Showing posts with label Upper East Side. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Upper East Side. Show all posts

Friday, June 15, 2018

Wabi Sabi by Shuji | Upper East Side (Miami)

My first taste of chef Shuji Hiyakawa's food came at an event last spring hosted by the Japanese Consulate in Miami, described as "Culinary Secrets of Traditional Washoku." "Washoku" literally means "Japanese food," but more specifically, the traditional cuisine of Japan (here's a good primer). After breaking down a whole tuna loin and making sushi of it, Chef Shuji also served a variety of other less heralded Japanese items: a seasonal dish of hotaru ika (firefly squid) with fresh bamboo shoots, yu choy in dashi broth with bonito flakes, sweet soy-braised root vegetables.

At the time, Chef Shuji, who made his way from Fukuoka, Japan to Miami by way of Philadelphia, where he had worked for several years as executive sushi chef for Morimoto, was weeks away from opening his own restaurant, Dashi. I went to Dashi shortly after it opened (you can read my first thoughts) and came away pretty impressed, albeit dismayed by the absence of a conventional sushi bar. But Dashi closed only a few months later after Hurricane Irma caused extensive damage to the River Yacht Club, where the restaurant was situated.

Fortunately, Chef Shuji had a back-up plan. Turns out he was already at work on another concept in a different space – and even better (for me, anyway), it was right along the path of my daily commute, in Miami's "Upper East Side" on N.E. 79th Street just over the Causeway from Miami Beach. In early January, Wabi Sabi by Shuji opened.

(You can see all my pictures in this Wabi Sabi by Shuji flickr set).

It's a simple but striking space, built out and decorated almost entirely by Chef Shuji himself. Across one wall sprawls a flock of multi-colored origami cranes. A table underneath is laid out with enough beautiful Japanese ceramics to serve a feast for about ten people (more on that later). Hanging from the ceiling and resting on counters are an abundance of kokedama moss ball planters. A few rough wood tables provide seating for maybe a dozen diners. At the back, there's a small kitchen island where you'll find Chef Shuji and assistant chef Maggie Hyams working away, and on some days, marketing and event coordinator Koko Makoto working the register, serving as hostess, and doing everything else that needs doing with grace and charm.

There's still no sushi bar. Rather, the idea of Wabi Sabi combines some Japanese tradition with the latest in American fast-casual trends: food in bowls. We all love food in bowls these days. Buddha bowls, poke bowls, power bowls, acai bowls – seems we'll eat anything if you put it in a bowl.[1] While some food trends are just plain stupid, this is one I can get behind: it's convenient, it's right-sized portioning, and when you put nice things in the bowl, it can be both delicious and aesthetically pleasing.

Which are also some of the things I love about Wabi Sabi. The menu at Wabi Sabi is straightforward: a choice of four different combinations of raw fish and accompaniments, over a choice of four different bases (sushi rice, a multigrain mixture, green tea soba noodles, or salad greens), with a choice of four different sauces – served in a bowl.[2] Any of the basic configurations will run you between $11 (for a vegetarian version which includes cucumber, avocado, scallion, seaweed salad, soy-marinated shiitake mushrooms, carrots and radishes) and $18 (for a fully decked out version with tuna, salmon, lump crab, tobiko, and an assortment of vegetables).

Or, for the ballers out there, there's also an "omakase" bowl, which features an ever-changing assortment of fish and seafood, much of it flown in straight from Tsukiji Market in Japan, served chirashi style over seasoned rice. That may mean blocks of fatty hamachi (yellotwail), ribbons of silky, clean kinmedai (golden-eye snapper), shimmering sayori (half-beak), creamy uni (sea urchin), silver-skinned aji (horse mackerel), house-cured iwashi (sardine) or kohada (gizzard shad), baubles of ikura (salmon roe), or any number of other possibilities, served over a bowl of seasoned rice, with seaweed salad, maybe some sprouts, maybe some soy-cured shiitake mushrooms, and a scatter of shredded nori batons.

Unlike the standard menu options, the omakase bowl is not cheap – pricing usually runs between $35 and $40, depending on what ingredients are featured that particular day. But if you add up what you would pay for a comparable sashimi or sushi order at any good sushi-ya – and the quality of the ingredients at Wabi Sabi is on par with what you'll find at the few places in Miami that fit that description – I think you'll find it to be roughly equivalent. It is also probably the easiest, most convenient way to eat some great sushi that you'll find in Miami, one that you can even take home and eat in front of the TV if you wish.

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Monday, May 28, 2018

Duck Duck Goose Trois at The Anderson

I've said here often that P.I.G. - Pork Is Good, Jeremiah Bullfrog's locally grown celebration of all things porcine, has become my favorite Miami food event. A few years ago he added a spin-off – Duck Duck Goose, starring the one protein that may come close to rivaling pork's range, versatility and deliciousness: duck. The inaugural DDG in 2016 was a blast, but I sadly missed Number 2. The birds were back for Duck Duck Goose Trois this past Sunday afternoon.

(You can see all my pictures in this Duck Duck Goose Trois flickr set.)

It didn't look like good flying weather for ducks Sunday morning, with Subtropical Storm Alberto creating a wet and windy maelstrom. But somehow, like the eye of the storm, a perfect little window of calm, sunny weather opened up at just the right time. The festivities, hosted by The Anderson bar on Miami's Upper East Side, went off without a hitch. Here are some highlights:

Duck terrine with a wild mushroom gelée, pickled sunchokes, smoked duck egg yolk and duck chicharrones from David Coupe and Josue Peña of Faena. Really beautiful technique and great flavors.

Torched miso and duck fat onigiri stuffed with miso seasoned slow cooked duck, from Katsuya Fukushima of Washington DC's Daikaya – very possibly my favorite bite of the day.

Fuqi Feipian – literallly "husband and wife lung" – done here as crispy tripe and confit duck wings laced with Szechuan chili oil from Jeremiah Bullfrog. A close rival for my favorite bite of the day, given my penchant for tripe.

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Monday, January 16, 2017

Cobaya DK with David Lanster and Kelly Moran

When we first started doing these Cobaya dinners, we saw it as, among other things, an opportunity to give fledgling young chefs an opportunity to test out their skills. So our most recent event, Experiment #68, felt something like a return to our roots: a small group (only 18 diners), a couple young chefs (only 19 years old!), outside of a restaurant (in a beautiful loft space overlooking the Biscayne Boulevard MiMo District, generously lent to us by Pietro Morelli, who also runs Made In Italy Gourmet in Wynwood).

