Showing posts with label Sunny Isles. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Sunny Isles. Show all posts

Monday, September 26, 2011

Chef Philip Ho - Sunny Isles

chef's special dumpling

People of South Florida, I have an important announcement. There is a new dim sum restaurant. In Sunny Isles. And it appears to be quite good.

This is not my usual style. I usually will give a place at least a couple of visits, and typically a couple of months after opening, before writing about it. But there is dim sum involved here, people. I love dim sum.

Dim sum options in Miami are fairly limited. Most often, we make the pilgrimage south to Tropical Chinese, which I prefer to some of the other more southerly options, Kon Chau and South Garden. Chu's Taiwan Kitchen in Coral Gables is in my weekday lunch rotation, and is also one of the few places in town that have xiao long bao, or soup dumplings. On the northern end of town we used to frequent Hong Kong Noodles, which was inconsistent, not exactly the cleanest place, and closed down a while ago; I could never get that excited over Sang's. And of course there is Hakkasan in the Fontainebleau on Miami Beach, which is excellent in quality, but expensive and limited in selection.

Enter Chef Philip Ho.

Chef Philip Ho

Thanks to a tip on the Chowhound board, I heard that a new dim sum place had opened up in Sunny Isles, in a location that was formerly occupied by one of those inexplicably ubiquitous Chinese buffet operations. It's a sizable place, probably capable of seating a hundred people, even though the room is still bisected between a dining room and the space that used to house the buffet.


They offer both pushcart service and a printed checklist style menu, the best of both worlds for partisans of the different dim sum service styles.

Chef Philip Ho menu

It was only Little Miss F and myself, so we didn't get to do a comprehensive sampling, but everything we tried was quite good and had me eager to make a return visit. We picked exclusively from the carts, which carried most, but not all, of the menu items.

(You can see all my pictures in this Chef Philip Ho flickr set).

(continued ...)

Thursday, July 29, 2010

NAOE in Pictures - A Year Later

It was a little more than a year ago that I made my first, revelatory visit to NAOE. I've been back several times since then, and each meal has been a bit different, but just as good. I brought the camera for my most recent visit, something of a one-year anniversary celebration. You can see the complete flickr set here.


The bento featured hog snapper sashimi with shiso and seaweed (the snapper freshly caught by a spearfishing friend that morning); scorpionfish (also locally caught) two ways, fried, and braised with apricot and sprinkled with white poppy seed; a silky custard with aji and shiitake mushrooms; baby carrots, gingko nuts; slow-braised, falling-apart tender pork jowl with parsnip purée and mustard sauce; bamboo rice, daikon pickles; butternut squash and miso soup.

snapper sashimi
snapper sashimi

scorpionfish, aji & shiitake custard
scorpionfish, aji, shiitake custard

As always, after the bento, a procession of nigiri.

salmon nigiri
scottish salmon nigiri

shira ebi nigiri
shira ebi nigiri

scallop nigiri
scallop nigiri

Chef Cory brings in live scallops and prepares them to order. You could see the scallop muscle still quivering after he sliced it.

(continued ...)

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Brunch Invasion

I've never been a big brunch person, particularly those where the approach seems to value quantity over quality. $50-60 and up just strikes me as a goofy amount of money to spend on the first meal of the day and I don't like feeling obligated to gorge myself like a goose getting prepped for foie gras to get my money's worth. So it's nice to find there's some new brunch options that are a lot more my speed.

BLT SteakBLT Steak on Ocean Drive is unveiling a $24 prix fixe Sunday brunch featuring, among other things, a "SoBe Burrito," ham & cheese croque monsieur or Black Angus burger with fries, along with a complimentary bloody mary, mimosa or white peach bellini. But what really got my eyes to light up was the "BLT Popover Poached Eggs," with spinach, ham, bacon, bechamel and gruyere cheese over one of their awesome popovers.

Not quite new but another good option on South Beach is the Sunday brunch at Talula, which offers a spread of salads and sweets that covers the entire bar, several different breakfasty and more savory hot items, as well as a choice of egg dishes cooked to order (I like the egg and chorizo sandwich, and the benedict with a tomato hollandaise), for only $29. Somehow their covered outdoor patio always seems a couple degrees cooler than the rest of the Beach.

Further north, I've not tried it yet but have heard good things about the Sunday brunch at Neomi's in the Trump Miami in Sunny Isles, especially if Chef Mike is doing some of his New Orleans style cooking. It's a little pricier at $39 but that includes access to their pool and beach too.

