Showing posts with label Coral Gables. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Coral Gables. Show all posts

Friday, August 12, 2016

30 Great Things to Eat in Miami for Less than $11

A disproportionate amount of my time and energy writing here is devoted to higher end dining (leading some people to think I actually eat that way all the time!). Yes, there's a lot more glamour in a fancy tasting menu than in the average daily meal. But not necessarily more satisfaction.

And as Miami rapidly becomes an increasingly expensive place to live, there's a particular joy when that satisfaction comes cheap. As we enter the season of Miami Spice, when everyone goes scrambling to sample all the $39, 3-course dinners, this year I decided to do something different.

So forgive me for the click-bait title, but here are thirty great things to eat in Miami[1] all of them under $11.[2] A few of these come from Miami's most celebrated chefs and restaurants. Others come from places with no websites or social media managers, made by cooks whose names I will never know. Many are not terribly Instagram-friendly. What they all have in common is that they make me very happy when I eat them.

Though it was not my original purpose, and though it's obviously skewed somewhat by my own personal predilections,[3] I suspect this list might just give a more complete picture of our city than the latest restaurant "hot list" – not just the million dollar dining rooms in the South Beach and Brickell towers, but the many Latin American and Caribbean and other flavors that give Miami its – well, flavor. I'm always gratified to see exciting things happening in the Miami dining stratosphere; but there are good things closer to the ground too. Here are some of them.

1. Pan con Croqueta ($10)

I wrote recently about All Day, and won't repeat myself here. Instead, I'll mention something that only occurred to me in retrospect: how comfortably it traverses the territory between new school coffee house and old school Cuban cafecito shop. Sure, the coffee beans are a lot better than the regulation-issue Bustelo or Pilon, and they don't need to put an avalanche of sugar into an espresso to make it taste good, but there's not as much space as you might think between a fancy Gibraltar and a humble cortadito. All Day even has a ventanita where you can order from the sidewalk. And, they've got an excellent version of a pan con croqueta, with warm, creamy ham croquetas and a runny, herb-flecked egg spread, squeezed into classic crusty pan cubano.

(More pictures in this All Day - Miami flickr set).

All Day
1035 N. Miami Avenue, Miami, Florida

2. Croqueta Sandwich ($5.90)

If All Day offers a new-school version of a pan con croqueta, the prototype can be found at Al's Coffee Shop, hidden away inside a Coral Gables office building. Despite the obscure location, it's usually full of police officers and municipal workers, who know where to find a good deal. The croqueta sandwich here starts at $4.65; you can add eggs for an extra $1.25. Bonus points: on Tuesdays, those excellent croquetas are only 25¢ apiece all day.

Al's Coffee Shop
2121 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Coral Gables, Florida

3. Curry Goat ($10; $7 on Thursday)

For as long as I've been in Miami – which is a long time – B&M Market has been open along a dodgy stretch of NE 79th Street. Run by a sweet, friendly Guyanese couple, this Caribbean market with a kitchen and small seating area in back turns out fresh rotis, staples like braised oxtails, jerk chicken, cow foot stew, and my favorite – the tender, deeply-flavored curry goat. A small portion, with rice and peas and a fresh salad, is plenty, and will set you back $10 – or go on Thursday when it's the daily lunch special, and it's only $7.

(More pictures in this B&M Market - Miami flickr set).

B&M Market
219 NE 79th Street, Miami, Florida

(continued ...)

Monday, February 22, 2016

first thoughts: Ichimi Ramen, Coral Gables

There are so many new restaurants opening in Miami these days that I have given up on the prospect of keeping current with all of them. In fact, I've somewhat happily resigned myself to the opposite: I'll just wait six months, and a good number of them will have already closed.

Still, amidst this latest wave, there are some good things happening. I was sad to see Little Bread (formerly Bread & Butter) close in Coral Gables as Chef Alberto Cabrera heads off to Las Vegas, but was happy to see a promising-looking replacement coming into the space; Ichimi Ramen. Ichimi is a ramen-ya and izakaya run by Chef Constantine DeLucia, who previously worked at Momi Ramen as well as Lure Fishbar and Estiatorio Milos. I've already been in there twice since it opened a couple weeks ago.

Like Momi, Miami's only dedicated ramen specialist, the noodles are made in-house. The prices are also close but not quite at Momi-esque levels (depending on contents, ramen bowls run $18-22),[1] though at least they take credit cards so you don't need to bring a wad of cash. The menu currently features four styles of ramen (tonkotsu, seafood, veggie, and beef brisket) as well a few cold ramen dishes. They are planning to do tsukemen (plain noodles served with an intense dipping sauce on the side rather than in broth), but it wasn't yet being served on either of my visits.

(You can see all my pictures in this Ichimi Ramen flickr set).

The first bowl I sampled was their veggie ramen, and it was great: a focused, flavorful shoyu broth (that I assume starts with a kombu dashi) stocked with shiitake and nameko mushrooms, bamboo shoots, bean sprouts, and a bouquet of pea shoots and tiny greens. The noodles are simultaneously hardy and supple, with a nice spring to them. It brought back memories of one of the first and still best bowls I had at Momi, a vegetarian ramen I've never seen on the menu there since. I've also tried Ichimi's tonkotsu ramen, which was good but not a show-stopper: the slabs of pork belly were delicious, but the broth lacked that lip-sticking unctuousness that typically characterizes the long-cooked pork bone elixir.

