Showing posts with label navel-gazing. Show all posts
Showing posts with label navel-gazing. Show all posts

Saturday, June 4, 2022

Michelin Comes to Miami

The fat man’s coming to Miami. After various state and local tourism agencies paid the Michelin Guide undisclosed amounts which could exceed a million dollars, the star system will start coverage of Florida, with a big announcement of its ratings scheduled for June 9 in Orlando. So of course inquiring minds want to know: which restaurants will get the coveted recognition?

In theory, the Michelin Guide claims to rate restaurants based on five criteria: “quality of the ingredients used, mastery of flavor and cooking techniques, the personality of the chef in his cuisine, value for money and consistency between visits.” In practice, the Michelin Guide has long championed a certain type of restaurant: Euro-centric, fussy and expensive. While the focus is understandable given the guide’s origins – a traveling companion published by a tire company as a marketing tool to get people to drive their cars around Europe – it is not necessarily representative of the best that any particular region has to offer these days, especially outside of Europe. But if you look at the U.S. restaurants that have received multiple stars,[1] they fit a certain profile: they are almost universally high-end, tasting-menu venues. They are also overwhelmingly of the “Contemporary American” genre, with some French, Italian and Scandinavian thrown in the mix. Of 49 restaurants in the U.S. that have received 2 or 3 stars, there are less than ten that stray from these genres.[2]

So I’m not at all sure Michelin is going to find what it’s typically looking for in Miami. Theirs is not a style that has had much traction in South Florida for the past several decades.[3] We may like flashy, but we don’t particularly like stuffy. And IMO, the best dining in Miami these days is not necessarily at the highest end venues, but rather at places that are putting out great, inspired food without a lot of pomp and circumstance.

My predictions?

(1) No Florida restaurant will receive three Michelin stars.

Michelin currently has a three-star rating for at least one restaurant in every region it covers. (There are six in California, five in New York, one each in Chicago and DC). That streak will end in Florida, where as much as I am a champion of the local scene, I can’t think of any place that fits the Michelin Man’s vision of a three-star restaurant.

(2) There will be no more than three two-star restaurants and possibly none.

Chicago had only four restaurants receive two Michelin stars. DC managed only three. My guess is that Florida gets three at most, and that’s a stretch. The most likely Miami candidates, IMO (I know nothing about Orlando or Tampa, which appear to be the other Florida cities Michelin has focused on): L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon, Ariete, and Naoe. Wild card: Ghee. L’Atelier seems like the most viable candidate, since five Ateliers in other cities have already received two or more stars.[4] If the inspectors pay attention to the more ambitious facets of Ariete’s menu (the Versos Diarios tasting menu, the Canard a la Presse), they may well find what they’re looking for. I think Naoe is possibly in contention, but I also think that Michelin has devalued many outstanding Japanese restaurants in the U.S. The only ones to crack the one-star ceiling are Masa in NY (3*), and Hayato, n/naka and Sushi Ginza Onodera in LA (2*), which is kind of crazy given the options available in LA and NY these days. Niven Patel’s wonderful restaurant, Ghee, nails every single one of the Michelin guide’s criteria, but I have little faith that they’ll give two stars to an Indian restaurant in Kendall using local ingredients from Homestead farms.

(3) There will be 15-20 one-star restaurants from this list:

The “shoo-ins”:

These are places which I’m almost certain will get a star because other locations have already received stars. So, yes, I’m cheating to make my predictions by checking the answers from elsewhere.

Carbone (1* NY)
Cote (1* NY)
El Cielo (1* DC)
Fiola (1* DC)
L’Atelier de Joel Robuchon (3* Hong Kong; 2* Tokyo, Shanghai, Taipei, New York, 1* Paris)
Le Jardinier (1* NY)
Surf Club (3* French Laundry CA, 3* Per Se NY).[5]

The “better be there or I’m slashing your tires”:

These are places that are unquestionably deserving of recognition IMO, and if you miss them your credibility is shot, Roly-Poly Tire Dude.

The “pretty sure they’ll make it”:

These are places that I could easily see picking up a star.

The “on the cusp” candidates”:

Some of these I have “on the cusp” because they may be too casual for Michelin’s tastes (MGFD, Amara), or too new (Orno, Luca, Kojin). Others are parts of restaurant groups that Michelin appears disinclined to recognize with stars (Bazaar, Bourbon Steak, La Mar).[6] I’m not saying these are any worse (or better) than others listed above – or that all of these are any better (or worse) than other local restaurants I’ve not listed at all – only that I have less confidence they’re going to make it into the little red book.[7]

Let’s see how my predictions fare on June 9. But more importantly, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Michelin really doesn’t know bupkis about what makes dining in Miami unique, special and great.

[1] Michelin currently publishes guides for New York, California, Chicago and Washington DC. If you're keeping score at home, I've made a chart with all the U.S. restaurants to receive Michelin stars.

[2] There are four Japanese restaurants (Hayato, Sushi Ginza Onodera, and n/naka in LA, Masa in NY); two Korean (Atomix, Jungsik, both in NY); one each for Chinese (Benu, SF), Mexican (Californios, SF), and Indian (Campton Place, SF). My "genrefication" of many of these places is both reductive on my part (most are not strictly bound to a particular regional cuisine), and also symptomatic of Michelin's biases (even those places with Asian or Latin American inspiration that make their way into the guide generally are reflecting it through a "Contemporary American" tasting menu prism).

[3Ironically, the chef who was most likely to have earned the Michelin inspectors’ attention no longer has a restaurant open to the public. Brad Kilgore’s Alter both was the kind of place and was executing at the kind of high level that could have picked up two stars. But sadly Alter was a pandemic casualty, and Kilgore is currently running Verge at the Concours Club, a members-only restaurant within an automotive club for people with very expensive cars who want to drive them very fast and find other ways to flaunt their wealth. I'm very glad Brad is relieving them of some of their cash, particularly since he just became a proud new papa (Congrats!). Selfishly, I hope he makes a return to the public restaurant world someday.

[4] 3* for Hong Kong, 2* for Tokyo, Shanghai, Taipei and New York, though curiously, none of the Paris locations have received more than 1*. Since it’s hard to believe that the satellite Ateliers in the far-flung quarters of China, Taiwan, Japan and New York are better than the home offices in Paris, I take this to mean at least one of two things (likely both): (1) Michelin is grading these other regions on a curve; and/or (2) Michelin’s ratings bely a Euro-centric chauvinism that favors French restaurants even in Asian countries, i.e., “Our scout team is better than your starting roster.”

