Showing posts with label North Miami Beach. Show all posts
Showing posts with label North Miami Beach. 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 ...)

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Chef Allen's - North Miami Beach

Chef Allen's[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

Allen Susser was one of the original pioneers of what has been variously called the "Mango Gang" or "Floribbean" or "New Florida" cuisine back in the late 1980's, along with such illustrious names as Norman Van Aken, Douglas Rodriguez, Mark Militello and Jonathan Eismann. While each of his compadres has had restaurants come and go over the years, Chef Susser is now running on a 23-year stretch at his original location in North Miami Beach (n/k/a Aventura), Chef Allen's - a truly remarkable feat given the failure rate of most restaurants.

It had probably been close to a decade since I'd last been to Chef Allen's, and I'll confess that I didn't miss it that much. What had seemed creative 20 years ago instead just seemed old-hat and uninspired on my last couple visits. The restaurant, its menu, and its clientele all seemed somewhat dusty and dated. A rather formal atmosphere seemed stilted and out-of-place. Perhaps hearing the refrain of "What a drag it is getting old," about a year ago Chef Susser gave Chef Allen's a major makeover. The dining room was updated and made both more contemporary and more casual, and the menu was given a major tweak to become a "Modern Seafood Bistro." I figured it was time for a repeat visit.

Chef Susser has not abandoned the mango entirely. Indeed, with South Florida in the middle of mango season, they could be found literally everywhere: each table in the restaurant had as its centerpiece a fresh mango. And, among many clever marketing gimmicks, Chef Susser offers a free dinner for two to anyone who brings in a wheelbarrow full of mangos to the restaurant. Given what a prolific season we're having, I suspect that there have been several folks who have taken advantage of that offer.

But the menu is not as reliant on the tropical fruits that were one of the calling cards of the original "Mango Gang." Picking up on a few prevalent local trends, Chef Allen's now offers an extended selection of smaller dishes, some of which are "snack"-size and others more customary appetizer portions, with mains focusing on locally sourced sustainable seafood and steaks cooked on a wood-burning grill. For us, the most interesting sounding items all resided in the "starters" section of the menu, so that's where we stayed, ordering six items (ranging in price from $4 to $11) to share plus a vegetable side.

Devils on horseback (bacon-wrapped dates, a/k/a the Official Snack of the Design District) were wrapped with nice meaty bacon, and stuffed with Manchego cheese instead of blue as we've seen elsewhere (much to Mrs. F's satisfaction, as she doesn't like blue cheeses), and also used a fatter, plumper date than we've had in other iterations. Saffron arroncini were a very pleasant surprise, little balls of saffron-inflected risotto given a crispy coating and fried. These were smaller than most arroncini I've had (I'd say tater-tot size) which gave a nice ratio of crispy exterior to creamy rice interior; the accompanying tomato jam I found to be a little too sweet.

Caesar salad was prepared tableside in the traditional manner, a nice nostalgic touch, and a really good caesar salad to boot. The dressing was redolent with garlic, lemon and anchovy all happily competing for attention, and an untraditional addition of toasted sesame seeds contributed nice texture and flavor.[*]

A tuna poke (a traditional Hawaiian dish of cubed raw tuna somewhat similar to a ceviche), marinated with tangerine segments, soy, ginger, and mint, and sprinkled with wasabi-spiked caviar, was something of a disappointment, the cubes of tuna a little chewy, and the flavor of the citrus somewhat overwhelming. This one flop was made up for by the shrimp & grits "brûlée", a delicious dish even if it is completely unlike any lowcountry shrimp 'n' grits. Instead, wild Florida shrimp are paired with some creamy Anson Mills grits, which are supplemented with Manchego cheese, cubes of tomato, bacon lardons, and shallots, piled into a ramekin and then run under the broiler until it's toasty and browned on top. I'd swear there were some unadvertised bits of lobster meat in the mix as well. This was a delicious dish which alone was worth the trip (and definitely worth the $10 price).

<><><><>Shrimp & Grits Brulee
Shrimp & Grits Brulee, photo credit: Jacob Katel

We also liked the Kyoto clam "hot pot," a generous portion for $10 of little, firm, meaty clams, steamed open in a broth of soy, sake, scallions and red peppers, with an unorthodox addition of sweet cooked bananas. Mrs. F liked everything about the dish but the bananas - they didn't offend my sensibilities, I'd even go so far as to say I liked them. If nothing else, I appreciate the boldness of the pairing. A side of a spinach fondue was too heavy on the cream and cheese, and too light on the spinach, to be considered a bona fide "vegetable side." Though it was good, it was perhaps overwhelmingly rich, though that didn't keep me from dunking bread even after all the spinach was gone.

