Showing posts with label Downtown Miami. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Downtown Miami. Show all posts

Friday, January 31, 2014

CobayAnaya - Chef Jacob Anaya at OTC Restaurant

There is no requirement that chefs have a "theme" when they do a Cobaya dinner - but it sure makes things fun. For our dinner a couple weeks ago with Chef Jacob Anaya of OTC Restaurant in Brickell, he went with an animal heads theme. The theme played out in the decorations (taxidermy trophies mounted throughout the dining room), the staff (who wore animal-face masks all evening) and on the plate, where every dish used parts of at least one animal head.

Chef Jacob Anaya is actually a Cobaya veteran - when we had our Cobaya dinner at Azul restaurant a couple years ago (the one that Bizarre Foods' Andrew Zimmern joined us for), Anaya was in the kitchen with Azul's then-executive chef, Joel Huff. When Huff left the following year, Anaya took over Azul, and more recently left Azul himself to run the kitchen at OTC. When OTC first opened it pitched itself as a casual, comfort-food place, but with the addition of Anaya, OTC and its owner Michael Sullivan are looking to step up their game. Since we had an idea of what Chef Anaya was capable of from his work at Azul, we gave him the Cobaya green light.

Even the menu itself followed through on the theme of the night.

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

The evening started on OTC's patio facing out onto Miami Avenue with a series of passed around snacks - brown-bagged crispy fried pig's ears dusted with smoked salt, citrus dust and chili powder, rice crackers shaken with tapioca maltodextrin cheese dust, sgaghetti squash twirled on forks along with espelette dusted goat ricotta and kabocha chips, grilled squid heads paired with an anchovy mousse, garlic dust and tiny greens.

The first plated course - dubbed "Hard-Headed" - led off with a local lobster crudo, served family style. The raw lobster was paired with an orange-hued sauce made from the lobsters' heads with an intense crustacean flavor, a green olive purée along with crumbles of dehydrated black olives, supremes of ruby grapefruit, and chewy, salty dried shrimp. There were lots of strong flavors here, but they balanced rather than competed, the pairing of olive and citrus in particular striking a resonant Mediterranean chord.

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Monday, July 29, 2013

DB Cobaya Moderne

Some of our Cobaya events come together on the fly: a chef says they want to do one, we find a spot, and before you know it, dinner is served. Others require more legwork. Our recent dinner at DB Bistro Moderne in downtown Miami fell into the latter category, with Chowfather in particular working for months to make it happen. The reality is, Daniel Boulud is not just a chef - he's a brand - and DB Bistro is not just a restaurant - it's an outpost of a culinary empire, with fourteen venues spread out among eight different cities in five countries.

It's a little different from our usual modus operandi, but it was also a chance to do a dinner at what I regard as one of Miami's top restaurants. Other than maybe Michelle Bernstein at Michy's, or Kevin Cory at Naoe (really a different beast entirely), I don't think there's another kitchen in town that executes with such consistent precision. So we pushed forward, as I knew it would be a good meal, and wanted to see what executive chef Matthieu Godard (who took over the helm for Jarrod Verbiak about a year ago) would do given the Cobaya format (which is really nothing more than "cook whatever you want that gets you really excited and that you don't regularly get to do").

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

I've said before that I think DB's charcuterie is the best that can be found in Miami - and, indeed, some of the best I've had anywhere. So I was happy to see the dinner start with a board of it: a couple different salumi, a few different pâtés, ruby-hued slices of cured ham, a half-moon of lush, silky foie grass mousse, an assortment of pickled cornichons and onions, and maybe the showstopper of the platter, crackling-crisp nuggets of pork rillons, like croutons of pure pork belly.

Soon another platter landed on the table, described as "Flavors of the Mediterranean." It was loaded with spanikopita, lamb kibbe, mussels in a spicy tomato sauce, mackerel escabeche, slices of chorizo and manchego cheese, a little "fritto misto" of smelts and calamari, marinated olives and marcona almonds, and ramekins of roasted eggplant baba ghanoush, red pepper hummus and tzatziki.

Aside from offering such a copious selection of treats, the communal presentation of these first courses on the boards was a nice ice-breaker. We always have a mix of newcomers and veteran guinea pigs at these dinners, and this was a good way to get strangers passing dishes around - and eventually, prompt some good-natured fighting over the last spanikopita.

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Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Momi Ramen - Miami

This idea of doing one thing, and doing it extremely well, is not often seen in Miami, at least not in the restaurant world. Miami is the land of the "Pan-Asian" eatery, full of places serving up Korean-Thai-Japanese-Vietnamese amalgams aimed to please all palates. It's the home of the Thai/Sushi joint, a merger inexplicable from a culinary basis, but mind-bogglingly ubiquitous around these parts. So many Miami restaurants try to be everything to everyone, and wind up doing precisely nothing very well.

You can't get sushi at Momi Ramen. Nor will you find tempura or teriyaki, pork buns or pad thai. Chef and owner Jeffrey Chen just wants to make ramen. And that's pretty much all that's on the menu at his restaurant, with about 25 seats and a glassed-in kitchen all tucked into an old house in the Brickell area off Miami Avenue.[1]

Though the ramen "trend" could be close to celebrating its tenth birthday in New York, it had been slow to make its way south to Miami. There have always been a few places where you could get a bowl of the hearty noodle soup - Hiro's Yakko-San offers a few different types, as does Su Shin Izakaya. And more recently, a few of the "next generation" Asian places have tried their hand at it - Gigi and Pubbelly both have their versions, Makoto actually does a very nice Taiwan style ramen with ground beef and a chile-infused broth, more recently Bloom and Shokudo trotted out their own takes. But none of these places claims to be a ramen specialist.[2]

Momi is something different entirely. Chen makes his own noodles several times daily. He makes a rich tonkotsu broth that takes most of a day and night to prepare. And each day he serves about a half-dozen variations on the theme of noodles and broth, assembled from a very short list of carefully chosen ingredients.[3]

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

If you want variety, even among ramen styles, this is not the place to go. Indeed, rather than expanding the menu since Momi opened about a month ago, it's been pared back. Though the choices change a bit every time I've been in, that hearty tonkotsu broth, a slow-simmered pork bone stock that gets a creamy, lip-sticking, almost gravy-like consistency from the marrow in the bones and the conversion of collagen to gelatin, is at the heart of almost all the bowls offered at Momi.