[5] Keller has 3* on each coast with French Laundry and Per Se, but Surf Club is far less ambitious, and its parallel in NY, TAK Room, was not recognized by Michelin, though it may have closed before it could make it into a guide.

[6] Jose Andres’ minibar in DC has 2* and Somni in LA had 2*, but Bazaar in LA was not starred, so I don’t put Bazaar Miami in the “shoo-in” category. Michael Mina (Bourbon Steak) had 1* for his namesake SF restaurant, but not for any of his other restaurants.

[7]Edited to add: I forgot that Michael White, who earned 1* at Marea and Ai Fiori in NY,  is now at Lido at the Surf Club, which could certainly be in contention. And consistent with my general blind spot for expensive Italian restaurants, I also left out Forte dei Marmi and Casa Tua, which for all I know could be in the mix (I've never been to either).

Monday, December 23, 2019

Miami's restaurants that defined the decade

It's nearly the end of the year – the end of a decade on top of that – which means it's a time for taking stock, for somber reflection ... and for posting lists. Yes, everyone hates lists, but here's the thing: everyone actually loves lists. A good list, anyway. Not the clickbait-y ones posted by uninformed bozos of places they haven't even visited and only read about on Yelp. But one that gathers a year, or a decade, of actual personal experience and tries to put it all in some kind of context? That could be a good list. And personally, anyway, I find these end of year rituals give me an opportunity to think about and say some things that I never found the time for over the past year.

This one, in particular, was inspired by a twitter post from Paolo Lucchesi, currently editorial director at Resy and before that the Food and Wine Editor of the San Francisco Chronicle, which in turn was inspired by one from Jeff Gordiner (Food and Drinks Editor at Esquire):

So: what about Miami? (hat tip to Charlie Crespo, who asked that exact question).

When I started considering the answer to that question, one of the first things I realized was what an incredibly fruitful time the years immediately before 2010 were for the Miami restaurant world. Michelle Bernstein won a Beard Award in 2008 for her work at Michy's, which had opened two years earlier in the Upper East Side / MiMo District back when it was still a hotbed for motels-by-the-hour and those who patronize them. She also opened Sra. Martinez in 2008, providing a showcase for cocktail maestro Julio Cabrera as well as a bunch of dishes I still miss (R.I.P. uni panini, crispy artichokes, eggplant and honey, white bean and butifarra stew). Michael Schwartz opened Michael's Genuine in 2007 in the then very sleepy Design District, and picked up his own Beard Award two years after Michelle. Kris Wessel opened the wonderful, quirky Red Light back in 2008, where my family spent countless evenings at the counter (R.I.P. barbecue shrimp, oyster pie, roast quail). Kevin Cory opened the original Sunny Isles location of NAOE in 2009 and blew my my mind open with a bento box that was like a kaiseki dinner in miniature for $26, followed by the best sushi Miami had ever seen. Richard Hales opened Sakaya Kitchen in 2009, an early harbinger of the recent trend of chefs with high-end backgrounds doing the fast-casual thing. Add Bourbon Steak (2008), Scarpetta (2008) and Hakkasan (2009) to that list, among others I'm surely forgetting, and the end of the last decade was a pretty good era for Miami dining.

The next thing I realized was that I was going to need a bigger list. While I instinctively had some thoughts as to which restaurants "defined the decade" of dining in Miami, I needed to reconstruct the timeline to figure out which of those opened 2010 or after, and also see if there were others that I'd overlooked. After consulting the archives, there was a long list of more than forty potential candidates, from which I chose the dozen that to my mind best fit the bill. That selection process is pretty arbitrary, but includes consideration of how much that restaurant reflected or predicted local and national dining trends, as well as popularity and staying power.[1]

So, in chronological order below is my list of the twelve restaurants that opened since 2010 that defined Miami dining over the past decade, with brief explanations. I've also included other notable openings year by year, for the sake of posterity and context, with some occasional additional notes as well.[2]

1. Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill (2010)

Small plates? Check. "Dishes will come out as they're ready"? Check. Sushi, a globally inspired mix of tapas, and a French bistro style roasted chicken, all on the same menu? Check. Sugarcane, which opened in January 2010, embodied much of the experience of dining in Miami over the past decade. For better or worse, some might say, but I will say this: while Sugarcane has evolved into more of a "crowd-pleaser" over the years,[3] when it first opened chef Timon Balloo was doing some fun, delicious exciting stuff – I still crave that crispy tripe with Brussels sprout kimchi. The kicker: Timon is closing out 2019 with the opening of a small, intimate space that features a deeply personal menu at Balloo: Modern Home Cooking. It's the kind of food I always wished he would do, and a place I hope we're talking about through the next decade. (Here are my thoughts on Sugarcane from back in the day).

(continued ...)

Monday, November 25, 2019

some thoughts on growing a Beard (Award)

There's been some griping from some quarters – OK, from me, among others – about how Miami has been under-represented in the annual ritual of bestowing James Beard Awards. On one hand, maybe it's silly to pay any attention at all – that argument's been made pretty eloquently very recently by Ghee's Niven Patel, who always has such a good perspective on such things. But the reality is that most chefs like to be recognized for their hard work, and a Beard Award happens to be one recognition that is still regarded as valuable currency by many in the industry and in the dining public.

Much can be questioned about the Beard Awards: that the voting process, standards, and accountability remain rather opaque, that some of the regional categories tend to disproportionately favor certain cities,[1] that the awards tend to go to chefs who have been around the block a few times over fresh new talent, and have historically been predominantly white and male. But that's not my purpose here, and I'll acknowledge that the Foundation has been taking steps to try to address all those issues.

Rather, my purpose is to consider what we, as South Florida diners, can do about it. And here's a simple thing: submit a nomination form. The link is right here – James Beard Foundation - The 2020 James Beard Awards – and anyone can create an account and submit a nomination, up until December 2.

Now, let me immediately make clear that I am not suggesting any sort of balloting campaign for anyone in particular. The awards are not popularity contests and the number of nominations submitted has nothing to do with whether someone is selected. Rather, what I'm suggesting is that if there is someplace or someone that you think is deserving of recognition, you should create an account, make your submission, and maybe most important, explain why you're doing so (each submission has a box for "Why are you recommending this chef/restaurant?").

