Showing posts with label fruit of the vine. Show all posts
Showing posts with label fruit of the vine. Show all posts

Sunday, September 29, 2019

deep thoughts: Boia De | Buena Vista (Miami)

Earlier this week, I got to speak to a seventh grade class at North Broward Preparatory School about food blogging. A food theme runs through their entire curriculum for the year, so while they are writing their own food blogs for English class, they are also learning about food in science class, and tending an on-campus edible garden. It was a lot of fun to pass on a few nuggets of "wisdom" from my own experiences, but what was really great was hearing from the students about their own interests, projects and questions.

Of course, one of them asked "What is your favorite restaurant?" And invariably, this is the question everyone asks every food blogger. It's also a question I always have trouble answering. Because I have lots of favorites! Even if you narrowed it by category I'd still struggle, because so many different restaurants satisfy so many different cravings and moods. (I am voracious, I eat multitudes).

Having said that, I actually do have a favorite right now. And by favorite right now, I mean, if you asked me pretty much any day the past few months, "Where do you want to eat tonight?" the answer would likely be "Well, we could go to Boia De." This is a conversation that occurs frequently in our household. And frequently ends in the same place.

So what is Boia De? Maybe we should start with a related question: "What does "boia de" mean? Somehow, I got it in my head that it's an Italian expression that means "How cool!" But that translation exists only in my imagination. According to chef/owners Luciana Giangrande and Alex Meyer, it loosely translates as "Oh my!" which is much nicer than what turns up on Google Translate, which says something about an executioner?

It's perhaps appropriate that the name "Boia De" is a bit ambiguous, because the restaurant "Boia De" is itself delightfully difficult to typecast by genre. If I were to call it anything, I might go with "Italian-American," but I mean something almost the exact opposite of the checkered-tablecloth, red-sauce and mozz stereotype that phrase typically invokes. Alex and Luci mine Italian cuisine for ideas and ingredients – pastas and polenta and 'nduja and tonnato sauce – but those rub shoulders with green goddess and ranch dressing and and miso and mango. In lesser hands, this would be a recipe for disaster. But Alex and Luci know what they're doing.

(You can see all my pictures in this Boia De flickr set - over multiple visits I've now covered about 90% of the menu, though several items like the pastas change regularly).

Start, for instance, with the baked clams: tender littlenecks tucked under a blanket of spicy, smoky 'nduja sausage and breadcrumbs, torched til they're brown and bubbly, then finished with a squeeze of fresh lemon. They make for a delightful little one-bite surf-n-turf experience.

Or maybe instead a crudo? The hamachi is rich and buttery but delightfully clean and fresh, with splashes of yuzu salsa verde, ringlets of fresno chile, and briny fried capers to cut through the fattiness of the fish. It still feels kind of Italian even though nonna might disagree. Alternatively, you could go with the tuna crudo, which gets matched up in equally unorthodox fashion with a Sicilian pesto and smoky miso eggplant.

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Sunday, December 24, 2017

first thoughts: No Name Chinese | South Miami

2017 has been the year of the "to-do list" for me. The agenda of new restaurants I've been meaning to try continues to grow, and unlike the past several years, the usual forces of attrition (i.e., closures) haven't whittled it down quite as much as usual. Making it even more challenging, those openings haven't been limited to the ever-popular trifecta of Wynwood, South Beach and Brickell. It's good news for the residents of the outer bands of Greater Miami; it's a challenge for those trying to keep up with all the latest additions.

Witness, for example, No Name Chinese, which opened late this spring in South Miami, on a quiet corner behind the Shops at Sunset Place. No Name[1] is the second spot from the team of wine buff Heath Porter and manager Craig DeWald (their first is Uvaggio wine bar in Coral Gables), who decided they wanted to open a place serving contemporary Chinese cuisine using local ingredients paired with unusual wines.[2] They brought in Pablo Zitzmann to run the kitchen, who was last seen at the now-closed Trust & Co. in the Gables, and before that worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Jeremy Ford at Matador Room, Ricky Sauri at Nobu and then Bloom in Wynwood, and Michelle Bernstein at Sra. Martinez, among others.

(You can see all my pictures in this No Name Chinese flickr set.)

Zitmann's menu at No Name is inspired by traditional Chinese dishes and flavors, but takes plenty of liberties. So there's a crispy turnip cake (law bok gow), a Chinese dim sum standard, but it's done in the style of a Japanese okonomiyaki topped with lap cheong sausage, shiitake mushrooms, Kewpie mayo and katsuobushi, the shavings of smoked, dried skipjack tuna wriggling in the heat. Turnip cake and okonomiyaki are a couple of my favorite things, so this makes me very happy.

Shrimp toast, usually a greasy fried indulgence, here comes on as healthy-ish as avocado toast: house-made shao bing bread topped with a clean, bright minced shrimp salad, its flavors amplified with a squeeze of lime and a dusting of "crunchy garlic bomb."

Smashed cucumber salad, another Chinese staple which everyone is riffing on lately, sees the cukes marinated in soy sauce and chianking vinegar, then plated over a creamy sesame sauce and topped with a shower of sesame seeds and a bouquet of fresh herbs. It's the kind of thing you keep going back for more bites of as you eat the rest of your meal.

There's an abbreviated selection of about a half-dozen dumplings – not quite enough to start supplying a fleet of carts, but enough to satisfy some dim sum cravings. No Name's shu mai are nearly bursting with a juicy paste of Key West pink shrimp and crab, topped with trout roe for a little pop and contrast. The "angry dumplings" are filled with spicy minced chicken, and dressed with a zippy chili garlic sauce, crispy shallots, more of that "crunchy garlic bomb," and a last minute dusting of orange zest to perk up all those flavors.

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Monday, May 6, 2013

Cobaya Macchialina with Chef Michael Pirolo

Too often, I feel about Italian food the way I feel about handjobs: even when it's done well, it's satisfying but rarely very exciting; and when it's done poorly, I may as well do it myself.