MGF&DMeanwhile, in what may be the category-killer, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink now has a Sunday brunch menu, which they'll be starting up on October 25 according to a post on Chowhound (I've not yet confirmed that tidbit of info) which I've now confirmed. The MGF&D brunch menu is actually in large part a clever re-purposing of many of the regular lunch and dinner menu items. There are some new things, like a duck confit hash with a poached egg, or a wood oven roasted duck egg in spicy tomato sauce with chickpeas and queso fresco. But some make their way over pretty much unaltered, like the wood oven roasted double egg yolk, the burrata and tomato salad, the duck rilletes, and the rabbit pate, and all the "Snacks." Still others subscribe to the sound theory that everything is better with an egg on it, such as the roasted pork shoulder with cheese grits and a parsley sauce - with a poached egg.

Then there's a whole section of "Sweets" where Pastry Chef Hedy Goldsmith gets to show her stuff, with homemade pop-tarts, doughnuts, or "Hedy's assorted favorite childhood treats," along with more customary morning fare like lemon ricotta pancakes and almond French toast.

The real kicker? There's almost nothing on the menu over $10. Surely that won't last.

Edited to add: Here's the details on the MGF&D brunch. It's starting Sunday October 25, hours will be 11am - 3pm, and the menu, as linked to above, is on the website.

BLT Steak
The Betsy Hotel
1440 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139

210 23rd Street
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Trump International Beach Resort
18001 Collins Avenue, 2nd Floor
Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160

Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
130 N.E. 40th Street
Miami, FL 33137

Monday, July 20, 2009

... and NAOE in Dine Magazine South Florida

You saw the pictures, now you can read a write-up of my last great meal at NAOE in Dine Magazine South Florida.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

NAOE in pictures

I've previously written about NAOE, which was one of my most memorable local dining experiences of the year. I've been back a couple times since and while the choices have changed, the quality was at the same level and the experience just as satisfying. Chef Cory has gotten somewhat more efficient, with only about a 20-30 minute wait for the bento box - though sampling all the nigiri he has to offer will still be a 3-4 hour affair. On my last visit earlier this week I brought a camera; this time I'll let the food do the talking. You can read my description of this meal at South Florida Dine Magazine, and you can see all the pictures on this flickr set.

the bento box.

mutton snapper sashimi
mutton snapper sashimi fresh from Haulover Marina, with an okra-miso sauce.

ankimo & persimmon with shiso leaf; steamed eggplant topped with fresh-water eel; fried citrus-marinated scallop mantle.

iwashi & tofu
iwashi (sardine, from Oregon) over organic tofu steamed in sake and sprinkled with sansho pepper.

portobello mushroom rice topped with koji-zuke daikon pickles.

slicing salmon
Chef Kevin Cory slicing Scottish salmon belly for nigiri.

grating fresh wasabi for the nigiri.

salmon belly
brushing the salmon with shoyu.

salmon belly
salmon belly nigiri.

Chef Cory skinning iwashi (sardine from Oregon).

iwashi nigiri with freshly grated ginger.

aoyagi (orange clam) nigiri brushed with orange-flavored shoyu.

shira ebi
shira ebi (tiny white shrimp) nigiri.

uni (sea urchin roe) from Oregon - possibly the best I've ever had.

uni nigiri with freshly grated wasabi over shredded nori.

madai nigiri topped with battera kombu and shiso.

iwana, shipped fresh from Japan.

sake from Chef Cory's family in Japan, and a view of the kitchen.

175 Sunny Isles Boulevard
Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160

Naoe on Urbanspoon

Monday, July 13, 2009

Paradigm Series Named "Post of the Month"

Thanks to South Florida Daily Blog and its readers for voting the three part series documenting my experience in the kitchen for a "Paradigm" dinner at Neomi's in Sunny Isles as the June "Post of the Month."

The original links are here:

In the Test Kitchen at Paradigm (Part I) - Sunny Isles
In the Test Kitchen at Paradigm (Part II) - Sunny Isles
Lessons Learned in the Test Kitchen

Thursday, June 25, 2009

In the Test Kitchen at Paradigm (Part II) - Sunny Isles

In an earlier post, I had started to recap my experience in the kitchen of Neomi's for one of their "Paradigm" tasting menu dinners. Jacob Katel from Miami New Times now has his "Behind the Line" pictures up, and you can see all of my pix in this flickr set. Part I of the running diary left off about half-way through the dinner, which is where I'll pick up the action here.

cuban sandwich8:48 pm - as the guests are having the "refresh" course, plating starts for course VI, "cuban sandwich." It begins with a shmear of Wild Turkey honey mustard, and then a square of a fluffy "swiss miss" sponge is placed with one side near the center of the plate. A rectangle of thinly pressed bread is balanced upright, leaning on the sponge.