I do think these are very good times for Miami dining, and that there are many people doing great things who deserve recognition for it. And I'm concerned that one of the reasons that's not as well seen from the national perspective is that there isn't a robust enough discussion of what's happening here. So FWIW, here are my nominations (which will be submitted to the Beard Foundation without pictures, those are just for your entertainment):

Best Chef South

Niven Patel (Ghee, Erba)

Niven Patel’s Ghee is not just a “great Indian restaurant.” It’s not just a “great Miami restaurant.” It’s a GREAT RESTAURANT. Period. If there is one place in Miami that I think would stand out in any city in the U.S., this is it. But at the same time, part of what makes Ghee so special is how closely it’s tied to South Florida - all the way down to sourcing a significant portion of the menu from Niven’s family’s backyard farm in Homestead.

Traditional Indian dishes like bhel puri, pakora, chicken tikka masala and saag paneer serve as inspiration but not a straitjacket, because the menu is equally inspired by South Florida’s local products – the bhel puri is topped with fresh local wahoo, the pakoras feature calabaza or taro leaf Niven grows himself, the tikka masala is enriched with local heirloom tomatoes, the saag paneer uses backyard kale. In season, a whole section of the menu is devoted to “Rancho Patel” local fruits and vegetables. Niven’s taken the farm-to-table ethos of his former alma mater, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink (where he was Chef de Cuisine for 3 years from 2013-2016 under Best Chef South 2010 winner Michael Schwartz) to a new level and introduced it to the vibrant, deep flavors of Indian cuisine. I love the bright flavors, fresh products, and how the menu is always in constant motion, in sync with the seasons.

The three-course family-style tasting menu (which features an assortment of dishes for each “course”) is one of the best $55 meals you will find anywhere. There is not a person I’ve recommended Ghee to or taken there that hasn’t left happy.

(continued ...)

Sunday, August 4, 2019

a decade of cobaya

It was exactly ten years ago to the day that Steven (a/k/a Chowfather), Steve (a/k/a Blind
Mind) and I hosted our first Cobaya "underground" dinner. Those were interesting times. Following the financial crisis of 2007-08, the food world seemed to be at something of an inflection point. Chefs like David Chang were pulling the chair out from the pretensions of fine dining and replacing it with a hard, backless stool in front of the kitchen counter at Momofuku Ko. Food trucks were a big thing, where aspiring restaurateurs could pursue their dreams without the big capital outlay required for a brick-and-mortar build-out. The hegemony that newspapers exercised over public discourse on restaurants was being undermined from one side by Yelp, and from the other by these things called "blogs" where anyone with some rudimentary knowledge of how to operate a computer could publish their thoughts to the internet. Many would do so with actual thoughtfulness and insight, and often with a side of snark.[1] Instagram didn't even exist yet.

Locally, Michelle Bernstein and Michael Schwartz were the queen and king, respectively, of Miami dining, with bookend Beard Awards to prove it (Michelle won Best Chef: South in 2008, Michael won the same award in 2010).[2] Since then, Michael's opened more restaurants than I can count,[3] while Michelle took a different direction; she recently opened Cafe La Trova on Calle Ocho with cantinero and longtime compadre Julio Cabrera (recently named Tales of the Cocktail's Bartender of the Year), and continues to run a high-end catering operation, but these days you're equally likely to see her on T.V., hosting "Check, Please!" or "SoFlo Taste," as in a restaurant kitchen. Good for her; it's a crazy life. Meanwhile, back in 2009, many of those who are now among Miami dining's most prominent names were still sharpening their knives: to name just a few, Brad Kilgore was working his way through some of Chicago's top kitchens, Zak Stern (a/k/a Zak the Baker) was traipsing around Europe, making cheese, herding goats, and occasionally baking bread at my kids' summer camp, Jose Mendin was still a year away from opening the original PubBelly.

It was a long time ago – longer than the lifespan of most restaurants.

I've told the Cobaya origin story many times when folks ask, "How did you start doing this?", but never written it down. Many of you have probably heard it before. The whole thing started in the valet circle of a Sunny Isles hotel. A couple chefs, Kurtis Jantz and Chad Galiano, had cobbled together a group of "food-focused locals" to be their focus group for a new restaurant concept. They'd found most of us online, probably primarily via Chowhound, which back in the day actually hosted a somewhat lively food discussion on its boards. That was how most of us knew each other as well, though a few of us had met in person. As the Steves and I were waiting for our cars at the end of the evening, we started talking about the then-current trend of "underground dining" groups.

Two questions triggered it: "Why not here?" And then: "Why not us?" And just like that, we decided to do it ourselves. We posted something on a Google message board that I'd used to organize a few other get-togethers,[4] started a website, and posted a mission statement:
The goal here is a very simple one - to get talented chefs to cook great, interesting, creative 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. We're very open-minded that way: all that matters is if the food is good, and we think there's enough similar-minded folks to make that game plan sustainable.
Every invitation comes with a disclaimer: there is no "menu". There are no choices. You'll be eating what the chef chooses to make for the night. If you have food related allergies, strict dietary requirements, religious restrictions; are salt sensitive, vegetarian, pescatarian, or vegan; don't like your meat cooked medium rare, or are pregnant: this meal is probably not for you. Do not expect white-glove service. Don't ask for your sauce on the side. Just come and enjoy.[5]
Truth is, we hadn't quite honed our modus operandi yet – we let everyone know the restaurant that it was going to be at, and a preview menu got posted a couple days in advance – but the basic idea was that the chefs were going to get to cook whatever they wanted and the folks who showed up would get to eat it. We had no idea what kind of reaction it would get, but we wound up with a group of sixteen who wanted in.

On August 4, 2009, we hosted our first "Cobaya" dinner at Talula. Andrea Curto-Randazzo was the chef, along with her then sous chef, Kyle Foster.[6] It is still one of my favorite Cobaya meals, and I still pine for that tripe risotto.

