Showing posts with label Bal Harbour. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Bal Harbour. Show all posts

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Cobaya Le Zoo Makoto with Chefs Julian Baker and Anthony Micari

I'm a big fan of collaborations. When you put two creative minds together, good things are bound to happen. Yet many "collaborative" dinner events turn out to not really involve all that much actual teamwork. Sure, the chefs will communicate about a menu and ingredients, and decide who is going to do what. But more often than not, they're ping-pong-ing courses back and forth, rather than working together to create dishes that are a genuine combined effort.

Which is one of the things that made our Cobaya dinner last week with chefs Julian Baker of Le Zoo, and Anthony Micari of Makoto, so special: each dish seemed to bear the imprint of both chefs, and both kitchens.

They had some advantages in doing so. The French bistro and contemporary Japanese restaurant are neighbors, both housed in the posh Bal Harbour Shops. They are also siblings of a sort, both under the management of Stephen Starr's Starr Restaurant Group.[1] And they're both Cobaya alumni, in a way: Chef Baker hosted Cobaya Experiment #40 while he was chef at Toscana Divino in Brickell, and Makoto's namesake, head chef Makoto Okuwa, was the host for Cobaya Experiment #32.

For Experiment #75, the two chefs set up a table for thirty of us right between their two restaurants: smack in the middle of the breezeway of Bal Harbour Shops over a glassed-in koi pond that runs through the center. Amidst the shoppers browsing the Dolce & Gabbana couture and Fendi purses, they served a menu that combined, in each dish, the flavors and ingredients and techniques of France and Japan. Here's a recap:

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya Le Zoo Makoto flickr set)

Guinea Pigs starting to make their way in for Cobaya Experiment #75.

A snack as guests arrived, and a preview of what's to come: toasted baguettes smeared with a rich, and very French, chicken liver mousse, topped with a zingy, spicy, and very Japanese, yuzu kosho marmalade.

"Toro Niçoise." Chef Micari marinated block cuts of fatty tuna sashimi in soy sauce, toro zuke, style. Chef Baker brought the flavors of the Mediterranean: pickled haricots verts, tomatoes, niçoise olives, slivered radishes, a delicate squash blossom. Someone threw in some fudgy, Szechuan-spiced egg yolk, which was a very good idea. This was a great start.

"Japanese Bouillabaisse." Chef Micari brought some seafood from Tsukiji Market in Tokyo: gorgeous head-on shrimp, silky scallops, delicate baby calamari. It arrived at the table in a bowl with a rice puff rubbed with saffron aioli, the traditional accompaniment to a Provençal bouillabaisse. The dish was then finished with a tableside pour of a rich, heady, spicy seafood stew that had been enriched with red aka miso.

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Saturday, January 23, 2016

best thing i ate last week (jan 4-10): seafood plateau at Le Zoo

I'm still playing catch-up on "best thing i ate last week" but there's only two weeks to go. After our week-long Southern expedition (here's a report on Memphis; similar travelogues for Nashville and Louisville hopefully coming soon), I figured we'd be eating a lot of home cooking. I was right, but not entirely. Within a week, we were ready for someone else to cook for us.

Miami has recently seen a mini-wave of new French bistro / brasserie type places. I've not tried them all, but I've been to several, and found them mostly underwhelming or worse. Le Zoo, Stephen Starr's new place in Bal Harbour Shops (in the cursed spot across from the thoroughly mediocre but ever-popular Carpaccio that has previously been home to La Goulue and Elia before that), seems to be getting it right.

We didn't sample much, but what we did try was quite good. The standout was this seafood platter; a "petit plateau" came with a half-dozen oysters from east and west coasts, four littleneck clams, four sweet scallops in their shells with a dusting of espelette pepper, about a dozen little Mediterranean mussels, a cluster of cold poached shrimp, half a lobster, and both king crab and snow crab. Everything was perky and fresh, and for $75, seemed like a relative bargain as such things go.

Runner-up; a vitello tonnato from the same meal, with properly rosy, thin-sliced veal, a mayo properly redolent and funky with anchovy, and a scatter of cherry tomatoes, capers and celery leaves.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

J&G Grill - Bal Harbour

I usually don't write about restaurants based on off-the-menu experiences, particularly those of the "cook for me" variety.[1] But exceptionalism is cause for making exceptions. Chef de Cuisine Bradley Kilgore and Executive Pastry Chef Antonio Bachour are doing exceptional things right now at J&G Grill in Bal Harbour, and it seems foolish not to speak of them.