8:52 pm - Marianne, meanwhile, seems to be everywhere at once. She's expediting orders, she's cooking, she's plating, she's handing finished dishes to the room service guys ... nonstop. While Chefs K and Chad's attentions are focused mostly on Paradigm, she's making sure the rest of the kitchen keeps running while still helping out with most of the Paradigm dishes too.

8:57 pm - I saw the cubes of pickle-brined berkshire pork belly come out of the walk-in a couple hours ago; I don't know what's happened to them since, but they now look burnished and golden-brown and, well, downright sexy, if you go for such things. The pork goes opposite the cheese sponge and helps prop the bread up. The cheese is topped with a pickle "froth" (emulsified with soy lecithin is my guess) and then garnished with vibrant magenta bull's blood micro-greens. A sprinkle of guanciale powder (I'm guessing made by adding tapioca maltodextrin to rendered jowl bacon fat) goes over the cube of pork belly.

cuban sandwich
8:59 pm - the "cuban sandwiches" go out to the table and an extra one comes my way. I taste each of the components on their own, but that's not what this dish is really about. After all that work plating, the way to eat this is to mush it all together so the flavors can mingle. And when they do, it is indeed like a Cuban sandwich made with some really awesome pork. Steven's eyes light up when he finds out there's an extra plate for him too.

9:01 pm - it's right around now that Malka Espinel, Pastry Chef at Johnny V, shows up in the restaurant. It's like deja vu all over again as Chef Chad and Marianne start putting together a couple plates of each of the earlier courses for her and her guest to sample.


9:12 pm - a sheet pan of sliced hamachi comes out for the "tiradito," course VII. Chef Chris is putting some of his sweet potato polenta down on the plate, and Chef K follows behind him with three spirals on each plate of the vibrantly pink hamachi. Next each plate gets striped with some bright yellow aji amarillo vinaigrette, then I follow with a spinkle of toasted cancha corn on each piece of fish. Some glistening white coconut "pearls" go over the fish, and finally, a sprig of micro-cilantro.

tiradito9:18 pm - I try the tiradito. The fish is meaty, tender, and sweet, really nice hamachi. The fascinating thing about the dish is that it offers neither the acidity nor the salt that I'd typically expect of a tiradito. Rather, the extra components each seem to bring another dimension of sweetness, along with a touch of heat from the aji pepper sauce, which complements the natural sweetness of the fish. And the colors are sensational. The chefs probably won't appreciate the association, but in retrospect the pastel pink, yellow and orange make me think of Miami Vice. I could definitely see Crockett and Tubbs wearing these shades.

9:20 pm - someone notices the fried onion rings - which were supposed to be one of the components to the tiradito - still sitting on the pass behind the plating area. Doh. They make for a good snack for the kitchen. The batter uses Trisol, a product from Ferran and Albert Adria's "Texturas" line of products originated in the elBulli workshop (and Chef K poured some pisco into the mix to stick with the Peruvian tiradito theme too). The wheat starch, used in combination with regular flour, helps fried items stay crispy, and indeed these onion rings have great crunch. Even more interesting, they hold that crunch and don't get soggy or greasy for several minutes (as long as they lasted in the kitchen, anyway). Too bad they didn't make it out to the dining room.

corned skirt9:29 pm - my moment of truth is approaching. Course VIII is "corned skirt," skirt steak prepared in the manner of a corned beef, which also features (my) swiss orbs, nestled in a pumpernickel streusel, a ketchup caraway vinaigrette, "beer can cabbage," and kennebec potato chips. On his blog Chef Chad gives a good description of the inspiration and prep for the "beer can cabbage." All I can say is "mmm, chicken skin." He showed me one of the whole heads before service and it is indeed an awesome sight to behold.