If you ask me? That's just fine. Because there is a level of craftsmanship and attention to detail at Momi that has few peers in Miami - at any type of restaurant.

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Thursday, December 13, 2012

A Dinner with Chef Brad Kilgore

It's not often that my photos draw much attention beyond a small group of food-obsessed Miami locals. But when I posted pictures from a dinner that chef Brad Kilgore put together a few months ago, discerning folks around the country took notice. I think Brandon Baltzley, the chef behind the nomadic Crux "micro-restaurant" traveling roadshow, summed it up when he tweeted: "Who the fuck is @brad_kilgore and why is no one following him?"

In direct answer to that question: Brad Kilgore is a local chef who until recently was working at Azul restaurant on Brickell Key. He was a sous chef under Joel Huff when Azul did our Cobaya dinner last year, and along with chef de cuisine Jacob Anaya, took on added responsibilities when Huff left a couple months later. Before coming to Miami for Azul, Brad had been working in Chicago, including stints at Alinea, L2O, and Boka, then became Executive Sous Chef at Epic. For his complete backstory, read here.

But you can't just walk in and order a dinner like this at Azul, for at least two reasons: (1) we had assembled a small group for a "let me cook for you" kind of night, so what you see here isn't on the regular menu; and (2) Kilgore is no longer at Azul. So why am I posting this now?

Well, the good news is that Brad left Azul in order to partner up with Jeremy and Paola Goldberg of Route 9 in Coral Gables and the recently opened Exit 1 on Key Biscayne. Brad has been putting his menu into place at Exit 1, and while that stunning whole pig you see here isn't on it, there should be plenty of other opportunities to taste Brad's handiwork. For just one, he's doing a dinner with Cigar City Brewery next week on Tuesday, December 18.

So consider the meal described here something of a prototype.

Our dinner started with an amuse bouche modeled after one of my favorite unlikely combinations: vitello tonnato. Brad's version substituted a melting puddle of braised veal breast, topped with a frothy emulsion of egg yolk, tuna and lemon, all dolloped with warm goat butter. This rich bite was a preview of the indulgence to come.

And it came quickly. The primary notes of the first dish - cauliflower and caviar - were a riff on the French Laundry's cauliflower panna cotta with beluga caviar.[1] Kilgore's version started with a puddle of a cold, creamy cauliflower and white chocolate "vichysoisse"[2] Next to that was a generous mound of really fine royal osetra caviar, topped with a quenelle of a darkly caramelized roasted cauliflower gelato, mounted with a few crisped florets to reinforce the notion. This was rich upon rich, but it still found its balance. I loved it.

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Friday, December 7, 2012

Cobaya Hinckley at the Hoxton

Unless you're a pretty hardcore genealogist of Miami's culinary family trees, you probably don't recognize the name Matt Hinckley. But if you've been a regular at Michael's Genuine for a while, you would know Matt on sight: for a couple years he was a regular fixture there, working the wood-burning oven as sous chef, then moved over to help open Harry's Pizzeria.

Hinckley is now the head chef at The Hoxton, which is the first of what are slated to be three related venues in the Axis building in Brickell. While the recently opened Hoxton puts together a beach house feel and New England seafood hut menu with a bar and occasional live music, next in line is Box Park, which will be a more food-centric farm-to-table venture. When we asked Hinckley to do a Cobaya dinner with us, the menu he created embodied a few themes which I anticipate will also be a focus of Box Park: whole animal utilization; local products; and "alternative" proteins - alligator, rabbit and duck were well represented at our dinner, along with the omnipresent pig.

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

Each of those themes was emphasized from the very start of our dinner with a series of  passed appetizers served to our group in the Hoxton's upstairs loft area.  Fried alligator was served with a subtly spicy salsa negra; Chef Hinckley assured everyone it "tastes just like dinosaur." A silky, rich duck egg quiche was made even heartier with a lacing of 26-month aged Beemster XO cheese and then topped for good measure with duck confit that had been cured for 45 days. Perhaps best of all were toasts topped with a shmear of a creamy rabbit liver mousse, a dab of tangerine jam and a sprinkle of fresh tarragon: this was exceptional, one of the most memorable bites of the evening.

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Friday, October 19, 2012

Goes Around ... Comes Around: Double Feature Edition

I ate at two new restaurants this week. I’ll need to make return visits to give a complete assessment of the food, but just from looking at their menus I could tell something about both of them: they kind of want to be other restaurants.

First, Tikl. Or, to be more precise, Tikl Raw Bar Grill. Where the menu is divided into “snacks,” “raw,” “small” and “robata” sections, rounded out by a couple “large” dishes. Where said “raw” dishes feature creatively flavored seafood crudos, the “small” items are an eclectic mix of tapas style dishes, and the “robata” items include meats, seafood and vegetables with a mish-mash of Asian and Mediterranean flavors. Where the menu puts the main ingredient of a dish in boldface, followed by a lower-case list of the other ingredients separated by slashes.