The chefs were David Lanster and Kelly Moran, who first started doing "pop-up" dinners for family and friends when they were in high school to raise money for the Common Threads charity. They're now sophomores in college. To put that in perspective, when we first started doing these Cobaya dinners, David and Kelly were about eleven years old.

David's interests lie in the scientific aspects of cooking, while Kelly is the baker and pastry chef of the pair. But they're not diving into the culinary world with both feet quite yet: Kelly is studying at Tufts, while David is at University of Miami. So while DK Culinary Ventures is on something of a hiatus, David and Karen – with assistance from friends and former classmates – turned out an ambitious, fourteen-course dinner for us during their winter break.

(You can see all my pictures from the dinner in this Cobaya DK with David Lanster and Kelly Moran flickr set).

The meal started with a series of snacks: a "house salad" which used Ferran Adrià's spherification technique to suspend bits of tomato and carrot in an orb of lettuce juice, dressed with dashes of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and sea salt; savory pumpkin seed macarons sandwiching sautéed mushrooms, brie and celery leaves; a one-bite mojito cocktail assembled from a candied mint leaf flavored with citric acid and a rum gel; and savory, green-hued sunflower cakes topped with mandarin orange segments and chia seeds, visually mimicking their main ingredient.

A root vegetable antipasto salad was a beautiful presentation that made good use of vacuum compression, infusing each of the thinly sliced vegetables with a different flavor: the red beets with red wine, the golden beets with white wine, the parsnip with apple juice and ginger, the carrots with orange and caraway seed. They were then topped with a goat cheese gelato (yup, beets and goat cheese), and a crunchy rye bread crumble.

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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

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Monday, November 4, 2013

"Pink Collar" Cobaya for a Cause with Chef Daniel Serfer

We mostly do this Cobaya thing to eat well and have fun, but occasionally we try to do good, too. Almost exactly a year ago, we helped Chef Andrew Carmellini fill seats for a Hurricane Sandy Relief Dinner at The Dutch, which was a fantastic meal (with contributions from several Cobaya alumni) and raised more than $17,000 for Sandy relief efforts.

This year, when Chef Daniel Serfer of Blue Collar approached us about doing a charity Cobaya dinner to raise money for Susan G. Komen for the Cure, we were eager to take part. It's a cause that is particularly meaningful to Danny, who lost his mother to breast cancer eleven years ago this month, and he described the menu he put together as takes on some of her favorite dishes.

I'll tell you this: Marsha ate very well. Though Blue Collar is, as the name suggests, a working-class kind of place, Chef Serfer has a fine dining background, having toiled at the now-closed Chef Allen's before opening his own place. And he's already thrown a few "White Collar" dinners at Blue Collar, complete with servers in tuxedo t-shirts. But this was something else. Oysters, caviar, stone crab, lobster, truffles, prime rib, foie gras ... it's a bit of a wonder we don't all have gout. It was indulgent and over the top in the best possible way.

(You can see all my pictures in this "Pink Collar" flickr set.)

Oysters are a great way to start a great meal, and this one started with a bucket full of freshly shucked Kumamotos accompanied by a traditional mignonette sauce. Bubbly always makes for a nice introduction too - a Santa Julia Brut Rosé from Mendoza Argentina in this instance, selected by one of Miami's best sommeliers, Allegra Angelo, a Cobaya vet who was pouring at her third of our events.

Another pass-around: porcini mushroom croquettes, with a crispy casing, a warm, creamy-textured, earthy-flavored mushroom purée inside, and a light dusting of parmesan cheese.

The first plated course began the sit-down segment of the dinner not so modestly: Kaluga caviar two ways, with scrambled eggs and brioche toast, and also over browned, buttery Yukon Gold blini. It was very nice caviar, and an elegantly simple presentation to let it stand out.

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Monday, February 11, 2013

Odd Couple Dinner - Daniel Serfer and Brad Kilgore at Blue Collar

That's just an example of the good-natured ribbing going on between chefs Danny Serfer and Brad Kilgore in the week leading up to their "Odd Couple" dinner at Serfer's Blue Collar restaurant. Why "Odd Couple"? Well, Kilgore is the culinary Felix Unger: before coming to Miami he worked at high-end Chicago places with a constellation of Michelin stars: Alinea, L20, Boka and Epic. When he was sous chef at Miami's Azul, Andrew Zimmern dubbed him "Wall Street" for his slick style and slicked-back hair. Yes, there are probably tweezers in his knife bag.

That would make Serfer the culinary Oscar Madison. His style is exactly as the name of his restaurant, tucked into the still-slightly-dodgy Biscayne Inn on Biscayne Boulevard, suggests: it's upscale diner food, straightforward, hearty, and if it's a little sloppy, well who cares? It'll still taste good. Truth is, Serfer's done the fine dining thing too, with several years at the now-closed Chef Allen's before opening his own place. Now he's cooking the food he wants to cook, and that people want to eat, as the popularity of Blue Collar will attest.

So when Brad and Danny decided to do a dinner together - possibly with some prodding from The Chowfather (who also "curated" some liquid refreshments) - "The Odd Couple" was a natural spin on it. Each chef ended up doing their own take on five different proteins, with desserts contributed by pastry chef Soroya Caraccioli (a/k/a Soroya Kilgore, who happens to be Brad's wife). It was a really fun meal where each chef stayed faithful to his style.

(You can see all my pictures in this Odd Couple Dinner flickr set).

Though the dinner wasn't billed as a competition, it's pretty much impossible to avoid comparisons, especially when eating the dishes side by side. So here's my take on each round, with some Iron Chef style commentary along the way (for another scorecard - and a really funny one - check out Chowfather's post on the Odd Couple dinner):


Right out the gate, both chefs were resorting to secret weapons. For Danny, it was a mini Portuguese muffin, something I've previously described as "the love child of an English muffin and brioche." It's the standard vehicle at Blue Collar for his great burger and the off-menu "Corben" sandwich. Here, it was the base for a "po'boy" of pulled stone crab meat, a smoked trout roe tartare sauce, all dressed with lettuce, tomato and onion. I didn't get a good picture, but I did get a good taste, and this was a great little sandwich.

Brad, meanwhile, went immediately to the nuclear option: bacon. A slab of cured and braised pork belly was the base for a mound of stone crab dressed in an uni-ricotta emulsion, topped with shavings of bottarga and snipped chives. I'm a sucker for pork and seafood combinations, and for uni, and for bottarga, and this was delicious, but I think Danny's po'boy did more to highlight the taste of the stone crab itself.

Round One: Danny.