9:37 pm - the corned skirts go out to the table and I sample. The skirt steak has a great texture, a fantastic crimson color, and is wonderfully juicy, but has soaked up too much salt from the brine. Chef Chad is already making mental notes for next time to adjust the brining time. The cabbage shows some promise but also, I think, needs some tweaking. It seems to have picked up some bitterness either from the beer or the smoking, and the texture falls undecidedly somewhere between tender and crisp. And my swiss cheese orbs? They're looking a little more spherical, and they hold up on the plate OK, but I find that the exterior membrane is too thin (like a pudding skin) and they're too loose and liquid inside. Needed more time in the alginate bath to form a thicker exterior. Perhaps I'm my own worst critic, but the pride of creation is quickly tempered by the frustration of knowing something could be better.

corned skirt

9:43 pm - we're starting the move into the sweet side of the menu, but gradually. One of the common threads of many contemporary cooking approaches is the breaking down of barriers between sweet and savory. For instance, it's one of the tenets of the "Synthesis of elBulli cuisine" (#13); it can also be seen in the menu at Alinea where subtle diagrams show where on the spectrum of savory to sweet each dish falls, or at Tailor in NYC where almost all the dishes have sweet and savory components. foie In Paradigm dinners I've had previously, there's been a "pre-dessert" that acts as a transition from savory to sweet, picking up elements of each. Here, Chef K has picked an interesting main ingredient for this transition - foie gras. Disks of a light, cold foie gras mousse are paired with several other components that further the interplay of sweet and savory - cherry relish, cherry drops (more spherification), a ribbon of banana, white chocolate, dried sherry vinegar chips, pistachio brittle, and dots of a bright green basil puree.

foie9:52 pm - the many pieces of the foie dish are assembled, even more than I've listed above. I taste, and this dish hits all the right spots. It really gets you thinking why foie is typically used to start a meal instead of to finish, particularly when it's often paired with a sweet wine like a Sauternes (which tends to throw off the palate early in a meal). So much about the foie is dessert-like: it's rich, it's creamy, it's even somewhat sweet. The other components all effectively play off this savory-sweet balancing act, but the real stand-out is the "cherry drop." Orbs of spherified cherry juice have been held - macerated, in effect - in cherry balsamic (a trick Chef K says he picked up from the Alinea cookbook, noticing that the recipes often called for spheres to be held in a flavored liquid). The orbs clearly pick up the vibrant flavor of the vinegar and give a sweet-sour burst that is the highlight of the dish for me.

yogurt10:05 pm - Pastry Chef Fabian's time has arrived, and he begins assembling the first dessert. I know from prior experience that even Chefs K and Chad rarely have much of a clue exactly what to expect from Chef Fabian until he starts plating. He is a man of talent and mystery and I'm always intrigued to see what he has in store. The first dessert, course X, is described as "yogurt, toffee foam, lime air, pineapple glass, raspberry textures, red pepper streusel." I see what's going down on the plate and am struggling to connnect all the dots. There's a translucent golden round, which he's topped with a red dab of something, then some pearly white yogurt spheres go over that, then a squirt of a toffee foam, then a spoonful of a lighter air (the lime, I assume), then a couple of barely-there tuiles with black sesame seeds. Then the assistant pastry chef Deborah comes around and is grating what I'd swear is a gigantic red beet over the top of it. The "beet" turns out to be a frozen raspberry dough which I think Chef Fabian says also has some almond paste in it.


10:28 pm - at some points during the course of the service, the plates are lined up just about ready to go and the kitchen is waiting for the diners to finish and the servers to clear; at other times, the waitstaff are gathered and waiting impatiently for the next course to make its way out as the chefs finish plating. But other than these between-course intervals, the waitstaff are not usually in the kitchen. I notice now, however, that the waitstaff seem to have come right back to the kitchen after the dessert was served. It would appear that all of the servers have serious sweet cravings going on, and are lurking anxiously around hoping for a taste. There's one extra plate but, seeing their eager expressions and having been eating all night, I offer mine up as well. It is gone in about 6.5 seconds. The waitstaff are happy.

10:31 pm - the extra round of dishes for Chef Malka Espinel, who's in the restaurant tonight, have nearly caught up, and Chef K is plating the foie pre-dessert. Those pretty foie disks, though, are now melting and barely make it intact from the sheet pan where they were held on to the plate. Chef K makes a quick adjustment - the foie disks are now foie smears. All is well.

brioche10:39 pm - plating starts for the last of eleven courses. First,a line of chocolate "soil," at one end of which is balanced a round caramelized brioche soaked with honey. A scatter of "vanilla evoo rocks," a quenelle of chantilly sorbet,a dab of coconut foam, a scatter of purple-green micro-greens, and the dish is complete.

10:47 pm - the final course goes out the door to the dining room. I have a taste of the brioche. It's great - simultaneously light in texture, but dense with sweet caramelized honey, like a really good brioche pain perdu. A fine close to a fine meal.


