Showing posts with label invasive exotic species. Show all posts
Showing posts with label invasive exotic species. Show all posts

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

first thoughts: Bazaar Mar | Brickell (Miami)

It occurred to me that I've been to an awful lot of José Andrés' restaurants: minibar many years ago, back when it was a jerry-rigged six-seat counter in the middle of Café Atlantico, not a Michelin two-star restaurant; Jaleo in D.C., é and China Poblano in Las Vegas, Bazaar here in Miami Beach. This revelation was prompted when our waiter at Bazaar Mar, his latest in the SLS Brickell hotel, asked that routine question, "Have you eaten here before?" and then followed up by asking if we've eaten at any of José's other restaurants.[1]

One of the challenges of expanding a restaurant empire – especially when you're adding another outlet in the same territory – is coming up with different concepts so you're not just cannibalizing your own business. But Andrés never seems to be lacking for ideas, with more than a dozen different restaurants under his ThinkFoodGroup umbrella. So I was somewhat surprised that when Andrés announced his second Miami restaurant, it was "Bazaar Mar," when he already has The Bazaar ten miles away in South Beach.

But with my "Brickell Aversion," surely I of all people ought to recognize that Brickell and South Beach can be entirely separate worlds these days. And while there is some overlap between the two places, there's actually enough distinguishing them that you could eat at Bazaar one night and Bazaar Mar the next and have entirely different meals.

(You can see all my pictures in this Bazaar Mar - Miami flickr set).

As the name indicates, Bazaar Mar has a seafood focus, and if the name didn't clue you in, the decor will. The entire space is covered in bright white tiles painted with blue nautical motifs of sailors and mermaids and sea monsters. A few gigantic horned fish heads – I'm guessing these are designed by Mikel Urmeneta, who also did the bulls' heads in Bazaar – are mounted around the dining room. The somewhat odd layout effectively has two dining rooms – one wide-open space in front, another more cloistered space in back, each of which has a raw bar counter and a view of the open kitchen at the pivot point between them. A tank loaded with live seafood runs in front of the kitchen. To the right of the entrance, a cozy bar is done up in the same nautical motifs but with a dramatic black and gold color scheme. It's a nice place to pre-game for your meal with an "Ultimate Gin and Tonic" or a liquid nitrogen frozen caipirinha slushie.

The menu can be fairly daunting, with somewhere around sixty items all told. Most of these are small plates, though, some of them just one- or two-biters, so you easily get four or five dishes per person and sample a wide cross-section. Here's how we navigated our first visit:

To start, a little tribute to Andrés' most influential mentor, Ferran Adrià – Adrià's signature spherified olives, the little gushers marinated in olive oil spiked with citrus zest and piparra peppers.

Once, I somehow got invited to some sort of fashion event at The Bazaar on South Beach. It was not exactly a crowd that was focused on the food. So while they milled about admiring each other's clothes and sniffing the air, I perched myself next to a counter where a guy was carving slices from a leg of jamón ibérico and dolloping them with osetra caviar to make what's known as a "José Taco." I must have eaten a dozen of those things. For Bazaar Mar, José has created a variation on the theme, with slices of lightly cured hamachi brushed with ibérico ham fat, topped with osetra caviar, minced ginger and sesame seeds, all cradled on a sheet of crispy seaweed.

These smoked salmon macarons, with dilled cream cheese and a couple pearls of salmon roe on top, an amuse bouche from the kitchen, were perfectly executed and delicious. There were every bit as good when our server brought us a couple more toward the end of our meal. I expect they're going to find their way onto the menu and stay there.

Atop that whimsical octopus pedestal pictured at the top is a "California Funnel Cake" – a little fried cake of seaweed-infused batter topped with crabmeat, avocado, cucumber and tobiko, like a reconfigured California roll. A word of caution: this is much smaller than it appears in pictures, and at $13, may seem like a lot to pay for two bites.[2]

Our server encouraged us to try the ceviche with a fresh catch of yellow jack, an upgrade over the cobia on the menu, and it was good advice. The meaty fish was arranged in ribbons around a frozen "rose" of leche de tigre, surrounded by nasturtium leaves and lightly pickled radishes, and topped with a dusting of crumbled corn nuts. The beautiful presentation was made to be destroyed: mash the frozen sauce so it can merge with the lightly marinated fish, dig around and find the sweet potato cubes underneath, and you have all the flavors of a classic ceviche back together again.