After our Cobaya dinner at Macchialina, perhaps I should reconsider (about Italian food; not handjobs). Macchialina is the fourth restaurant opened by the Pubbelly boys, and to head this one up they poached Chef Michael Pirolo from Scarpetta in the Fontainebleau, where he had been chef de cuisine. Chef Pirolo put together a dinner for us that was hearty and satisfying, but also showed off a real range of flavors and techniques, classical in inspiration but contemporary in style.

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

We entered the restaurant to find the long bar counter completely blanketed in the finest meats and cheeses of the land: parmigiano reggiano in rough chunks, waves upon waves of prosciutto, mortadella, salami, and best of all, Macchialina's house-made porchetta, served in thinly sliced, fat-laced ribbons. As guests arrived, GM and wine director Jennifer Chaefsky offered glasses of Baldini Lambrusco dell'Emilia, a refreshing sparkling Lambrusco that was perfect with the salumi (yes, Lambrusco is back).

The meal followed a classical Italian progression: antipasti, pasta as a "primi piatti," followed by a hearty "secondo piatto," mostly served family style. First up, a couple of crudo-style cured fish items:[1] tuna, cured like prosciutto, wrapped around compressed melon; and swordfish, cured with citrus zests, topped with a dab of a bright green dill purée, and finished with shavings of bottarga.

For the next round, a fritto misto of seafood, each diner was handed a paper cone, stuffed with fried shrimp, calamaretti, whitebait, baby eels and anchovies. Delicate and crisp, the real standouts here were the gorgeous head-on shrimp - though all were good, especially after being dragged through the anchovy-infused salsa verde offered alongside. To accompany, Jennifer poured the Vietti Roero Arneis, a crisp, floral white from one of my favorite Italian producers, better known for their Barolos.

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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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Monday, April 2, 2012

Sustainable Cobaya


Sometimes even we're surprised.

When we plan these Cobaya dinners, we purposefully keep the "marching orders" to the chefs minimal: basically, be creative, and do something you don't normally get to do. Often we'll kick around ideas, we might see preview menus, but not always. Sometimes we have only a rough sketch of what to expect, and sometimes we go in completely blind.

When we sat down to talk with Chef Alejandro Piñero and Manager Jonathan Lazar of Sustain Restaurant + Bar in Midtown Miami, they said they were thinking of doing a Southern Italian inspired menu. Though Sustain is known mostly for its focus on fresh, local, and - yes - sustainable ingredients, this didn't come as a complete surprise to me. Before Sustain, Chef Piñero spent five years as sous chef at Casa Tua and then took over as chef de cuisine at Fratelli Lyon, so Italian is clearly in his repertoire. We invited them to run with the idea, and that was the extent of what we knew.

I expected Sicilian and Sardinian flavors, I expected some modern and some old-school techniques, I expected some great wine pairings from sommelier Daniel Toral. Even I didn't expect a roasted goat's head.

testa di capra arrosto

Here is the full menu (you can see all my pictures in this Sustainable Cobaya flickr set, or click on any picture to view a larger version):

sustainable cobaya menu

Arancia Rossa e Averna

Lardo e Ricci di Mare
Andrea Franchetti "Guardiola" Etna, Sicily 2010

"Oliva" e Frissée
Tenuta delle Terre Nere Etna, Sicily 2010

Ragu di Cinghiale
Arianna Occhipinti "SP68" Vittoria, Sicily 2010

Cerevella di Capra, Patate e Cavolo Nero
Andrea Franchetti "Passopisciaro" Etna, Sicily 2008

Arancia Rossa, Torta all'Olio d'Oliva

Miele Sardo e Sorbetto al Latte di Mandorle

I am generally terrible with foreign languages, but have a savant-like ability to read menus. So it was fun to watch some at our table struggle to translate our menu, particularly as they got to the fifth course.

(continued ...)

Tuesday, March 20, 2012


Gavage: it's not just for ducks. We will get back to the usual business of writing about actual dining experiences shortly, but in the meantime there is a fantastic, if slightly daunting, list of culinary events in Miami over the next couple weeks that may result in engorged livers:

Monday March 26 - Cobaya Experiment #23 - already sold out, but waitlist requests still being taken.

Tuesday March 27 - Michael Mina wine dinner at Bourbon Steak. Chef Mina himself is in town, the wines are from Fairchild Estate (Paul Hobbs is the consulting winemaker), and a four-course menu, inclusive of wine, tax and tip, is $200/pp. For reservations call 786-279-6600 or email

Thursday March 29 - Support two great organizations at once - Common Threads and LegalArt - by going to Pairings, an event to benefit both organizations, with food from Chow Down Grill, the gastroPod, and Mad Max Jack's and artworks on display from several of LegalArt's resident artists. 7pm-10pm, tickets are $25 in advance, $40 at the door, more details here.

Friday March 30 - Harding Dinner Series with Chef Jeremiah at Chow Down Grill / Josh's Deli Surfside kicks off. I've already mentioned this here before, but it's worth mentioning again. The pop-up is running through April 5, and the best opportunities to get a spot may be during the weekday seatings April 3-5. Seats are $79/pp all inclusive. More info, including the number to call for reservations, here.

But wait, there more!

(continued ...)

Thursday, October 20, 2011

If You'd Like More Food and Drink ...

It had been a while since I had passed any of these along, and now there seems to be a wave of really good looking dinner events coming up. To supplement the list from earlier this week:

October 30: The Local + Brooklyn Brewery

Coral Gables gastropub The Local Craft Food and Drink pairs up with Brooklyn Brewery for a multi-course beer and wine pairing, and Chef Alberto Cabrera looks like he's put together a good one:

Salt Cured Sardines
Bread & Butter Vegetable Relish, Hot Sauce, Smoked Tomato Vinaigrette & Dill Biscuit
Brooklyn Sorachi Ace

Cured Foie Gras
Country Duck Ham, Frisee, Pickled Mango, Scarlet Beet Puree & Duck Fat Vinaigrette
Brooklyn Local 1

Sous Vide Bacon Fat Pork Belly
Farm Egg, Scallion Puree, Peanut Powder & Bacon Dashi
Brooklyn Local 2