Entrees mostly ranged from $20-30 but were a somewhat limited and - to us, at least - unexciting selection. While fish got an entire page of the menu, including a praise-worthy statement of commitment to sustainable fish and seafood, the offerings included only four fish options (snapper, yellowfin tuna, mahi mahi, and yellowtail), a fried calamari dish, a pasta dish featuring shrimp, and, perhaps most intriguing, a "surf & turf" with grilled shrimp and beef short ribs. The non-fish entrees also play it pretty close to the vest - skirt steak with chimichurri, filet with red wine demi-glace, burger, shortribs, pork chop, chicken paillard.

But that was OK, as our multitude of starters turned out to be plenty of food to make a meal, and is the way we often like to dine. And the price was certainly fair, with the food portion of our bill being under $60. Mrs. F vetoed dessert, which is too bad as I do have fond recollections of Chef Susser's "Kit Kats" dessert. The $25 corkage fee was money well spent, as the 2002 Hudelot-Noellat Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes I brought was freaking awesome, if I may say so.

Aside from the recent menu overhaul, Chef Allen's does a good job of finding other ways to bring folks in. Throughout the summer they are offering free interactive cooking classes on Fridays from 6pm-7pm (conveniently before dinner time, you'll note), on Father's Day they're offering to let Dad cut his own steak to be grilled on their Lyonnaise wood-burning grill, and every Wednesday is "Wine Down Wednesday" with all bottles on the list offered at half price. You don't stick around for more than twenty years in the restaurant business without learning a few new tricks along the way, and it's reassuring to see that Chef Allen's keeps working on ways to keep things fresh.

Chef Allen's
19088 N.E. 29th Avenue
Aventura, FL 33180

Chef Allen's on Urbanspoon

[*]OK, Miami restaurant historians: years ago (10+) there was, briefly, a restaurant on Lincoln Road called Lure which had sushi and an odd but good Asian/Mediterranean menu. They made one of the best caesar salads I've ever had, with a tahini-based dressing and tempura-fried anchovies. The only online reference I can find to it is in this article from 1997. Any idea who was behind the place?

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Miami Pizza Crawl - Part II Recap

The second round of the "Miami Pizza Crawl" re-convened this past Sunday evening, exploring the offerings of the northerly pizzaiolos of Miami-Dade County -- Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza, Pizza Fusion, and Racks Italian Bistro. Readers of Chowhound may recall that the genesis of the Pizza Crawl came about as a result of me giving Miami Danny (a/k/a Danny Brody of the Daily Cocaine blog) a small raft of shit (more like a dinghy, maybe) over him declaring Racks' pizza the best in South Florida after they had been open approximately 24 hours. While giving Danny some grief is usually its own reward, this particular instance had the added bonus of leading to the idea of a "pizza showdown" among the many new pizzamakers cropping up around Miami. We had a big turnout last night with 28 people (including all of Family Frod for the first two rounds) and it was a fun group. Many thanks to Paula of Mango & Lime for playing coordinator for this round. You can see her recap and pictures here.

Here's the menu for the evening's festivities (given the size of the group it wasn't easy to get a taste of everything, and so I'm mostly going to recite what made impressions either favorable or not rather than try to do the usual granular recap):

Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza
"Paul & Young Ron" (with meatballs, sausage, hot peppers & ricotta)
Fresh Mozzarella, Sliced Tomato & Basil
Eggplant Marino
White Pizza
Meatball & Ricotta
Philly Cheesesteak

Pizza Fusion
Organic Pepperoni
Bruschetta (with fresh chopped tomatoes, red onion, basil, balsamic vinegar & roasted garlic)
Four Cheese & Sundried Tomato
Organic Eggplant & Fresh Mozzarella
Farmers Market (with roasted artichokes, red onion, zucchini & eggplant)
Founders' Pie (with chicken, kalamata olives, red onion & mozzarella)

Secchi (with sopressata, provolone, fiore di latte & goat cheese)
Sweet Sausage (with meatballs, onion, ricotta & grana padano)
Spinach (with prosciutto, smoked mozzarella & reggiano)
Portabello (with truffle oil, gorgonzola & speck)