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Thursday, January 19, 2017

The List: Updated as of January 2017

A little while ago, I got the idea to make a list of my favorite places to eat in Miami. And when I say "a little while ago," turns out it was nearly five years ago. This was pointed out to me recently when Frod Jr. was home on winter break. When he told friends at school that his old dad wrote a food blog, they thought that was kind of cool. Then they went and looked, and of course were drawn to the List, and said, "Well, that's, um, kind of dated."

It sure is. Indeed, not only was that list pretty stale, but more than a quarter of the places included have closed since it was prepared – which among other things, may tell you something about the correlation between my personal preferences and restaurant success. (In my defense, that percentage is probably relatively consistent with the general failure rate in the industry, and I didn't prepare the list with predictive value in mind). In any event, it was definitely time for an overhaul.

The process was illuminating as to how the Miami restaurant world has changed over the past five years. Of the 38 restaurants that filled out that original list (the current version has been whittled down to 28), only ten remain on the updated version. The repeats: BazaarBourbon SteakEating HouseHiro's Yakko-SanJoe's Stone CrabJosh's DeliMakotoMichael's GenuineNaoe, and Pubbelly. Of the many new additions to the list, six are brought to us by out-of-town restaurateurs, what I've sometimes called "invasive exotic species" (Byblos, La Mar, Le Zoo, Los Fuegos, Myumi, Pao). But the bulk of the new names come, in some form or another, from locals, though that term can be amorphous in a community as transient as Miami's.[1] And half of the new names on the list are places that have opened in the past two years. Since I'm generally not one to go chasing the latest shiny objects, that would seem to indicate that good things are happening here.

As always, this does not purport in any way to be an objective, authoritative, or encyclopedic survey of Miami dining options. It is undoubtedly shaded by my own personal predilections, and moreover, is admittedly riddled with gaps because of the ever-growing length of my restaurant "to-do" list.

So here it is. The List: Where to Eat in Miami, now updated as of January 2017.

Let me know what I've missed, and what I've gotten wrong.

[1] While I've been in South Florida all my life, I recognize that if you've been in Miami more than two years, you're practically a local. So I think of Kyu as a locally-grown place even though chef Michael Lewis worked all over the world before coming here several years ago to open Zuma. And even though I lump Gaston Acurio's La Mar with the outsiders, its chef de cuisine, Diego Oka, surely has earned his stripes as a Miamian by this point.

Monday, March 21, 2016

best thing i ate last week: everything at the Central + Alter dinner

Don't make me pick a favorite. I just can't.

Last Tuesday was the second collaborative dinner hosted at Alter restaurant by Chef Bradley Kilgore. This time, he brought in Chef Virgilio Martinez of Central in Lima, Peru. These kinds of team-ups can be something of a crap shoot for the diner: even with talented chefs, it's unpredictable how effectively their styles will mesh, or how well someone's cooking may show on the road.

Yet this dinner was so in tune that for most of the night I couldn't tell who had cooked which dish, other than that Virgilio's sometimes had a tell: if I had to google an ingredient, it was one of his.[1] But regardless of the creator, everything - everything! - at this meal was exceptional. If I had to narrow it down to two:

(You can see all the pictures in this Central @ Alter flickr set.)

"Valley Between Andes" – I later figured out that Martinez's menu at Central features dishes inspired by the products of different elevations of the Peruvian topography. This one included avocado, tree tomato (a/k/a tamarillo), and kiwicha (amaranth seeds). The avocado was so creamy and rich that it almost ate like tender braised beef, napped with a tangy sauce and speckled with the nutty, quinoa-like kiwicha, with shards of translucent, herb-dotted crackers for some textural contrast.

"Fallen Tree" – Brad started with a caramelized tranche of heart of palm as the base of the dish, with the other components evoking a tropical forest floor: snails, dehydrated mushrooms, a tangle of green (seaweed?) moss, a pouffe of spring garlic mousse with pickled honshimeji mushroom "spores" poking up out of it.

But these are just examples – every course of this menu impressed. It's unusual to have so many dishes that simultaneously achieve the delicious, the beautiful, and the unexpected all at once.