10:53 pm - I see a step ladder next to a fridge and take a seat on it. It's the first time I've sat down in more than five hours.

11:04 pm - the dinner is done. Chef K checks to see if there is still any Estrella Damm Inedit in the house. This is a beer which Ferran Adrià helped craft specifically to accompany food, and I was fortunate enough to try it several months ago when we visited Dos Palillos, the Barcelona restaurant of Adrià's former chef de cuisine Albert Raurich. One bottle (it comes in a big 750 ml) left. Chef gets several glasses and we all toast to a successful dinner. That beer really hits the spot right about now.

11:14 pm - the chefs go out to the dining room to visit with the guests, and drag me along with them. The diners look happy and satisfied. I am in no way responsible for this, but it's a good feeling nonetheless.

11:22 pm - I return to the kitchen, glug down another far less exotic beer with Chef K and Chad, and as they're summoned back out to the dining room to schmooze the guests, I peel out of my "chef's whites" and pack up my stuff. The kitchen is pretty quiet now, and has been turned over to the hotel's night shift. I've hardly done a thing all night, and still I'm beat. I've been on my feet for nearly six straight hours, my feet hurt, my back hurts, and I could really use a shower.

So what have I learned from my "chef fantasy camp"? Coming next post - Lessons Learned in the Test Kitchen.


Trump International Beach Resort
18001 Collins Avenue
Sunny Isles Beach, FL

Neomi's Grill on Urbanspoon

Monday, June 22, 2009

In the Test Kitchen at Paradigm (Part I) - Sunny Isles

paradigm menu

This is the first of a multi-part series of posts. Click here for Part II and for Lessons Learned in the Test Kitchen.

“Paradigm – the Test Kitchen” is a once-a-week “restaurant within a restaurant” in Neomi’s Grill at the Trump International Beach Resort in Sunny Isles, featuring multi-course tasting menus that explore some of the more contemporary concepts and techniques being batted about the culinary universe these days. I’ve been wanting to write about “Paradigm” since I started this blog, but had been lacking new material. I have been to a couple of these dinners already (as well as a pre-Paradigm birthday party dinner, which in retrospect turned out to be something of a dry run for the Paradigm format), but those were several months ago and I’d already given extensive recaps of them elsewhere.

Paradigm is an “interactive” dining experience – the chefs come out to explain several of the dishes, many involve tableside final prep (smoking guns, espuma garnishes, consommé poured at the table), and some even involve diner participation like the nuoc mom “noodles” extruded from a squirt bottle into a warm broth that we had at one dinner (modeled after Wylie Dufresne’s “instant noodles” at wd~50). As an amateur cook and curious diner, I’m always interested in seeing and learning how the food actually gets to the plate. Give me a choice between a seat at a bustling kitchen bar where you’re at risk of being jostled by waiters picking up orders at the pass, or a plush banquette with white tablecloths, and I’ll take the kitchen bar every time. I like to see, and smell, and hear, the transformation from raw ingredients to finished dish; I also just enjoy watching the rough ballet of a well-coordinated kitchen.

Neomi's Chef de Cuisine Chad Galiano and I tend to have the same online reading lists, and when Grant Achatz started a discussion about open kitchens and interactive dining, it prompted some thinking. The Achatz column, and a follow up, traced the evolution and implementation of a new idea at Alinea, where a big silicon “plate” is unfurled over the entire table and the chefs come out of the kitchen to do the final assembly of a dish on the gigantic “plate.” My initial reaction to the Achatz piece was that it was interesting, but more akin to the traditional tableside service than it was to a genuine open kitchen (though seeing the pictures piqued my curiosity further). While it sounds like fun, I’m not sure that it’s what some diners – myself at least – seek in the “open kitchen” experience. It may not be true of everyone – and it may defuse some of the “mystery” of the textural and other transformations that are among the hallmarks of much contemporary cooking – but some of us actually want to see the whole process, and see the kitchen actually at work instead of putting on a show.

We traded some emails, which led to the following proposal from Executive Chef Kurtis Jantz and Chef Chad: come in for a Paradigm dinner, but there would be no seat at the table for me. Instead, I would join them in the kitchen, watch (and possibly “help”) as dishes were being prepared, and they’d make an extra plate of each dish for me and I could eat it standing up in the kitchen. As an extra bonus, Chef Christopher Windus of BlueZoo in Orlando would be in as collaborating guest chef. Now this would be an interactive dining experience. Needless to say, this was an offer I accepted eagerly.