Ichimi also offers a pretty extensive menu of "izakaya" type small plates, most of which are much more ambitious and chef-y than your average izakaya. Maybe the best example is this "uni taco," which cleverly uses a tempura-fried nasturtium leaf as the tortilla, then tops it with a slice of wagyu beef, a couple lobes of tender, bright-orange sea urchin, and a spray of shiso "air, with a final garnish of purple micro-shiso and more pea tendrils.

(continued ...)

Friday, November 27, 2015

best thing i ate last week: pork braised in milk at Eating House

As I groggily arise, still digesting last night's Thanksgiving feast (while simultaneously plotting what to do with the leftovers), it occurs to me that I'm still a week behind on "best thing i ate last week." So let's catch up.

Sometimes for no good reason, restaurants fall off your radar screen. That had happened to me with Eating House. Though I've always had good meals there, somehow more than a year had passed without a visit. I've been back in twice in the past couple months, and it's been better than ever. The old "standards" are still around – the tomatoes with coconut ice, the chicken and "foiffles" – but much is new as well, including roughly half the menu now being taken over by vegetable-centered dishes.

(You can see all my pictures from the restaurant in this Eating House 2.0 flickr set).

Many of these have been very good, like the burnt cabbage with fried garlic and egg vinaigrette, and the red wine risotto with bitter radicchio, pistachios and dried black olives. But the star of my last visit was a pork dish.

The starting point is maiale al latte: pork braised in milk, an old school Italian dish that is about as traif as you can get, which yields fork-tender meat in a rich brown sauce of pork juices and fat emulsified in reduced milk that is almost like a porcine dulce de leche. But then chef Giorgio Rapicavoli does a few things his nonna wouldn't do. He adds crumbles of raw cauliflower, which sounds odd but works, the squeaky texture and fresh, vegetal flavor providing some contrast against all that richness. He adds meaty seared mushrooms and petals of charred onion, upping the umami quotient. He sprinkles it with charred vegetable ash, an intensified iteration of the caramelization that produces the sauce.

(continued ...)

Thursday, October 1, 2015

best thing i ate last week: grilled carrots with aged gouda and buckwheat at Eating House

Somehow, I had let a year go by since my last visit to Eating House, Giorgio Rapicavoli's pop-up gone permanent on the northern edge of Coral Gables. That was dumb of me. This past weekend I grabbed a solo spot at the bar after both wife and daughter had abandoned me for the evening, and sampled as much as I could of the current menu. Some staples remain: the tomatoes with coconut ice and Vietnamese flavors, the chicken and "foi-ffles," the over-the-top pasta carbonara. But everything else around the edges is new – and very good.

Vegetable-focused dishes in particular are a strong suit, and of these, my favorite was a plate of grilled carrots, blanketed in soft curls of a powerfully rich five-year aged gouda cheese (it gets crystals like a good aged parmigiano-reggiano), dappled with crunchy buckwheat kernels, all resting atop a pillow of a creamy carrot-top pesto. I especially liked that the carrots were not annihilated, but maintained a not-quite-raw but still firm core – so you get both clean, vegetal snap and dark, sweet roasty caramel flavors. It was the best thing I ate last week.

Runners-up: the blistered shishito peppers showered with cured egg yolk and dry olive at Eating House; the flaky malawach bread (a Yemenite specialty) served with spicy hariff, grated tomatoes, feta cheese and hard boiled egg for brunch at 27 Restaurant (especially good when accompanied by a Miso Honey Cold Brew).

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eating House - Coral Gables

eating house

A month ago I had no idea who Giorgio Rapicavoli was. It had been a couple years, and a couple chefs, since I'd been to the Angler's Resort where he was last working. I can't stand watching "Chopped," the Food Network cooking competition show where chefs with varying degrees of skill are asked to prepare dishes from mystery baskets of ridiculously incongruous and often unappetizing ingredients; so the fact that he had won an episode did nothing to put him on my radar.

But then I caught word that he was opening a pop-up restaurant to be called Eating House in a hole-in-the-wall café on the outskirts of Coral Gables. And then I took a look at his preview menu. It read like no other menu I've seen in Miami, all sorts of unexpected combinations and flavors.

I went to Eating House a week after they opened at the beginning of the month. I've already been back twice in as many weeks. I know who Giorgio Rapicavoli is now. And at risk of hyperbole, I will say this: at Eating House, he's putting out some of the most exciting food I've had in Miami in some time.

eating house

Tuesday through Sunday nights, Eating House takes over Café Ponce, a non-descript breakfast and lunch place near the corner of Ponce de Leon Boulevard and 8th Street. What atmosphere there is - and there's not much - is contributed by some graffiti artworks hanging on the walls and a soundtrack dominated by '90s hip-hop. But it's a pop-up, the point is the food not the decor. Service is also a minimalist but efficient affair - if it's not general manager Alex Casanova, as often as not it'll be Chef Rapicavoli himself bringing your food to the table.

eating house menu

(You can see all my pictures in this Eating House flickr set or click on any picture to enlarge).