[1] I.e., kiwicha (amaranth seed, a pseudocereal like quinoa), tree tomato (which I'm more familiar with as "tamarillo"), airampo (a magenta hued prickly pear fruit), chaco clay (an edible clay which apparently has been consumed since pre-Colombian times).

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Cobaya Kamayan with Chef Dale Talde

We encourage chefs to think of a Cobaya dinner as a chance to do something different, something they typically couldn't otherwise pull of in their restaurants. Chef Dale Talde of Talde Miami Beach (and also of Talde Brooklyn, Talde Jersey City, Pork Slope and Thistle Hill) got the message.

(You can see all my pictures in this Cobaya Kamayan with Chef Talde flickr set).

We gathered in the restaurant's bar as our twenty-five guinea pigs made their way to Mid-Beach. Though Talde is inside the Thompson Hotel, it ditches the typical bland, anonymous feel of a hotel restaurant for a hodge-podge of Asian-Americana and hip-hop motifs: behind the hostess stand is a tongue-in-cheek portrait of Talde with a couple bikini-clad models all holding plates of food; one wall is covered with a street art style picture of a tangle of ramen noodles.

As we were assembling our guinea pigs, the Talde crew was getting ready for us, spreading out layers of banana leaves on one long communal table. Though Talde describes his style as "proudly inauthentic" Asian-American cooking, this was going to be a meal with a genuine connection to his Filipino ancestry: a kamayan feast.

What does that mean? From what I can gather from a few minutes of Googling, "kamayan" literally means "with your hands," and derives from a pre-colonial tradition in the Philippines of eating with one's hands. The Spaniards of course saw this as "uncivilized," and brought with them the use of cutlery. But great eating traditions don't die easily, and there is a real pleasure and sense of community in everyone literally digging into a meal with their hands. I've also seen the same thing described as a "boodle fight," referring to a Filipino military custom in the same style where soldiers and officers, regardless of rank, all eat with their hands from the same table.

So as we entered the dining room (after making sure everyone washed their hands), we found one long table covered in banana leaves, and then piled high with dinner for twenty-five. No plates, no utensils, just a lot of food – and a lot of napkins.

(continued ...)

Thursday, March 3, 2016

best thing i ate last week (feb. 15-21): beef, chimichurri, lettuce cores at Alinea Miami pop-up

There is something surreal about any dinner at Alinea, a meal which may feature edible helium balloons, bottomless plates, and desserts served right on the table. There is something even more surreal about having such a dinner in Miami.

But the surreal has become real. While their Chicago home, which opened in 2005, gets a facelift, the Alinea team has been doing a traveling road show: first a couple weeks in Madrid, and starting a few weeks ago, a run here in Miami at the Faena Hotel.

(You can see all my pictures in this Alinea in Miami flickr set).

I was there on February 18, the day after the opening, and overall, was very impressed by how well they played for a road game. The menu included both some "greatest hits" from the Alinea oeuvre – hot potato cold potato, black truffle explosion, the bacon trapeze – as well as a few items that took inspiration from the local flavors.

From this latter category came my favorite dish of the evening, and of the week. To save a bit of the mystery of the dinner, I won't tell how the steak was cooked, other than to say that sometimes things are hidden in plain view. But I will say that the tranche of crimson-hued wagyu beef was paired with a bright tangy green emulsion inspired by Argentinian chimichurri, complemented by my favorite item on the plate: spears of crunchy, tart pickled lettuce cores, a really effective use of an unheralded and unexpected ingredient.

Although the Alinea Miami dinners have been reported as sold out for several weeks, when I checked this morning a few open spots were showing up in their ticketing system for this weekend and next. If you're intrigued, you may want to jump on those quickly.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

best thing i ate last week (feb. 8-14): chow fun with braised pork and mustard greens at Talde Miami Beach

I still have little hope of keeping up with the pace of Miami restaurant openings, but lately I've made a small dent in the list. Saturday before last, I braved my way through Miami Boat Show traffic to visit Talde Miami Beach, Chef Dale Talde's new restaurant in the Thompson Hotel (OK, maybe not even so new any more - it opened in November).

(You can see all my pictures in this Talde Miami Beach flickr set).