After spending 6+ hours in the Neomi’s Grill kitchen for a Paradigm dinner service this past Friday, I have much to tell. First off, let me again express my gratitude to Chefs K, Chad and Chris, as well as the entire staff at Neomi’s, for putting up with me as I got to experience my “chef’s fantasy camp.” Everyone was tremendously friendly and accommodating. I’ve been kicking around how best to share the experience, and eventually arrived at a multi-part approach; a “running diary” a la Bill Simmons’ NBA draft diaries, and then perhaps a list of “lessons learned.”

A complete set of my pictures from the evening can be found here on flickr.

5:30 pm – I get to the restaurant, ask for Chef Chad, and he comes out and brings me around back into the kitchen for a quick tour and introductions. The kitchen is a bit of a maze and I’m thinking I should be leaving a trail of bread crumbs. Chad introduces me to the rest of the folks – Pablo working sauté, Moe working pantry, Kenold working the grill, Marianne working everywhere. Pastry Chef Fabian di Paolo pops in and out. The kitchen is about 15 degrees warmer than the restaurant, and I almost immediately break into a sweat. This is one of my great talents - Mrs. F calls me "alpaca" because I'm a heavy sweater. Howie Kleinberg's got nothing on me.

5:33 pm – a look at tonight’s menu. Eleven courses total (a little more elaborate even than the typical Paradigm dinner). Chefs K, Chad and Chris have been brainstorming on the menu for most of the past week. There are handwritten notes here and there and drawings for what plates will be used for each course. I’ve had these meals before but never really thought about the logistics in any great detail. They are confounding. Eleven courses, each of which has on average about five components, makes for more than 50 moving pieces. Wow.

5:34 pm – Chef K is in his office (I’ve seen bigger broom closets) with one of the assistant chefs, Osnel. Chef K is going on vacation for a few days and is debriefing on everything that will need to happen in his absence.

5:36 pm – Chef Mike (nice to see him back in the kitchen) brings me a chef’s jacket and apron to wear. OK, I’ll admit it. I feel pretty cool wearing a chef’s jacket. I’m like a kid at Wannadoo City. And, yes, I'm a dork.

5:38 pm – Chef Chad is ready to put me to work. At a station he’s set up a squeeze bottle filled with Emmental cheese thinned down with milk to a loose fondue consistency, a couple bowls filled with what looks like water, a tablespoon, and a spoon that looks like a metal Chinese soup spoon but slotted, with holes in the bottom. I’ve got an idea of what’s coming – spherification! One of the bowls has had some sodium alginate (a product derived from seaweed) added, producing a reaction with the calcium in the cheese (a little extra is added) so that when a blob of the cheese goes into the alginate solution it forms a firmer skin or membrane around the outside, but remains liquid in the center. Presto – a liquid-filled cheese orb! And no sharp objects involved.

spherification 1015:39 pm – Chef Chad shows me the technique of squeezing some of the cheese into a tablespoon filled with the alginate solution, then unloading into the bowl, then, after a short time to let the membrane form, scooping it with the slotted spoon into the second water bowl to hold for service. And away we go – I’m spherifying! Actually reverse spherifying, if we want to be precise (“normal” spherification adds the sodium alginate to the flavored liquid, then puts it into a calcium chloride bath; “reverse” spherification has the calcium in the liquid and uses a sodium alginate bath). I announce to noone in particular that I am going to add “molecular gastronomer” to my business card.

5:42 pm – Chef Chad introduces me to Chef Chris Windus from BlueZoo. If Chef Chris weren’t wearing chef’s whites, I would have guessed that he was an NFL linebacker. He’s got a smirk on his face that seems to say, “Who let this joker into the kitchen?” Over the course of the evening, I’m somewhat relieved to see that this may just be an expression of perpetual bemusement. Or maybe I’m letting myself off too easy.

5:54 pm – I’m still spherifying. I can only do a few of these at a time as they seem to want to stick together. And I’m nervous. Whenever I’ve seen spheres, they’ve always looked so perfectly round. Mine? Not so much. Chef Chad comes by and looks at one, kindly says “It looks like a heart.” OK, not really what we’re shooting for but still it’s cute, right? But to me it just looks like it’s got a butt crack. I’m hoping these smooth out some as they soak.

Emmental orbs6:00 pm – I’ve got about 30-some-odd Emmental cheese spheres done now. There’s only 10 diners and only one of these is going on each plate for a particular dish, but I want to give them a high margin for error. Besides, it’s fun.