The menu is tight as a Snoop Dogg blunt - typically ten items, mostly "small plate" sized, plus a few dessert options. It's changed around the edges each time I've been in, with dishes coming and going or morphing from one visit to the next. The influences are as much Slow Food as Ideas in Food - lots of local ingredients, lots of creative preparations.

homestead tomatoes

A perfect example: local Homestead tomatoes. But instead of a typical salad, Rapicavaoli takes them to Thailand, with lime, ginger, fish sauce, peanuts, fresh herbs, nasturtium flowers, and frozen coconut milk. It's a perfect rendition of the flavors of Thailand in an unexpected format, the frozen coconut milk in particular lending an intriguing icy creaminess to the composition.[1]

baby eggplant

Even better - indeed, one of best dishes I've had in recent memory - were the baby eggplants, topped with a banana miso, vanilla salt, yuzu kosho, sesame seeds and baby greens. Here, the starting point was a classic - nasu dengaku, or Japanese miso-glazed eggplant - but with multiple added layers of complexity. The banana and miso echo back to each other in both texture and flavor, a salty-sweet creamy richness, while the yuzu kosho adds the bright contrast of both citrus and spice, and yet another note brought in by the vanilla salt. This is really virtuoso stuff.

(continued ...)

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The Local Craft Food and Drink - Coral Gables

Miami may only occasionally be a true culinary innovator, but lately it has proven at least to be an increasingly adept early adopter. Small plates, food trucks, contemporary Asian, locavorism, pork obsessiveness; all are trends that Miami quickly embraced. Yet some others seem to have largely passed Miami by. The gastropub is one of them.

The idea of the gastropub originated in London in the 1990's, when some enterprising souls set out to elevate the quality of the "pub grub" served in the city's traditional "public houses." With an approach that presaged both the current farm-to-table and high-end casual trends, the food was often local and seasonal, and brought "real" cooking to humble watering holes. Plus, of course, there was always beer. Good beer.

Though gastropubs are old news in England, they were rather slow in working their way across the pond. When Mario Batali opened the Spotted Pig in New York in 2004, importing April Bloomfield from England as chef, it was routinely touted as the city's first gastropub.[1] The concept was even slower to catch on in Miami. Though there were occasional attempts (i.e., Jake's in South Miami), they weren't done particularly well.[2]

That's all changed with The Local.

The Local

The Local (full name: The Local Craft Food & Drink, "The Local" being both a play on British shorthand for "the local pub" and the focus on locally sourced ingredients) opened a couple months ago in Coral Gables, in the spot on Giralda Avenue formerly occupied by Randazzo's.[3] The room has been turned around, with a large wooden bar (imported from a defunct Irish bar on South Beach) now having pride of place along the east wall, and the remainder of the space filled out with bar-height and regular tables for a total of about 50 diners.

(You can see all my pictures in this The Local flickr set).


Like any good gastropub, the initial focus here is on beer. The chalkboard lists nearly two dozen options on tap, both domestic and imported, in a wide range of styles. The draft offerings are supplemented with a selection of bottles, including large format items like the Brooklyn Brewery Local No. 1 golden ale, or seasonal items like the Cigar City Improvisacion "Oatmeal Rye India Brown Ale" made in nearby Tampa.

What to eat along with that beer? That's where Chef Alberto Cabrera comes in. Cabrera shouldn't be a stranger to Miami diners: he did time at Norman's, Baleen, and the critically lauded but sadly short-lived La Broche before taking the helm at the kitchen of the ambitious and equally ill-fated Karu & Y. Since then he's been something of a culinary mercenary, working brief stints as the chef at STK Steakhouse and Himmarshee Grill.[4] I hope he sticks around The Local longer.

jerky in a jar

A good place to either start a meal or just nosh something along with your beer is the "snacks" section of the menu, and in particular, the "jerky in a jar" ($7). The jerky is house-made and infused with soy and Thai chiles (alternately, Korean kochuchang on another night), served in a jar along with some fried garlic chips and a sprinkle of green onions. It's unabashedly chewy, intensely beefy, not overwhelmingly salty, a touch sweet, a little bit spicy, and all good.

(continued ...)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

BGR The Burger Joint - Coral Gables

Some people ask me why there aren't more negative reviews here at Food For Thought. Or, to put it another way, they give me grief because I like most of the places I write about. I think most of my commentary is balanced: I'm not a cheerleader, and even most positive write-ups will offer some criticism too. But it's true that I don't often outright pan restaurants here, even though those kind of rants can be the most fun to write (and read).

Why is that? There are a few reasons. First, I see it as my primary mission to help people find good things to eat. The easiest way to do that is to write about good restaurants. Yes, I could also write about bad restaurants and warn people away from them, but that kind of process of elimination seems rather inefficient.

Equally, if not more important: I like to eat good things. I really hate having a lousy meal. And as a rather dedicated eater, one of the things I've learned to do pretty well is to figure out how to avoid them. Here, there definitely is a process of elimination at work. If I look at a menu online, I can pretty quickly tell if there's nothing that's going to interest me (for instance, yet another generic Italian menu or another uninspired steakhouse will not be a draw). Another tell: if a restaurant just opened their first location and are already trying to market franchise opportunities on their website, that's a good sign that they're more about business than food.