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Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Frod Burger at Blue Collar

The month of May, according to authoritative source "A Hamburger Today," is "National Burger Month." To celebrate the auspicious occasion, Blue Collar Restaurant has been running burger specials every week inspired by local food writers, including - yes - yours truly. I'll admit: it is difficult to resist the allure of having a menu item named after you.

Blue Collar, by way of quick background, is a casual comfort food kind of place run by Chef Daniel Serfer, a Chef Allen alum. Opened around the beginning of the year, it's tucked into the small nook in the Biscayne Inn that used to house the now-defunct American Noodle Bar. I've not written about it yet but have been in several times.

Blue Collar's burger creations thus far have included the Chowfather Burger, topped with their "Big Ragout," latkes, bacon and a fried egg, the Fat Girl Hedonist Burger with chorizo, fried shallots, smoked gouda and chipotle mayo, and the Food-E Burger (a/k/a the Breakfast Burger), with Canadian bacon, an egg, maple mustard, and a side of cheese grits.

Now, behold the Frod Burger:

Frod Burger

My particular version was loosely inspired by the outstanding burger served at Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon.[1] It includes slow-cooked, golden, caramelized onions, sharp cheddar cheese, an iceberg lettuce "slaw," and a smear of a a ruddy piquillo pepper aioli for good measure.

All of Blue Collar's burgers use a patty fashioned from prime dry-aged NY strip, a pretty luxurious grind for a pretty casual place. They also now all come housed in a "Portugese muffin," which may be a close to perfect vehicle for a burger. It's like the love child of an English muffin and brioche, tender but still having enough heft to hold up to a juicy burger, while not taking up nearly as much space as a brioche bun and distracting from the burger itself. Chef Serfer was awfully excited to get these in, and after trying it, I can begin to understand.

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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Federal Food Drink and Provisions - Miami

The Federal

I first came across the dynamic duo of Aniece Meinhold and Cesar Zapata during what turned out to be a short-lived stint at Blue Piano. A charming little wine bar down the street from the Design District, it had occasional live music and an eclectic selection of wines and beers (courtesy of Aniece, who ran front of house) and small, tapas-style bites (courtesy of Cesar, who ran the kitchen). The food was simple but sometimes surprisingly creative, with a selection of charcuterie and cheeses rounded out by things like the "McLovin," an English muffin filled with chistorra sausage, melted cheese, chipotle cream, and a fried egg, with chicharrones on the side for good measure.

There was a rift with ownership, and in August, Cesar and Aniece left the Blue Piano. Shortly afterwards, they popped up again with Phuc Yea!, a modern Vietnamese pop-up restaurant downtown. I had several excellent meals at Phuc Yea!, and was sorry to see it go after its three-month run.

Aniece and Cesar quickly resurfaced, this time with their very own full-blown restaurant, The Federal. Joining them this time around is Alejandro Ortiz, an industry vet who previously worked as sommelier in some of Miami's top restaurants. In a departure from the Southeast Asian flavors of Phuc Yea!, the Federal returns closer to home. Styling itself a "Modern American Tavern," both the venue and menu have something of a gastropub feel to them: simple, rustic, but done with flair and style.

(You can see all my pictures in this The Federal flickr set or click on any picture to see it larger.)

The Federal

What started as a nondescript strip mall space[1] now has real personality and warmth, mixing old-timey cabinetry, a patchwork of wallpaper, odd bits of taxidermy and other bric-a-brac. Mismatched serving pieces range from pewter plateware to repurposed Shoney's Blue Plate Special dishes; Ball jars serve as candle-holders. You can eat at the bar, covered with salvaged wood planks and lined with old leather belts; at one of several tables inside, including a picnic bench set up for larger groups or banquettes tucked cozily under the windows; or outside on a makeshift patio, which does the best it can with the vista of a parking lot overlooking Biscayne Boulevard. The place now has the same instantly nostalgic feel as an Instagram photo.[2]

The Federal's menu is broken up primarily into "Bits," "Starts," and "Big'Uns." It nods to nostalgia as well - biscuits and gravy, sausage and mash, fisherman's stew - but is by no means rigorously old-fashioned or traditional.

cheese biscuits

The first item on the list of "Bits," their biscuits, brushed with honey and topped with a crust of cheddar cheese, skew closer to the dense crumble of a scone than to the cloud-like fluffiness of puff pastry, though that's not a criticism, just a description.

bay scallops

One of my favorite starters was a crudo of scallops, sliced thin and macerated in a reduced blood orange glaze, scattered with slivered watermelon radishes, tiny greens, smoked trout roe and BBQ potato chips. It's an unusual-sounding combination which would seem to run the risk of overwhelming the scallops, but managed to achieve a successful balance of sweet-sour-smoky-briney flavors. It's also light enough to leave you plenty of room for the "Big'Uns" that follow.

buffalo style pig wings

Buffalo Style Pig Wings, meanwhile, are quite a bit more than a "Bit." A clever piece of butchery and marketing, these "wings" are actually a cut of the rear shank of the pig, trimmed to provide a plump knob of pork attached to the fibula bone. Braised til tender, fried til crisp on the outside, a couple of these then get some classic "Buffalo" flavors - infused with some hot sauce somewhere along the way, served over a blue cheese mousse, topped with julienned strips of pickled carrot and celery. Do it right and it's hard to go wrong with these flavors, and these are indeed done right. But this is also a substantial enough dish that you might find your appetite sated rather than piqued once you get to your main course.

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Friday, December 2, 2011

Art Basel Dining Guide: Off the Beaten Path Part 2

Yesterday, we explored a couple of Miami's less-heralded destinations for those Art Baselites who lack the foresight to have made reservations in South Beach or the Design District / Midtown / Wynwood, and lack the patience to wait for a table at the no-reservations spots. We journeyed through Downtown, then made our way to North Beach and crawled up Collins Avenue. Today, we can pick up where we left off in North Beach and start trekking back toward the mainland, winding up on Miami's "Upper East Side."

Lou's Beer Garden - slip inside the gates of the New Hotel, an updated MiMo hotel in North Beach, walk to the back, and you'll find Lou's Beer Garden, a funky little hideaway around the hotel pool with an outstanding beer selection, better than decent food, and a wonderful, relaxed atmosphere. The menu is mostly populated with simple stuff like salads, burgers and pizzas, but keep an eye out for Chef Luis Ramirez's more esoteric specials like the crispy sardines, callos a la Sevilla, or the grilled squid stuffed with chorizo sausage.