6:23 pm – Jacob Katel from New Times shows up. His food porn on Short Order often makes me drool. I’m astonished to see the tiny little camera he uses for his work.

6:30 pm – feels like the calm before the storm. Marianne is working on a pistachio brittle for one of the dishes. Marie, who usually works banquet garde manger, comes in and starts helping out. I later find out she's doing this off the clock just to learn. She also gives me the “Who let this joker into the kitchen?” look.

6:36 pm – maybe for some, being an Executive Chef is all just glory, appearances at food festivals and guest judging on Top Chef. If you read Eric Ripert’s “On the Line,” for instance, you don’t get the impression he’s actually stepping behind the line and cooking all that often any more. But there’s Chef K, chopping onions. Maybe he’s just putting on a show for me.

6:42 pm – so much of this meal is planned, and indeed many components are prepared well in advance of service, and yet you always have to be ready to improvise. Chef K is unhappy with how the batter for some onion rings is setting up. It worked fine yesterday, but today it’s just soaking up oil; has me try one – it’s greasy. Going to try adding more flour but may just start from scratch.

anti-griddle6:47 pm – I notice that Chef Chris has been wheeling around the Anti-Griddle (it’s like a griddle but with cold instead of heat, so that you can quickly freeze liquids on its surface) brought down with him from Orlando and plugging it into different outlets. About 30 seconds after he flips the power switch, it makes a sputtering sound. That’s not good.

6:53 pm – Chef Chad brings me one of Chef Chris’ liquid corn ravioli to try – straight out of a buttery sauté pan. It is fantastic. The pasta texture is silky but still has some substance to it, and the corn filling is oozy, salty, sweet and bursting with fresh corn flavor. One bite and I know where I’m eating next time I’m in Orlando.

6:58 pm – Chef Chris is still hauling the Anti-Griddle from outlet to outlet, trying to find one that will make it happy. So far, no such luck.

raza' chowda'7:04 pm – Chef Chad invites me to help with assembly of the first course, the “raza’ chowda.” This dish has all the components of a clam chowder, but they’re going to be assembled in a hollow glass tube; you slurp on one end, and get all the contents in your mouth at once. Diced razor clams, tiny mirepoix dice, and a gelatinized smoked tomato water have already been assembled in the tubes. I think five of us (Chris, Kurtis, Chad, Jacob and myself) crowd into the little walk-in cooler to help set these up, or to take pix. A little “cork” of potato is stamped out for one end of the tube from planks of potato cooked sous-vide at 83C. At the table, the chefs will add a bacon foam to the tube to complete the chowder flavors. I get one to try – the flavors are spot-on and the delivery method is really clever. You first get each component one-by-one, and then as you get all of them, the flavor combination perfectly duplicates a clam chowder.

7:08 pm – Steven, the food and beverage manager, comes into the kitchen to let everyone know the Paradigm guests have started to arrive. Someone who had been to an earlier Paradigm dinner bought out the whole table for tonight. They’re also expecting Malka Espinel, Pastry Chef at Johnny V in Fort Lauderdale, to be paying a visit later tonight.

7:11 pm – Chef Chris breaks out a Level Vodka bottle that is filled with a neon-pink liquid. What is this? Bubble-Yum bubble-gum infused vodka. Pours a sample for us. Lord – keep this away from my children. It tastes just like bubble gum. Unreal. For good measure, we also try a sample of the Wild Turkey American Honey bourbon. Yes, this could be dangerous stuff.

7:16 pm – Chef Chris is still moving his Anti-Griddle from outlet to outlet, but everyone is quickly sizing up Plan B. The Anti-Griddle was going to be used to make a frozen blood orange disk for a “refresh” intermezzo course; Chef K finds a silicon hemispheric mold sheet which he cuts in half and puts in a tray of ice with some kosher salt. The blood orange puree will be scooped into the molds, laid over the ice, and then put into the freezer to set up.

7:21 pm – several things are taken out of the walk-in to come to temperature, including Shropshire blue cheese “cheesecakes” for course II. I get to sample one – fluffy cheesecake texture, vivid blue cheese flavor. This is going to get paired with a riff on buffalo wings. I think it’s going to work.

7:32 pm - Steven advises that the guests have sat down for dinner. The show is on. Meanwhile, the kitchen hums with the constant background sounds of room service and dining room orders going out. While I came for Paradigm, there’s still a hotel to feed.