I've been talking Brad up for years, going back to our Cobaya dinner at Azul in 2011 where he was a sous chef at the time. After a brief stint heading the short-lived Exit 1 on Key Biscayne, Brad landed as chef de cuisine at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's J&G Grill in the St. Regis, where he's finally had the resources to match his talent and ambition. He also has had the benefit of teaming up with Antonio Bachour, whose pastry work is, and I don't exaggerate, brilliant.

To celebrate a recent birthday, the family let me choose where to go,[2] and I quickly opted for J&G. The truth is, while I've tasted Brad and Antonio's work on several occasions, most often it has been at special event type things.[3] I wanted to have a full-blown dinner there, and yes, I did kind of want to lay it on thick: it was a birthday after all. So I asked them to do a tasting menu for the family. And it was easily one of the best meals I've had in Miami this year.

To start, oysters "in their natural setting:" a freshly shucked oyster, swimming in a mignonette gelee, perched on a mound of squid ink and salt "sand," with various seaweeds strewn about and puffs of verjus foam washing up here and there. It's a gorgeous presentation of the clean, fresh flavors of the ocean – the only flaw is that the squid ink "sand" is too salty to really be edible (something our server warned us of).

(You can see all my pictures in this J&G Grill flickr set.)

A variation on a dish from the regular menu: oozy burrata cheese, paired with ginger glazed heirloom tomatoes, tiny herbs and greens, and a drizzle of shiso oil. The ginger and shiso are unexpected accompaniments, each with a razor's edge sharpness that cuts through the lusciously creamy cheese. J&G's sommelier, Luis Mejia, was particularly proud of his pairing for this course – the Leitz Dragonstone Riesling – and for good reason, as its balance of honeyed fruit, spice and acidity was an ideal match for the dish.[4]

The next course was a variation on a dish Brad had served me a couple years ago: slices of togarashi cured cobia, topped with bits of citrus, a puffy basil meringue, and delicate but assertively flavored watercress flowers. Dessert techniques – meringues, mousses, and sabayons, for instance – regularly weave their way into Brad's savory dishes to good effect.

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Monday, September 30, 2013

Cobaya Tea Party with Chef Antonio Bachour

The first time I sampled pastry chef Antonio Bachour's work was at a Cobaya dinner with Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog a couple years ago. We'd held the event in a warehouse in Little Haiti which, among other challenges, didn't have the greatest air conditioning. It was probably nearly 90° in the dining room and at least ten degrees warmer in the "kitchen." Not exactly ideal conditions, and yet Bachour, with a big fan blowing in a back room, plated some absolutely exquisite desserts, even managing to turn out perfect quenelles of green apple sorbet among about a dozen other elements on the plate.

At the time, Bachour was working at the W South Beach, and the word was that he would be pastry chef at The Dutch when it opened in a few months. Instead, he took his talents to the St. Regis Bal Harbour and the very talented Josh Gripper came to the Dutch - a win-win for Miami diners.

Bachour is an incredible talent. We knew that we'd want to find a way for him to do his own Cobaya event, but the prospect of an all-desserts meal was a bit daunting. And then Mrs. F provided the inspiration: why not do an afternoon tea? It was perfect. We had a weekend afternoon event for a change of pace, with a combination of savory and sweet components, following at least loosely in the format of a traditional tea service.

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

The St. Regis provided a beautiful venue - a lounge area in the resort - and their typical over-the-top service - sabered champagne, free-flowing mimosas, even some live music. And Bachour, with a savory assist from hotel chef Tom Parlo, provided an equally over-the-top menu.

To start, a golden egg, filled with a couple more kinds of eggs: a creamy egg salad, laid over a puddle of cucumber gelee, topped with a generous dollop of caviar. This was a delicious, indulgent few bites, fully worthy of its ornate presentation.

Next, a round of tender scones with berry jam, citrus curd and clotted cream - very classical.

A platter of savory tea sandwiches was classical in format, but modernized in the execution. It included a hearty smorrebrod with a miniature composed nicoise salad (tuna, cherry tomatoes, green beans, olives and a quail egg); a savory eclair filled with cream cheese and topped with a ribbon of smoked salmon and a salmon macaron; a burrata salad assembled over shortbread with dried tomatoes, basil and balsamic caviar; a perfect mini lobster roll tucked into a brioche bun; and a cornet filled with curried chicken salad, topped with a crisp dried strawberry.