I've had Anthony's pizza before, and am a fan of their crispy "well done" style. They use coal-burning ovens that they crank to 800 degrees, which cook the pies in 4 minutes. I know some people don't like getting their crust with black bits around the edges, but I don't mind it. I was disappointed, though, that the broccoli rabe and sausage pizza was "86'd" for the night and wasn't part of our tasting. Having said all that, I found most of the pies we got at Anthony's last night to be curiously underdone (by their typical standards, anyway). Maybe it was because some of them were too loaded down with toppings (the "Paul & Young Ron" in particular I thought was overloaded), but I found them surprisingly soggy. My favorite of the group was probably the plain jane pie with fresh tomato and mozzarella - perhaps because the topppings didn't dominate the crust which was still firm and crisp. I also enjoyed the flavor of the "Eggplant Marino" (supposedly Dan Marino's favorite) with thinly sliced rounds of eggplant sprinkled with parmesan, though again I thought there was too much topping to crust. All still good, but not as good as I've had there previously.

It was interesting to me to see that Anthony's was absolutely packed, with a full house and people waiting outside for tables, early on a Sunday evening despite continuing periodic downpours. Somehow one server tended to our entire table of 25 or so (a few stragglers got seated separately) and did so efficiently and with a smile. Bless her.

Next, Pizza Fusion. Pizza Fusion is a chain which started in Deerfield Beach, Florida and now has about 20 locations in Florida and elsewhere, with more in the pipeline. They have a strong focus on using organic ingredients - their sauce and their dough are supposedly all-organic, as are many of the toppings. Their large pies came in a 9"x18" rectangular shape - although they are offered with a regular white dough crust as well as a multigrain crust, we missed out on sampling the latter. While I appreciate the chain's dedication to organic ingredients, I was less appreciative of their pizzas. The crust was overwhelmed by the flavor and texture of the cornmeal on the bottom, and the toppings were, well - nebbish. The sauce was too sweet, the pepperoni didn't taste like much - particularly compared to the robust flavors of the Pizzavolante "Cacciatorini" - and none of the other vegetable toppings really stood out. This was not bad pizza by any means, it was perfectly fine - just not anything I'd go out of my way for, though I'd happily eat it in lieu of many other strip-mall options. Frod Jr. and Little Miss F are big fans of the organic Boylan's sodas, and I also appreciated the all-organic beer and wine list.

They were likewise very accomodating of our big, unwieldy group, and the restaurant has a nice look, going for the modern industrial loft feel with unfinished concrete walls, reclaimed wood tables and the like. I really am genuinely impressed by Pizza Fusion's commitment to environmental responsibility and there's much more info on it here, including things like countertops made from recycled detergent bottles, dual-flush toilets in the bathrooms, using recycled paper for their printed materials, and giving discounts to customers who recycle their pizza boxes.

We closed out the evening at Racks, and after suffering some attrition among the ranks, only sampled four of their pies. It was enough to make an impression, and the impression was pretty favorable. Racks also uses coal-burning ovens, cranked up hot enough to cook the dough and warm the toppings before they all turn to mush. They also go for the rectangular shape on their pies, though these were probably a bit smaller than what we got at Pizza Fusion, and probably smaller than the equivalent pie at Anthony's as well (though comparing the surface area of the rectangular Racks pie to the round Anthony's pie involves math skills I have long since forgotten; maybe Frod Jr. can help). The one pizza in particular that everyone seemed to lurch for as it came out was the one topped with spinach, prosciutto and smoked mozzarella, the smoky mozzarella making a nice complement to the thinly sliced prosciutto. But the sweet sausage pizza was also very good, incorporating several elements without completely messing up the toppings-to-crust ratio.

I somehow missed out on trying the Secchi, which sounded good. I was not as impressed by the portobello pizza as some, which I thought was too heavy on the cheese and also on the truffle oil (a note which is too easily overdone and generally overplayed, methinks). On a related note, I was somewhat baffled by a "special" pizza offering of a truffle pie for $34 (nearly 3 times as much as anything else on the menu). The baffling part is not so much the price (fresh truffles are expensive) as the calendar - it's June! Truffle season is typically October to March. I should have asked exactly what they were using, but it basically had to either be summer truffles (which are rather less fragrant, and dramatically less expensive, than winter truffles), or jarred truffles, but neither should command that kind of price tag. By comparison, Timo in Sunny Isles regularly lists a "black and white" pizza wich uses preserved black truffles for $17.