If this sounds familiar, that’s because it is almost exactly the same menu format as Sugarcane. Or, to be more precise, Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill. Which has a menu divided into “snacks,” “crudos,” “tapas,” “robata grill” and “large plates” (though Sugarcane also offers sushi and sashimi). And which just happens to be one of the most popular and heavily trafficked restaurants to open in Miami the past couple years.

In fairness, though, Sugarcane uses a slash between ingredients on the menu. Tikl uses a backslash.

Now, to really be fair, I should point out that while the menu format at Tikl is clearly copied from Sugarcane, the dishes are not. Even if it’s in the same style, the particulars are certainly different. And none of this ultimately has anything to do with how well they’re actually executing what’s on that menu. But it’s impossible to look at Tikl’s menu and not realize that it’s trying to be the Sugarcane of Brickell.

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Monday, July 30, 2012

Goes Around ... Comes Around - Etxebarri Edition

Clearly I'm not the only fan here in Miami of Asador Etxebarri, the wonderful temple of grilling in Spain's Basque Country that I visited a couple years ago:

Gambas de Palamos, Asador Etxebarri, Axpe, Spain, September 2010

Florida Soft Shell Shrimp, Tuyo, Miami, Florida, July 2012

Mejillones a la Brasa, Asador Etxebarri, Axpe Spain, September 2010

Mediterranean Mussels, The Bazaar, Miami, Florida, July 2012

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cobaya "Dunch" with Chef Micah Edelstein

Many people probably think it's just a gimmick that we refer to our Cobaya events as "experiments." But we really do push chefs to push themselves. This is not simply an excuse to trot out the same old dishes in a fixed price, tasting menu format. If there's one "rule," it's that it has to be an off-menu experience.

What diners may not fully appreciate is that oftentimes, this means they're getting a dish that the chef not only has never served before - sometimes they've never even made it before. And since we're rarely working with chefs who have the opportunity or budget to do a full dry run in advance, often these really are experiments of a sort, and the diners really are the guinea pigs.

That was undoubtedly the case with our most recent Cobaya event, a late brunch ("Dunch") with Chef Micah Edelstein of neMesis Urban Bistro in downtown Miami. Which, to me, makes the meal she put together all the more remarkable.

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya "Dunch" at neMesis flickr set)

We wanted to do it on Sunday, when we could take over neMesis' cozy dining room, and that quickly turned to thoughts of brunch. Brunch became "Dunch" (dinner / lunch) when we proposed a noon-ish start time, to which Micah responded "I don't get up before noon on Sunday!" Though we didn't start until 3pm, I suspect she had to rise a little earlier than usual anyway.

The menus on the tables were actually the final iteration of sketches Chef Edelstein prepared both to brainstorm dishes and game-plan their preparation, an interesting insight into both the creative and logistical processes of putting together the meal. Afterwards, she shared with me some earlier versions, which showed how some dishes changed and evolved, and also how each of the components was highlighted or crossed off as it was prepared. I'll show each course here with both the sketch and the final realization.

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Return of Naoe - Downtown Miami

bento box

When I wrote about my first experience of stumbling upon Naoe, I described it as seeming almost like a dream: a tiny 17-seat jewel-box of a restaurant serving a bento box of gorgeous Japanese dishes followed by a procession of pristine nigiri, all entirely "omakase" or chef's choice. But it was real, and I went back several more times just to make sure. (You can find recaps of some subsequent meals here, here and here.)

In December, Naoe had to vacate its Sunny Isles space when the landlord hatched other plans for it. They closed up shop and began work on a new space on Brickell Key, adjacent to downtown Miami. The new venue reopened last week, and I made my first visit this past Thursday - exactly three years after my first post on Naoe.

I'm not usually a superstitious person, but I do worry that a place can lose its "mojo" when it moves locations.[1] Any such worries about Naoe were absolved by my visit to Naoe on Brickell Key.

Walking into the new space was again something like a dream: it looks almost like a mirror image of the original spot in Sunny Isles. It has the same smooth hinoki wood bar stretching in front of the open kitchen; it has the same austere grey-brown tones throughout the dining room; it has the same pinpoint halogens which literally put the spotlight on the food. There's actually less seating than there was in the original spot, and Chef Kevin Cory will only be serving eight diners per service.[2]

There have been some other minor tweaks. Instead of the $26 bento box followed by nigiri priced by the piece, Naoe now offers an $85 omakase menu that includes both the bento box and eight pieces of nigiri. Additional rounds (either repeat visits to items served earlier or, possibly, some different items) can then be added a la carte. Though bargain-hunters might rue the loss of the $26 bento, I have trouble believing anyone ever went to Naoe without sampling some sushi as well. If they did, they were missing out.

(You can see all my pictures in this Naoe April 26, 2012 flickr set).

The food is every bit as good as it ever was:

bento box

Bento box with sashimi of cobia and scallop mantle, with Japanese seaweed, shiso and freshly grated wasabi; tsubugai (whelk, or sea snail); fried whiting; wilted mizuna; tofu with uni sauce and walnuts; sardine and portobello mushroom rice with daikon nukazuke.[3] A bowl of miso soup with puréed corn was served alongside.

salmon belly

Salmon belly nigiri. Always the first nigiri served at Naoe. Perenially one of my favorite bites.

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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

neMesis Urban Bistro - Downtown Miami

neMesis Urban Bistro

I was sure I was going to hate neMesis Urban Bistro. The menu was precious, cutesy, and scattered - "heavenly guava cardamom dipping sauce," "Tuscan sushi," "cowardly (no nuts) pesto"? The chef, while professing a sense of humor, seemed awfully thin-skinned when the attempts at humor were directed the other way, banishing the Miami New Times' dining critic for poking fun of the restaurant's name.[1] I was, in a word, dubious.