So I've gotten pretty good at "advance scouting," and while some restaurants may not live up to expectations, I'm generally pretty successful at avoiding outright bad meals (unless, as inevitably happens sometimes, I don't get to choose the place).

And finally, I am not a professional critic. Nobody's paying me to do this. I won't typically write up a restaurant unless I've visited multiple times, and if I've had a bad experience, there's usually not much reason for me to go back and repeat it.

All of which is a very long preface for this: I did not like "BGR The Burger Joint."

(continued ...)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Route 9 - Coral Gables

It seems I've already had a good bit to say about Route 9 without actually giving my own opinion. After New Times came out with a mostly negative review (subsequently corrected for several factual errors), and the Miami Herald gave it a three star review the same day, some people asked which I thought was "right." To which I initially responded, "I actually can get where both are coming from. I contain multitudes." Upon which I expanded: "if you were to ask me right now, I'd tell you that it's neither as good as the Herald review makes it sound, nor as bad as the New Times review makes it sound."

It's actually somewhat remarkable - and perhaps a bit unfair - the degree of attention that's been directed at Route 9. This was not some highly heralded, loudly trumpeted celebrity chef opening. It's a small-scale place, run by a young, first-time restaurateur couple, that had been open less than two months when both reviews dropped. But the trope is that any publicity is good publicity, and that would seem to be true here: the place was busy and bustling this past weekend, when I went in once again to see what's been going on.[1]

The young, first-time restaurateur couple is Jeremy and Paola Goldberg, and the name "Route 9" comes from the location of their alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though their prior work experience includes time spent at local restaurants including Timo, Johnny V and Escopazzo, they both look barely old enough to drink at their own restaurant. They took over a spot along the more northerly end of Ponce de Leon Boulevard in Coral Gables that was previously occupied by the unheralded Mexican restaurant, Don Chile. With some paint and elbow grease they've turned it into a cozy, clean-lined place for which they've assembled a menu of mostly straightforward, comfort-food style dishes with some Latin and Mediterranean touches.

The selections lean more heavily toward starters and small plates than entrées, particularly if you include the "charcuterie and cheeses" section that leads off the menu. Here you will find, among other things, an item described as "Roasted Hebrew National Salami with Spicy Mustard." And it is pretty much exactly as described: a thick round of old-fashioned Hebrew National salami, scored deeply with a hedgehog pattern, given a bit of a sweet glaze, roasted till warmed through, and served with some spicy deli mustard. It is something of a nostalgic pleasure, bringing back fond memories of salami and eggs at Rascal House. But while technically accurate, it is also something of a stretch to call this "charcuterie" - and to charge $13 for it, for that matter.

A better value is the guacamole and chips, listed among the "sides" (all $6), which brings ramekins of both a creamy guacamole studded with diced tomato, and a pleasantly ruddy, thick salsa, with an almost pesto-like texture and an assertive but not overwhelming dose of spicy heat. Freshly fried, crisp and ungreasy tortilla chips are provided for scooping (and they're glad to bring more if you just ask). Even better still is the grilled feta salad, with hearty chunks of tomato, cucumber, and red onion, well-dressed in a pitch-perfect vinaigrette punctuated with oregano, all crowned with a big cube of nice feta cheese that's been seared on the grill and warmed through.

(continued ...)

Friday, August 6, 2010

Norman's 180 - Coral Gables

[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

I'm going to come right out and say it: I don't think I can be entirely objective about Chef Norman Van Aken's new restaurant, Norman's 180. Some of the reminiscing in my last post previewing the restaurant's opening might give some indication why. A dinner nearly twenty years ago at his South Beach restaurant A Mano was one of my first truly memorable meals. His "Feasts of Sunlight" cookbook, published in 1988, was one of the first cookbooks I recall cooking from. Very simply, Chef Van Aken's food has played a not-insignificant part in my personal culinary history.

In the interest of complete disclosure, I should also add that I've attended a (free) friends and family dinner as well as a (free) media preview event at the restaurant,[1] and the chef and I have chatted at those events as well as chance encounters in local tapas bars. Since Norman's 180 officially opened, I've been back a few more times as a paying customer. But try as I might, I've been unable to do so without being "spotted," since Chef Van Aken seems to be working seven days a week. So take this all with as many grains of salt as you deem appropriate.

With that said: Norman's 180 is putting out some delicious, exciting food. It's not perfect. It's not as elegant an experience as the original Norman's in Coral Gables used to be. But it's fun and flavorful, and a welcome return for a South Florida legend.

I won't recite Chef Van Aken's whole biography here. Aside from being a famous chef, he's also a great storyteller, and his life stories are scattered all over his website, from his first gig as a long-haired line cook in 1971, to applying for a job with Charlie Trotter and being mistaken for a truck driver, to Louie's Backyard in Key West, to A Mano on South Beach. But South Floridians probably remember him most fondly for Norman's, his flagship restaurant on the quietest end of sleepy Almeria Avenue in Coral Gables. In its time, Norman's was one of the best restaurants Miami had ever seen, and before it closed almost exactly three years ago in May 2007, it was one of the last local bastions of true "fine dining" still around.