I also would have preferred a crispier crust to the more springy, doughy texture the Racks pizzas had on the outside crust. But - despite all the grief I gave Danny - this was very good pizza. Best pizza in South Florida? I'm not going there yet. But I enjoyed it.

Another nice discovery at Racks - Amarcord Birra Artigianale, an Italian craft beer that comes in four different styles which include a lager, a "double" pale ale, a "double" red ale and a "double" brown ale. I had the red ale which was smooth, intense, even chewy. I believe our waiter said that Racks is the only place in Miami that offers the beer, and if you let them know in advance you can even get a case to pick up from the Racks market.

While I'm not yet committing to any favorites overall, I will say that Racks certainly had the best showing of the evening. And once again, it was a pleasure to get together with the expanding population of pizza crawlers. I hope everyone had a good time.

Update: More on Pizza Crawl Part II here at (including video!) and Miami Dish. And if you're interested in participating in the next crawl join the Miami Chowdown Google Group.

Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza
17901 Biscayne Boulevard
Aventura, FL 33160

Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza on Urbanspoon

Pizza Fusion
14815 Biscayne Boulevard
North Miami Beach, FL 33160

Pizza Fusion on Urbanspoon

Racks Italian Bistro
3933 N.E. 163rd Street
North Miami Beach, FL 33160

Racks Italian Bistro on Urbanspoon

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Miami Pizza Crawl - Part II

Part I of the Miami Pizza Showdown was a rousing success, with visits to Joey's Wynwood, Pizzavolante and Andiamo reported on here, as well on Mango & Lime and Miami Dish, and this Chowhound thread. The sequel is now being released.

The northern expedition of Miami Pizza Crawl Part II (a/k/a the Return of the Pizza Crawl) will convene this Sunday, June 7, at 6:00 p.m. at Anthony's Coal Fired Pizza in Aventura, and then move to Pizza Fusion, and conclude at Racks Italian Bistro. Thanks to Paula of Mango & Lime for playing coordinator this time around.

If you want to come along, please join the Miami Chowdown Google Group and RSVP on the "Pizza Crawl Part II" thread. Hope to see you there.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Hong Kong Noodles - North Miami Beach

Let's digress from this extended digression into Spain, for a moment, and return to the original theme - Miami eats. The stretch of NE 163rd Street between US1 and I-95 is about as close as Miami comes to having a "Chinatown." It's not particularly a community in any normal sense of the word, but there is a concentration of Chinese restaurants and markets along this stretch of blacktop (as well as some of the more curious ethnic mixes of places within a few square feet of each other that you'll find in South Florida - Chinese bakery / Jamaican roti shop / Jewish deli all in the same strip mall?). For a few years we would occasionally frequent a place called "Jumbo" on the south side across from what used to be called the 163rd Street Mall (the mall's been rehabilitated and is surely called something more interesting now) for dim sum; about a half-year or so ago, Jumbo got something of a makeover and became "Hong Kong Noodles." Since then I've popped in several times, mostly for dim sum lunch. They do menu-style (i.e. no pushcarts, just check off what you want on the photocopied menu) dim sum at lunchtime, along with Chinese bbq (usually some nice ducks and pork hanging from hooks in the back of the restaurant), lots of noodle and congee dishes, plus they have tanks of live fish and seafood (crabs, lobster, a few kinds of fish) and a good number of inscrutable specials written only in Chinese on a white-board on the wall.

I love the possibility of having a dim sum place in North Miami, instead of having to trek down south to Tropical / Kon Chau / South Garden, but our dim sum experiences with "Hong Kong Noodles" have been somewhat up-and-down. On my most recent visit, the standout was a fried shrimp dumpling, wrapped in a triangular wonton, which was freshly fried, plump with moist diced shrimp, and served with a thick sweet mayo for dipping. The fun gor also seemed fresh, and the translucent wrapper had a good texture (substantial but not too gummy), but the filling, ground meat flecked with cilantro and studded with peanuts, seemed to be missing a little something flavor-wise. The pan-fried turnip cake could have been warmer, but was studded with nice bits of smoky sausage. Beef balls wrapped in bean curd had a nice fluffy texture and came out steaming hot, but were also a touch muted in flavor.