Where its companion in the Thompson, Michelle Bernstein's Seagrape, harmonizes with the hotel's 1950's, Morris Lapidus vibe, Talde brings a little of Chef Talde's Brooklyn home base to the beach: half the seating is in a re-purposed shipping container, graffiti covers the walls, hip hop blares over the speakers. The menu is similar to the chef's Brooklyn outpost which also bears his name, and features a hodge-podge of unabashedly inauthentic "Asian-American" dishes: kung pao chicken wings, pretzel pork and chive dumplings and the like.

It's a refreshingly casual place in a part of the beach that is becoming increasingly fancy. Prices are not exactly cheap, but they aren't ridiculous either, especially the short list featured on the "Late Night Noodles" menu from midnight to 4am on Thursdays to Saturdays for the club kids crowd.

I took a spot at the small kitchen counter that lines the back of the restaurant, where I tried a few things including one real standout: Talde's chow fun with braised pork and mustard greens. The broad rice noodle is given an unusual presentation, rolled in a tight spiral and seared on its top surface, the idea being that you break up the noodle and mix it with the rest of the components at the table. It makes for a great combination of crispy and chewy. The noodle, once given some encouragement, is an effective vehicle for the flavors of the tender braised pork, a broth that's redolent of sweet soy (and possibly Chinese fermented black beans), and some pleasantly tangy pickled mustard greens that provide much-wanted brightness.

I'll be back soon to try the Benton's bacon dumplings and the Korean fried chicken with spicy kimchi yogurt.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

first thoughts: Pao by Paul Qui in the Faena Hotel - Miami Beach

Of the many big-name Miami restaurant openings of late, the one I've been most curious about is Paul Qui's Pao in the Faena Hotel Miami Beach. I've followed the chef since he was in the kitchen at Austin's Uchi, watched him dominate a season of Top Chef and win a James Beard Award in 2012, then go on to open both a tasting menu format restaurant (Qui) and several ragingly successful food trucks in Austin (East Side King and its sibling Thai-Kun, which was on Bon Appetit's list of best new restaurants of 2014).

Pao is Qui's first venture outside of Austin, and it's a big one: the Faena is perhaps the most ostentatious and over-the-top of many recent ostentatious, over-the-top Miami developments. The billion dollar project includes not only the hotel, where rooms start at $900 a night, but also a Norman Foster-designed condominium where units are selling for an average of $3,000 per square foot (including a $60 million sale to a billionaire hedge fund manager) and the Rem Koolhaas-designed Faena Forum, a multi-disciplinary arts exhibition center.

It is both exciting and, in a way, alienating. In many respects, I simply don't recognize this as the city where I was born and have spent nearly half a century. Faena, and other recent projects like the expansion of the Design District into what seems like a living catalog of the holdings of LVMH, are designed as playgrounds for the über-wealthy, international jet-set; they have little connection to the locals who actually live here.

But if it brings chefs like Qui to Miami, then who am I to complain?

Oddly, despite all the hullabaloo over Faena, details on Qui's restaurant have been somewhat hard to come by, even as it opened at the beginning of this week. I heard the food would be "modern Asian" with "Filipino, Spanish, Japanese and French flavors;" I heard a lot more about the $6 million Damien Hirst gold-leafed unicorn sculpture ("Golden Myth") that is the centerpiece of the dining room. But that's OK: so many restaurants put out so much pre-opening hype these days that I grow tired of hearing about them before they've even opened. By contrast, I didn't have much of an idea of what to expect heading into Pao. So here's a first look.

(You can see all the pictures from my first visit to Pao – including shots of the menu, which is not yet available online – in this Pao by Paul Qui flickr set).

The menu starts with four choices of fish crudos, along with a "binchotan service" featuring several items that can be grilled tableside over Japanese charcoal. It then moves through about a half-dozen choices of small plates, several rice dishes and a selection of several larger-format plates meant for sharing.