7337 Harding Avenue, Miami Beach

Las Vacas Gordas - Devout carnivores will want to pay a visit to an Argentine parrillada while they're here, and Las Vacas Gordas (The Fat Cows) is a worthy shrine. There are about a half-dozen different cuts of steak that they'll throw on the grill. My favorite is the entraña, or skirt steak, served rolled in a gigantic coil, but if you're indecisive you can get the "parrillada para 1" (which will easily feed 2 people not named Kobayashi) which will bring the true variety pack: a sampling of a few different steaks, chorizo, morcilla, mollejas (sweetbreads) and chinchulines (pig intestines) too. Slather it with chimichurri and try not to stand too closely to anyone for the rest of the night: the garlic stink will stay with you a while.

933 Normandy Drive, Miami Beach

Katana - It's far from the best sushi in town. But it's cheap, and it's served on floating boats coursing along a canal that winds around the restaurant. If something looks good, grab the plate off the boat as it floats by. The plates are color-coded for price, and the waitress will add up your stack when you're finished. I have an inexplicable fondness for their salmon nigiri, served with a generous squirt of Kewpie mayo and a shower of slivered onions. Here's a pro tip: if you can, sit directly clockwise from the itamae, so you can grab the freshest dishes as he makes them.

920 71st Street, Miami Beach

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

American Noodle Bar - Miami, FL - First Look

[Sorry, this restaurant has closed "for remodeling"]

I drive down Biscayne Boulevard to work every morning. As a result, I have been a spectator, on a daily basis, to the drawn-out opening of American Noodle Bar. In fact, I recall when the first sign went up on a small space in one of the dodgy, 1950's era "MiMo" style hotels along Biscayne, it was for something that was going to be called "Pineapple Express" and promised an opening date of "January 2010." The name changed. And so did the projected opening date, which dragged out for months.[*]

American Noodle Bar finally opened Wednesday night. I usually avoid opening nights; I also usually like to give a place a few visits and at least a few weeks, sometimes months, to find its footing before writing. But the lengthy period of anticipation left me eager to try it, and to provide a long-awaited "first look." (I also feel incredibly guilty that it seems like it's been months since I've written about a Miami restaurant).

The chef behind American Noodle Bar is Michael Bloise, a StarChefs "Rising Star" who is best known for his work at Wish on South Beach. His new project is something very different. The space is a tiny wing of the Biscayne Inn motel, into which he has squeezed one large communal table, a line of counter seating along one wall, and an open galley kitchen along the back wall. It's a got a funky, DIY aesthetic, with bonzai trees on the table and a bamboo tree print on the wall providing the primary decoration. There is also outdoor seating in front facing Biscayne Boulevard. (For those looking to get their bearings along Biscayne, it is right next door to Kingdom, and I suspect you can smell their burgers grilling from the outdoor seats). Service is semi-fast-food style: order at the counter, and they'll bring it out to your seat when it's ready (right now, at least, in plastic bowls and cardboard boxes, though I'm not sure if that's intended as a permanent state of affairs or just an opening week thing).

The menu at American Noodle Bar is superficially simple, but actually presents many more choices than might be immediately apparent. The focus - no surprise, given the name - is on noodles, though presently of only one variety. A bowl of noodles can be had for $7 with a choice of one sauce and one "add-on." But here's where things get complicated: there are nearly ten sauce options, and just as many "add-ons" (a couple vegetable options but mostly various proteins). Additional "add-ons" can go in the bowl for another $1 each.

There were so many possible to directions to go: if I spent less time focusing on food and more on math, I could maybe tell you how many. Nearly paralyzed by the seemingly limitless combinations, for my inaugeral meal, I had a bowl with sriracha butter for a sauce, and roasted duck and Chinese sausage for the "add-ons." The noodles (I did not ask questions as to their provenance, though I'm curious; I doubt they're made in-house) were of a lo-mein style variety: a bit thicker than a typical ramen noodle, but with that slightly springy texture, versus the more supple smootheness of an Italian pasta. They were hearty and pleasing, but on their own, nothing to get too excited about: it's really the sauces and toppings that will make or break things.

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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Red Light Revisited - Miami Upper East Side

I tend not to retread old ground when writing about restaurants here. When there are so many new places opening up, old places I still haven't gotten around to mentioning, holes in the wall I haven't even discovered yet, it seems a bit goofy to talk about someplace that's already been written up - particularly a place like Red Light, where my initial comments here were already based upon a pretty extensive body of data.

But a restaurant is in many ways a sort of organic thing: it can change, it can grow, it can mature, it can get old. Sometimes it's for the better; other times for the worse. I'm immensely gratified that with Red Light, which is approaching its second anniversary, it seems that the changes are all to the good.

I didn't realize until I started writing this that my first visit to Red Light was almost exactly two years ago; and that my initial write-up here was almost exactly one year ago. Since then, Red Light has not lacked for attention, especially of late: a couple months ago, Frank Bruni sang the restaurant's praises in the New York Times,[1] and more recently, Chef Kris Wessel was selected as a semifinalist for a James Beard Award.[2]

What I so admire about Chef Wessel is that instead of just basking in the glory and resting on his laurels, he's clearly used the attention, and the traffic it's generated, as an opportunity to up his game.[3] The location on the Little River still has the same ramshackle, bohemian funk to it; but the cooking - which I've always enjoyed - seems to have become stronger and steadier. When we were in this past weekend, the ingredients were better quality, the preparations more refined and precise - even some of the plates were new.

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Buena Vista Bistro - Miami Upper East Side

I am clearly very late to the Buena Vista Bistro party. This pocket-sized little restaurant, just north of the Design District on N.E. 2nd Avenue, is closing in on celebrating its second anniversary. But somehow, despite having heard many raves for its thoughtfully priced, homey French bistro fare, other destinations in the Design District (Michael's Genuine, Sra. Martinez, Pacific Time) called to me with much louder voices whenever I was headed in this direction. We finally ignored those voices and gave BVB a try this week.

It's a charming little place in its own way, with dark, moody lighting, 50's style black-and-white vinyl chairs, the entire menu written on a blackboard behind the bar in back, and one long side wall entirely covered in mirrors, upon which is scrawled the wine list. It's got the bohemian vibe down pat: everyone eating here isn't French, but they look and act as if they wish they were. There are no big surprises on the menu. Apps are mostly bistro mainstays like escargot, rillettes, pâté, soupe de poisson, and the like, with some less exclusively Gallic notes here and there like tuna tartare, scallop carpaccio and caprese salad. Mains are much the same: steak (a ribeye) and frites, scallops provençal, and lamb chops share space with chicken curry, spaghetti bolognese, and farfalle alfredo.

