Showing posts with label Mediterranean. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mediterranean. Show all posts

Saturday, June 3, 2017

South Florida Syrian Supper Club Lunch

As much as discussions of immigration policy have dominated the news lately, I'll confess I didn't know until I read this Miami Herald story a few weeks ago that there were several dozen families of Syrian refugees who had been resettled in South Florida over the past couple years. Many have been relocated in areas where there is a bit of a community support network, like Miami Gardens, but others are in isolated areas like Homestead, making a difficult transition, after escaping from the horrors experienced in their homeland, all the more challenging.

Some local women have found a unique way to help. Shortly after President Trump signed an executive order implementing his Muslim ban, Kate Cruz was moved to action. Although she was already active in a non-profit (an organization called Project Motherpath that supports childbirth and parenting programs), her work until then had nothing to do with the Syrian refugee crisis. Still, she cold-called a local mosque in Miami Gardens and asked if there was anything she could do. They connected her with the Muslim Women's Organization of South Florida, and together they organized a "South Florida Syrian Supper Club."

It's a wonderful idea: a rotating group of Syrian women refugees prepare meals of traditional dishes in people's houses, typically for $50 per person, with the proceeds going to support the women and their families. In addition to sharing their food, they also share their stories – of what brought them here and what they've faced since arriving.

One of my work colleagues recently hosted a lunch at our office for thirty people, and it was a moving experience. Faten, Raja and Mona – with their children in tow – brought enough food to feed about three times as many people, Krista (herself a Syrian refugee) helped translate for them, Kate, along with Yasemin Saib and Sahar Shaikh of MWO, shared some more stories of what they're faced with and other ways people can help, and everyone ate incredibly well.

(You can see all the pictures in this Syrian Supper @ KTT flickr set)

This would have been worthwhile even if the food was lousy, but it was a pretty incredible feast. Some of it was familiar – kibbe balls with ground meat encased in a crisp bulgur wheat shell, smoky, creamy baba ganoush, tender grape leaves stuffed with rice, herbaceous tabbouli salad and fattoush salad garnished with toasted pita shards. Other dishes were new to me – chicken legs roasted with warm spices, served over rice studded with whole almonds toasted to a golden brown, an assortment of puffy pies filled with meat, or cheese, or generously dusted with za'atar spice. And still others had familiar names but were still different in their ways: falafel shaped like little doughnuts, chicken shawarma wrapped in thin, almost crepe-like bread, spiked with a tart green pickle and dolloped with a creamy, garlicky sauce.

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Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Cobaya Byblos with Chef Stuart Cameron

I've been meaning for some time to write about Byblos, a new-ish restaurant on South Beach in the old Shorecrest Hotel. A more expansive review will be forthcoming at some point, but the short version is this: despite my general aversion to South Beach hotel restaurants, especially those by big out-of-town restaurant groups, I think Byblos is putting out really flavorful, contemporary Middle Eastern food in a beautiful space and providing excellent service. Even shorter: I really like it.

In the meantime, here's a recap of the Cobaya dinner we held there last week with Chef Stuart Cameron, who came down from Toronto to cook for fifty of us guinea pigs who took over the upstairs dining room. I thought he and his crew did a very good job of going off-menu while still capturing the spirit of the place.

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya Byblos wtih Chef Stuart Cameron flickr set).

For a first bite, foie gras bonbons, rolled in nuts, drizzled with rose jam, and wrapped loosely in pashmak, a Persian sesame and sugar flavored cotton candy. For another little snack, a bowl of crisp-fried slivered baby artichokes, paired with an herb-infused tahini tarator sauce.

A round of raw dishes inspired by Lebanese kibbeh nayeh followed. The salmon nayeh featured diced pink salmon swimming in a jalapeño dressing, the spice level amped up even further by a green schug (a Yemenite chile paste). Even better was the grass-fed steak tartare, enriched with a silky argan oil aioli, warmed with Fresno chile peppers, brightened with dried mint, and given some textural contrast with a shower of crispy shallots. It was excellent. I like that Cameron does not shy away from spicy and bold flavors, while still keeping them in balance.

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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).

Monday, May 18, 2009

Timo Restaurant - Sunny Isles

Tourists usually think South Beach is the only place to go in the Miami area. Locals going out to dinner may have figured out that some of the best dining is now in the Design District and along the "Biscayne Corridor" where nationally known chefs like Michael Schwartz and Michelle Bernstein now ply their trade. But there are still other places where good eats can be found, and Timo, up toward the northern reaches of Miami-Dade County in Sunny Isles, is one of them.