The first item on the menu points toward Qui's Filipino heritage: kinilaw, the Philippines' version of ceviche. Slices of hiramasa (a/k/a buri, yellowtail, amberjack) are bathed in coconut milk and coconut vinegar, garnished with hearts of palm and slivered red onion, and dappled with Spanish olive oil. It's richer, and less acidic, than a typical ceviche, and I found myself wishing the vinegar was turned up a little louder than the coconut milk. The other crudo we tried, a carpaccio of Japanese sea bream, was plated with a puddle of smoked soy sauce and leek oil contained within a ring of kumquat jam that tasted as bright and vibrant as its vivid orange hue. The quality of the fish was excellent, but I was somewhat surprised that of the four crudos offered, none came from local waters and two featured endangered bluefin tuna.[1]

(continued ...)

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Elements: Scott Anderson Dinner at The Dutch

Much as I might wish for it, I don't get to spend my days traversing the country from restaurant to restaurant. We're fortunate to travel often and usually eat very well when we do, but even so, there are places I'm unlikely to ever visit. Princeton, New Jersey would fall into that category.[1] And as a result, I figured I would never eat at Elements, Chef Scott Anderson's restaurant which opened in Princeton about five years ago (and is currently closed while moving to a new location).

This was cause for regret, because I'd read and heard many very good things about it. A couple guys whose opinions I value raved about their meals there. Despite being somewhat off the grid, it was highly regarded enough to make Opinionated About Dining's list of the top twenty restaurants in the U.S. So I was pretty excited when I learned, through Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog, that Scott was interested in doing a dinner here in Miami.

We sent up some Cobaya flares for other folks who might be interested, and Chef Conor Hanlon of The Dutch graciously agreed to participate and play host. Together, Scott, Jeremiah, Conor and Josh Gripper, The Dutch's pastry chef, put together a pretty extraordinary ten-course dinner.

(You can see all my pictures in this Chef Scott Anderson (Elements) at the Dutch flickr set. Apologies for the weird sepia-toned hue to these pictures; the food-unfriendly yellow lights on The Dutch's terrace are the only downside of putting on events there).

A few canapes to start: a pink beet macaron with an herbed chevre filling, a nice repurposing of a traditional combination; a crispy chicharron topped with a Thai-inspired green papaya and apple salad; and an airy – kind of fishy – scallop chip topped with pungent kimchee and trout roe. I'm assuming each chef did one of these, but they didn't tell us who (I'll guess Conor for the macaron, Jeremiah for the papaya salad, and Scott for the scallop chip).

Sometimes simple is bold. Particularly in this kind of dinner format, where the natural tendency is to show off, restraint isn't easily exercised. But that's what Jeremiah displayed, letting the main ingredient – some really lush, buttery baja yellowtail (a/k/a hiramasa or goldstriped amberjack) – stand out in his first dish. Meaty cubes and a couple silky ribbons of the raw fish were paired with a verdant fava bean purée, a few green leaves (tart sorrel, grassy tatsoi?), some slivers of shallot and a thin round of peppery black radish for some bite.

Conor followed with something also aquatic and equally elegant: cured ora king salmon, a richly fatty but clean-flavored salmon sustainably farmed off the coast of New Zealand, served with slivered radishes, puddles of deep, funky black garlic hollandaise, and hillocks of nutty crispy quinoa. The composition brought to mind a more sophisticated iteration of the combination of lox and a pumpernickel bagel that is so deeply resonant among my people.

I'm not sure how much communication there was between the chefs about their dishes, but it was interesting that Scott's first course also seemed to be a continuation of the same theme. A plump, sweet scallop (brought in live) was just barely cooked through, topped with a relish of Brazilian starfish pepper and shallots that tasted both spicy and fruity (reminiscent of habanero but with less capsicum heat), plus buttery avocado oil, a couple nasturtium leaves and a bright marigold blossom. These were assertive flavors to match with the somewhat delicate seafood, but I loved how they came together.

(continued ...)

Friday, October 3, 2014

elements - Scott Anderson Dinner at The Dutch 10.20.14

I've been teasing it on Twitter and to the Cobaya - Gourmet Guinea Pigs mailing list, now it's official: October 20, 2014, 7pm, Chef Scott Anderson of Elements restaurant will be doing a nine-course dinner with chefs Conor Hanlon of The Dutch (which will also be graciously hosting the dinner) and Jeremiah Bullfrog of the gastroPod.