On other visits I've had similarly inconsistent experiences. One time the shrimp har gow were outstanding; another time they tasted as if they'd gone off. I've had good stuffed bean curd skins, another time they came out still cold in the middle. Tripe, supposedly with black bean sauce, was bland unless swiped vigorously through some chile oil and soy sauce. The roast duck was pretty good, and I've enjoyed the congee with pork and preserved egg. Their chicken feet were pretty good (though when Mr. Chu's on South Beach was on top of their game, I think theirs were the best in town); I've learned that while I love chicken feet, I'm not nearly as fond of duck feet (though it's nice to have a place where they're available to learn such things, and I chalk this one up purely to a matter of personal taste). They have a number of sweet dim sum options, including "Chinese donuts" (more like a big fried sweet loaf of dough) which Frod Jr. and Little Miss F enjoy.

I've found the staff there to be pretty friendly, and the price is certainly right - almost all of the dim sum items are priced at $2.95 per serving. Plus, there's probably enough exotica on the menu (to say nothing of some good "Engrish" items - "steamed sweat rice," "three nut frog") to keep any adventurous eater busy for a while. I just wish the execution could be a bit more consistent.

Hong Kong Noodles
1242 NE 163rd Street
North Miami Beach, FL
Hong Kong Noodles on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Bulldog BBQ - North Miami Beach

Howie Kleinberg is probably known to most people for his appearance on Top Chef Season 3, shot in Miami, where he was one of three local products. While Howie may be remembered best by Top Chef viewers for his abrasive manner and propensity for perspiration (given that among my talents are sweating and growing hair in inappropriate places, I can sympathize), he also seemed to cook his best when working with pork. The bulldog personality makes its appearance in the name of his new restaurant, and the affinity for pork also shows up in many items on the menu at the recently opened Bulldog BBQ.

Though the space is in an undistinguished strip mall along Biscayne Boulevard in North Miami Beach, it's actually reasonably pleasant once you step inside. It's clean and modern looking, with some red walls, simple furniture, an open kitchen with about 8 bar seats around a portion of it, and a soundtrack of guitar rock of the late '70s and early '80s that made me feel like I was back in high school. It looks like most of the 'cue items are done in a couple cabinet smokers, with ribs and chicken heated up on a grill for service and small amounts of other meats pulled throughout the night and kept warm in a steam table setup. It's not likely to please a bbq purist, but that doesn't necessarily mean it's not good eats.

On our first visit, we started with "BBQ Lettuce Wraps," which brought a pile of pulled chicken (or pork if you so choose), a pile of shredded cheese, a ramekin of scallion studded sour cream, and a few big crisp leaves of iceberg lettuce for some DIY lettuce wraps. Not the most elegant presentation, but tasty, in a slightly white-trash-y, Bennigan's kind of way. I'm not knocking it, it tasted good; Little Miss F loved it. On a return visit, I tried the cornbread-crusted oyster starter which brought three wee fried oysters, each over a little bed of diced avocado, tomato and onion, and dotted with a garlicky green aioli. The oysters were nicely crisp on the outside without being completely obliterated, and the flavors were on target, but this was an awfully dainty portion (particularly compared to some of the mammoth servings of other items). The turkey chili on the other hand was a hefty and hearty portion, with ground turkey, white beans, a layer of toasty cheddar cheese, sour cream, and crispy bits of cornbread on top (these in particular were a nice touch). Really almost a meal unto itself, I can't imagine eating a bowl of this and then moving on to a full plate of 'cue.

As for that 'cue ... a pulled pork main was decent, not stellar, very tender but a bit bland - though it perked up quite a bit when doused with some of the neon yellow mustard-y bbq sauce provided (a milder red bbq sauce is also available but this was just sweet and insipid). A hot smoked salmon was also good, distinctly but not overly smoky, and cooked nicely to a medium so that it stayed moist and tender throughout. The next time around I ordered the beef brisket, which was an outrageously humongous portion - there may have been an entire side of beef on my plate. This was not bbq brisket like I've ever had it before. Served up very wet, some of the slices had some nice deep char on the edges, but certainly no discernable smoke ring. In an interview, Howie's made clear that he's not trying to do super-traditional 'cue, and describes his brisket as "a cross between Jewish brisket and Texas brisket." An unusual goal, but I actually think he's accomplished what he set out to do. Me, I'd still probably prefer one or the other, but this still ain't all bad. Generally, though, all of the meats were somewhat bland, and it seems that if Bulldog isn't going to go hard-core on the barbecue technique, they should be working on something else to elevate the flavors some.