I was also wrong. Everything about neMesis is quirky - the capitalization of the name, the decoration, the dishes, the chef - but most of it is also quite delicious.

neMesis Urban Bistro

(You can see all my pictures in this neMesis Urban Bistro flickr set).

The chef is Micah Edelstein,[2] and neMesis very clearly bears her imprint in just about every respect, right down to the front door, with an inscription that is more warning than welcome:
"Those lacking imagination and a sense of humor are not welcome at neMesis. Please return from whence you came, and do not darken our door again!"
The dining room is tiny (maybe 30 seats), and fittingly for a place that shares space with LegalArt (a non-profit organization that provides artists access to legal services), it abounds with artwork - a constellation of colorful parasols dangles upside down over the entranceway, a sculpture of men's ties juts out at rakish angles over the windows,[3] large-scale photographic portraits hang throughout.

Chef Edelstein, when she's not in the open kitchen, is often at the tables, bringing out the dishes and telling the stories behind them. Those stories cover lots of territory, ranging from a South African family background to travels around the world to geographically untethered experiments like house-brewed coffee-infused beer (like many things here, surprisingly good). If you're lucky, you'll also be graced with the presence of her young daughter Matilda, and possibly even an art exhibition or magic show.

The menu is divided into "Sexy Nibbles," "Cool Couples," "Main Attractions," and "Happy Endings," and it pains me to write that almost as much as it pains the servers to recite it. But lets get past the preciosity and focus on what's on the plate.


Foccacia, topped with hibiscus-infused mascarpone cheese, caramelized shallots, and a sprinkle of black lava salt, is emblematic of Chef Edelstein's style. It sounds unlikely, it's all over the place at once, and it actually works. The foccacia itself is delightfully light and fluffy, the creamy mascarpone is given a subtle, zesty lift from the citrusy, floral hibiscus, with the jammy shallots providing a sweet/savory anchor. You've not experienced these flavors in this combination before, but it comes off as natural rather than forced, as if they were meant to be together.

duck potstickers

Ditto for the duck potstickers with the aforementioned "heavenly guava cardamom dipping sauce." Like many things at neMesis, this reads sweet, but the finished dish is fairly well balanced. Other than in Indian cuisine, cardamom doesn't get invited to many parties, and when it shows up it can sometimes dominate the conversation. But here it's managed well, its bright, resinous, slightly medicinal flavor, in combination with the aromatic guava, cutting the richness of the braised duck filling.

vegetable samosas

The crispy, oven-baked vegetable samosas likewise get brightened up by a finely diced melon chutney. And those little yellow flowers are not mere decoration - the flowering tarragon provides another herbaceous, anise-y element to the plate.

neMesis salad

The salad at neMesis changes from day to day depending on what ingredients are floating around the kitchen. On one occasion the tangle of greens and sprouts was studded with delicious lardons of house-made lamb bacon. More recently, it came with a sprinkle of garam masala spiced pecans, slivers of avocado and grapefruit, shards of aged parmesan cheese, a sour orange vinaigrette, and a couple vibrant red-orange pimentos biquinho, Brazilian peppers preserved in vinegar that pack lots of flavor and a little heat.

These unexpected bursts of flavor are characteristic of Chef Edelstein's cooking. She paints with a different spice palette than most of us are accustomed to. While some of it is pure creative whimsy, much appears to  derive from the flavors of South African cuisine, which itself is a hodge-podge of indigenous, Cape Dutch, Afrikaner, Indian, British and Portuguese influences.

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Monday, December 19, 2011

CobayAzul (a/k/a A.B.C. - Azul Bizarre Cobaya)


The basic idea behind Cobaya is a simple one: let chefs cook whatever they want, for diners who want to experience it. The execution of that idea can sometimes become very elaborate. It did at Azul earlier this week, where Chef Joel Huff and his crew assembled an eight-course dinner that was often as complex as it was flavorful.

Another of the ideas behind Cobaya is to highlight chefs who may not be getting the attention they deserve for doing interesting, creative, inspired work in Miami. This latest dinner was another good example. Azul is one of Miami's few "fine dining" spots, and some great talent has worked there - its first executive chef was Michelle Bernstein, who spent four years there before going off on her own, when the talented Clay Conley took over - but like many hotel restaurants, it's a place that's more popular for visitors than locals.

When Chef Huff took over Azul this year, we quickly put it on the list of places that we thought could fit with Cobaya. Huff helped open up José Andres' Bazaar in Los Angeles, his menu at Azul was a fascinating read, and his sous chef, Brad Kilgore, was posting some great things on his blog, "The Power of a Passion," about what was going on in the kitchen. We were able to set up a dinner, and as usual, gave the chef free reign to create the menu and format.

An additional twist was introduced when we were contacted by a producer for Andrew Zimmern's show, "Bizarre Foods." They were going to be in Miami for a week, and were interested in shooting one of our dinners. The Azul dinner happened to be during the time they were in town. I'll confess, I had very ambivalent feelings about this. Truth is, we don't market or publicize these events at all other than by emails, blog posts and twitter; we make no money from it (everything collected goes straight to the chefs, and the organizers pay for their own seats too); and the group is, purposefully, very self-selecting. There are only so many people who are willing to show up for a dinner knowing absolutely nothing other than how much it will cost. We like it that way.