Then it was time for a rather unbridled dessert presentation - probably more than 20 different sweet compositions assembled by Chef Bachour, on a buffet that seemed to go on forever and was replenished as rapidly as it was depleted. I don't think I managed to get pictures and descriptions of everything, much less sample them all, but here's a faithful attempt:

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Cobaya Makoto

Makoto, in Bal Harbour, is one of my three favorite places in town for sushi. But when we decided to do a Cobaya dinner with Chef Makoto Okuwa, the guy whose name is on the door, we knew it would be impossible to do sushi properly for that many people at once. We gave Chef Makoto the usual pitch - serve what you really want to make, do something off-menu, don't be afraid to be adventurous - and left it to him to decide how best to put together a dinner for 25 people.

What he came up with was one of the most intriguing and unusual menus we've seen at one of these events, combining outstanding ingredients, some stunning presentations, and a good dose of diner interactivity.

(You can see all my pictures from the dinner in this Cobaya Makoto flickr set).

To start, something I'm pretty sure none of us had ever tried before: a turtle headcheese. "Nikogori"[1] apparently refers to dishes - often seafood, but sometimes meats or vegetables - bound in aspic. This dish - which Chef Makoto said he'd never made before - used turtle meat, rolled and bound in its own gelatin, then chilled and sliced thinly. Reminiscent of pickled tongue, curiously enough, with just a hint of the marine flavor you would expect of an amphibious creature, I thought this was great. The accompaniments were equally unusual but worked: pickled mustard seeds, crispy kale leaves, a purée of smoked eggplant that called to mind baba ghanoush, a drizzle of molasses.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cobaya St. Regis with Chefs Richard Gras and Antonio Bachour

berry lemon spiral

In a recent column for the San Francisco Chronicle, restaurant consultant (and former Square One and Chez Panisse chef) Joyce Goldstein bemoans the prevalence of what many pejoratively call "tweezer food." She imagines "an underground team of tiny elves with tweezers, carefully placing tiny little pieces of food in regimented lines across plates all over the country" and rails, "Where is the passion and energy?"

It is, of course, a false dichotomy. Attention to detail and passion are not opposites, nor are they even somehow mutually exclusive. Food that is delicate, or technical, even artful, can and often is prepared with every bit as much passion and energy as any long-simmered braise or sizzling sauté.

There is no better evidence than the dinner that the crew at the J&G Grill[1] in the St. Regis Bal Harbour put together for our Cobaya "underground" dining group earlier this week. The restaurant's chef de cuisine Richard Gras, executive pastry chef Antonio Bachour, and hotel executive chef Jordi Valles[2] do elegant, careful, graceful work; I'm sure tweezers are part of their kitchen arsenal. Yet I have never met any chefs who have more passion for food, more energy, more drive to please and excite than Richard, Antonio and their team.

The St. Regis opened at the beginning of the year;[3] but while high-end travelers have been flocking in droves, I suspect many locals haven't found their way inside yet. They're missing out. Our Cobaya meal was, as we always hope they will be, an off-menu experience, so don't expect to find something exactly like this on any given Tuesday. But some tremendous talent resides in the kitchen there, and we were glad for the opportunity to showcase it.

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya St. Regis flickr set, or click on any picture to enlarge it).

St. Regis Bal Harbour

They set up our group of 34 at one long table in a space downstairs from the main restaurant; the same beveled rectangles of mirrors that line the hotel's lobby provided an elegant backdrop.

chef cam

Though our table was some distance away from the kitchen, an A/V hookup, with two massive flat-screens, provided the opportunity for the guests to see and hear the chefs at work, explaining dishes as they were being prepared and plated.

beet gazpacho explosion

The dinner service started with a one-biter, a spherified beet gazpacho "explosion" served over crumbles of a lemon thyme infused pound cake - the brilliant color matched by a burst of flavor.

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Monday, May 23, 2011

Makoto - Bal Harbour

If I were opening a new restaurant in Bal Harbour, I'm not sure it would be a Japanese place. I say that primarily because Bal Harbour is situated almost exactly in the middle of what are already some of my favorite Japanese restaurants in Miami: Naoe and Yakko-San to the north, and Sushi Deli to the south. Of course, Stephen Starr, the restaurateur behind Makoto, has opened plenty more restaurants than I have (Starr: 24; Frodnesor: 0), so maybe he knows what he's doing.