7:35 pm – the chefs go out to the table to meet-n-greet and do the tableside presentation for the “raza’ chowda’” in a tube.

food party7:37 pm – Chef Chad is starting the plating for the second dish, “food party episode 1”. He explains the inspiration much better than I’ll be able to do. Sounds like Pee-Wee’s Playhouse meets Tim & Eric Awesome Show meets Iron Chef. I think I need to watch this. There is one long table in the very front of the kitchen that is used for all the assembly and plating. Chef Chad starts by making circular patterns of carrot and celery on each of the plates. These are followed by the blue cheese-cake, then a chicken “wing” lollipop (actually thigh meat molded together using Activa a/k/a transglutaminase a/k/a “meat glue”) with a semi-crispy, hot-sauce infused batter, some julienned pickled carrots over the cheesecake, and finally, a hot sauce froth.

7:45 pm – servers return from the table after the tubular chowder experience. Some of the diners are a little squeamish about it, but after trying, they all seem to enjoy it.

7:57 pm – “food party episode 1” goes out the door to the table. I sample one in the kitchen. In prior experiences I’ve been underwhelmed by dishes using “meat glue,” but this chicken lollipop sells me on its virtues. The shredded thigh meat has the intense flavor of dark meat, is incredibly juicy, and has not been so pulverized as to be unrecognizable as chicken. I’d initially thought the hot sauce flavor was coming just from the sauce, but it’s in the batter too. The rest of the flavors are spot on. I especially like the vividness of the carrot and celery drizzles on the plate. They may look pretty, but they're not just decoration.

food party

8:03 pm – Chef Chris drops back to the sauté line to warm his liquid corn ravioli.

corn ravioli8:10 pm – plating starts for course III, liquid corn ravioli over a bed of corn and spaghetti squash, with a thin, square sheet of Laughing Bird shrimp (another Activa trick). I’m invited to help with plating the shrimp sheets. They’re each already individually portioned between squares of wax paper, and just require a little flip onto the plate. Most of mine comply with only minor mangling. Fortunately, Marie notices that the squares are each also covered with a transparent sheet of acetate, and we remove it before service.

8:14 pm – ravioli are out the door. I try the fully composed dish. The ravioli is just as delicious as the one I sampled earlier (though it was more fun to pop a whole one in my mouth straight from the pan); the corn and spaghetti squash hash it’s served over adds another nice sweet vegetable component. The Laughing Bird shrimp used for the sheet, with a little bit of chive in the mix, are absolutely delicious; I’m torn as to whether the presentation and textural transformation really add anything, but polish off the dish before I can decide.

corn ravioli

8:18 pm – course IV, “hogs headless cheese” sandwiches, are getting assembled. A clamshell-shaped steamed brioche bun (similar to the ones traditionally served with Peking duck) is topped with a slice of “hogs headless cheese” – so-called because it’s a pork “head cheese” made with trotters and shoulder but no head – then paired with a rhubarb sriracha (made in house, with a nice acidic tang from the rhubarb but needing of more heat, in my opinion, if it is to call itself a sriracha sauce), julienned pickled green peaches, and a garlic scape mayo.

headless cheese8:25 pm – headless cheese sandwiches go out to the table and I get to sample one. The components are mostly Southern, and yet the flavor composition reflects a distinctly Asian profile. In fact, this is clearly a banh mi with a Southern accent. The head cheese might have been a little too bland on its own and each of the other components a little too assertive, but together – fantastic. They've made an extra of each dish for Jason from New Times too. I've got a sense he's never seen food like this before, but in addition to being a good photographer, the guy's a good sport and a good eater too. He puts away everything with glee.

refresh8:42 pm – each Paradigm menu I’ve seen has a “refresh” course in the middle – a variation on the old-school tradition of an “intermezzo,” often a sorbet, to serve as a “palate cleanser.” This time around, they go old-school with the sorbet, but new school with the flavors. Deborah, Fabian's assistant pastry chef, makes an appearance. A small bamboo serving dish gets a bit of kumquat marmalade, and little globes of the blood orange sorbet (the Plan B as a result of the non-functioning anti-griddle) and a piquillo pepper sorbet studded with black caraway seeds. These go out to the table with a pair of little chopsticks. With the extra one made for me in the kitchen, I opt to just pick up the little dish and do the whole thing like a shot. I think this is the way to go. The flavors play off each other beautifully, doing a great balancing act between savory and sweet.

Coming up next ... six more courses - and do my Emmental orbs pass the test?

Trump International Beach Resort
18001 Collins Avenue
Sunny Isles Beach, FL

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