But when we talked it over with the restaurant, they were excited, and we thought it a worthwhile opportunity to show a larger audience the potential range of dining experiences in Miami. Watching Anthony Bourdain's Miami episode of  "The Layover" sadly confirmed that even as experienced an eater as Bourdain can still have a viewpoint of Miami that's based almost entirely on Miami Vice (a 25-year old TV show) and Grand Theft Auto Vice City (a 10-year old video game that mimicked the look and feel of the 25-year old TV show). It's kind of like doing an episode on San Francisco that's informed exclusively by having watched Big Trouble in Little China.[1]

Though the lights and cameras were inevitably something of a distraction, Zimmern and the Bizarre Foods crew (and Zimmern's guest Lee Schrager) were overall very well-behaved party-crashers. Zimmern himself, both when doing his routines for the camera and off, was genuinely curious, interested and engaged, passionate in his discussions about food, and effusive in his appreciation. It will be interesting to see how it comes out on the screen.

Here, in the meantime, is my take on our meal. You can see all my pictures from the dinner in this CobayAzul flickr set.

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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

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Thursday, September 15, 2011

Phuc Yea! - Pop-Up Downtown Miami

Phuc Yea! table

I usually try to give a restaurant at least a couple of visits and a couple of months before writing about it. But with Phuc Yea!, a Vietnamese pop-up restaurant slated to be open only a few months total, that may be too late for the information to be of much use. Phuc Yea! doesn't follow the rules of a normal restaurant, and so my review won't either.

Official opening night was last Thursday, and I was there. We had a great meal, basically eating our way through the entire menu and then back again. You should go and do the same.

I gave a bit of a preview last week and won't repeat what's said there. But a bit of nitty gritty before talking about the food. Phuc Yea! is operating out of the "Crown Bistro" space located within the Ingraham Building downtown, across from the Gusman Center. There is no signage outside on the building for either Phuc Yea! or Crown Bistro. You get to it via SE 2nd Avenue, where there is an entrance just north of the main entrance to the office building, which leads into a corridor with mostly vacant retail space and the restaurant at the end.

It is a typical downtown lunch spot - meaning, completely nondescript and lacking in personality. The Phuc Yea! crew (Aniece Meinhold, Cesar Zapata and Daniel Treiman) have "spruced it up" by adding some curtains apparently inspired by an anime featuring an innocent big-eyed young girl and an angry Viking spirit. It's not exactly Extreme Makeover: Home Edition material, though it has its own unique charm. But the whole point of a pop-up is the food, not the decor, and happily, their talents in the kitchen vastly exceed their interior decorating skills.

Phuc Yea! menu

(You can see the full set of pictures in this Phuc Yea! flickr set)

Our table was debating our choices among the first section of the menu (labeled simply "1 - một") until finally taking the easy route and ordering everything (except the pickles, which we knew would be coming as an accompaniment to one of the larger dishes later).

Oodles of Noodles

Of these, the dish that really stood out, that we were craving more of before we even finished - that we wound up getting at least two more orders of - was the bánh cuốn. I've often seen this translated as "pork rolling cake," though Phuc Yea! dubs it "Oodles of Noodles."

It features chewy rice flour crepes, rolled jelly-roll style, and in this iteration, topped with a cornucopia of ingredients: bits of roast pork, shreds of wood ear mushrooms, fresh bean sprouts, crispy fried shallots, nubs of salty pork terrine, a spray of fresh cilantro and mint, all anchored by a deceptively light-hued sauce rich with the potent umami blast of nước mắm, or Vietnamese fish sauce. Every bite makes a play to different taste receptors, hitting multiple notes at once, but ultimately achieving balance. It was a great dish.

(continued ...)

Monday, September 5, 2011

Phuc Me? Phuc You!

Several weeks ago, I was disappointed to hear that Aniece Meinhold and Cesar Zapata had packed their bags and left Blue Piano. I'd only gotten in once to the pocket-sized wine bar and music lounge just north of the Design District, but was very pleasantly surprised by the well-selected wines and the creative and tasty tapas-style bites while Aniece was running the bar and Cesar was in the kitchen.

Silver lining and whatnot, Aniece and Cesar, along with Daniel Treiman (chef and occasional Short Order and Eater Miami contributor) are now teaming up to do Phuc Yea!, a modern Vietnamese pop-up restaurant that will have a 3-month run in downtown Miami.

Launch date is this Thursday September 8, after which they will be up and running Tuesday - Saturday from 5:30pm - 10:30pm until November. Phuc Yea! will be setting up camp in the Crown Bistro, located inside the Ingraham Building in downtown Miami (19 SE 2nd Avenue).

Some preview menu highlights include mini banh mi sandwiches with roast pork and house-made cha lua; thit bo kho, a Vietnamese beef jerky they've redubbed "Viet Cowboy Snack;" banh cuon (a/k/a rolling cake, a rice crepe wrapped around pork); caramelized pork riblets; "Nam Style Charcuterie;" and a few larger plates of char siu style pork, confit duck or fried snapper served with rice and a "table salad" of lettuces, greens, herbs and pickles. You can see the whole Week 1 menu here.

(continued ...)

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Cobaya 31 - Area 31 with Chef E. Michael Reidt

Cobaya 31

It's always exciting when we have the chance to get a nationally recognized chef like Michelle Bernstein to cook for Cobaya, like we did last month. But for me it's equally exciting when we can find someone who may not be on everyone's radar screen already. From the number of our diners who weren't familiar with Chef E. Michael Reidt, or hadn't been to Area 31 at all, our dinner this past Monday would fall into the latter category. I hope they feel like they've made a happy discovery.