"Timo" means "thyme" in Italian, but I believe it's also a combination of the first names of the restaurant's owners, Chef Tim Andriola and General Manager Rodrigo Martinez. Chef Andriola's resume has some of the most distinguished names in local and national kitchens - Mark Militello (exec chef at Mark's South Beach), Alan Susser (chef de cuisine at Chef Allen), stints at Chez Panisse, Charlie Trotter;[*] and Rodrigo Martinez likewise came in with some solid experience, having served for some time as the GM and beverage manager at Norman Van Aken's restaurant in Coral Gables. About 5-6 years ago they opened Timo and have been putting out great food ever since.

The restaurant is of the simple modern school of design, with lots of wood, glass and brown leather and a quietly elegant but completely unstuffy feel. There is a bar with about a dozen seats as well as about a half-dozen high-rise 2-tops, which is where we usually happily end up when showing up without reservations. (Gentlemen, and lady sports fans, a hint here: there is one flat-screen behind the bar which usually is tuned to an appropriate sporting event; pick your seat wisely and be discreet when looking over your date's shoulder). The place has a strong following among the Sunny Isles / Aventura / North Miami Beach crowd and is usually busy without being packed.

The menu has a mild but not overly pronounced Italian / Mediterranean bent and is updated fairly often (something I am convinced is key to maintaining a local following). There are usually about a half dozen salads and soups, another half dozen or so "small plates" (something they were doing before MGF&D was even a glimmer in Michael Schwartz's eye), several "gourmet" pizzas that come from a wood-burning oven, a handful of pasta dishes, and about a dozen entree choices with roughly half of those of the piscine variety. There's also a good selection of vegetable sides to choose from. Prices for starters generally range from $9-15, and almost all the entrees stay in the mid-$20s. They also offer a 4-course "tasting menu" which is a very substantial amount of food for $58. Sometimes we will do one tasting menu and add a couple additional small plates and split everything, or just order several small plates to split.

A sampling of "small plates" from a recent visit:
  • Calamari, presented as four whole baby calamaris stuffed with minced Italian hot sausage, daubed with a spicy tomato sauce and served over a bed of rich polenta. The calamari were perfectly cooked, the sausage and spice added a nice dose of heat, and the polenta made for nice ballast.
  • Scallops - wrapped with duck prosciutto and seared, plated with grilled artichokes and mushrooms, and sauced with a richly flavored and textured mushroom fonduta.
  • Open faced raviolo of escargot, a big round of silky pasta topped with a ragout of snails and fresh tomato, all drizzled with a pungent garlic butter.

Some other favorite items (some of these long gone from the menu):
  • oyster salad, with fried oysters crispy outside but still gooey within, served over a bed of frisee, white beans, and crisped pancetta;

  • crispy eggplant, layered with slices of nice mozzarella and prosciutto along with fresh yellow tomato;

  • short rib canneloni, super-rich and made even more so with a slather of truffle fonduta;

  • a salad of lightly wilted spinach and thinly slivered red onion in a mustardy dressing topped with slices of rosy seared duck breast, with a duck-liver shmeared crouton alongside;

  • calamari sauteed with chunks of salami and hot peppers;

  • sweetbreads, with bacon, honey and balsamic;

  • a great tripe stew served in a bubbling clay pot (haven't seen this one for years, I may have been the only person ordering it!);

  • pizzas, with a thin crispy crust and done in several variations (I've liked the one with porcini and sausage, and also the "black and white" with ricotta and shaved black truffles; these are a hit with the kids too);

  • fettucine with pulled chicken and mushrooms in a cream sauce was a rich treat;

  • grouper with white beans and escarole;

  • a nicely done simple skirt steak with a pile of thick steak fries is Frod Jr.'s usual meal.

Some of the vegetable sides are also very good, including the "Roman-style" peas with pancetta and tomato, and the roasted beets tossed lightly in a vinaigrette with a sprinkle of goat cheese. Like many places, I typically prefer the small dishes to the entrees. Given the neighborhood and clientele, I think there's some pressure to have pretty sizable portions (this can still be sort of the "The food was lousy - and the portions were too small!" crowd) and I find that often palate fatigue sets in, though this is mitigated somewhat by several fish options.

The service is worlds apart from typical South Beach incivility or incompetence. Most of the waitstaff have been there for years and are real pros. The wine list is also a real treat, with about 150+ bottles from around the globe, a strong focus on smaller producers and lesser known regions rather than the same ubiquitous names, and typically fairly reasonable prices - things like the St. Jean de Barroux from Cote de Ventoux, or Bodegas El Nido from Jumilla, or a nice reasonably priced Cotes du Rhone like the Deux Albion from St. Cosme. Indeed it's one of the few places where I'd almost never contemplate bringing a bottle, in part because their inventory looks a lot like mine.

17624 Collins Avenue
Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160

Timo Restaurant on Urbanspoon

[*]Here's something I didn't know. Apparently "Top Chef" Howie Kleinberg worked as a sous chef to Tim Andriola and called Andriola his "greatest inspiration in the kitchen." Make of that what you will.