried). Their ceviche can also be had with only fish, or with a mix of seafood (calamari, octopus, mussels and shrimp). I was intrigued by a menu item called "Ceviche Caliente Exotico," described as "crispy on the outside and yet fresh on the inside" and apparently involving seafood prepared ceviche-style and then deep-fried - but not intrigued enough to try it. You'll find a broader variety of preparations at a place like Francesco or La Cofradia, where they offer their ceviches either traditional style, or with an aji amarillo chile sauce or a rocoto chile sauce, and sometimes even more esoteric, non-traditional versions.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

5 Countries in 5 Blocks - El Rey del Chivito - North Beach

Most visitors coming to Miami, if they think of "ethnic" food, will think of Cuban food. And Miami indeed has plenty of Cuban food. But that one-note school of thinking fails to capture the diversity of Latin American peoples that have come to call Miami home - Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Colombia, Venezuela, Honduras, Nicaragua and many others (without even considering the Caribbean, which is entirely another subject of discussion) all make their presence felt in the culture and cuisine of South Florida. And a good bit of that diversity is reflected in just a few blocks very close to my home.

The city of Miami Beach is situated on a series of man-made islands along the coast of Miami, and the "North Beach" neighborhood is essentially the northern periphery of the city. While tourist-inundated South Beach basically runs south to north from 1st Street to about 23rd Street, and the predominantly residential Mid-Beach area runs up to about 63rd Street, North Beach picks up north of 63rd Street up to about 85th Street, where it yields to the municipality of Surfside. This stretch is not nearly as flashy as South Beach. Most of the beachfront condos are still awaiting updating, and the only substantial incursion of new development is the Canyon Ranch at 68th and Collins Avenue.

El Rel del Chivito

This more modest neighborhood has become home to many of Miami's Latin American populations. Argentinians, in particular, many of whom came to Miami over the past ten years amidst economic strife in their home country, have so taken a shine to North Beach that some have dubbed it "Little Buenos Aires", but North Beach is actually a happy melting pot of people from all over Central and South America. Lucky for all of us, they've brought their recipes with them.

El Rey del Chivito 2

The first stop for my "5 Countries in 5 Blocks" tour is El Rey del Chivito. "Chivito," some of you may note, means goat, yet "The King of the Goat" offers no goat on the menu. According to the owner of El Rey del Chivito, the story goes that an Argentine tourist went to a restaurant in Uruguay and asked for a roast goat sandwich. Having no goat, the restaurateur served her a steak sandwich instead, which he began calling a "chivito." As other tourists began asking for additional toppings on the sandwich, they all stayed a part of the recipe, which now typically includes a thin grilled steak, bacon, fried ham, cheese, a fried egg, onions, lettuce, and tomato, all on a lightly toasted bun - slathered with mayonnaise, of course.

chivito sandwich

It is an over-the-top, heart-attack-on-a-bun kind of a sandwich. It is also absolutely delicious, though clearly something to be consumed in moderation. This is not simply a "This is Why You're Fat" style gross-out fest. The multitudinous components of the sandwich really do make for a truly delectable combination. I just try to limit my intake to about one a year, and recently learned, while paying a visit with National Geographic writer Andrew Nelson as he tweeted his way through Miami, that half a sandwich will actually do just fine. I just can't imagine who is putting away the "Super Chivito Emperador," the super-sized version they also offer on the menu. The fries, unfortunately, are disappointingly limp, though they do serve as a handy vehicle for the greasy goodness that drips off the sandwich.

While the chivito is unquestionably the official sandwich of Uruguay, and apparently unique to the country, Uruguayan food otherwise - at least what's available here - looks much like that of its neighbor Argentina. The menu at El Rey del Chivito also offers typical parrillada items, as well as a grab-bag other things: steaks, grilled chicken, hamburgers with various toppings, a few salads, a couple pastas, pizzas (there is a strong Italian influence to Argentine cuisine). Another curious item you'll see in both Uruguay and Argentina is faina, which is a thin chickpea-based bread customarily served with pizza in both countries. You can order it on its own or on top of the pizza, in which case it's called a "Pizza a Caballo" (on horseback).

pizza a caballo

This is perhaps more of a curiosity to be experienced than a delicacy to be sought out, as the pizza at El Rey de Chivito was only fair to middling, and the faina didn't really do much to elevate it for me.

But a chivito at El Rey del Chivito is always a fine and immensely satisfying sandwich. Just keep in mind that between the egg and bacon, the ham and cheese, and the steak, it can serve as breakfast, lunch and dinner all in one.

[Edited to add: I just noticed that the first picture of the restaurant wall, above, has some great stuff in it. There's a picture of Elvis, "El Rey del Rock", next to a picture of the owner, Aron, "El Rey del Chivito" wearing crown and robe; and also some diagrams and lists showing where the different cuts of beef come from. I'm going to have to give that a closer inspection next visit.]

El Rey del Chivito
6987 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33141

El Rey Del Chivito on Urbanspoon