Area 31, a restaurant with a sustainable seafood theme, opened about two years ago; but being hidden away on the 16th floor of the Epic Hotel in downtown Miami it can easily elude notice, particularly by locals. John Critchley was the chef until about six months ago, when he departed for Washington DC (he's now at Urbana) and was replaced here by Chef Reidt (who was traded from Baltimore's B & O American Brasserie).[1] Chef Reidt actually has some Miami connections from earlier in his career: ten years ago he was the chef at Wish on South Beach.[2]

Chowfather, a fellow Cobaya instigator, was particularly excited about having Chef Reidt do a dinner for us and was instrumental in making this one happen. And Chef Reidt really delivered. Here's our menu for the evening (you can see all my pictures in this Cobaya 31 flickr set):

Cobaya 31 menu

Amuse Bouche
Heirloom Tomatoes, Peaches, Truffle Cheese, Flowering Basil
Roederer NV Brut Premier

Cobia Ceviche
Pressed Avocado, Puffed Rice, Granny Smith Apple, Red Pepper Sorbet
Pio Cesare Cortese di Gavi 2010

Foie Gras "Fluff"
Smoked Peach, Crispy Basil Sponge, Pineapple, Tamarind Gastrique
"Cobaya Cocktail"

Maine Lobster, Green Asparagus, Grapefruit, Vanilla Turnips
Luca Chardonnay 2007

Diver Scallop
Crab, Farro, Chorizo, English Peas, Coconut Broth
Turkey Flats Rose 2008

Sous Vide Duck
Confit Pork Belly, Carrot, Curry, Pistachio
Bell Syrah 2007

Dark Chocolate
Truffles, Dehydrated Mousse, Yogurt, Cherry Sorbet
Lindeman's Framboise Lambic

amuse bouche

Starting with the amuse bouche, Chef Reidt encouraged us to really dive into the experience, and in this instance to literally stick our noses right down into the bowl. It was a sensible instruction, as the flowering basil from Paradise Farms offered up a potent spicy fragrance. The basil was the highlight of a simple, pure composition of heirloom tomatoes, slivered peaches, a couple thin shards of truffle cheese, and pea tendrils, floating in a limpid tomato water. Crisp, racy Roederer NV Brut Premier Champagne played along well (and the wine pairings were mostly spot on with each of the courses).

(continued ...)

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Zuma - Miami - First Look

The idea of a contemporary, upscale Japanese restaurant is not exactly a revolutionary one. Indeed, it's something Nobu Matsuhisa has been doing successfully for more than two decades, with many having followed in his wake. And yet Zuma, the newly opened restaurant featuring "contemporary Japanese cuisine" in the Epic Hotel, still feels like something of a breath of fresh air. If there are other restaurants like it, there are certainly none in downtown Miami. They officially opened last week and we paid our first visit Saturday evening.

Zuma comes to Miami by way of London, after having opened other satellite offices in Hong Kong, Istanbul and Dubai. The original outpost in London has earned a goodly amount of praise, including an appearance (at #66) in San Pellegrino's annual "World's Best Restaurants" list. It styles itself as a "sophisticated twist on the traditional Japanese izakaya." An izakaya is, traditionally, a drinking establishment comparable to the British pub which also serves food, typically in small portions often referred to as "Japanese tapas." Here, izakaya describes the menu much more accurately than it does the venue, which, unlike the typically humble Japanese drinking den, is lofty and ambitious.

Miami's Zuma, located in the lobby floor of the Epic, is a cavernous space done up in a modern style in many shades of beige. The room is open two, even three stories up in places, with square panels suspended from the ceiling to break up the expanse, and floor-to-ceiling windows that look out onto the Miami River. There's a sizable bar lounge area in front, behind which are tables (mostly rounds, and well-spaced) as well as a robata station and then a sushi bar. It's a visually interesting space even if it does still retain a touch of "hotel restaurant" feel to it.

The menu features selections of sashimi, nigiri and maki, a variety of small plates, as well as several more substantial main-course-sized items. Food comes either from the sushi bar, the robata grill, or the kitchen, and dishes are brought out to the table continuously over the course of the meal, rather than as appetizer and then entrée. If Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill had not opened several months earlier, or if Zuma had not already adopted this format at its other restaurants, surely someone would be accusing one of copying from the other. Instead, we can attribute it to a case of parallel independent development.

Our table's order covered items from each of the different kitchen stations. We started with their house-made tofu ($8), served with traditional D.I.Y. condiments - wasabi, ginger, green onions, toasted sesame seeds, as well as a savory barley miso (apologies, incidentally for the lousy iPhone pics). If you think you don't like tofu, this version may well change your mind. It has all the luxurious, creamy richness of a good burrata, yet remains light and clean-tasting. The barley miso was delicious, though it may have been too powerful a companion for the tofu. If this was not quite as good as the house-made tofu I had at Aburiya Raku in Las Vegas, it was certainly close.

(continued ...)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

But Wait There's More ...

Another interesting opening, Olé Tapas in the Four Seasons on Brickell Avenue. With opening hours 7am - 7pm, this will be tough for anyone other than Brickellites to get to, but the menu, with a solid lineup of traditional tapas, all priced under $10, looks good to me.

And let's welcome a new face to the neighborhood: Eater Miami, a branch of the new, megalithic Eater National, edited by local scenester Lesley Abravanel. She's clearly been busy, with about a bazillion posts already up just in the past 24 hours!

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Eos - Downtown Miami

I may have come across as not so warm to Eos, the new restaurant in the Viceroy Hotel from the Michael Psilakis/Donatella Arpaia team. But, despite my mixed feelings about big hotel restaurants from out-of-town chefs, I was pretty excited by the preview menu I saw and was looking forward to trying it. We finally did so this weekend.