Anderson's restaurant is one of those places I've always wanted to visit but didn't ever see the opportunity – I'm not often passing through Princeton, New Jersey. Now, instead, he's coming here. To get some idea of why I'm excited, I'd encourage you to read these write-ups from a couple folks whose opinions I hold in high regard: ChuckEats and DocSconz. And they're not alone: despite not being on everyone's radar screen, Elements was included in Opinionated About Dining's Top 20 US Restaurants list.

The dinner will be $206 per person, inclusive of tax and tip. A pairing option will be available for purchase at the restaurant. To get seats, click on the "Add to Cart" button below (you can change the number of seats once you're on the PayPal page). The number of spots is very limited, so I'd encourage you to move quickly:

Elements Dinner at The Dutch
Monday, October 20, 2014

Hope to see you there!

Monday, July 29, 2013

DB Cobaya Moderne

Some of our Cobaya events come together on the fly: a chef says they want to do one, we find a spot, and before you know it, dinner is served. Others require more legwork. Our recent dinner at DB Bistro Moderne in downtown Miami fell into the latter category, with Chowfather in particular working for months to make it happen. The reality is, Daniel Boulud is not just a chef - he's a brand - and DB Bistro is not just a restaurant - it's an outpost of a culinary empire, with fourteen venues spread out among eight different cities in five countries.

It's a little different from our usual modus operandi, but it was also a chance to do a dinner at what I regard as one of Miami's top restaurants. Other than maybe Michelle Bernstein at Michy's, or Kevin Cory at Naoe (really a different beast entirely), I don't think there's another kitchen in town that executes with such consistent precision. So we pushed forward, as I knew it would be a good meal, and wanted to see what executive chef Matthieu Godard (who took over the helm for Jarrod Verbiak about a year ago) would do given the Cobaya format (which is really nothing more than "cook whatever you want that gets you really excited and that you don't regularly get to do").

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

I've said before that I think DB's charcuterie is the best that can be found in Miami - and, indeed, some of the best I've had anywhere. So I was happy to see the dinner start with a board of it: a couple different salumi, a few different pâtés, ruby-hued slices of cured ham, a half-moon of lush, silky foie grass mousse, an assortment of pickled cornichons and onions, and maybe the showstopper of the platter, crackling-crisp nuggets of pork rillons, like croutons of pure pork belly.

Soon another platter landed on the table, described as "Flavors of the Mediterranean." It was loaded with spanikopita, lamb kibbe, mussels in a spicy tomato sauce, mackerel escabeche, slices of chorizo and manchego cheese, a little "fritto misto" of smelts and calamari, marinated olives and marcona almonds, and ramekins of roasted eggplant baba ghanoush, red pepper hummus and tzatziki.

Aside from offering such a copious selection of treats, the communal presentation of these first courses on the boards was a nice ice-breaker. We always have a mix of newcomers and veteran guinea pigs at these dinners, and this was a good way to get strangers passing dishes around - and eventually, prompt some good-natured fighting over the last spanikopita.

(continued ...)

Monday, July 8, 2013

The Dutch - Miami Beach

I'll confess, I didn't really understand The Dutch at first. Here was a French-trained chef with an Italian-sounding last name, with a menu that seemed like a hodge-podge of American comfort foods, but with things like kimchi and jerk chicken making random appearances  - and it was called "The Dutch"?[1]

Andrew Carmellini is a protege of Daniel Boulud whose first big gig was as chef de cuisine at New York's Café Boulud. When he went out on his own, he made a name for himself with Italian restaurants, first A Voce and then Locanda Verde. But when he opened the Dutch in Soho in 2011, it was something different: oyster platters, steaks and chops shared space with smoked white fish chowder, rabbit pot pie and "barrio tripe." And when he brought a second iteration of the Dutch to Miami the next year, in the W Hotel South Beach, it had the same kind of eclectic mix, but with a South Florida twist - think ceviches of local fish and salted lime pie.

After getting Carmellini's cookbook, "American Flavor," it started to make some more sense. From Southern style biscuits to pozole inspired by Puebla-born dishwashers to steak with the flavors of Flushing's Korean BBQ joints, the book is an extended love note to "American" food in all its traditional and modern polyglot guises. It is one that Carmellini seems simultaneously overqualified and underqualified to write - you might just as easily ask "Why is a chef who worked with Gray Kunz, Alain Passard, and Daniel Boulud wasting his time making fried chicken?" as "What does that fancy-pants chef possibly know about fried chicken?"