Crispy Lamb Sweetbreads
Peas, Lamb Sausage, Pecorino, Spearmint, Polenta Chips & Natural Lamb Jus
Brooklyn The Companion Ale (100% bottle re-fermented)

Pan Roasted Grouper Cheeks
Butternut Squash, Sweet Peppers, Green Beans, Shitake Mushroom Chips, Meyer Lemon Puree & Basil Buerre Blanc
Brooklyn Cuvee de la Crochet Rouge

Iron Skillet Seared Ribeye
Roasted Fingerling Potatoes, Pearl Onion Marmalade, Arugula & Bone Marrow Vinaigrette
Brooklyn Cuvee Elijah

Peach Trifle
Brown Butter Cake, Basil & Buttermilk Ice Cream
Vintage 2010 Brooklyn Black Chocolate Stout

Spots are $85, 7pm start time, RSVP (required) to

October 30: Share Our Strength Benefit Dinner at Būccan
If you're feeling charitable, Chef Clay Conley is hosting a benefit dinner at his Palm Beach restaurant Būccan for Share Our Strength, an organization dedicated to ending child hunger. Locals Timon Balloo of Sugarcane and Jim Leiken of Café Boulud will be joining RJ Cooper of Washington DC's Rogue 24 and Jonathan Waxman of New York's Barbuto along with Chef Conley to put together a cocktail reception and multi-course dinner.

6pm reception, 7pm dinner, tickets $200 each (but it's for charity!). Contact or 202.649.4356 or do it online.

November 3: Local Farmers' Dinner at 1500°

Fresh off being named to Esquire's latest "Best New Restaurants" list, 1500° celebrates the arrival of South Florida's growing season with a dinner featuring products from local farmers including Paradise Farms, White Water Clams, Palmetto Creek Farms, Jackman Ranch, Swank Specialty Produce, Hani's Mediterranean Organics, Maggie Pons, Lake Meadow Naturals, Seriously Organic, and Teena's Pride:

Crispy Pork Belly Tacos with Kimchee
Florida Wahoo Ceviche
Deviled Eggs with Capers and Pickled Veggies

Garden Leaf Lettuce and Heirloom Tomatoes
with Crispy Calabaza Blossoms and Hani’s Goat Cheese

White Water Clams with Spicy Greens, Grilled Bread
White Wine Butter Sauce

Whole Fried Local Snapper and Lake Meadows Roasted Chicken
accompanied by Cold Cucumber Salad with Fish Sauce and Sesame Seeds,
Anson Mills Black Rice, Braised Local Greens and Roasted Radishes

Palmetto Creek Pork Loin Chops and Jackman Ranch Florida Raised Wagyu Beef
with Anson Mills Polenta and Hani’s Cheese, Grilled Baby Squash, Roasted Carrots, Braised Oyster Mushrooms, and Spicy Smoked Potato Salad with Benton’s Bacon and Farm Egg

Selection of Homemade Pies and Tarts with Homemade Ice Cream

Reception and five courses, including paired wines and cocktails, is $85 per person (excluding tax and tip). 7pm start time.

(continued ...)

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

If You Like Food and Wine ...

You're in the right place. If you don't like food and wine, well I'm not sure what you're doing here. With Miami Spice season concluded, those of you who do like food and wine may be wondering how to spend your dining dollars. Some local restaurants have a few ideas: as if it to make up for two months of serving $35 three-course dinners, several places are now rolling out some higher-end dining propositions. Here are some upcoming wine-themed dinners, including a couple for tonight that may still have seats available:

October 18: Domain Lucien Albrecht Dinner at db Bistro Moderne:

Chef Jerrod Verbiak will be cooking a four course dinner (no menu posted), paired with eight of Alsatian vintner Domaine Lucien Albrecht 's wines. Domaine Lucien Albrecht's owner Marie Albrecht will host. Reception at 6:30pm, dinner starts at 7:00pm, spots are $150 per person including tax and gratuity. Sign up here.

db Bistro Moderne
255 Biscayne Boulevard Way, Miami

October 18: Spain: A Wine Dinner at Charlotte:

Chef Elida Villaroel closed down her charming Charlotte Bistro over the summer, revamped, and recently reopened. To help kick off the reopening, she's hosting a Spanish-themed wine dinner at the restaurant together with Sunset Corners. The lineup:

1+1=3 Cava Brut (D.O. Cava)

King Crab Risotto with truffle emulsion and micro-greens
Abadel Picapoll 2008 (D.O. Pla de Bages)

Grouper with celery root puree and a lemongrass veloute
Becquer Tinto 2008 (D.O. Ca. Rioja)

Magret de Canard with a fruit chutney and finished with a balsamic pomegranate emulsion
Luna Beberide "Finca la Cuesta" 2008 (D.O. Bierzo)

Lamb Shank with red wine au jus and fennel salami finished with fine herbs and cacao beans
Finca Torremilanos, Torre Albeniz Reserva 2006 (D.O. Ribera del Duero)

Moelleux au Chocolat with Grand Marnier creme anglaise

Dinner starts at 7:00pm, price is $69 per person plus tax and gratuity. Contact the restaurant for a reservation.

264 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables

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Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Route 9 - Coral Gables

It seems I've already had a good bit to say about Route 9 without actually giving my own opinion. After New Times came out with a mostly negative review (subsequently corrected for several factual errors), and the Miami Herald gave it a three star review the same day, some people asked which I thought was "right." To which I initially responded, "I actually can get where both are coming from. I contain multitudes." Upon which I expanded: "if you were to ask me right now, I'd tell you that it's neither as good as the Herald review makes it sound, nor as bad as the New Times review makes it sound."

It's actually somewhat remarkable - and perhaps a bit unfair - the degree of attention that's been directed at Route 9. This was not some highly heralded, loudly trumpeted celebrity chef opening. It's a small-scale place, run by a young, first-time restaurateur couple, that had been open less than two months when both reviews dropped. But the trope is that any publicity is good publicity, and that would seem to be true here: the place was busy and bustling this past weekend, when I went in once again to see what's been going on.[1]

The young, first-time restaurateur couple is Jeremy and Paola Goldberg, and the name "Route 9" comes from the location of their alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York. Though their prior work experience includes time spent at local restaurants including Timo, Johnny V and Escopazzo, they both look barely old enough to drink at their own restaurant. They took over a spot along the more northerly end of Ponce de Leon Boulevard in Coral Gables that was previously occupied by the unheralded Mexican restaurant, Don Chile. With some paint and elbow grease they've turned it into a cozy, clean-lined place for which they've assembled a menu of mostly straightforward, comfort-food style dishes with some Latin and Mediterranean touches.