Actually, we started the evening at "Club 50," the lounge on the 50th floor of the Viceroy Hotel, which itself is just a small part of the Phillipe Starck designed Icon Brickell Tower development (the Viceroy's website actually says the club is for Icon members and hotel guests only - whoops!). The Kelly Wearstler-designed space is unique, combining 1930's era shapes with a 1970's era color palette (black and white marble floors, teal walls, lime green chairs) for a rather compelling Goldfinger-esque effect. There was a familiar face behind the bar - the former bartender from Sra. Martinez (and before that Michy's), whose name, I'm embarassed to admit, escapes me (my bar tab said "Freddy" but that doesn't sound right). I tried a "Viceroy Old Fashioned," a variation on the traditional drink made here with Ron Zacapa Centenario 23, a Guatemalan rum made with from a blend of 6 to 23 year old rums aged in former Bourbon, sherry and Pedro Ximenez barrels, along with a dash of simple syrup, bitters, and grapefruit and lime peels. It was a good drink, a little lighter on its feet than the traditional bourbon version. Mrs. F liked their take on a pisco sour.

The restaurant was somewhat challenging to locate. We went down to the 15th floor, and then had to pass through some unmarked black doors and around a hallway to find it (it may be easier if you go directly from another set of elevators from the hotel lobby). From the receptionist's desk, we wound around yet another hallway and eventually ended up in the restaurant, also done up in similar style by Kelly Wearstler with one wall of horseshoe banquettes and a few long rows of tables. By 8-9 o'clock the room was roughly half full (it's a pretty sizable space) and had a decent buzz without being terribly noisy.

The menu, created by New York wunderkind Michael Psilakis, is almost all small plates, priced mostly in a range of $10-15, which stay true to his reinvented contemporary Greek stylings. A good number of these are raw fish items with unusual pairings (many ambiguously labelled as "sushi/sashimi" - more on that below), supplemented by several vegetable items, and some cooked fish and meat dishes. There's also a short listing of larger fish and meat items which can be had as an entree or to split. Our waiter suggested ordering about 4 of the small dishes each for a meal or a couple and a larger item as an entree. We stuck with the small plates and had nairagi and salmon "sushi/sashimi", a botan ebi ceviche, a cheese plate, smoked octopus, lobster and uni risotto, and a spiedini sampler.

We weren't sure when we ordered the "sushi/sashimi" items whether this was intended as an "Option A and B" or a generic descriptor (we said "sushi" just to find out). After all, sushi really refers to rice (and more broadly to various items served atop rice), whereas sashimi is sliced raw fish sans rice. It turned out not to make a difference what we said, as each of these brought three strips of raw fish (no rice) bedecked with their unusual pairings. Chopsticks were brought out for eating these. The nairagi (a Hawaiian striped marlin, whose flesh has a whitish-pink hue) was very nice - fresh, a bit meaty and firm like a swordfish, and the pairing elements (pistachio, apricot and speck) worked nicely, the predominant one being the crisped-up speck.

The salmon, on the other hand, was an unmitigated disappointment - fishy and oversalted. I couldn't even tell you whether the unusual accompaniments of mastic (a resin derived from a Greek evergreen tree), rhubarb and pickled mushroom might have been successful, as the quality of the fish and overseasoning made it impossible to notice anything else.

The botan ebi (Japanese prawn) ceviche, spiked with cubes of papaya, was delicate and balanced, with the large dice of shrimp still tender, but not very exciting. The presentation, in a tubelike elongated glass bowl, was beautiful but did not completely distract from the fact that this was a rather parsimonious serving for $12.

The cheese plate which followed was decent but unexceptional. Three cheeses - a Cabrales blue, a Brunet (a nice creamy, oozy goat cheese), and one firmer cheese which I'm not now recalling - were plated with some membrillo, some macerated raisins, and pasteli (Greek sesame candy). This last was an unusual pairing, as its super-crunchy texture and tooth-sticking qualities didn't particularly seem a good match for the cheeses.

The smoked octopus came with a dice of pineapple and batonettes of sopressata, served over skordalia (a Greek garlic and walnut sauce). The octopus was tender and flavorful and the dish was an inspired combination. I am generally a sucker for the pairing of seafood and pork products, and this was a good one, with the pineapple and skordalia both providing nice complementary notes. I would have liked more of this - and indeed, the one skinny tentacle seemed a little dainty for the $13 price tag. For $4 more, the octopus dish at Michael's Genuine offers a serving nearly 2-3 times the size (given the difference in location, it would perhaps be unfair to point out that the great $9 grilled octopus app at Anise Taverna is also probably also about 3x the portion).

The lobster and sea urchin risotto which came next was the best thing we had all night. The waiter brought a rimmed plate, on which was a raw egg yolk, a couple "tongues" of uni, and a dollop of caviar. He made a little production of breaking up the egg yolk and uni with a spoon and then, from a small pot, dished over them a rich lobster risotto, mixing it all together at the table. The little production is not just for show, as it helped preserve the uni's delicate perfume and kept it from being completely overwhelmed and overcooked. This was a luxurious dish, with the egg yolk adding further richness to an already buttery risotto. The lobster - and there was quite a bit of it - was completely tender and perfectly cooked, also not an easy feat. At $16, this dish was a fantastic value, particularly compared to some of the other items we had (though Mrs. F still claims she can make a better risotto).

The spiedini "Mia Dona" brought pork involtini (stuffed with melting cheese), quail, sweetbreads, merguez sausage, and lamb tseftalia. The sausages were the real standouts here, both the spicy merguez and the more delicate but still robust tseftalia.

Despite my kvatching about value and portions on some of the items, we ended up eating a good amount of food for about $90 and did not leave hungry (though the desserts did not interest Mrs. F anyway). A couple other nice touches - some complimentary petit fours at the end of our meal (a little muffin-like cake, a coconut marshmallow, and a passionfruit jelly); and the valet parking is fully comped by the restaurant (one of the real drags of hotel dining is having to pay for parking). Service was friendly, our waiter was helpful in guiding us on how much to order, and they did a good job of grouping the courses to pace the meal appropriately. But there were some lapses. For instance, although we were sharing almost everything and the dishes were mostly presented as "small plates", we were never given any extra plates for sharing - even when the spiedini sampler was presented on a skinny wooden plank laid across the middle of the table.