What we found out is that there was actually tremendous demand in Miami for this kind of thing. We announced our next event a couple months later, and got so many responses that we added a second seating for the following night. Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog wound up doing two rounds of seven courses for 36 diners in a penthouse suite in Midtown Miami. I brought Frod Jr., who was 12 years old at the time, along to one of those, and he still remembers Jeremiah offering him a cigar and a beer as we hung out on the balcony post-service.[7]

Since then, we've put on a total of 77 of these "experiments." We've worked with some of Miami's most highly regarded chefs,[8] an even greater number of skilled and creative but less-celebrated talents, and the occasional visitor from places further afield.[9] We've had Andrew Zimmern join us for a dinner, which wound up being featured on his show "Bizarre Foods America,"[10] and then later cook for us at a couple events we co-hosted with the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. We've eaten with our hands at "kamayan" Filipino feasts in fancy South Beach restaurants, and we've eaten at a backyard farm in Homestead.

We've been served pig's heads, lamb's heads, goat's heads, pig's brains, veal brains, pig skin noodles, lamb's livers, rabbit's livers, beef tendon chicharrones, sweetbreads, duck testicles, mushroom dinuguan, morcilla toast, beef heart tartare, grasshoppers, silkworms, waterbugs, ant eggs, abalone, geoduck, turtle, blowfish, suckling pigs and smoking cows and kangaroo and rabbit and venison and goat, not nearly enough tripe, and enough foie gras to stuff a flock of geese. We haven't actually had guinea pig yet, unless you want to count a guinea hen stuffed with pig (a noble effort). We've had a dinner with truffles for every course, and another where we drank liquors from the 1950's-1970's with every course, and another – Cobayapalooza! – with seven different chefs for each course.

We've had roughly a thousand different people attend our experiments, and now routinely have to deal with the fortunate but nonetheless demanding challenge of receiving 250-350 requests for the 25-35 spots we typically have available for each of these events. We've spent a lot of time and effort trying to find ways to handle those requests fairly and in a way that maximizes the most people's opportunity to join us, while also making sure we can timely fill the spots that we have.[11]

Through it all, we've remained faithful to that mission statement, encapsulated in that first sentence: "The goal here is a very simple one - to get talented chefs to cook great, interesting, creative meals for an audience of adventurous, open-minded diners." I feel very fortunate to have been able to do exactly that for the past ten years, and to meet and eat with so many wonderful people along the way. Thanks for your support.

[1] R.I.P. "Eat Me Daily."

[2] No South Florida chef has won the award since 2010, though I think Miami can still claim as one of its own the wonderful Nina Compton, 2018's winner for her New Orleans restaurant Compere Lapin.

[3] Let me try from memory, without cheating: Michael's Genuine, Harry's Pizza, Ella, Genuine Pizzas in Coconut Grove, Atlanta, and Cleveland (?), Amara at Paraiso, Tigertail & Mary, and Traymore at the Como. (edited to add: I was close. The Atlanta Genuine Pizza closed but there's the original Harry's in the Design District plus Coconut Grove, Aventura, and Dadeland; and it's a Michael's Genuine that recently opened in Cleveland, not a Genuine Pizza. And while I thought Schwartz was no longer affiliated with Fi'lia because of a split with SBE, it's still included on the Genuine Kitchen website?). (edited again to add: so literally a day after I posted this, Schwartz announced he's closing the Dadeland Harry's. I guess I wasn't the only one not paying attention.)

[4] Again reflecting the centrality of Chowhound back then, we called these events "chowdowns," as they did on the other Chowhound regional boards, and I wound up with the idiotic "miamichowdown" email address that I still use for food-related things.

[5] Some of this was unapologetically stolen from an event announcement from Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog, who should probably see if he knows any lawyers he can talk to.

[6] Talula closed the following year, and it is still one of my all-time favorite Miami restaurants. Andrea continues to run Creative Tastes Catering with her chef husband Frank Randazzo. Kyle moved to Denver, where he's chef-owner of Julep. Kyle made some of the best offal dishes I've ever had, and I'm glad he's continuing that work at the Southern-inspired Julep, where the menu includes scrapple fries, chicken tail skewers, and rocky mountain oysters rockefeller. Another name you might recognize from the Talula kitchen: the outstanding pastry chef Antonio Bachour, though I think by the time of our dinner there he'd already moved across the street to work at the W South Beach.

[7] Another great connection from that dinner: the owner of the Midtown Miami condo that hosted our dinner ran a digital design company. One of their web developers was at the event and struck up a friendship with Jeremiah, then began working for him on the side, and ultimately wound up devoting himself full-time to the food business. Steve Santana – a/k/a @SliceDiceCode – now runs Taquiza, making the best tortillas in Miami, with locations in South Beach, North Beach and at The Citadel. I'd like to think that Cobaya can claim at least a small measure of responsibility for advancing Miami's taco game.

[8] A special acknowledgment here needs to go to Michelle Bernstein, who agreed to do a dinner with us back in 2011, when we'd been at it less than two years and hosted less than a dozen of these things.

[9] Sometimes when I look back at the list of experiments, I'm still flabbergasted by the names I see there: Bernstein, Schwartz, Norman Van Aken (a longtime culinary idol of mine), Nina Compton, Andrew Carmellini, Francis Mallmann, Carlo Mirarchi, Jon Shook and Vinny Dotolo, Jeremiah Stone and Fabian Von Hauske, Justin Smillie, Katsuya Fukushima, Alex Talbot. What a thrill it's been to be able to approach these people and just say: "Cook for us."

[10] Zimmern gave a nickname to the sous chef working that dinner at Azul: "Wall Street," for his hair, which he wore slicked back, Gordon Gekko style. "Wall Street" no longer wears his hair slicked back, but found his way to success: Brad Kilgore now heads up Alter, Brava, Kaido and Ember.

[11] It continues to be a perennial problem that people ask for spots and then don't book them, so that we're always left to back-fill from the wait-list. When I hear restaurateurs complain about reservation no-shows, I listen with complete empathy.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Sushi Deli / Japanese Market - an appreciation

Many, many years ago, when I first started writing this blog, I made a big mistake: I wrote about Sushi Deli.