The selections lean more heavily toward starters and small plates than entrées, particularly if you include the "charcuterie and cheeses" section that leads off the menu. Here you will find, among other things, an item described as "Roasted Hebrew National Salami with Spicy Mustard." And it is pretty much exactly as described: a thick round of old-fashioned Hebrew National salami, scored deeply with a hedgehog pattern, given a bit of a sweet glaze, roasted till warmed through, and served with some spicy deli mustard. It is something of a nostalgic pleasure, bringing back fond memories of salami and eggs at Rascal House. But while technically accurate, it is also something of a stretch to call this "charcuterie" - and to charge $13 for it, for that matter.

A better value is the guacamole and chips, listed among the "sides" (all $6), which brings ramekins of both a creamy guacamole studded with diced tomato, and a pleasantly ruddy, thick salsa, with an almost pesto-like texture and an assertive but not overwhelming dose of spicy heat. Freshly fried, crisp and ungreasy tortilla chips are provided for scooping (and they're glad to bring more if you just ask). Even better still is the grilled feta salad, with hearty chunks of tomato, cucumber, and red onion, well-dressed in a pitch-perfect vinaigrette punctuated with oregano, all crowned with a big cube of nice feta cheese that's been seared on the grill and warmed through.

(continued ...)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Bistro Laurent - Paso Robles

Bistro Laurent
Photo via Bistro Laurent
The last leg of our California trip brought us to Paso Robles. When I had made inquiry through friends of friends for recommendations, a few names kept coming up, and Bistro Laurent was one of them. I can now understand why. Every wine region seems to have a place like this (or ought to) - a comfortable restaurant where you can find simple, well-prepared food that compliments the local wines. Bistro Laurent clearly fits that description.

I knew that Paso Robles was a wine-producing area that has gotten some attention particularly for Rhone varietals and zinfandels, and was familiar with at least a couple producers (Tablas Creek and Linne Calodo, the latter of which I've been a mailing list customer of). But frankly, I hadn't quite realized how extensive Paso Robles' wine biz had become. There are now over 180 wineries in Paso Robles with 26,000 acres of vineyards, and the publicists claim it is the fastest growing wine region in California. Happily, much of that is still focused on small-production wines from vineyards that are still family-owned.

Bistro Laurent, which does double-duty as a wine shop and restaurant, is a good place to sample some of that local product. The restaurant is in a brick building that occupies a corner of the town square. Inside, it's cozy and informal, with exposed brick walls on the interior interspersed with French wine and spirits posters, and along the ledge behind the banquettes, a fine collection of French cookbooks to peruse after you order. The menu offers either a four- or five-course tasting menu in a DIY style with a number of choices (very reasonably priced at $48 or $64), or you can order a la carte. We did some of both.

I started with a simple salad of crabmeat paired with some orange segments over a lightly vinaigrette-dressed green salad, the flavors of which were simple and clean. I followed with seared sea scallops served over a textbook ratatouille, a drizzle of a red wine reduction providing a nice bridge for appeasing my prediliction for red wine with seafood (and everything else). Next, duck magret, still nicely rosy pink, served over potatoes macaire (twice-cooked, first baked, then the flesh scooped out, cooled, molded into a disk and then pan-fried till nice and crispy on the outside), also with a red wine sauce, this one bolstered and smoothed out with demiglace. Meanwhile, we also had their onion soup, again a textbook rendition, a couple pizza-like tarts, one topped simply with tomatoes, mozzarella and basil, the other with a nice combination of escargot, pesto and goat cheese, and a perfectly cooked, juicy pork chop. A chocolate pot du creme and creme brulee were likewise fine versions of the classics.

Terry Hoage The PickThe simple bistro fare makes a good foil for the wine list, which features a pretty encyclopedic offering of Paso Robles' finest, including some back vintage options. The Rhone Ranger types seemed a particularly good match for the food, and we tried something I had never heard of before, Terry Hoage's "The Pick" (2006). The wine was a GSM (grenache syrah mourvedre) blend, heaviest on the grenache, which was dense with black fruits without being over-ripe or over-sweet, and had a nice backbone of spice. I was happy to discover that the winery was only a couple minutes away from our hotel and paid a visit the next day.

Terry Hoage is a former football player (a Georgia Bulldog defensive back who had a 10+ year pro career) and now he and his wife run a small vineyard and winery in the hills of west Paso Robles. Their focus is exclusively on Rhone varietals and total production is about 2,000 cases. The lineup features a grenache blanc / roussanne blend, a rosé of syrah & grenache, a 100% syrah ("The Hedge"), a grenache ("Skins"), and a few blends - "The Pick," a GSM as noted above, "The 46" which is 50/50 grenache & syrah, and "5 Blocks Cuvee" which is a syrah based blend with grenache, mourvedre and cinsault. Both oenophiles and football fans will appreciate the multiple points of reference of the names, and from top to bottom I was really excited by their wines.

When you've got good wine like this, you don't necessarily need or even want culinary pyrotechnics with it. Is the food at Bistro Laurent cutting edge? Innovative? Not even remotely. Is it satisfying, especially together with some of the local juice? Absolutely.

Bistro Laurent
1202 Pine Street
Paso Robles, CA 93446

Bistro Laurent on Urbanspoon

Friday, August 7, 2009

Experiment #1

Talula Cobaya menu The first run of the "Cobaya - Gourmet Guinea Pigs" dinner was earlier this week at Talula with a menu crafted by Chef Andrea Curto-Randazzo and her sous chef Kyle Foster. There was a preview of the menu here the evening before the dinner, and now there's some feedback in the comments there from some of the other guinea pigs.