We started with the fish soup and the rillettes. The former was a good take on the French classic, a murky, ruddy brown broth (this is not a criticism - prepared right, this is a frankly unattractive soup) well stocked with bits of fish and potently flavored with their extracted goodness. We pined, however, for the traditional accompaniment of croutons smeared with rouille and floated on the surface of the soup. Mrs. F tried her best to duplicate it with the nicely crusty bread that was brought to the table, but it wasn't quite the same. It seemed incongruous for such fine bread to be served with little single-serve pats of butter in plastic casings like you'd find in a Denny's.

The rillettes were also a fine rendition, the slowly cooked pork tender and rich, served simply with some Dijon mustard and cornichons. The only drawback was that the rillettes were served so cold that they lost out on some of their potential for unctuous goodness - no doubt closer to room temperature these would be even more lovely. But this is still a hearty, satisfying appetizer which despite the dainty ramekin it's served in could easily be split among two people, and a good deal at about $6.

Unfortunately I was somewhat less enamored with the rest of our meal. The tuna tartare Mrs. F followed her soup with was fine but unexciting in any way; the wakame salad which crowned it, redolent with sesame oil, was the overwhelmingly dominant flavor note. It also really could have used some sort of crackers or chips for scooping. I had the lamb chops as an entrée. They had been given a nice herbal marinade, but had been sliced so thin - before cooking - that getting them to only the requested medium rare was all but an impossibility. Rather than slicing these into 1/2" thick "chops" before cooking, they would have been much better served if the rack were left intact to avoid overcooking and then, if at all, carved before serving. I don't need a ton of food to be happy, but these four skinny chops seemed a slightly meager serving, though at a price of about $15 this is not a complaint about value. The mashed potatoes and ratatouille that came with the lamb chops were fine but would not inspire any homeward-bound correspondence.

In an unusual twist, the by-the-glass prices on the wines generally seem a little more reasonable than the prices by the bottle, though the Julienas we had for $40 was a good value and a good wine, and there are a decent number of choices mostly in the $35-50 range.

Despite being underwhelmed by some of the things we had, I can clearly see Buena Vista Bistro's appeal. I like its relaxed, laid-back atmosphere, and it's always nice to be able to find a meal cooked with care for a reasonable price.

Buena Vista Bistro
4582 NE 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33137

Buena Vista Bistro on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Hot Dogs in the Air

In more ways than one.

First, at Dogma Grill, for every hot dog sold during the week of November 16-22, they will be donating a turkey hot dog to Camillus House to help feed the poor and homeless at the shelter during Thanksgiving week. So next week, eat a hot dog for a good cause.

And then here's Wendy Maharlika, the ebullient hostess at NAOE restaurant in Sunny Isles, chucking hot dogs on the Jimmy Fallon show (I will just say that the food at NAOE is infinitely more appetizing than "Hot Dogs in a Hole"):

Monday, November 9, 2009

Anise Taverna - Miami Upper East Side

[sorry, this restaurant has closed; but Ouzo's in the same spot and with the same owner is quite similar]
Anise Taverna
Photo via Anise Taverna

I scoffed when Marco Pierre White insisted at a conference last year, in a not even remotely veiled attack on much contemporary cuisine, that the only proper way to serve fish is "on the bone, with lemon juice, olive oil and salt." To me, both traditional and contemporary styles have their place and can be immensely satisfying when done well. But that means that the simpler forms of cooking can't be dismissed either. This is an area where Anise Taverna excels.

The owners of Anise, Gennaro and Liza Meoli, started in Miami with Ouzo's on Normandy Circle in North Beach. After a couple years they decided to make the leap to South Beach, but unfortunately their move coincided with a massive and interminable construction project right outside the new location. After finally running out of patience, they eventually reopened as Anise Taverna in a location along the Little River in Miami's Upper East Side, just off Biscayne Boulevard (and just across the street from Red Light). Their persistence has paid off.

Years ago, the primary function of this location was to serve as a parking lot for visitors to the Immigration Offices across the street. It housed a procession of Indian restaurants - first the very good (but very dingy) Renaisa, then, after the folks who ran it left to open Heelsha in North Miami Beach, the imposter Renaisa, then the inconsistent Taj Majal, then, very briefly, the intriguing but even more inconsistent Cambodian/Indian Monarch Bay. When the Meolis took it over, they finally gave the place the good scrubbing it so desperately needed, and it now actually has some genuine charm, with rustic wood tables, colorful walls decorated with a sizable collection of (empty) ouzo bottles, and a pleasant outdoor seating area on the Little River, which feeds out to Biscayne Bay.

The menu sticks mostly to traditional Greek dishes but makes occasional forays into broader Mediterranean territory, with an extensive selection of meze as well as a decent number of main course offerings. We almost always start with the "combo dip platter," which features four dips - usually hummus, tzatziki, baba ganoush, and taramasalata (though sometimes the taramasalata is substituted with a feta and red pepper dip), accompanied by warm toasted pita. I'm usually the one eating the taramasalata, while if you try to get some of the tzatziki away from Little Miss F, you're asking for a fight (we often have to order an extra just for her). The hummus is good, and the baba ganoush has a nice smoky note to it.

Cheese and fire are also generally big hits with the kids, so the cheese saganaki is usually in order when we go with them, too, the kefalotiri cheese having the unique capacity of being able to be warmed and slightly melted without going completely gushy. Some of my other favorite things at Anise are also found in the meze portion of the menu: the octopus, marinated in olive oil and herbs and then grilled, is simply some of the best, most tender octopus I've ever had; and the grilled sardines (a generous three to an order for $12) are the paragon of perfect simplicity. For those not intimidated by getting a whole fish and picking its tender, slightly oily meat from the tiny bones, this is happiness on a plate. (Perhaps Marco Pierre White was on to something after all).

I've also enjoyed the "Prawns Anise," fresh head-on shrimp given a triple dose of anise flavor: served on a bed of julienned sauteed fennel, in a creamy yogurt sauce spiked with Pernod and dill. The grilled quail, rubbed with a marinade of olive oil and oregano, is meaty but tender with a nice bit of char from the grilling. We also like the loukaniko sausage, with a hint of orange to it, served over a bed of stewed lima beans. The "Spiced Lamb Fingers," almost like Greek spring rolls with ground lamb wrapped in crispy filo dough, were a good idea but were almost overwhelmed by the spice when we tried them. There are also a number of vegetable offerings, including grilled eggplant slices wrapped around feta cheese and topped with a tomato sauce, which were a hit on a recent visit.