It's not that my recommendation was off target. The once-tiny sushi counter[1] inside a Japanese market (called, simply enough, "Japanese Market") was the classic hidden gem, a place where, among the packaged ramen noodles and bags of rice and frozen fish and togarashi spice mixes, you could get ridiculously good sushi, some of it flown in from Japan every week, at an incredibly reasonable price. There is surely no place I'd visited more often, or that had been the source of more satisfying meals, despite the peculiar hours (closed Mondays and Tuesdays, and never open later than 6:30 p.m. – a closing time which moved progressively earlier over the years as the place became ever more popular).[2]

Truth is, a good portion of what I know and love about sushi, I learned sitting at that counter: the joy of the many different varieties of hikari mono, or silver-skinned fish, the differences in flavor and texture among uni from different parts of the world, the seasonality of sushi offerings and the sense of paying attention to what is best when. But perhaps most of all, I learned the importance of trust and loyalty.

I don't claim to be particularly close to Chef Kushi: our brief conversations across the counter would mostly be limited to what was good that day, or his last trip home to Japan, or how his golf game was doing, or – most frequently – how he was working too hard. But he knew how much I appreciated his food, and his passion; and I always felt appreciated there too. From what I can gather, the root word of "omakase" is "entrust." After several visits, I entrusted my meals to Michio, and more important, he trusted me enough to let me experience many things I might never have tasted in Miami otherwise.

You could go full omakase at Sushi Deli if you wished, which would often bring a procession of sashimi and other items. But my standard order was something of a variation on the theme: I would ask for six pieces of nigiri – whatever Chef Kushi chose[3] – along with a battera roll, an Osaka-style pressed sushi roll topped with vinegar-cured saba, a sheet of cured seaweed, and toasted sesame seeds, plus, usually, a "triple-egg" temaki (uni, ikura, and quail egg) for "dessert." And this was how I discovered any number of things: sayori (halfbeak, or needlefish), with a shiny strip of silver along its gorgeous translucent flesh, tai (Japanese snapper) lightly cured in kombu to enhance its flavor, kazunoko (herring roe), a new years' tradition. Often, these came adorned: grated fresh ginger, a daub of uni, a smidgen of yuzu kosho, a sprinkle of sesame seeds, a dot of miso or ume paste, a sheet of cured seaweed, a sliver of shiso.

(You can see several of these in this Sushi Deli / Japanese Market flickr set).

Though Michio is, in his way, very much old fashioned – I've tried, unsuccessfully, to count the dozens of signs posted around the restaurant warning customers not to use cellphones and not to take pictures, among other rules – these creative elaborations show that he actually was not particularly bound by tradition. So, too, does the fact that he had women working behind the sushi bar – including his daughter Erika, who, it's reported, is looking to open her own place in the neighborhood within the next year.

My mistake was that some things are perhaps better left unsaid. Not that I claim credit for blowing it up on the blog. FFT has never exactly raked in the page views, and I could probably name every person who visited the site in those first few months when I first wrote about Sushi Deli. And many folks with exponentially bigger megaphones than myself have been guilty of breaking what some of us eventually tried to make the "First Rule of Sushi Deli" (You do not talk about Sushi Deli), like chefs Michelle BernsteinJosé Andrés, Norman Van Aken, and Kevin Cory of Naoe. But that post is also among the top 25 in all-time visits here, many of those over the past few years, so I guess I'm guilty too.

As Sushi Deli became more and more popular the past couple years, I unfortunately found myself going less and less often (of course, considering there was a stretch that I made almost weekly visits, that was bound to happen). What had once been a place where we would just pop in on Sunday afternoons had become one where you had to show up a half-hour before they opened to get on the list for seats. When I was able to score a seat, Michio – who is now a very spry 68 years old – would be in non-stop motion, and often seemed as harried as a Tokyo salaryman.[4] Maybe, Sushi Deli should have stayed a bit more under the radar. Selfishly, anyway, it would have been better for me.

Chef Kushi himself always seemed ambivalent at best about Sushi Deli's increasing popularity. In fact, he often seemed to actively resist it. Those shortened hours, and all those rules, seemed at least partially designed to discourage customers – or certain types of customers, anyway. In a story last month which announced the impending closure, he admitted, "I wish I could choose the customers. Each of them."[5] And this isn't the first time he thought about calling it quits. A few years ago, he started a rumor that he was about to close – which may have been serious, or may have just been a ploy to try to get the restaurant listing off of Yelp.

But this time, it's for real. All the merchandise had been cleared off the shelves, and the several dozen folks who were lined up outside yesterday – some as early as 8:30 a.m. – will be Sushi Deli's last customers.

I will miss it dearly. I can't even begin to count the moments of quiet happiness I've had at that counter over the years, many of them shared with my family. But I am thrilled for Chef Kushi and his lovely wife to finally get to relax, as they so rightfully deserve. And I am incredibly excited for what's in store from the next generation ... but maybe I shouldn't say any more about that.

[1] Not that it ever got very big: over the years, they perhaps doubled the original capacity of about a dozen, if you counted a small table in the back underneath the Japanese video DVDs.

[2] It's entirely possible there's also no place where our kids ate more frequently than Sushi Deli, as we've been taking them from a very young age. Frod Jr.'s regular order at first was the salmon teriyaki lunch plate, and he eventually branched out to the rest of the menu. Little Miss F's regular order was the crunchy shrimp roll, though she came to like the battera roll nearly as much as her dad.

[3] On my last visit to Sushi Deli a couple weeks ago, another customer saw this coming out and asked Chef Kushi what it was. He opened his eyes wide and exclaimed "I don't know!"

[4] It is customary if you're drinking sake at the sushi bar to offer your itamae a pour, but a few years ago, Mrs. Kushi cut Michio off because the sake would slow him down too much in the afternoons.

[5] I was always baffled by the people who would wait an hour for a spot there, and then order a California roll and a spicy tuna roll. But maybe even worse were the ponderous blowhards loudly "educating" their companions about Japanese food, usually while drowning Chef Kushi's sushi in a viscous slurry of soy sauce and wasabi.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

sitting shiva and eating P.I.G.

Ugh. This is going to be one of those personal posts.

Even worse: it's going to be a political one.

And just to make it really atrocious: it's going to have a food-related tie-in at the end.

Sorry. But you've been warned.

I know there's nothing unique about my grief, but sometimes it feels a bit better to share it, so here goes.