Before recapping the meal, some general thoughts. The goal here is a very simple one - to get talented chefs to cook great, interesting meals for an audience of adventurous, open-minded diners. That may happen inside a restaurant, it may happen outside of one. It may be a multi-course tasting menu, it may be a family-style whole hog dinner (here's hoping). For those who question the "underground" street cred of this mission, those questions are perfectly legitimate. My answer is, "I don't care." We're not limiting ourselves to meals cooked in abandoned warehouses in secret locations disclosed the day before the dinner; we're also not limiting ourselves to white tablecloths and silverware changed between every course. I'm very open-minded that way: all that matters to me is if the food is good, and I think there's enough similar-minded folks to make that game plan sustainable.

In any event, here are my thoughts on the first Cobaya experiment (the restaurant was very generous on corkage and so several of us brought bottles, wine pairings are noted below where I can recall).

diver scallop crudo - a couple thin slices of cold, sweet sea scallop, topped with a Blue Moon Beer sorbet, some micro-greens tossed with some pickled ginger, and a sprinkle of mint sea salt, all presented on a big scallop shell like Venus on the Half-Shell. I enjoyed the texture of the sorbet against the scallop, though I thought the sorbet was too sweet which overwhelmed the beer flavor; the minted salt did a nice job of perking up the flavors.

Had a Hubert Slovakian sparkling wine with this, which I thought was a perfectly nice bubbly though not a great pairing.

foie gras - the foie was perfectly seared, with a very fine cross-hatch across the surface. A great set of accompaniments, too - a sort of hash of Homestead lychees, toasted almond slivers, and house smoked bacon (Talula does a lot of in-house charcuterie and the results are outstanding), and a drizzle of a root beer gastrique that provided a tantalizing sweet-spicy component. You can also find this root beer gastrique on the Talula regular menu where it accompanies a seared scallop app.

Poured a Bodegas Gutierrez Casta Diva Cosecha Miel (2003) with this, a sweet muscatel from Alicante which showed some nice citrus, honey and spice.

quail - rubbed with ancho chile and roasted, served with a raisin-cocoa nib jus and a puddle of buttered popcorn puree. The quail was perfectly roasted and it was reassuring to see that this group wasn't remotely self-conscious about getting down to business and using their hands to pick up and gnaw on those little leg bones. The raisin-cocoa nib component did a neat job of mirroring the notes of the ancho chile, though it was curious that the flavors more fully revealed themselves on their own (particularly the cocoa) rather than when had in combination with the quail. The popcorn puree was also a nice complement, though the flavor -surprisingly to me - was not dramatically distinguishable from just a simple corn puree.

Paired with a Finca Sandoval (2004), a syrah-based blend from Manchuela that had nice dark fruit and some smoky, chocolatey notes.

tripe risotto - one of my favorites of the night among several very good dishes. Talula always does great risottos but this was a real knockout. Creamy rice and lots of slippery, velvety braised tripe, smoky spicy house-smoked tasso, along with some textural and flavor contrast from some softened but not melted green apple dice and red cabbage, and walnuts. Just an absolutely beautiful dish. I could have happily had another bowl after dessert.

Had with a Poggio San Polo Brunello (1997) which was beautiful, both elegant and robust, but still felt really young and could have used some more aeration. Lesson for next time.

spinalis - another of the favorites of the night. The spinalis is, as I understand it, basically the cap of the ribeye, the strip of meat outside the fat layer of a typical rib-eye steak, taken cross-wise off the top of the cut. It is a fantastic cut of meat, with deep meaty flavor, and a great combination of texture and tenderness. It was accompanied with a summer stone fruit panzanella (slices of nectarine (?) and plum (?) tossed with cubes of toasted bread), "blackberry wine" and a toss of crispy fried shallots. The unconventional pairing of the fruit with the beef nicely lightened up the dish some.

This was possibly one of the best semi-fortuitous wine pairings of the night (when I saw the description it was screaming for a zin for me), a C.G. di Arie "Southern Exposures" Shenandoah Valley Zinfandel (2006), a really nice zin with plenty of berry fruit but still good balance and even elegance.

cheeses - a couple artisan cheeses from Carr Valley, the menu listed a River Bend sheeps' milk cheese and a Bessie's Blend goat & cow's milk cheese, though some of us at the table believe we actually got a Mobay (Carr Valley's take on the French Morbier) instead. The pairing with a house-made mostarda (cherries in a syrup pungent with mustard seed and horseradish) and truffle honey was intriguing, but ... I prefer Talula's cooking to Carr Valley's cheeses.

panna cotta - a beautiful creamy-white panna cotta speckled on top with vanilla beans, with a hint of fresh tarragon and a scatter of strawberries macerated in a white balsamic syrup. This was a nice light dessert, with an excellent texture. Jay Rayner got some titters on Top Chef for noting that a proper panna cotta should wobble like a woman's breasts, and that's an apt description. Sadly, there are so many fake ones on South Beach, it would be hard to tell (panna cottas, that is).

This made for an unexpectedly brilliant pairing with another of the Hubert Slovakian bubblies, this one with just enough of a hint of sweetness to complement the dessert. Unfortunately I can't tell you the particular label on this, only that it was one of those serendipitous moments.

It was a great meal, and a great group of people with whom to share it. The real pleasure of this, from my perspective, is having the opportunity to tell a great chef, "Cook me what you want to make." More such experiences will be coming.[*]

[*]Chef Curto-Randazzo has given hints that she may start doing a "Cobaya Happy Hour" and offer some more adventurous tapas-style items at more affordable prices. When there's more information I"ll be happy to pass it along.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

A Tale of Two Steakhouses - Bern's, Tampa; BLT Steak, South Beach

"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."

For South Florida diners, it might well be the truth. On the one hand, we are fortunate to have local talents like Michael Schwartz, Michelle Bernstein and Jonathan Eismann at restaurants that are reflective of each chef's personal vision and style, and seem to be finding an audience both with locals and the seasonal tourists. We've also had a massive influx lately of imported big-name restaurateurs making sizable investments in South Florida outposts, seemingly oblivious to the financial downturn (more likely simply the product of capital already committed before the economy turned south).