Among the entrées, I usually stick with the fish, and they almost always have beautiful fresh dorade and branzino (or, if you want the Greek, tsipoura and lavraki) that are flown in fresh from the Mediterranean. Once again, MP White would approve, with the fish grilled whole and served on the bone, either simply with olive oil, lemon and herbs, or if you're feeling fancy, with cherry tomatoes and kalamata olives too. Though at $28, some folks would complain about the value,[*] it's hard to imagine getting a whole fish of this quality for much less; and particularly with some meze to start, one fish could easily be split among two people. The moussaka, now a more traditional version with ground lamb and eggplant, topped with a puffy, creamy burnished top, is rich, hearty and satisfying.

We closed our most recent meal with a slice of coconut cake, made using "mom's recipe," according to Liza, which was quite good and not nearly as cloying as the old standby, baklava. Meals will often conclude with a complimentary glass of Mavrodaphne, a sweet red Greek dessert wine.

Speaking of wine, the list here is surprisingly cosmopolitan for such a casual spot, and offers not only some of the new and significantly improved Greek wines (like the Boutari Santorini, a white made from the Assyrtiko grape with crisp flavors and great minerality), but some other esoteric choices such as Nicolas Joly Savennieres from the Loire Valley and Argiolas Vermentino from Sardinia.

Anise has a few nice promos going on. Monday through Thursday, they offer a "Miami Spice" style pre fixe menu, which includes a glass of Prosecco, a combo dip platter, either the grilled octopus or cheese saganaki meze, a choice from among a few entrées, baklava, and a glass of Mavrodaphne to close, for $35/person (with a 2-person minimum). There's also "Meze Mondays" during which you can choose 8 meze for $30, 10 for $35 or 12 for $40. And the last Saturday of every month they do a lamb roast, and for $35 you can have all you can eat of the lamb, plus Greek salad, roasted potatoes, and a glass of wine.

I will never relegate myself to only eating my fish on the bone, with lemon, olive oil and salt. But when that's what I'm in the mood for - or for the excellent grilled octopus, or the variety of tasty meze - Anise is often where I go.

Anise Taverna
620 NE 78th Street
Miami, FL 33138

Anise Taverna on Urbanspoon

[*]I found it peculiar that only a week after questioning the value at Anise, the same reviewer gushed over Eos - which serves the same fish, but for $36. I've been back to Eos since my initial visit, and while it certainly has its high points - the sea urchin risotto and the smoked octopus most definitely being among them - I hanker to go back to Anise much more often than I think of returning to Eos. And indeed, a meal for our whole family of four ran for less than what it cost for two of us to dine at Eos.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

It's So Good Once It Hits Your Lips

I had the privilege of being invited to a dinner at Michy's yesterday evening featuring pairings of Chef Michelle Bernstein's food with beers from Samuel Adams. I don't usually do these "media dinner" type events - I really don't mind paying for what I eat and drink - but since this one offered a chance to try something I might not otherwise experience - Samuel Adams' "Utopias," a very limited production brew only made every other year, aged in a variety of woods, and reaching 27% alcohol - I found it difficult to resist. (So, full disclosure: No, I did not pay for this meal, and my notes were taken under the influence of free beer).

It might surprise those who think of beer as a blue-collar, working-class beverage (I don't, but it still surprised me) to learn that Jim Koch, the founder of the Boston Beer Company which produces Samuel Adams beers, has three degrees from Harvard University (a BA, JD and MBA). I've known some double-Harvards, but never a triple. I guess with the third degree comes the wisdom to make great beer. He also is the sixth generation of a family of brewmasters, so perhaps that helps too. It might also surprise some that despite a sizable advertising budget and distribution network, Boston Beer Company still seems like a pretty small, intimate operation. You know the guy with the gigantic beard and the thick Boston accent that appears in some of their ads? That's Bob Canon, and he's no actor: he's the brewmaster who came out to Michy's to host the event for us.

The program for the evening featured four dishes prepared by Chef Bernstein and crew, paired with four of Sam Adams' 21 beer offerings, followed by an after-dinner tasting of a couple of Sam Adams' "extreme beers," their Triple Bock and the 2009 Utopias. Chef Bernstein professes a deep and abiding fondness for beer, something which I think unites professional kitchens around the globe. Michy's has always offered an interesting selection of beers, a trend that happily seems to be increasingly common in local restaurants (off the top of my head, I can think of Michael's Genuine, Pacific Time, and Red Light as places that have good if not encyclopedic beer lists, to say nothing of more casual places like 8 Oz. Burger Bar). Perhaps partly out of budget-consciousness I find that we're more frequently having beer rather than wine with dinner when we go out, though it could just as well be because the selections have improved.

First course was a seared cod, paired with Samuel Adams' Coastal Wheat beer. The cod (from Boston, Chef Bernstein noted) had a beautiful crispy sear on top and tender flesh that came apart in big lush flakes, served over a bed of melted scallions, napped with an intense seafood nage (made, according to Chef Bernstein, from "every seafood we could find" reduced down in a broth with some tomato and some of the beer), crowned with a couple Maine shrimp and some shaved fennel. The Coastal Wheat beer, done in a Hefeweizen style, is further brightened with a dash of lemon powder, giving a subtle citrus note that paired nicely with the seafood.

Next up, pork belly, paired with Old Fezziwig Ale. Brewmaster Bob described the Old Fezziwig as the "Christmas cookie" of their beers, and the malty flavor with notes of cinnamon, ginger, and orange peel make that an apt description. He explained that this beer (named for a character in Charles Dickens' "A Christmas Carol") has the same flavor profile as the Winter Lager (which we sampled as an apertif before dinner), but uses 3x the spices for a more intense presence. Chef Bernstein used those spice notes as her starting point for the dish, giving the pork belly a 2-day cure with cinnamon, orange peel and other spices (star anise, clove) and "burying it" with salt and sugar. After being given the cure, it was braised, then finally seared before service for a wonderfully crispy exterior. The pork belly was plated with a reduced pork jus along with a concord grape reduction, which invariably brings on food memories of peanut butter & jelly sandwiches (in a good way). The delicious pork jus reminded me of the "Iberian emulsion" that was paired with the roasted suckling pig I had at Akelare - intensely porky but light in texture. I know folks think pork belly may be getting overplayed, but if chefs keep coming up with such great ways to prepare it, I don't think it's leaving menus any time soon. The Fezziwig was also possibly my favorite beer of the night, with a rich deep flavor but not overwhelmingly heavy.