The answer perhaps lies in something Albert Adrià was recently quoted as saying: "There are only two kinds of cuisine. Good and bad." Carmellini? He makes the good kind.

After going there many times over the past year and a half since it opened, the Dutch strikes me as a sort of restaurant incarnation of "American Flavor." You can dine much as you might have a hundred years ago, getting a dozen freshly shucked oysters and a dry-aged, bone-in steak. Or you can get yellowtail crudo with spicy watermelon, followed by a pork chop "al pastor." Either way, you'll eat well.

(You can see all my pictures in this The Dutch flickr set).

There is no better way to start a meal at the Dutch than with the "Little Oyster Sandwiches" that head up the "Snacks." The oysters are rolled in cornmeal with a dash of cayenne and pimentón, fried just enough to crisp the exterior without hammering them, then tucked into a soft sesame seed flecked brioche bun that's been smeared with a pickled okra tartar sauce, a sheet of iceberg lettuce providing some delicate cool crunch. It is a perfectly designed and crafted bite, showing a lot of attention paid to a small package.

(continued ...)

Friday, May 31, 2013

Tongue & Crux - Chefs Brandon Baltzley, Jamie DeRosa and Jeremiah Bullfrog

The last time Brandon Baltzley - chef, authorfarmer - came to town, it was a bit like Planes, Trains and Automobiles meets Supermarket Sweep. As Brandon had one travel mishap after another, I was racing through the grocery store filling carts from the shopping list he texted me so that there would be something to cook when he finally arrived for our Cobaya dinner. But as I said then, Brandon seems to thrive amid chaos, and it all turned out just fine.

This more recent Miami journey was not without its adventures, but Brandon got into town - a couple days early, even - and I didn't even have to do any shopping. The purpose of this visit was to collaborate on a brunch with the gastroPod's Jeremiah Bullfrog (which I sadly missed), and a dinner at the recently opened Tongue & Cheek in South Beach with T&C's chef, Jamie DeRosa, and Jeremiah. After several days of exchanging ingredient lists and dish ideas, here is what they came up with:

(You can see all my pictures in the Crux @ Tongue & Cheek flickr set)

And here is how it came out:

As an amuse bouche to start things off, a delicate composition of beets (in both lightly pickled and powdered forms), slivered radishes, dots of pea purée, wasabi peanuts, and a thin, airy, crispy sheet of toast. I was mystified by a flavor I could taste but couldn't find anywhere on the plate - something light, bright and intensely aromatic. After the dinner, Brad Kilgore (who was helping out in the kitchen, and who you can currently find doing a Tuesday night BBQ pop-up at Josh's Deli) gave away the secret: T&C pastry chef Ricardo Torres gave the plates a haze of orange oil from a squeezed peel (like a twist for a cocktail) right before service. It was a great touch.

I did not detect the carbonation in these "chilled, carbonated" oysters, but they were still very good regardless - plump and sweet, lacquered with a well-balanced chardonnay mignonette and topped with nasturtium petals, with some sea beans (a/k/a salicornia) alongside. Even Mrs. F, who is usually not much of an oyster fan, was a fan of these.

(continued ...)

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Miami Gets Cruxed - Chef Brandon Baltzley, 5/19/13 & 5/20/13 - UPDATED

If you're on the Cobaya mailing list, then you may have been at, or heard about, our dinner with chef Brandon Baltzley (former sludge metal drummer and Chicago cooking wunderkind, mastermind of the Crux itinerant pop-up restaurant / culinary collective, author, and soon-to-be chef and farmer at TMIP) back in December. If not, you can read about it here:

"Cobaya Gets Cruxed"

Well, he's coming back in town as part of a "farewell tour" for his Crux series of collaborative dinners before diving full bore into his next project, a farm/restaurant in northern Indiana.

And you've got two different chances to be a part of it this time.

(1) On Sunday May 19, Brandon will be collaborating with Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog for a podBrunch at GAB Studio in Wynwood - 5 courses for $35, running from 12pm-3pm. You can get tickets here.