Things change. If you're a proud property owner in Miami, your house is worth about half of what it was worth in 2007. These are not the times for "fine dining." And so it was clearly time for Chef Van Aken to do something different. "Norman's 180" is not "Norman's," with a name that not only conveniently indicates the street address of the restaurant but also suggests a 180 degree turn from the past. Norman's 180 embodies all the current gestalt: it eschews white tablecloths for bare wood tables, it embraces the farm to table ethos, it exalts all that is porcine.

But it is also clearly a Norman Van Aken restaurant. In fact, it's a family venture, with son Justin Van Aken working side by side in the kitchen with the old man.[2] Though he is best known for bringing classical technique to Caribbean flavors and ingredients as a prime instigator of the 1980's "Mango Gang," Chef Van Aken's food has always been globally influenced, willing to draw inspiration from Asia or Africa as readily as South America and the Caribbean if it tastes good. What twenty years ago was called "fusion cuisine" now ought really need no nametag. It's just food, and it's either tasty or not. The menu runs in several directions at once, and sometimes it gets lost amidst all the globe-trotting, but for the most part I've enjoyed the journey so far.

(continued ...)

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Norman Conquest

Overall, it has been a pretty good year for additions to the Miami restaurant landsacape. The past several months have seen the openings of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, a star in the making; Sakaya Kitchen, a treasure for low-budget, interesting eats; plus Mandolin Aegean Bistro, AltaMare, Gibraltar, Q American Barbeque, Smoke'T, Mercadito, Morgans, The Forge, Water Club, Zuma, First and First Southern Baking Co., Sparky's Roadside BBQ, Chowdown Grill, the Shake Shack invasion ... it's a pretty impressive list.

I have a hunch it's going to get a lot more impressive in about another week, when Norman's 180, the new restaurant from Chef Norman Van Aken in the Westin Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables, opens its doors. I've long been a big fan of Chef Van Aken's cooking. Though I never got down to Louie's Backyard in Key West when he was in its kitchen, I still have vivid memories of a meal I had at his first Miami restaurant, A Mano in the Betsy Ross Hotel on South Beach. I celebrated my 25th birthday there, and I can still tell you what I ate: a Flintstone-esque cowboy-style rib steak, and a dessert of bananas with rum and chiles.

From there he moved on to what became his flagship, Norman's in Coral Gables, where I had a number of other memorable dishes: his orange and saffron inflected conch chowder, with a coconut "cloud" floating on top; his "Down Island" french toast, topped with foie gras and tropical fruit caramel; salmon rolled in smoky lapsang souchong tea, in a dark "Mer Noir" sauce which was like a liquid mar y montana or surf and turf, layered with flavors of bacon, seafood liquor, red wine and meat stock. It's been three years since Norman's closed, and it's like I can still taste them.

This is what Chef Van Aken has always been so good at doing: creating dishes that tug at the memory, that tell a story. So I'm looking forward to finding out what new stories he will have to tell at Norman's 180. Though Van Aken is generally thought of as one of the godfathers of "New World Cuisine," I've always found that his culinary reach extended all over the map, while still having local roots. And though Norman's 180 is not setting out to be the high-end fine dining experience that Norman's was, a look at the preview menu suggests he still has a few more stories in him:

(continued ...)

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Su Shin Izakaya - Coral Gables

Su Shin
"HELLO HOW ARE YOU?!?!" Invariably, this is the greeting you will receive when you walk through the doors of Su Shin Izakaya - usually at a decibel level that will make you jump, even when you're fully expecting it. It's the owner's Americanized variation on the Japanese tradition of welcoming customers with a shout of "Irashaimase!"

Su Shin's menu is something of a mix of Americanized and traditional, too. Yes, you'll find your California rolls and salmon and cream cheese "JB rolls"[1] here. But if you're looking for something more authentic, don't let this dissuade you. The real draw here is not these inexplicably ubiquitous standards, but rather the extensive selection of "izakaya" dishes.

An izakaya is, as I understand it, sort of the Japanese equivalent of a pub: a place to drink beer or sake, often in copious amounts, and which serves food, often in smaller tapas-size portions, to accompany those libations. Hiro's Yakko-San in North Miami Beach is an izakaya style of restaurant which, as I've noted before, always requires explanation to first-time visitors that it is not a sushi restaurant: no nigiri, no maki (though there is sashimi). Su Shin, though, goes both ways, offering both the typical panopoly of sushi and sashimi, teriyaki and tempura, as well more varied fare, both on the regular menu and on a blackboard that stretches across one long wall of the restaurant, typically featuring roughly a dozen or more daily specials of both raw and cooked dishes.