On the other hand, there seems to be a stultifying sameness to many of the new places, particularly the foreign imports. BLT Steak, Gotham Steak, Red the Steakhouse, the upcoming STK steakhouse ... do you see a trend here? But I'd be far from the first person to bemoan the fact that steakhouses are becoming as ubiquitous as Starbucks in Miami,[1] and won't do so further.

Instead, let me get to the point. A couple weeks ago, I had the good fortune - though a cardiologist might disagree - of visiting two fairly celebrated steakhouses. The first was Bern's Steak House, a Tampa institution for more than fifty years and regarded by many as one of the finest steakhouses in the country. The second was one of the new foreign imported models, BLT Steak in Miami Beach, one of many spokes radiating from the New York hub of the Laurent Tourondel empire. It made an interesting opportunity for a compare and contrast.

Bern's Steak House

Bern's looks about a hundred years older than it actually is, because it is decorated in the style of a 19th century brothel. I say that with respect and appreciation. The governing principle of the decoration is that if there is a surface, it should be covered with red velvet, gilt, or if in any way possible, both. It is quite a sight to behold and doesn't look much different than the last time I was there, which was probably more than 20 years ago. While clearly an old-school institution, the restaurant is not fixed in amber. Indeed, they were ahead of the locavore trend, and for years have run their own farm which supplies many of the vegetables used in the restaurant (which, being a steakhouse, is not a ton, but still ...).

Arriving there late, and solo, on a Monday evening, I asked to be seated in the more casual bar area in the front of the restaurant, and skipped the tour of the kitchen and wine cave that is customarily offered. I was brought a plate with a few crackers topped with some melted cheese, which looked unfortunately grey in the restaurant's dim light, and then was given the fat menu and the even fatter wine list. Bern's wine collection is possibly even more legendary than its steaks, with 6,800 selections and over a half million bottles. Only a portion of the collection is actually housed in the restaurant's cellar, with the rest stowed in a warehouse across the street. There are two things in particular I find especially appealing about Bern's wine list: (1) the incredibly deep collection of older American wines; and (2) the eminently reasonable prices for many of those wines, most of which were purchased by the restaurant upon their release.

If there is a hole in Bern's massive wine list, it is the absence of half-bottle options; but given the prices, it was fairly easy to splurge on a full bottle even if I was dining alone. I told my waiter that I was interested in trying a zinfandel with some serious bottle age on it, that I trusted Ridge as a producer, and that he ought to help pick something good as he was going to be finishing off the bottle himself after I was done. He steered me to a 1977 Ridge Coast Range Zinfandel (priced around $60) that another diner had recently tried and enjoyed (he kept a notepad in his pocket to keep track of such things), which was decanted at the table. The common wisdom is that zinfandel is not a wine that ages particularly well, and that most should be drunk within about five years of release. Ridge, however, has a reputation for producing age-worthy zin, and this wine certainly reinforced that reputation. Despite thirty plus years in the bottle, this wine was still fully alive and vibrant; not the jammy flavors of most current zins, but elegant and layered, with a nose that suggested fallen leaves and hints of mushroom and forest floor among the dark fruit notes. It was a thrill to find something this old, and this well-kept, at such a reasonable price.

I let the zin get some air while I started with a flute of Delamotte Le Mesnil Champagne and an order of American hackleback sturgeon caviar. Bern's offers 20+ different caviar selections in one-ounce portions, ranging from various flavored whitefish or tobiko roes for $25 to $220 Iranian Oscetra. The hackleback, one of my favorites of the American sturgeon roes, comfortably resided much closer to the lower end of that range. Along with some toasted brioche, it came with accompaniments that I found highly amusing - six different flavored foams! That most stereotypical and loathed conceit of the so-called "molecular gastronomists," here in this seriously old-school steakhouse? Say it isn't so! Does this mean we should now call Bern's Steak House a "molecular gastronomy restaurant"?[2] Unfortunately, I can no longer recall all six flavors (lemon; onion; avocado; curry .... ?) but after sampling each, I stuck with the lemon or just a bare naked scoop of roe on the brioche.

I elected to skip the soup which comes with every entrée and moved on to the salad. I usually do not care much about fussy service, but I am still a sucker for touches such as the chilled fork that was brought out with the salad. I believe my server said the salad had 12 different vegetables, many from the Bern's garden, but I have to confess that none particularly moved me.

Next arrived what I had really come for - the steak. The steak portion of the Bern's menu takes up a total of five pages, and includes an explanation of each cut (and how Bern's butchers each - all butchery is done in-house and to order); pricing for various weights of each different cut (ranging from a 6 oz. filet mignon to a 60 oz. New York strip); a detailed description of the degrees of doneness you can request; and a lengthy discussion of their in-house dry-aging process. I went with a 10 oz. rib-eye, and it was one of the finest steaks I've had in a long time. The beef was clearly the beneficiary of good dry-aging, rendering it tender with a deep concentration of flavor. Most remarkable was that it had been trimmed so that there was not a bite on this steak that wasn't edible. I actually like the "cap" on a rib-eye, which is usually separated from the rest of the steak by a thick line of fat, but this was trimmed like what I have more recently seen described as an "eye of rib-eye." When I mentioned to my server (after devouring every bit of the steak) that I liked the cap, he told me to just say so on my next visit, as every steak is cut to order and can be butchered basically however you want.

The steak was accompanied by a perfectly pleasant baked potato with all the fixings, some slightly flaccid, soggy onion rings, as well as some rather nebbish vegetables from the Bern's garden - some shredded sauteed carrots with a hint of sweetness, which just seemed odd, and a few different types of wax beans, which were given an incongruous splash of soy sauce. I didn't save room for a trip to the "Harry Waugh Dessert Room."