Publicly, anyway, I've generally kept my political beliefs to myself. If someone wants to talk politics I'm glad to do so, but I've never been one to put bumper stickers on my car or signs in my lawn or spend my spare time telling other people how they ought to vote. And I've treated my online presence the same way. That's not because I'm one of those "stay in your lane" types who thinks that if you're generally known for something else (i.e., food), you're somehow obligated to shut up about politics. To the contrary, I have nothing but admiration for very prominent people with business interests potentially at stake – folks like Tom Colicchio and José Andrés and many others – who risk alienating a substantial portion of the population by speaking and acting on their beliefs. Just not my style.

Perhaps I've missed an opportunity to share my own political beliefs with the phalanxes of porn-bots and twitter eggs among my followers, but curiously, based on my twitter feed, it would largely seen like preaching to the choir, anyway. There's been lots of talk after this election of how we all live in "bubbles" that insulate us from contrary opinions, and I see what that means. Of the 624 people I follow on twitter, there are only a handful who I've chosen to follow for their political commentary; I'm here for the food (and the laughs, and the snarky comments). And yet, for this entire election cycle, my feed has read mostly like a political echo chamber, at least until the past couple days, when everyone seems to have a different opinion as to what went wrong and who's to blame.

But privately I've been worried about this election for months, and now I'm in mourning. That's an awfully strong word, but that's what it feels like right now. I think of a daughter who has to grow up in a country where misogyny and sexual assault are not only trivialized but effectively endorsed. I think of a son of draftable age with a hot-headed megalomaniac responsible for our foreign policy. I think of friends and loved ones who already feel in danger just because of how they look, or where they come from, or what they believe, or who they love, and who have seen the hate directed towards them normalized and ratified. I think of struggling working class voters who have been conned by a snake-oil salesman into thinking that he cares about fixing their problems, much less is capable of doing it. I think of the next four years, and I mourn.

But when my people mourn, what do we do? We sit shiva: we gather with family and friends, and of course, we eat. And that's what I intend to do this weekend. I'll be doing so Saturday afternoon at P.I.G. – my favorite local food event of the year, with some of my favorite people.

This year's celebration of porcinity organized by Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog includes locals Gabriel Ask (Faena), Aaron Brooks (Edge), Will Crandall (Izzy's), Babe Froman (Babe Froman Fine Sausages), Jimmy Lebron (27 Restaurant), Brian Mullins (Ms. Cheezious), Niven Patel (Ghee), Michael Pirolo (Macchialina), Patrick Rebholz (50 Eggs), Steve Santana (Taquiza), Dale Talde (Talde), Phuket "Cake" Thongsodchaveondee (Cake Thai Kitchen), Nicole Voltano (Dirt); visiting dignitaries Craig Deihl (Cypress in Charleston), Kyle Foster (Julep in Denver), Joe Sparatta and Lee Gregory (Southbound in Richmond, VA), plus sweets by Josh Gripper (The Dutch), Giselle Pinto (Sugar Yummy Mama), and Malcolm Prude (Proof); and libations orchestrated by Jenn Massolo of The Liquid Projects including cocktails from The Anderson, a gin bar from Rutte Distillery, and more.

I know that this seems like either a ridiculous way to make a political rant somehow food-related, or maybe conversely just a cynical way to make a food post topical, but seriously: this is how I'm trying to feel better. I just want to stuff my face and spend time with people I care about.

If you want to join in, there are still tickets left: get some at PIG Pork Is Good. $50 to eat and drink, and maybe feed your grief. Eating pork is not usually part of the shiva ritual, but we each observe in our own way.

Here are pictures from last year's event:

Sunday, February 21, 2016

WeWork Miami & Food Panel Discussion - Monday February 22 6pm

Pop-up panel alert! Come out on Monday and see me do my best to moderate a discussion about the present and future of Miami's food and cocktail world with some of my favorite people in the business: Brad Kilgore of Alter, Steve Santana of Taquiza, Jessica Sanchez of Loba, and Elad Zvi of Bar Lab and Broken Shaker.

We'll all be at WeWork, located at 350 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach, on Monday February 22, starting at 6pm through 8pm. Please RSVP to if you're coming, thanks.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

a message from the future

A couple weeks ago Eater Miami asked me, "What do you think the future of dining looks like?" Some of my comments ran yesterday along with responses from several other locals as part of a series of "Future Week" stories across the Eater network. It may not surprise you that I actually had a bit more to say on the subject. Here's an expanded version of my thoughts on the future of dining, particularly in South Florida.

1. Tipping may become a thing of the past.

There is already movement in this direction, and the political push for minimum wage increases plus the shortage of line cooks will create increasing pressure to even out front-of-house and back-of-house compensation. (Sooner or later the light bulb will go off that there's a connection between the low wages for kitchen employees and their scarcity). Putting service staff on salary without a tip credit will be a big shift, but possibly a necessary one.

On my last visits to the Bay Area, several places were either adding a "service charge" or doing "service included" bills (Comal and Ippuku in Berkeley, Camino in Oakland). There have been some interesting success stories, including a couple places that give long-term employees a small share of ownership. Just this week, Tom Colicchio announced he is going to a no-tip, price-inclusive-of-service program during lunch service at Craft. There have also been places that tried, and ultimately balked, at using all-inclusive, no-tip pricing (Aster in San Francisco comes to mind).

In Miami, anyway, we're already accustomed to seeing "gratuity added" (or not seeing it clearly marked on the bill, but still having it done!). It would make little difference to the diner if instead, it was "service included" that gets shared with BOH and FOH, but it would require a change in how the restaurants operate.

One arguable financial upside to making this shift for restaurateurs: it will mitigate the risk of wage violation lawsuits that often arise from asserted non-compliance with tip credit requirements. Perhaps not coincidentally, Colicchio's restaurants have twice been sued for wage violations – once back in 2008 (a case that was settled), and more recently this year in connection with 'wichCraft (he pointedly denies the latest allegations). These lawsuits can be high-stakes stuff: in 2008, Jean-Georges Vongerichten  paid $1.75 million to settle wage claims; in 2009 Nobu paid $2.5 million for similar claims; in 2012, Mario Batali and Joe Bastianich's restaurants paid $5 million in a settlement.

2. Expensive restaurants will become even more expensive.

See 1. Increasing wages will put even more pressure on thin margins; eventually the cost of dinner will have to go up.