Since I work in Coral Gables, Su Shin is typically a lunch stop for me, when it is typically busy. There are a half-dozen lunch specials featuring miscellaneous permutations of the usual suspects for $8.75, as well as a mysterious additional list, written only in Japanese. During several visits we've asked about or randomly pointed at some of these, but have yet to encounter anything tremendously exotic. Rather, one of my favorite mystery lunch items is buried away in the "Makimono" (cut rolls) section of the menu, under the name "Porque Mt. Fuji" with the description "Not a roll, let us surprise you." Needless to say, as soon as I noticed this I had to try it.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Talavera Restaurant - Coral Gables (updated)

short rib with mole colaradito
(Note: this was first posted November 3, it's been updated after a couple additional visits to the restaurant). I paid a visit to the now-really-actually-open Talavera Restaurant, a new restaurant in Coral Gables opened by the folks who run Jaguar in Coconut Grove on its opening day, and have now been back a couple more times since. Jaguar has been one of the few restaurants in Coconut Grove with any staying power, thanks to an interesting selection of ceviches (cleverly offered in spoon-sized samples if you like to try several) and what I'd found to be a surprisingly decent grab-bag of Latin American entrees, with something of a focus on Mexican dishes. That focus is explained by the fact that owner Lalo Durazo, managing partner Martin Moreno, and partner-executive chef Oscar del Rivero all came from Mexico City. And their new restaurant in Coral Gables, Talavera, hews more closely to an exclusively Mexican theme.

It seemed like they had been working on a space on Ponce de Leon Boulevard forever, and then just in the past couple months the worksite expanded to include the corner that stretches out to Giralda Avenue. They've made good use of the space, too, with a welcoming bar in the front, some tall bar height seating, a plethora of booths and tables, and an open kitchen behind it all. The room is decorated with Talavera pottery, as well as a series of portraits over the bar ranging from Frida Kahlo to masked Mexican lucha libre wrestlers. It's a big open-feeling space, the only drawback being that noise just seems to bounce all over and it was difficult to hear someone on the other side of the table (apparently I wasn't the only one eagerly awaiting this opening, as the place was packed for lunch on their first day open).

The menu is fairly extensive. In light of Jaguar's success, it should come as no surprise that there are a few ceviches items on offer (though not nearly as extensive or exotic as some of Jaguar's choices). But there are also a number of appetizers and salads, several tortas (Mexican sandwiches), a few moles, and additional main course options. They also have several variations on a "signature" item, a "huarache," which is a toasty slab of corn masa shaped like a flip-flop, crowned with a variety of toppings. We were pleased to find a lengthy list of lunch options all priced at $12.

Given that it was opening day, I'm sure some of the kinks will be worked out, so please keep in mind that some of these comments are solely first impressions. I'll highlight additions from my subsequent visits where clarification is needed.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

More News Flashes and Rehashes

When I started this blog, I pledged - to myself anyway - that it wasn't going to be yet another site that simply rehashed the same press releases that every other site regurgitates. Content is king.

Well, it's been a little hectic over here lately and I've not had much time to gather deeper thoughts about restaurant eats, so in the meantime, some more, hopefully marginally useful, news of restaurant openings and specials:

- Talavera, a Mexican restaurant in Coral Gables from the folks who brought you Jaguar Ceviche Spoon Bar and Grill in Coconut Grove, is set to open this coming Monday October 19. The location most recently housed Mari-Nali Gourmet Quesadillas, but when I walked by today I saw that they've recently taken out more space and their spot now extends out to the corner of Ponce de Leon and Giralda. They say the menu is inspired by old and new Mexico, from street food to classic restaurant dishes, including guacamole made to order, several styles of ceviches (no surprise to folks familiar with Jagauar), varieties of moles, and their "signature" huarache grill, featuring hand-made fresh corn masa shaped like a flip-flop and topped with beans, lettuce, salsa verde, goat cheese and more. How about a hibiscus margarita to go with that?

Edited to add: as of earlier this week (circa Oct. 28), a walk by Talavera confirmed that it is not yet opened, press release notwithstanding. PR peeps: this is an ongoing issue, both with your own releases and those you feed to places like UrbanDaddy and Thrillist. Please - don't announce an opening date until it is really, genuinely, absolutely, FIRM. Everyone knows that there are about a bazillion things that can delay an opening, but when a date is announced people tend to rely on it. When it's wrong, it just creates confusion and frustration, which is, you know, sort of contrary to the purpose of public relations pitches.

- Also in the Gables, Bijans Burger Joint says they're set to open next Monday as well, in the location on Galiano Street that last was the home to Karma (next to Graziano's Market). The menu is short and to the pont: burgers, in 1/2 lb. ($8) or full lb. ($14) versions; veggie or turkey burger options, as well as chicken or dolphin sandwiches, a foot long hot dog, a couple salads, a few "joint"-style snacks and sides (sliders, wings, potato skins, mini corn dogs; french fries, sweet potato fries, fried yuca, mac & chee, etc.). There's a brief list of custom toppings and cheeses for the burgers, but the most unusual options have a Colombian tilt: a "Pineapple Burger" topped with mozzarella, lettuce, tomato, ketchup, pink sauce, green sauce, potato sticks and crushed pineapple, and a similarly adorned "Pineapple Specialty Hot Dog."

- Meanwhile, Talula on Miami Beach is going homestyle with "Buon Appetito Wednesday Pasta Night," offering garden salad with red wine vinaigrette, unlimited rigatoni and meatballs in "Andrea's Sunday Sauce" topped with ricotta cheese, and espresso panna cotta and chocolate chunk & cherry biscotti for dessert, all for $29. Between unlimited pasta at Talula and fried chicken night at Michy's, it may not be necessary to eat any other night of the week than Wednesday any more.