But I say that also because I'm not quite sure what kind of Japanese restaurant would appeal to this particular market. Tony Bal Harbour generally, and the ultra-tony Bal Harbour Shops in particular, have been a tough nut to crack for restaurateurs. Though Carpaccio has held steady for several years despite middling to decent food at best, most others that have taken a run at it have failed (witness the procession of restaurants that have occupied the space opposite Carpaccio, currently held by La Goulue). The people who frequent the mall are, no doubt, a high net worth bunch unafraid to drop a sizable sum on a meal, but it's entirely possible that they have more money than taste, when it comes to food anyway. Meanwhile, even if it's good, will more food-minded folks not otherwise inclined to do their shopping here still find their way to the restaurant?

Well I did, and overall, was pretty glad to have done so. The truth is, Makoto is really not much at all like any of those other places I mentioned. If anything, it is probably most similar to Zuma, which opened downtown about a year ago: high quality sushi, robata selections, and a grab-bag of other cooked Japanese items, all served up in a slick contemporary setting.

Makoto is named for its chef, Makoto Okuwa, who's got some pretty serious chops. Born and trained in Japan, he was head sushi chef at Morimoto's Philadelphia restaurant, then moved to New York to open the Morimoto restaurant there (where in 2006 he was named one of StarChef's Rising Stars). A couple years later he switched coasts, heading to Los Angeles as executive chef of Sashi. When Starr (who runs Morimoto's restaurants) set eyes on Bal Harbour, he lured Chef Makoto back into the fold. I also saw chef Dale Talde (who works at Starr's Buddakan in New York, and is known to many as a Top Chef contestant) in the kitchen on one of my visits.

Makoto the restaurant is situated on the ground floor of the Bal Harbour Shops, toward the south end. The dark-lacquered entrance on the mall side is so subtle as to be easily missed, though you can also enter from the east side directly from the parking lot, where there is also covered outside seating. A narrow entranceway, with some tables squeezed in, opens up onto a broad dining room which has smaller tables along the walls as well as a few larger picnic-style tables in the middle.[1] A sizable sushi bar (with at least four chefs working it) sits in front of the kitchen. That's where we've sat each time we visited.

Each spot at the sushi bar has a block of pink Himalayan salt situated in front of it, and once a diner is seated one of the sushi chefs will place your gari and wasabi on it. I do hope they clean those things between diners, as I wouldn't put it past some child to stick their finger on the block and lick it to see if it really is made of salt. Just saying.

salt block

(For more photos from Makoto, check this Makoto - Bal Harbour flickr set).

We started one of our meals at Makoto with nigiri, which comes two pieces to an order. With the exception of the hirame (fluke or flounder), which was only OK, everything else we sampled ranged from good to exceptional. Particularly notable were the chu-toro ($12) and the even richer, fattier oh-toro ($16). Makoto is, to my knowledge, the only place in South Florida that is sourcing Kindai bluefin tuna. Though bluefin tuna stocks are becoming rapidly depleted and as a result bluefin makes most sustainable seafood experts' "avoid" list, Kindai - which are farm-raised from the egg - are an arguably more responsible alternative. (For more about Kindai, read up: "The rarest tuna of all"). Chef Makoto is clearly a fan of the stuff. And after trying it, so am I, though it's an expensive "solution," if it even is that, to the bluefin problem.

Every bit as good was the hotate (scallop) ($14) - sourced live, and as fresh and pristine as any I have sampled anywhere (and that includes Naoe, which often features live scallop). Silky, tender, and sweet, these were really special stuff. Sadly, they weren't available on my return visit. The uni (sea urchin) ($12) was also very good, as was the aoyagi (orange clam) ($8). The "Hokkai" hand roll offered another way to sample their uni, wrapped up in nori with sweet shrimp and a quail egg ($12), a rather luscious seafood combination. Again, this item wasn't available on our second visit, which prompts some concern about "dumbing down." (We'll return to this later).

I went the sashimi route on our second visit, a couple weeks later. The offerings this time included a number of items sourced from Hawaii, including pink-fleshed nairagi (striped marlin) ($10) and silky ono (wahoo) ($8), both recommended by our server, as well as a second sampling of the aoyagi and Kindai chu-toro.[2]


The presentation was quite dramatic, the slices of fish perched on a wide bowl of crushed ice, above which towered an artful arrangement of branches and leaves. The sashimi itself was excellent - carefully sliced and impeccably fresh. Similarly dramatic was a yellowtail tartare ($18), served in the style made famous by Nobu Matsuhisa: the finely chopped fish molded into a hockey puck shape in a small bowl with a puddle of wasabi-infused soy sauce, crowned with a dollop of caviar, all mounded into a bigger bowl of crushed ice.

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