Mains come with coleslaw (good but unremarkable), cornbread (ditto, though the kids loved it) and a choice of one side. First time around, we went with cheddar grits and mac & cheese, and added on an order of the sweet fries. The cheddar grits were interesting, surprisingly using what I believe was whole hominy rather than ground grits, held together with a nicely gooey white cheddar. Not at all what I was expecting but I liked it quite a bit. The mac & chee was of the neon orange variety (but not out of the blue box), and used a distinctly smoky cheese which I found overpowering and somewhat redundant, what with the smoked meats and all. The sweet potato fries were OK, a bit limp (tough to avoid with sweets) but tasted fresh and well-salted.

On our second visit, we tried the "burnt end beans," which might be the most substantial side dish I've ever encountered. Containing far more than just some burnt ends (the crispy bits of brisket trimmings that don't make for great presentation but offer great flavor and texture), these beans were loaded with almost as much brisket as my plate - along with a topping of crispy fried sweet onions. It was so loaded with brisket it took me a few minutes just to find any beans, enough to possibly reach the point of overkill (somewhat ironic because I'm pretty sure I saw Howie prepping these, while I also later witnessed him riding one of the other kitchen staff for sending out over-large portions of the desserts). I brought home most of the beans and thoroughly enjoyed them reheated with a fried egg on top for breakfast.

For dessert the kids went with s'more pie and milk & cookies. The s'more pie was a dense slab of chcoolate with a graham crust, topped with a generous shmear of gooey marshmallow which gets toasted with a blowtorch. A sweet, sticky guilty pleasure, though what I believe was some shredded coconut in the pie filling was an unexpected and unnecessary addition, which also contributed a disconcerting grainy texture. Milk and cookies was just that, about a half dozen home-made cookies (chocolate chip, white chocolate chip, and butterscotch chip), which hit the spot for Little Miss F.

Beer selection was pedestrian, seems like a place that could really use even just a few carefully chosen microbrews to go with the 'cue. There are about a dozen wines, all nicely priced at under $25 / bottle.
Service was completely warm and friendly and food got out to the tables reasonably quickly on both our visits; it looked like they were doing a good job of turning the tables throughout the restaurant, impressively so for a packed house and a soft opening.

So is Bulldog BBQ going to be a barbecue mecca for the true believers of the low and slow arts? I doubt it. But while a number of the items could stand to be refined, I've still enjoyed a couple good meals there.

Bulldog BBQ
15400 Biscayne Boulevard
North Miami, FL 33160
T 305.940.9655
11am - 11pm daily

Bulldog Barbecue on Urbanspoon

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Valentine's Dinner at Hiro's Yakko-San

Here is just one small reason why I love my wife. It's Valentine's Day, we have baby-sitting, and as we head out the door, the question is, "Where should we go?" After kicking around some options and even sidling into someplace that had a romantic Valentine's prix fixe menu, Mrs. F sets down her menu and says, "Let's go to Yakko-San." Let's indeed. Because a cozy spot at the bar and some Japanese tapas are all we need to have a wonderful night.

Hiro's Yakko-San is an izakaya-style restaurant in an unassuming strip-mall location in North Miami Beach. There's sushi-bar style seating with about a dozen seats, about 15-20 tables, and no real decoration to speak of unless you count a few TVs scattered around the place (usually showing whatever sporting event is in season). The menu lists something over 100 dishes, most various tapas-style small plates, plus there's always about a dozen or so daily specials and several fresh fish specials. There is sashimi (gloriously fresh) and onigiri but no nigiri, and no maki. If you want a deep-fried roll with four different kinds of fish and cream cheese, sorry, you'll have to go elsewhere (there's always Hiro's Sushi Express next door, take-out commodity sushi which is a different beast entirely).