The truth is, I could have easily lived without everything at Bern's but the steak and the wine; but with just those two things, I could have had an incredibly satisfying meal. All the more remarkable considering that the rib-eye I ordered - which came with an onion soup, salad, baked potato, onion rings and vegetables - was $40. I know that seems like a steep price point to be talking about a "bargain," but relatively speaking - and particularly once the wine prices are factored in - that might well be an apt description of Bern's.[3]

BLT Steak

Visually, at least, BLT Steak is the anti-Bern's. Stationed in the lobby of the Betsy Ross Hotel on the northern end of Ocean Drive in South Beach, BLT Steak is the embodiment of minimalism, a stark contrast to the baroque excess of Bern's. The space draws lots of natural light from the windows facing out on Ocean Drive, and everything is terrazzo, blond wood, and beige linen. The primary "decoration" is a large blackboard behind the banquettes inscribed in chalk with a tutorial on different types of beef. It is a surprisingly small space, with a bar off to one side, about a dozen or so tables in the main lobby space (which still also functions as the Betsy Hotel lobby), and another row of tables in a narrower space along the windows facing Ocean Drive. There's also outdoor seating on the front patio.

Whereas at Bern's I could have just stuck with the steak and the wine and happily skipped everything else, it was the "everything else" that made for some of the biggest highlights at BLT Steak. Indeed, one of the best things was one of the first to arrive at the table, a jam jar filled with warm, oozy chicken liver mousse, along with a similar jar of lightly pickled vegetables and some crusty bread. I don't know many people that enjoy chicken liver (at least not as much as I do), but I hope they're at least willing to try this - it may make them converts. These treats were followed by a tray with a gigantic popover for each diner, delicately crispy outside, tender and warm but not mushy or doughy within. I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite pre-dinner steakhouse spread between this and Bourbon Steak's trio of duck fat fries and truffle-oil soaked focaccia.

chicken liver mousse
photo credit: Jacob Katel

In addition to the regular menu, which doesn't stray very far from the usual steakhouse staples (although it does offer more fish and seafood selections than usual, both in the appetizers and entrées), there was also a separate menu of daily specials which appears designed both to give the chef (the all-of-25-years old Samuel Gorenstein) an outlet for more creative fare, and to take advantage of seasonal local product. The specials menu offered both prix fixe and a la carte options, but I felt like I needed an abacus to figure it all out. The prix fixe offer included three courses plus a side dish (I believe it was for $60), theoretically from any of the items listed on the specials menu, but at least half the items had "supplement" charges if ordered as part of the prix fixe, ranging from $3 to nearly $20. Feeling too mentally taxed to figure it all out, we simply went a la carte.

I started with one of the daily specials, a porchetta di testa. It was amusing to see that this was the exact same preparation as the one done by Chef Chris Cosentino of Incanto in San Francisco, as shown in this video; and one that I have already seen duplicated, in almost exactly the same manner, right down to the garnishes, by Chef Michael Schwartz at Michael's Genuine. One more dish to add to my list of "goes around ... comes around" items, apparently. It was good, possibly even a bit more refined than MGF&D's iteration, and I have no complaints with finding pig head on multiple local menus.

Mrs. F started with a classic shrimp cocktail, something that's often good but tough to make really sing. In fact the only time I've ever had a truly standout shrimp cocktail was at Bourbon Steak (which, it seems, I need to go back to), where an extra dimension was added by a poaching liquid redolent with tarragon and other fresh herbs whose flavors were beautifully picked up by the crustaceans. The shrimp at BLT Steak were plump and sweet but not particularly special.

photo credit: Jacob Katel

Frod Jr. and I split a 40 oz. porterhouse, an impressive cut roughly two inches thick, with the sirloin and filet on either side deftly trimmed off the bone and sliced into big slabs. It was done closer to medium rare than the medium/medium-rare I'd requested (for Frod Jr.'s benefit), but the heat from the pan actually provided for some carry-over cooking of the slices left within. It was a good steak (though an unfortunate seam of fat running the length of the sirloin side was a distraction), with a nicely charred exterior from broiling at 1700 degrees (!), but lacked the depth of flavor (and the conscientious trimming) of the steak at Bern's. A pat of herb butter on top was unnecessary, and a head of roasted garlic seemed very 1980's. We did have plenty of leftovers, and Frod Jr. and I had a steak sandwich, and a steak sandwich, for lunch the following day. We even tried to put it on the Underhills' bill. And that head of garlic actually came in handy to flavor a roasted garlic mayo for the sandwiches.

Mrs. F and Little Miss F elected to split a swordfish - a decision I didn't fully support, particularly given the rather uninspiring menu description as "spiced grilled swordfish / olive oil & lemon." The only thing missing was the "spiced," and this was a bland dish if generously portioned. There were other intriguing fish options, including an acacia honey marinated Alaskan black cod and some local fish selections in the daily specials.

As sides, we ordered some "crispy gnudi" from the specials list, along with onion rings and creamed spinach from the regular menu. The gnudi didn't really work for me, the exterior not so much crispy as just a bit gummy, and the rest of the components not really seeming to come together - a scatter of thinly sliced speck on top, a ramekin of butter on the side. The onion rings were big fat rounds of sweet onion, with almost a tempura style coating, stacked impressively into a tower. The creamed spinach was no better or worse than any other steakhouse version.

Desserts were a big hit among the junior members of the Family Frod. The real surprise hit was a key lime panna cotta which Little Miss F ordered. Served in a big glass bowl, the panna cotta was quiveringly light but bright with zippy key lime flavor, topped with a creamy coconut sorbet that was an effective pairing. Frod Jr. can almost never pass up a molten chocolate cake, and was sucked in by the one on the specials list. I've had these too many times to get excited by them, but he's still young.

The wine list, unsurprisingly, is no match for the list at Bern's. While fairly short, it manages to offer more options than just the typical panopoly of big California cabernets that are usually prevalent on steakhouse lists. The markups were wildly unpredictable, however. A 2006 Ridge Three Valleys zin, typically around $20 retail, was priced at $70+; on the other hand, a 2006 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage, at $49, was less than 2x the average retail price of $30. Guess which one we got? (Hint: it was not the "base-model" current release from the same winery which produced a nicely 30+ year-aged wine that I bought for less at Bern's earlier in the week). The Graillot, a reliable Northern Rhone syrah, was a great match with the steak.