(2) On Monday May 20, Brandon will be collaborating with Chef Jamie DeRosa for a blow-out dinner at DeRosa's new restaurant, Tongue & Cheek, on South Beach. One seating, 7:30pm, $125 per person (inclusive of tax & tip). To get seats, use the PayPal link below - first come, first served! To request spots, please email - purchase details will be available by Tuesday. Please note how many spots you're requesting in your email.

Come get Cruxed.


How many seats?

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Spring Equinox Dinner at The Dutch

Our upside down seasons here in South Florida are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, we get gorgeous fresh tomatoes all winter. On the other hand, we have no real comprehension of the excitement the rest of the country feels as fresh green things like asparagus, and peas, and ramps start making their first appearances this time of year. For us, Spring is actually the end of our primary growing season. Other than lychees, then mangoes and avocados, there isn't much to look forward to other than six months of running the A/C non-stop.

Last week, Conor Hanlon, chef de cuisine at The Dutch Miami, and Brad Kilgore (last seen as chef at Exit 1 and previously sous chef at Azul), decided to celebrate the turn of season as experienced by the rest of the country. Their collaborative effort resulted in a "Spring Equinox Dinner" that offered a taste of the season's bounty.

(You can see all my pictures in this Spring Equinox Dinner at the Dutch flickr set.)

An elegantly simple salad set the frame of reference for the meal: an assortment of colorful, thinly sliced radishes, generously seasoned and dressed in a vinaigrette of fines herbes and pickled ramp vinegar, with a shower of grated parmesan over the top. A refreshing interplay of fresh, peppery flavors with just a hint of sweet and salty.

There's a certain courage in not putting too much on the plate. When two chefs work together, it may become even harder to summon that courage, as each looks to contribute "something" to the dish, maybe show off a little. But Conor and Brad refused to fall victim to that kind of hubris, which allowed the spring theme to stand out in each course. This assortment of green and white asparagus was perfectly complemented by picked stone crab meat, a silky truffled sabayon, fine shavings of lemon zest and snipped chives. It didn't need anything else.

Ditto for these delicate ricotta gnudi, one of the best pasta dishes I've had in recent memory (actually, come to think of it, the last one was at The Dutch too). The puffy pillows were served over a minted pea purée amid a scatter of fresh peas, pea tendrils, and shards of crispy bacon. Classic. And delicious.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Publican Pizzeria Pop-Up

If you were following Paul Kahan's career trajectory from a distance, you might think it was in a downward spiral: fifteen years ago he opened Blackbird, one of the top high-end restaurants in Chicago. Since then, he's opened a more casual small-plates tapas place, then a beer hall, then a taqueria, and most recently, a butcher shop. Of course, nothing could be further from the truth. While his projects have been increasingly casual, they are all incredibly successful, and you will eat very well at any of them. As Michael Schwartz, the host for Chef Kahan's pop-up dinner at Harry's Pizzeria Tuesday night, said, if you went to Chicago and only ate at Kahan's restaurants, you would get an excellent cross-section of Chicago's culinary universe.

For the past year, Schwartz has been bringing some of the country's best chefs to Miami's doorstep to cook for an evening at Harry's. On our last visit to Chicago, Kahan's Blackbird and The Publican were two of our favorite meals, so when I saw his name on the upcoming schedule, I made sure to secure a spot.

Though the cooking at these Harry's "pop-ups" is always reflective of the visiting chef, the format of the dinners tends to follow the same pattern: an assortment of passed appetizers to start, including some variation on a pizza; and three or four courses all served family-style, usually taking advantage of Harry's wood-burning oven. Kahan's menu followed suit:

(You can see all my pictures in this Publican Pizzeria flickr set; pictures were taken with my new Sony NEX-5R, courtesy of Sony).

Things got off to a good start with a "fettunta" (the Tuscan version of what gets called "bruschetta" in the U.S.) topped with a creamy chicken liver mousse, tangy satsuma, and spicy, sweet and sour onions "agridulce," all providing great contrast to the rich liver shmear.

Chef Kahan went local style with a crudo of cobia, topped with kohlrabi and mint salsa verde. The mint nicely highlighted the freshness of the fish.

While the bacon-wrapped, chorizo-stuffed dates may be the "signature dish" at Avec, an argument could be made for the "deluxe focaccia," topped with taleggio and ricotta cheese, and just a whisper of truffle oil.

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