The last savory course was more in the old-school comfort-food vein, an herb-crusted tenderloin of beef, along with mashed potatoes topped with some "stinky cheeses" (to use Chef Bernstein's description), some sauteed mushrooms and - my favorite item on the plate, oddly enough - little cherry tomatoes that had been cooked down whole to intensify their flavors. This was paired with Samuel Adams' flagship beer, their Boston Lager. The original recipe for the Boston Lager goes back several generations and it is still prepared in a traditional style. It was served for us in a glass specially commissioned by Samuel Adams from Reidel, which had a narrow base, a bulbous top, and a bit of a bump to the lip of the glass to release the flavors to your mouth. The pairing of beer and beef is an interesting one, with the bitterness of the beer playing the palate-cleansing role that the tannins of a red wine typically do (though I have to say that I think this is one instance where wine clearly has a big edge on beer in the food-pairing department).

Beer seems like an unlikely companion for dessert, but in this instance I thought it was the most successful pairing of the evening. Using the Samuel Adams "Double Bock" as her starting point, Chef Michy said it made her think of a Fig Newton, and so she made a fig "trifle" with layers of pastry cream, mascarpone cheese, spongecake soaked in sweet wine (and beer), fresh and macerated figs, crispy pistachio, and a light sprinkle of sea salt. It was a fantastic dessert, made even better by the beer pairing. The Double Bock is a rich, densely flavored beer, with notes of caramel and stewed fruit (yes, I might say fig) and a smooth, velvety texture. Its pleasantly bitter finish cut through the sweetness of the dessert and refreshed the palate for another bite (a pattern that I repeated several times).

After dinner, we sampled a couple of Samuel Adams' more esoteric offerings. These were without doubt the most unusual beers I've ever tasted, and they really stretch the definition of what we'd normally call "beer." The first was their Triple Bock. This was brewed in 1993, barrel-aged, and put in bottle in 1994 (no, those are not typos). They actually have some of the brew still aging in barrel too. It was, to borrow a phrase from The Ultimate Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, a beverage that was almost, but not quite, entirely unlike beer. Completely uncarbonated, dark brown, 17% alcohol, and thick like a port, it had intense dense flavors of dark chocolate, molasses, and more savory notes like soy sauce or even hoisin. Its aromatics were just jumping right out of the glass - you could smell it vividly from 2-3 feet away.

Possibly even more unusual was the Utopias. Samuel Adams first started producing Utopias in 2002, and has done so in odd years since then. The 2009 is just now being released. Where the Triple Bock was dense, dark, and thick, the Utopias was a crystaline clear amber. I couldn't keep track of all the things Brewmaster Bob said they had done with it. It was produced using a couple different strains of yeast, including one typically used in champagne production. They blend in small doses of other aged beers, including some of the 1994 Triple Bock. It goes through a variety of different barrel-aging regimens, including Scotch whisky barrels, bourbon casks from Buffalo Trace Distillery, sherry casks and port casks. What comes out is a still beverage with a nose almost like a good blended Scotch whisky, and a complex flavor with lots of woody spice notes from the barrel-aging, but with a super-smooth finish lacking the alcoholic bite of a distilled liquor. Even though this looks, and smells, like it was distilled (and comes in at a mammoth 27% alcohol), and even though it's packaged in a copper-finished ceramic bottle that looks like a still, Brewmaster Bob insists that this is a fermented malt beverage. He also says it can be opened and held without doing any real damage to it, and believed that some oxidation actually improved the flavors. It was like nothing I've ever had before.

Would I pay the $150 that Samuel Adams plans to retail this for to have it again? Honestly, I can think of a lot of other things I'd spend that kind of money on first. But nonetheless, it's gratifying to know that there are folks out there pushing the boundaries of their craft in such creative, curious ways.

6927 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL 33138

Michy's on Urbanspoon

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Kingdom - Manliest Restaurant in America?

[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

I'm not quite sure what to make of it, but I'm comfortable enough with my manhood to admit that on more than one occasion, folks that have emailed me through the blog or responded to chowhound posts have assumed (erroneously) that I'm female. But I didn't volunteer that fact to the folks at when they asked for my suggestion of a Miami candidate for their "Manliest Restaurant in America" contest.

After finishing a beer or three, scratching myself, and doing a little tribal drumming, my recommendation was Kingdom, the bar and burger joint on Biscayne Boulevard and 67th Street. The burgers are great, the beer is cold and reasonably priced, the TVs are always tuned to whatever sporting event is in season, and your choices are to sit at the dark dank bar, or to sit outside on the sidewalk along Biscayne Boulevard, where if you're there at the right hour you'll still see folks working the oldest profession. The burgers start at 1/2 pound and work their way up to the 2 pound "Doomsday Burger," with the testosterone-driven dare that if you finish one along with an order of fries and rings in 15 minutes, it's free. And there's a great big concrete lion out front.

Que es mas macho than that? (My alternate choice, by the way, was Las Vacas Gordas). The voting is proceeding in regional brackets, so if you want to support Kingdom, here's where to cast your vote on the "Manliest Restaurant in America."

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Miami Pizza Crawl Part I

The first leg of the Miami Pizza Crawl kicked off last night, covering Wynwood / Design District candidates Joey's Wynwood, Pizzavolante, and Andiamo. We had a nice group of bloggers, chowhounds, and pizza fans on board for the crawl.

Four pizzas apiece at each place yielded the following menu:

Joey's Wynwood
Margherita - with mozzarella & tomato
"Joey" - with tuna, salami, gorgonzola, capers & spinach
"Carbonara" - with bacon, eggs, mozzarella & asparagus
"Dolce e Piccante" - with figs, gorgonzola, honey & hot pepper

Margherita "DOP" - with Italian tomato, oven dried Roma tomatoes, bufala mozzarella & basil
"Volante 100" - with local mozzarella, dandelion greens, tomatoes & arugula
"Bianca" - with fontina, 2 mozzarellas, goat cheese, arugula & thyme
"Cacciatorini" - with Italian tomato, local mozzarella, grana, California pepperoni & guanciale

"Soprano" - with broccoli rabe, Italian sausage, tomato sauce, parmesan & mozzarella
"Putanesca" - with olives, capers, anchovies, red pepper flakes, tomato sauce & mozzarella
"Genovese" - with rosemary potatoes, pancetta, caramelized onions, mozzarella & gorgonzola
"Popeye" - with spinach, roma tomatoes, tomato sauce, ricotta, mozzarella & basil

With 15 of us dining, we were able to get tastes of everything by splitting slices, and fortunately everyone shared nicely. Happily, bloggers less visually impaired than me, Paula at Mango & Lime and Trina at Miami Dish, got some great pictures and have already given their recaps. Probably the true highlight of the night was the chance to get together with several other kindred spirits who will happily spend several hours jumping from one pizza place to the next and debating which was best. Here are my thoughts:

Joey's -

First off, the space itself is really very nice. Right in the middle of a pocket of Wynwood's converted-warehouse art galleries, there's not much to look at outside, but inside the restaurant has a simple but sophsticated modern look with marble-topped tables and Globus chairs throughout. A solid selection of wines by the glass (including a fruity, slightly frizzante Lambrusco) was pleasing too, though I've been told by others who have gone there that they refuse to permit any corkage, which seems a foolhardy policy.