Service at BLT Steak was smooth and solicitous, belying the stereotype of apathetic or worse South Beach service. Though it was quiet for a Friday night, sometimes those slow service nights seem to trigger a certain inertia in the staff. Not true here. The servers cooperated in taking care of tables, the manager stopped by mid-meal to check on us, and the sommelier complimented us on the selection of the Graillot. It's not often that somebody notices and comments favorably on a wine from the low end of the list's price range.

So what's the point? I suppose there are a few. (1) overall, I had very pleasant meals at both Bern's and BLT Steakhouse; (2) despite both being "steakhouses," they are quite different places, with their own strengths and weaknesses, and perhaps it's too simplistic to simply lump all the "steakhouses" together; (3) despite my prejudices against steakhouses and even moreso those that are imported satellites, Bern's steaks and wine list alone are worth the visit, and BLT Steak is doing enough right to be worth checking out again - if for no other reason than the chicken liver mousse and popovers.

Bern's Steak House
1208 S. Howard Avenue
Tampa, FL 33606

Bern's Steak House on Urbanspoon

BLT Steak
1440 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139

BLT Steak on Urbanspoon

[1]In fact, there are now more steakhouses in Miami Beach than there are Starbucks. The Starbucks locator shows 9 stores in Miami Beach. Steakhouses? BLT Steak; Fogo de Chao; Gotham Steak; Parilla Liberty; Outback Steakhouse; Prime One Twelve; Rare Steakhouse; Red; Shula's; Smith & Wollensky; Texas de Brazil = 11. And that's not even counting recently closed Kobe Club and Tuscan Steak, or soon-to-open STK.

[2]Regular readers will know I don't think there is any such thing as a "molecular gastronomy restaurant" and hopefully the use of techniques such as foams in an old-guard restaurant like Bern's helps prove the point.

[3]One oddity of Bern's is that the bill includes a 12% service charge "to be given to your waiter in lieu of salary," with a note that "The option of a gratuity for fine service, of course, is yours." I frankly had no idea what to make of this rather ambiguous notation, and added about another 10% to the bill as tip - in addition to the glass or so I left behind of the Ridge zin my server had recommended.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Morning Reading Material

Some interesting reading material this morning:

Don't forget the Miami Pizza Crawl starts tomorrow 6:30 pm at Joey's Wynwood, then moves to Pizzavolante and (if appetites allow) Andiamo. If you're hoping to join in and haven't done so yet, please join the Miami Chowdown Google Group and let me know so we can try to plan accordingly.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Wine Dinner at 5300 Chophouse

OK - a few words of caution before I put this one up: (1) I do not watch Hell's Kitchen, don't get to Doral that often, and so had never heard of 5300 Chophouse or its chef Josh Wahler; (2) $125 seems a bit steep for a restaurant and winery I've never heard of (as for the wine, my guess is that Sunbox Eleven is a Crushpad custom crush thing, not that there is anything wrong with that); and (3) the shill quotient seems high, what with a New Times blog entry generating 21 comments and about 10x that many exclamation points. But having said all that, both the menu and wines look somewhat interesting, so here it is - the 5300 Chophouse / Sunbox Eleven wine dinner, to happen on May 28, $125 per person inclusive of tax and tip.

5300 Chophouse
5300 NW 87th Avenue
Miami, FL 33178

Friday, May 15, 2009

The Heart Has its Rieslings*

Destination Riesling I'll confess I'm not usually a big white wine drinker. But - if I may borrow from the Most Interesting Man in the World - when I do drink white wine, I often prefer Riesling. Somewhat intimidating because of the variety of styles and the difficult-to-decipher German labeling system, Rieslings nonetheless have the capacity for complex hedonistic flavors, while also often having an excellent balance of fruit and acid to make for effective food pairings.

If you're not a big Riesling drinker - or if you are, and are just looking for another excuse - next week is the time to try one, as Wines of Germany and Destination Riesling team up for Riesling Week May 18-24. Restaurants and retailers will be featuring German, Austrian and Alsatian Rieslings with by-the-glass tastings, food and wine pairings, and wine flights. Participating Miami restaurants include Azul, Bourbon Steak, Brosia, Café Sambal, Emeril's, M-Bar, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Michy's, Oceanaire, OLA, Ortanique, and Palme d’Or; and retailers include Sunset Corners, W Wine Boutique, and Wine 69.

*With all due credit to Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon Vineyard for that pun.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

What's That Growing in the Fridge Pt. II

It was never my intent for this to be a "home cooking" blog - and it won't be, but bear with me, this ties in to an earlier post. Mrs. F was off on her own at Sra. Martinez [as to which more detailed thoughts will be forthcoming] tonight, while I was left to rifle through the fridge and construct a meal from what I could find. OK, let's see - an Italian dry sausage ... some Cypress Grove Midnight Moon cheese ... some local grown baby bok choy and spring onion from Norman Brothers ... the rest of the Carlisle RRV Syrah we opened last night ... I can work with this. While I enjoy cooking, I don't relish spending a ton of time making a meal when I'm only getting started at 9pm, so this will be quick. Onion chopped and into a hot pan with some oil, when it starts going golden the bok choy goes in. A splash of soy, a splash of black vinegar ... this lapsang souchong vinegar still looks OK, some of that too ... and a spoonful of toban jan sauce. Toss, lid down for a couple minutes, done.

The sausage was chewy and rich with a little spice and tang. The cheese, a Gouda-like aged goat cheese apparently produced specially for Cypress Grove in Holland, was firm but not hard, with nutty, salty, caramel notes, and little grainy crystals like a good Parmigiano-Reggiano. The wine was even better on the second day - blackberry, graphite, smoke, some nice acidity. And my quickly cooked baby bok choy didn't suck.

So what did all of these have in common? Fermentation. The sausage relies on fermentation both for preservation and flavor development. The cheese likewise is the product of fermentation. The vinegar (doubly so the lapsang souchong vinegar, which was flavored with fermented black tea) and toban jan (made with chiles and fermented broad beans) too. Wine - well, yeah. Completely unintentional and coincidental. And actually quite delicious - as noted in a comment to that prior post, all loaded with umami.

I still would have rather been at Sra. M's.