- Speaking of Chef Michy, Sra. Martinez, like many places, is having trouble saying goodbye to Miami Spice, and is doing a "Bueno, Bonito y Barato" ("Good, Pretty & Cheap") lunch special: Monday through Friday noon to 3pm, you can choose two small plates, one large plate and a dessert for $22.

Sometime soon we will get back to our regularly scheduled programming.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Sketches of Spain

A couple meditations on Spanish themes to start the day:

por finPor Fin in Coral Gables is offering the chance to "Experience the Running of the Bulls Without Getting Gored." In celebration of the foolhardy annual tradition of running down Pamplona's cobbled streets with six one-ton bulls in chase (typically after staying up all night drinking the evening before), Por Fin is offering two-for-one drinks (including sangria and kalimotxo, the red wine & cola concoction that is one of the Basques' few uncharacteristically questionable contributions to gastronomy), $5 tapitas, and flamenco music from 5:30 p.m. to closing on July 8-12. Only four people were injured in the opening day of this year's run. Hopefully Por Fin's body count will be even lower.

Meanwhile, UrbanDaddy reports that Solea, a Mediterranean (hey - at least it's not a steakhouse!) restaurant in the new W Hotel South Beach, is open for business, and gives a link to the Solea menu which shows some prominent Spanish leanings. While UD picked up that the restaurant is managed by the same folks who run Quattro on Lincoln Road, New Times' Short Order adds that the chef team is Michael Gilligan (formerly of Atrio in the Conrad) and Norman Van Aken protege Arthur Artiles (last at the now-closed Brosia in the Design District).

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

La Cofradia Ceviche Bar - Coral Gables

[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

A few weeks ago I gave a preview of the new menu at La Cofradia Ceviche Bar, the reincarnation of a former upscale Peruvian restaurant which closed down a couple months ago. I paid a lunch visit last week on the first day of their reopening to see what was new.

The layout of the space has been reconfigured some, with a few tall tables and barstools in the entranceway along with a new (?) bar. White tablecloths are gone in favor of bare wood tables, though the place still retains many of the upscale trappings from its original incarnation and has a slick (but not uncomfortable) modern look to it. It does feel a little more welcoming and it seems they're trying to make the new bar area in front more of a focal point.

The menu is, as noted earlier, in many ways just a simplified version of its predecessor. There are a few options for ceviches and tiraditos, about a half dozen other appetizer options, about 10 entree choices (some of which, like the sauteed shrimp with tacu tacu, I recall from the original menu), mostly priced in the $15-20 range at lunch and $17-25 for dinner (dinner also adds several saltados or stir fries for $17-22), and daily lunch specials for around $14-15.

Ceviches are offered in four styles: (1) a mix of fish, shrimp and octopus marinated in the traditional citrusy "leche de tigre"; (2) white fish marinated and supplemented with aji amarillo chile; (3) mixed seafood enhanced with red rocoto chile; and (4) tuna done in an Asian style with soy, ginger and sesame oil. You can also get tiradito (thinly sliced fish instead of diced) done in any of the same styles. We got a sampler of all four (for $15; individual ceviches range between $11-$14) and the serving size of each was a bit dainty (three of us splitting it had to be pretty timid in serving ourselves so as not to hog all of one) though collectively it was a decent portion. My favorite, somewhat surprisingly to me, was the Asian style, which came with a little seaweed salad as an accompaniment. A slab of sweet potato and some choclo, more traditional accompaniments, came with the others.

I also tried a shrimp causa appetizer, a traditional Peruvian dish of a round disk of cold mashed potatoes flavored subtly with aji amarillo, topped with cooked shrimp, cubes of avocado and a drizzle of Russian dressing. I know - sounds odd. And maybe it is, a little bit, but it's cool and refreshing while also substantial and filling. La Cofradia's version was decent but not revelatory.

Some of the entrees on the lunch menu are available in half portions, and a half portion of the arroz negro (for $10) worked out just right after an appetizer. The rice, colored and flavored with squid ink, was fairly generously studded with calamari rings and scallops, but it lacked the real depth of seafood flavor that this dish has when done really well (as it is at Francesco, also in the Gables), and the calamari was just a touch rubbery. I've heard it said calamari should be cooked for 2 minutes or 2 hours, and this seemed to be caught somewhere in between.

Given that we were there for literally the first service since they had reopened, it's really not fair to judge the service at all. Our food was just a bit slow coming out but the restaurant staff was acutely aware of it, and plied us with complimentary pisco sours while we waited. It was thoughtful but unnecessary, as the wait time really was not bad considering, and overall service was quite solicitous.

I am mostly a luncher in the Gables and remain concerned that though the food was good, La Cofradia's prices are still too high to be competitive in the current market. They've taken some steps to simplify the menu and make the venue more welcoming, both of which they've succeeded at. But despite offering one daily lunch special for around $15, most entrees still hover closer to the $20 price point. Add a ceviche or an app and you've quickly got a $30+ lunch.