We started off the Crawl with the intention of trying a Margherita pizza at each place as a "baseline" reference standard, and then also explore some of each place's specialties. Yet we must not have had many pizza purists in the group, as the Margheritas at both Joey's and Pizzavolante seem to have not made many memorable impressions. I agreed that Joey's version was unexceptional. I did like the crust at Joey's, which was thin but firm - possibly my favorite of the night - and the tomato and cheese were in good balance, but their flavors didn't exactly jump out at you in any way.

It would seem you'd have to try the "Joey" at Joey's, yet I'll confess I didn't have complete confidence in the combination of tuna, spicy salame, gorgonzola, capers and spinach. I figured it had to either be outstanding or a complete disaster. It turned out to be much closer to the former than the latter. This was no doubt loaded with robust flavors, but the tuna and salami subconsciously played on my prediliction for the seafood/pork combo, and the other elements contributed their distinct flavors without overwhelming. I wouldn't exactly say they blended into a perfectly seamless whole, but this was actually much better than I anticipated and was one of my favorites of the night.

The "Carbonara" didn't quite work for me. It's hard to go wrong with bacon and eggs, but the bacon was indistinct, the asparagus was unnecessary and distracting, and it was missing the freshly ground black pepper that is the genesis of the name.

The "Dolce e Piccante" was another one that I was wary of, though it was highly recommended by our server. The combination of figs, gorgonzola and honey sounded cloying. Yet once again, this was much better than I expected. A dash of red pepper flakes provided some needed contrast, though I still thought there was too heavy a hand with the (good Italian) honey. This fell somewhere between dinner and dessert on the sweetness spectrum, and while I don't think I'd ever want to eat anywhere near a whole pie (half of a slice was more than enough), I enjoyed what I tried.

Pizzavolante -

[sorry, this restaurant has closed]

Next stop was Pizzavolante, the new pizza joint from Pacific Time chef Jonathan Eismann, which just opened last week. As I noted in my earlier comments, Pizzavolante is a very simple primitive layout - mozzarella bar and counter to one side, a few tables on the other, some bright orange plastic chairs, and a few more barstools around the windows where there are some more countertops for eating. While Joey's is someplace you might take a date, Pizzavolante is someplace you come to grab a pizza. Personally, I'm OK with that. I was surprised that some people were put out by the appearance of the mozzarella bar, where the cheeses are kept in large stainless bowls of cold water (as you must do with fresh mozzarella to keep the cheese moist). Anyhoo ... there are only five pizzas on the menu, and two of them are margheritas (one with local cow's milk mozzarella, and another, the "DOP", with fancy Italian bufala mozzarella), so narrowing down the choice to four was pretty easy.

The "DOP" Margherita was very good, though I couldn't say that it was appreciably better than the "plain Jane" Margherita I had last week on our first visit. Again, the real standout in the dough/sauce/cheese trinity was the cheese, though I'm not sure once they've melted in the wood-burning oven that the difference between the cow's milk mozzarella and the bufala mozzarella is worth the $4 price difference.

The "Volante 100" (made with toppings grown or produced within a 100-mile radius) really caught the attention of my tastebuds with the dandelion greens, which were just barely wilted and still perky and vibrant, along with local-grown tomatoes (mostly smaller red and yellow teardrops, I think) and arugula, as well as some of Vito Volpe's mozzarella.

I also liked the "Cacciatorini," topped with a scatter of nicely spicy California pepperoni and guanciale (jowl bacon). Of all the meat-topped pizzas we had, this was my favorite. I missed out on getting a good taste of the "Bianca," but white pizzas usually don't excite me that much anyway (though even some folks who were not white pizza fans liked this version).

I liked the thin crispy crust of Pizzavolante's pizzas, but thought it was perhaps taken to too much of an extreme, as the uncovered edges of the crust were so crispy as to be almost cracker-like. I understand they are still working on their dough recipe and hope they can find the perfect middle ground. They could also use a bit more variety to their pizza selections. I understand they've just opened and also that they're taking a simple approach to the menu, but no doubt Jonathan Eismann can come up with some more varied and creative toppings than what is currently on offer.

Another nice thing about Pizzavolante is the very reasonably priced selection of wines. A few of us split an $18 bottle of Mattabella Famiglia red (produced by a friend of mine in Long Island) which went down very easily with the pizza, and there are a number of other wines all priced at $18.

Andiamo -

Andiamo was something of a letdown after Joey's and Pizzavolante. I still love the funky location in a working car wash, with the big screen hung up outside showing the Lakers/Nuggets game, but the pizzas disappointed.

The Soprano had a nice layer of fresh, pleasingly bitter broccoli rabe, but the sausage was just bland, grey slices of mystery meat. The tomato sauce (very chunky, with some big hunks of whole tomatoes left in) also tasted somewhat industrial. The Putanesca was a twist on one of my favorite combinations for a pasta dish, but this was overwhelmingly salty (and yes, I fully anticipate that a dish with anchovies, olives and capers will be salty). The Genovese promised an interesting combination with the potatoes and pancetta, but the one overwhelming flavor was of garlic, which obscured everything else. The Popeye had nice fresh spinach leaves, but my slice pretty much missed out on any ricotta. The crust on all of these was somewhat doughy and gummy, compared to the nice thin crusts we had at Joey's and Pizzavolante. I'm OK with a nice doughy crust like a foccacia, if that's what a place is shooting for, but this wasn't that either.

While the pizza at Andiamo was perfectly serviceable, it paled in comparison to either Joey's or Pizzavolante. A good selection of beers did help wash it all down.

Favorite so far? If I could get the crust from Joey's done in the woodburning oven at Pizzavolante, and topped with Pizzavolante's fresh dandelion greens and the pepperoni and guanciale and Vito's mozzarella (and maybe a few other more varied combinations), I'd be quite happy.

Joey's Wynwood
2506 NW 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33137

Joey's Wynwood on Urbanspoon

3918 N. Miami Avenue
Miami, FL 33127

Pizzavolante on Urbanspoon

5600 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL 33137

Andiamo on Urbanspoon