Because most items are fairly modest portions and pretty reasonably priced, you can order several to assemble a meal. A snapshot from our "Valentine's Dinner" last night: tofu with kimchee, a great contrast between the cold, creamy tofu and the spicy, funky kimchee; negitoro tartare (a daily special), lush, rich toro diced with scallion, topped with a generous dollop of caviar, served over shiso leaves with strips of nori for wrapping up little DIY tartare tacos; grilled local shrimp (another special), served head-on, incredibly fresh, well-salted, needing nothing at all but a tiny squeeze of lemon (don't forget to suck on the heads); grilled half-dried squid, made even better with a dip in umami-rich Kewpie mayo spiced with togarashi (I love these things, the drying giving a concentrated flavor and a somewhat chewy, but not bouncy, texture); octopus nuta-ae, sliced thin in a way that somehow renders the octopus completely tender, served over chopped scallions and greens with a mustardy miso sauce; uni sashimi, a generous serving of at least a half-dozen sea urchin "tongues," with that wonderful briny essence-of-the-ocean-with-a-hint-of-sweet-apricot creaminess.

A perfect Valentines' night - they even gave Mrs. F a rose as we headed out.

Here's a longer list of some of the many things we've tried and enjoyed - this list was compiled over the course of a few years visiting, over that time some of these items have gone off the menu, and others that were specials have now found their way onto the regular menu - with stars on some of the favorites:

-spicy miso cod or sea bass*
-flash-fried bok choi*
-hamachi usuzukuri (very thin-sliced yellowtail sashimi, to which they'll add slivers of jalapeno and ponzu)
-kabocha tempura
-maitake mushroom tempura (sometimes on the specials)*
-hamachi kama (often a special - collar of a yellowtail broiled and served w/ ponzu; a little work, but worth it for the delicious meat)
-salmon kama & belly (occasional special - outrageously rich and fatty; you'll feel like a bear fattening up for winter)
- takoyaki! (octopus dumplings; and there's a waitress who always says it like this, with the exclamation point, whenever I order it)*
-nasu buto miso itame (sauteed pork w/ eggplant and miso)*
-spicy chile shrimp
-uni & ikura pasta
-fried chicken gizzards (not bad, but not sure what the point is)
-grilled pork belly (used to be a frequent special, now on the regular menu - little slivers, nice and crispy)
-sanma (like a big sardine, grilled whole including innards - sometimes a little dry but if you like strongly flavored silver-skinned fish like sardine or mackerel, etc. it's good)
-steak w/ garlic sauce
-tongue stew
- spicy manila clams (a semi-regular special)*
-grilled fiji shrimp (they haven't had these for a while, but when they are on the specials they are absolutely delicious)
-ikura onigiri (since they don't do regular sushi, this is as close as you can get - it's like a pyramid of sushi rice stuffed inside with salmon roe - or salmon or a couple other things - with a sheet of nori wrapped around it; almost as good are the little japanese pickles that come with it)
-salmon ocha zuke (over rice w/ green tea poured over it - very refreshing)* (no longer on the menu)
-okonomiyaki (they call it a japanese pizza - an odd omelette type concoction with cabbage, fish, fish flakes and mayo - really rich and an excellent late night munchie) (no longer on the regular menu)
-jack tataki
-jack nanbanzuke (sometime special - this was surprisingly good - jack, a somewhat strong-flavored fish, fried and served cold, sort of pickled with vinegar and peppers - almost exactly like a jamaican fish escovitch)
- kimpira gobo (sauteed burdock root)
- crispy fish & onion salad
- local octopus ceviche (occasional special)*
- black pork sausage (a favorite of our kids)
- motsuni (pork intestine stew, occasional special; not for everyone)*

It's always fun to watch the open kitchen, where 3-4 chefs make almost everything other than the fried or stewed items that come from a back kitchen. It was a beautiful thing to see one of the chefs start to slice a loin of tuna and then, amidst all the chaos of a busy kitchen and full house, just stare at it intently for a minute while assessing his plan of attack. Yakko-San is open late (2am weekdays, 3am Fri-Sat) and you will frequently find local chefs and other restaurant biz folks there late or on their off-nights.

UPDATED: Yakko-San has moved, note new address below. Also, to avoid confusion, note that there is another restaurant along the 163rd St. Causeway called "Hiro." That is not Hiro's Yakko-San and is not asssociated with Yakko-San. Yakko-San is in the Intracoastal Mall, just west of the bridge over to Sunny Isles, right next to the Old Navy store.

Hiro's Yakko-San
3881 NE 163rd St.
North Miami Beach, FL

Hiro's Yakko-San on Urbanspoon