It would seem the most natural point of comparison would be Francesco, the Peruvian stalwart of the Gables, and indeed it seems La Cofradia's prices would compare favorably to Francesco's online menu. But the comparison that instead occurs to me is La Cofradia's neighbor Por Fin across the street. Por Fin has done an excellent job of catering to the Gables lunch crowd, with a lunch special menu that offers a wide range of apps and entrees for a combined price of $19.50-$23.50. Por Fin, whose food I think has improved since they first opened, merits its own post (it is coming), and I think places like La Cofradia ought to be paying attention to what they're doing right.

La Cofradia Ceviche Bar
160 Andalusia Avenue
Coral Gables, FL 33134

La Cofradia on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 23, 2009

La Cofradia Ceviche Bar Menu Preview

ceviche bar lunch La Cofradia opened in Coral Gables in late 2005. Its Nuevo-Peruvian food was often pretty good, but the clubby-looking restaurant with an odd long narrow layout - and the high prices - seemed to keep it from ever getting much traction. About a month ago, La Cofradia closed its doors and filed a Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Almost immediately after doing so, though, it asked to dismiss the bankruptcy case, and signs appeared in the window announcing the impending opening of "La Cofradia Ceviche Bar" in early May. A new menu has now been posted outside, of which I have a couple terrible photos. (Silly me - I now see that they've updated the website with the new menu as well).

ceviche bar dinnerThe quick recap: the food has gotten much simpler, with a fairly straight-ahead listing of about a half-dozen ceviches, tiraditos, and various combinations thereof (all priced around $13-15); several salads and cooked apps, including some traditional Peruvian causas, and a great pork and grapes dish which is a carry-over from the original menu; saltados (stir-fry?) with your choice of protein; and a number of other entrees all priced under $25. Plus daily lunch specials for $13.50. I often complain about "dumbing down," but if it helps a restaurant survive, in these times I suppose that's the name of the game. It'll be interesting to see if it works for this new incaranation of La Cofradia.

La Cofradia
160 Andalusia Avenue
Coral Gables, FL 33134

Friday, April 17, 2009

Indian Palate - Coral Gables

[Sorry, this place has closed]

It's generally been a struggle to find good Indian food in Miami. Renaisa, off Biscayne Boulevard and 78th Street, was my go-to place for a while (for take-out - I couldn't bear to sit in the dingy space, which has now changed hands and been made much nicer as Anise Taverna, a Greek/Med restaurant from the folks who used to run Ouzo's), but then they moved north to Heelsha around 163rd St. and I haven't gotten up that way. I've had a couple better-than-decent meals at Mint Leaf in Coral Gables, but it's rather pricy. So when a new entry in the market made its appearance, I was excited to try Indian Palate, and made my way over this week for lunch.

While walking my way to the restaurant's location at the corner of Salzedo Street and Alcazar Avenue, it gradually dawned on me what used to be there - it's the old Le Festival space! But this will not be one of my interminable reminiscences about restaurants-gone-by, I promise. It's still got ivy covering the walls outside, but the interior has been redone with Indian paintings and decorations. Lunch is done buffet-style, with a few serving tables set up in one room opposite the dining room (which appears to only have a portion of the full space open for lunch).

The buffet offered about 3-4 vegetable dishes , about 5 various meat dishes, basmati rice, a couple breads (the baskets of which were not refreshed nearly often enough), as well as another table set up as a chaat bar and yet another laid out with simple salad stuff and about a half-dozen chutneys and pickles.

My favorite thing was the chaat bar. Chaats are Indian street food, various combinations of miscellaneous crispy bits, sauces and spices. Here, they offered little puffed rice balls, crispy shredded wheat, and big round wheat puffs,along with several various sauces for topping them, including creamy yogurt, another yogurt-based sauce spiked with mint, a tart tamarind sauce, and a moderately spicy tomato chutney, along with diced fresh tomato and mint. The effect of the combination, which you can doctor as you see fit, is much like a spicy, savory, crunchy breakfast cereal, and oddly compelling.

The buffet fare was decent but not exceptional. The vegetables included a saag paneer (creamy spinach with cubes of mild cheese), a mild mixed vegetable curry, and a potato dish; the meats included a chicken tikka masala, a stewed lamb dish (rogan josh?), another dish with ground lamb or beef, and mussels in a peanut sauce. It was all OK, but there was nothing that really stood out. It was as if the spice had been turned down on everything, which I think is a mistake. Though I understand that not everyone likes spicy food, there's a difference between spicy and highly spiced. Indian food need not (should not) always be spicy, but if it's not highly spiced, then what's the point? To me that's the heart of Indian cooking.

I have read that the Indian Palate chef came over from Vix at the Hotel Victor on South Beach, which makes a lot of sense. I only ate there once, but what made the most memorable impression - other than the astronomical prices - was a bread plate that featured several delicious Indian breads, and some very savory dips including a raita and some chutneys. Now, Indian Palate offers a fuller panoply of choices, and at a much more affordable cost - our lunch buffet was $13, a bargain all things considered. The dinner menu seems a bit more convoluted, with a bunch of different combination plates, but I like the idea, since it gives an opportunity to try a broader variety of dishes. Now if they could just turn up the spice dial some so you can better distinguish one from another.

Indian Palate
2120 Salzedo St.
Coral Gables, FL 33134

Indian Palate on Urbanspoon