3. Lower end restaurants will look for ways to reduce staff.

See 1, 2. If the cost of labor is going up, and you have limited ability to raise prices, then you'll have to figure out how to get by with less employees. I expect there will be more "fast casual" type places, and that it will be increasingly difficult to successfully operate a moderately priced sit-down restaurant. Miami chef Alberto Cabrera recently made this shift, turning his Coral Gables restaurant Bread & Butter from a sit-down place into Little Bread, with counter service sandwiches and bowls, and I think it will prove to be a good move for him. Big picture, though, this bums me out, and I hope I'm wrong. Some of my favorite restaurants are the mid-range places where you can find interesting, ambitious food without it being a hundred dollar meal to pay for a million dollar build-out. I worry these will become an endangered species.

4. More independent restaurants in less trendy neighborhoods.

Everything can't be in Wynwood, South Beach or Brickell. And there are huge parts of Miami-Dade County with lots of population density, lower rents, and little restaurant competition other than chains, like Doral and Kendall. Closer to Miami's urban core, you're already seeing it happen in Edgewater (Mignonette) and the Upper East Side (Vagabond, Cena by Michy, Blue Collar, etc.), and I think the push northward up Biscayne Boulevard will continue. And maybe just a bit west too: Little Haiti?

5. 50% of the big-name chef restaurants that are opening in Miami won't be around after two years.

Some of them may be great. They all won't be. And it may prove tough to fill so many big dining rooms, even if you''re a "celebrity chef." Just ask Fabio Vivani. Or Tony Mantuano. Or Geoffrey Zakarian. Or – hot off the presses – Masaharu Morimoto, who announced just yesterday that he is closing his restaurant in the Shelborne on South Beach after exactly a year. Or ....

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Who Wore It Best?

In a post earlier this year, I mentioned a recent experience I had at St. Petersburg's Dalì Museum: seeing some of the artist's early works, what was most striking about them was how derivative they were. Several of Dalì's paintings from the late 1920's looked like lesser works of whichever contemporary he was currently in the thrall of, including many that bore remarkable similarities to Picasso's and Miro's works. It was not until the following decade that one of the most distinctive artists of the twentieth century actually found his own style – when Dalì started making paintings that looked like Dalìs.

The delicate subject of inspiration versus copying in the cooking world is one I've explored often here. Few, if any, artists start their careers with a fully formed vision of their style together with the technical ability to execute it. There's plenty of exploration, experimentation, and, yes, copying, that usually comes first. And I suspect it's much the same in the kitchen.

The complicating fact is that in the restaurant world, chefs generally aren't doing it in the privacy of cloistered artists' studios: they work in a public setting, serving up their creations on a plate to paying customers. Does it matter if those "creations" are sometimes very similar to dishes actually created by other chefs? If the primary focus of a restaurant meal is flavor, then perhaps not: a great-tasting dish tastes great, regardless of who thought it up first. And indeed, many outstanding dishes are the product of one chef taking another chef's idea and making it even better.

Some chefs unabashedly fess up to copying others. The Mission Street Food (the pop-up precursor to Mission Chinese Food) book talks about how they did "homage" dinners centered around their "phantom culinary heroes" including Rene Redzepi. Not having actually been to Noma, they had to "piece together our recipes by poring over images online and culling bits of information here and there, not unlike teenagers learning about sex from porn."  In Fancy Desserts, Del Posto's punk rock pastry chef Brooks Headley talks about how it can even happen subconsciously. He draws a cooking:music analogy between Noma and the Dead Kennedys as having unique and "un-rip-offable" styles, then notes how that didn't stop everyone – including himself – from trying to copy Noma: "For a long time, seeing sorrel and sea buckthorn berries on fine dining menus really pissed me off. (You can't rip off the Dead Kennedys, man!) But then I realized that I was doing it, too. I was so guilty, and I didn't even realize it." The incriminating evidence: pickled green strawberries.

So there shouldn't be any shame in it. But if you are copying (or paying homage, depending on how negative or positive a spin you wish to apply), how much, if any, credit ought you give? Should you do like David Kinch does when he serves an "Arpege egg" at Manresa? Can you be coy, like Pubbelly when it lists "dates AVEC chorizo" on the menu? Or is it sufficient to just assume that knowledgeable diners will be in on the joke (and oblivious diners won't care)? And with creativity an increasingly common component of the marketing pitch for new restaurants, what of Ferran Adríà's maxim, "creativity means not copying"?

I don't know all the answers. But I do know when something looks and/or tastes a lot like something I've had before. So, inspired by Us Weekly (and with a hat tip to JSDonn), here's my version of "Who Wore It Best?" Let me know what you think.

Who Wore It Best? (Round 1)

1. Roasted baby carrots, mole, hazelnut, yogurt, za'atar at Vagabond Restaurant, Miami.

2. Roasted carrots with mole poblano, yogurt and watercress at Empellon Cocina, New York.

My latest mantra is that "carrots and yogurt" is the new "beets and goat cheese" – a combination that seems to appear on every new menu in some form, and which despite its increasing ubiquity I'll still order because it's usually pretty darn good. But the similarities between a dish at chef Alex Chang's new Miami restaurant, Vagabond, and Alex Stupak's Empellon Cocina in NY go further: not just the carrots and the yogurt, but also the distinctive use of Mexican mole sauce, plus the tepee presentation, though some other components differ. (Note: Empellon has been serving this dish since at least 2012).

(continued ...)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

first thoughts

Let's be honest: the pace of reviews of Miami restaurants here at food for thought has not exactly been breakneck lately. There are plenty of reasons for that.

The past year particularly, I've written much more often about meals outside of Miami, or special event dinners here in town, than the straightforward Miami restaurant "reviews" that started off being the focus of this blog. This has always been a passion project, and so I tend to write about what makes me passionate. I think many of our local chefs do some of their best work outside the constraints of a regular restaurant menu, so I write about our Cobaya dinners to turn a spotlight on what they are capable of doing. Earlier this year I had the incredibly good fortune to visit Japan for the first time, where I had several outstanding, perspective-altering meals. Four months later, and I've still only written about roughly half of them. The "to-write" list from recent excursions to New York and Los Angeles (and Seattle and Vancouver last summer!) is even longer.