One other real oddity is that there is basically no wine list to speak of. The menu lists about 5 each of whites and reds and a few bubblies, with prices by the glass and by the bottle. I asked for a wine list, and was told this was it. I'm all in favor of the "carefully selected" school of wine lists, but that's a little ridiculous. And, if I recall correctly, not a single Greek wine on the incredibly short list, despite tremendous improvements in the quality of Greek wines of late.

I appreciated the creative menu, I always enjoy the small dishes format, and some items - the nairagi, the smoked octopus, the lobster and uni risotto - were very good, but there were definitely some misses too. It was a place I wouldn't mind going back to, but don't know that I'd actively seek to return. Unfortunately, the overall experience did little to dissuade me of my concern that we are getting the "brand" but not the talent of the famous restaurants that are opening up satellite offices here in Miami. Michael Psilakis' Anthos is one of only two Michelin starred Greek restaurants in the world. Eos is not going to be the third.

Viceroy Hotel
485 Brickell Avenue
Miami, FL 33131

Eos on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

How to Win Friends and Influence People

While it's nice to hear that chef Jason Hall of Eos, the new Michael Psilakis / Donatella Arpaia venture in the Viceroy Hotel in Miami, is excited over some funky Sardinian goat cheese aged in a suckling goat's stomach that they're putting on the menu, locals may be less pleased to hear his thoughts on Miami:

I don’t really like Miami that much. It’s OK to visit for SOBE but I want to get back to New York.

Well, thanks for visiting anyway. Not exactly the kind of stuff that disabuses me of my perception on the influx of out-of-town chefs to Miami.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Area 31 - Downtown Miami

Area 31 menu I've had some less than kind things to say about the recent influx of carpet-bagging chefs and high-end hotel restaurants to Miami. But Area 31, in the new Epic Hotel downtown, seemed to be doing things a little differently. Though the chef hails from Boston, most of the food comes from much closer. The restaurant is named after a designation from the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization of the fishing area off the coast of Florida and stretching down to parts of Central and South America, and much of the seafood-centric menu (sorry for the terrible Blackberry photo) is sourced from the namesake region.

The Epic is run by the Kimpton Group, which happens to be one of my favorite hotel chains, as they typically manage to give every hotel a unique, non-chain feel, and also often make a real effort to bring good restaurants into their hotels, places that would be worth a visit even if you're not staying there. The Epic is a lot more grandiose than any other Kimpton hotel I've been to, but this is Miami, after all. The restaurant is up on the 16th floor, providing views primarily across the Miami River and down Brickell Avenue, but also out to Biscayne Bay, particularly from the sizable (but windy) outdoor area.

Area 31's menu is, unsurprisingly, heavy on the fish and seafood, but also shows a distinctly Italian slant. There are about 5-6 "crudos" (various raw or near-raw ceviche and tiradito type items), another half-dozen or so salads and cooked appetizers, about 5-6 fish available simply grilled with a choice of different sauces, about 5 pasta dishes, and then several entrees (fish, fowl and larger beasts) and a number of vegetable sides too.

Even though the seafood is clearly the focus here, I was very tempted by an appetizer of escargot, pork belly and carrots, but alas it was not available. Just as well, I instead shifted gears and went instead with an octopus "crudo," which brought a ceviche-like mix of thinly sliced shingles of octopus, fresh hearts of palm, slivers of kumquat, and an unadvertised bonus of thin slices of lightly marinated mackerel, bathing in a coconut milk spiked with citrus juices. This was an absolutely beautiful combination. I'm a big fan of kumquat, and its tart, slightly bitter pucker was a great contrast to the not-overwhelming sweetness of the coconut milk. The flavor profiles, particularly with the hint of sweetness to the marinade and the boldness of the thinly sliced whole citrus, were actually very similar to the octopus ceviche often served at Yakko-San. Mrs. F started with a beet salad with avocado and pistachio, which I found underwhelming.

I followed with a red drum, seared and served with a parsley root puree, caramelized cipollini onions, and pumpernickel crumbs, along with (again, unadvertised) thin discs of golden beet (I think?) that were infused with vanilla aroma and flavor. The fish's skin had a perfect crispy sear, but the meat itself was just a touch dry. I loved the accompaniments, especially the pumpernickel crumbs, which provided a nice, deep savory pairing with the fish, and the vanilla was a nice touch. Mrs. F had the sepia (a large cuttlefish) from the simply prepared "Ocean to Table" section of the menu. It was indeed simply prepared, grilled (a tiny bit under-cooked said Mrs. F) and served with a salsa verde that provided a nice burst of herbs and garlic. This was also priced pretty darn reasonably at $16. (The "Ocean to Table" section of the menu is all very reasonably priced, with options ranging from $15 for mahi mahi to $22 for red drum, though I believe this comes with smaller portion sizes as well). One disappointment was that a side order of broccoli rapini, advertised on the menu as being sauteed in garlic and olive oil, instead came literally soaking in way too much melted butter.

The wine list is fairly wide-ranging without being encyclopedic, and I was happy to see one of my favorite pairings with seafood, a Txakoli (the Oreka from Talai Berri) from the Basque region of Spain, available. At $50, this is almost exactly 2.5x retail, not great but not outrageous by Miami standards. However, the list was somewhat lacking in a lot of options under $50.

Despite my railing against carpet-bagging outsiders opening up fancy restaurants in big hotels, Area 31 is actually doing a lot of things right in my book.

Area 31
Epic Hotel
270 Biscayne Boulevard Way
Miami, FL 33131

Area 31 on Urbanspoon