That's not to stay I've lost interest in Miami – not even remotely. But much of my writing on local restaurants of late has either gone into Edible South Florida magazine (you can read all those pieces here), or straight to twitter, with no stops in between. And when I do get around to writing a "review" of a Miami restaurant here, my approach is usually pretty deliberate. (The words "slow" or "lazy" may also come to mind). Call it what you will, it usually takes me a while to figure out what I really want to say about a place – and sometimes, yes, to find places that are worth saying something about. (Though my Miami "to-write" list is already even longer than the out-of-town list, to say nothing of the "to-visit" list.) Still, whether it's intention or inertia, I'm not convinced that restaurants necessarily reveal their true selves in their first few months. Many get better – and plenty get worse. So I usually play the long game.

But the flipside is that plenty of places deserve attention in their first few months, and many of them may need it in order to get over the hump of opening. So I'm experimenting with doing something here I'll call "first thoughts." It's not going to be a full-blown review. It's also, hopefully, anyway, not going to be the typically breathless puff pieces you see on so many other sites (often the by-product of freebie media previews). I know this is hardly a new thing, but it's new for me. We'll see how this works, but right now, expect mostly a "just the facts, ma'am" approach and a good number of pictures. Let's see how this goes, first with N by Naoe.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Turns of Phrase - June 2, 2013

Another small measure of appreciation for the work of that increasingly rare creature: the gainfully employed, artfully perceptive food critic:
"The art of the possible is on display."
- Phil Vettel on Next (Vegan) in Chicago Tribune
"But when you pull your car into the parking lot of Lucy’s 24-hour laundromat/wateria, and you make your way up to the truck, you will find that the woman behind the counter is slightly unclear on the concept of tlayudas, but rather firm on the unavailability of carnitas, which sold out almost before it turned dark. You can leave, or you can settle for tacos made with trompas, which is to say a kind of carnitas made with the pig’s snout. You take a step back toward your car. But then you notice that the tacos are made not just with fresh tortillas but with tortillas made to order from little balls of fresh masa, and that the red-chile salsa seems to be hot enough to flush the neck of the tattooed dude who was a couple of places ahead of you in line."
- Jonathan Gold on La Tehuana in L.A. Times
"At first this prim choreography seems tongue-in-cheek, then earnest, and finally almost silly — and all the more charming for it, like much of the orchestrated seduction that is a night at Maison Premiere."
- Ligaya Mishan on Maison Premiere in New York Times
"The food is impressionistic, best appreciated as a series of lovely, fleeting moments rather than the sustained arc that typically constitutes a meal."
- Ligaya Mishan again

(continued ...)

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Turns of Phrase - May 26, 2013

Following up on something I started doing last week - some of my favorite passages from the past week's food writing:
"But some tricks, like the disappearance of a marble up someone's nose, can be more curious than delightful."
- Tejal Rao (recently resigned food critic at the Village Voice, following in the wake of Robert Seitsema who was let go last week), on the culinary sleight of hand at Alder.
"Just as you’re pondering how to say “opportunist” in Italian, the food arrives, and it’s great."
- Jeff Ruby on Café Spiaggia in Chicago Magazine.
"It isn’t pretty, this murky brown salad. Take a look at those splinters of green papaya, gnarly rings of fried shallots and clots of air-dried beef. It could be a box of matches spilled in dishwater—certainly too homely for the pages of any respectable food magazine. But we’re evolved eaters here in New York City, too sophisticated to deny ugly things their fair shake. Taste it and understand the moral of a thousand children’s parables about inner beauty: This funky, crunchy bombshell of compulsive flavor might be the most interesting salad in Kings County."
- Jordana Rothman on Nightingale 9 in Time Out New York
"The waiter bends low, in his burgundy tuxedo. “Let’s talk about the process,” he says. He refers to the fruits of the kitchen as though they are his. (“All my veal tonight.”) The delays he does not own: “We are working on the drinks.”"
- Nick Paumgarten on Carbone in the New Yorker

(continued ...)

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Turns of Phrase

So much food writing is actually dreadfully repetitive. There are only so many ways to describe a cooked piece of meat, only so many synonyms for "delicious" (though there are a potentially infinite variety of ways to describe a terrible dining experience; it's like a variation on the Tolstoy quote: "Great meals are all alike; every lousy meal is lousy in its own way."). Still, often when I read a  good review, there is a sentence, a phrase, a description that resonates; it captures the ear, the mind, the appetite, maybe even all three.

With talented, dedicated, gainfully employed restaurant critics becoming an increasingly scarce commodity (yesterday Robert Sietsema of the Village Voice was "shit-canned," to use his own words; in the past month or so Michael Nagrant of the Chicago Sun Times and Hanna Raskin of Seattle Weekly were let go; locally, Miami New Times let Lee Klein go last year), I'm increasingly grateful for those who still provide a unique, perceptive, captivating voice.

Here are a few turns of phrase that recently caught my attention:

"This is food at its simplest and most elegant, food that doesn't want to slap your face. This is food that is simply good, and defines a sort of normalcy in eating that no longer exists."

- Robert Sietsema on the diner burger, in his last post at Village Voice.

"Two Guys Walk Into a Bar ..." (just this whole damn piece, as good an ode to Sietsema as there could possibly be, by none other than ...)

- Jonathan Gold in LA Weekly.

"There isn't a plate he won't paint with limp berries or kumquats, smears of pastel-colored sauces, or nests of spun sugar—dishes that look as if they shot through a wormhole from 1993."

- Mike Sula on Vu Sua in Chicago Reader

"Caravaggio is defiantly elegant in an age that sees white tablecloths as a medieval relic whose sadistic power to stand in the way of a good time is second only to that of the chastity belt."

- Pete Wells on Caravaggio in the New York Times.

"For those who have yet to do so: eating these pigs was like seeing an old friend from high school who had lost a lot of weight and now dresses well. You can still recognize them; they are just better now."

- Joshua David Stein on the "pigs in a blanket" at Alder in New York Observer.

"The Caesar salad, the golden retriever of restaurants (friendly, good with kids, dumb), is smartly redone as Caesar nigiri."

- Joshua David Stein again on Alder.

"You might get to thinking that DeLucie is a bit of a carpetbagger, who hasn’t rescued the memory of Bill’s so much as co-opted it—lopped off its balls and sold it back to you at a staggering markup."

- Jordana Rothman on Bill's Food & Drink in Time Out New York (Rothman, the TONY food and drinks editor, is filling in as the restaurant critic on an interim basis after Jay Cheshes, who held the post for five years, recently left).