Thursday, June 24, 2010

Shake Shack - South Beach

I'm clearly quite late to the Shake Shack party. Indeed, the hubbub started, well, hubbubbing more than half a year ago with the announcement that New York restaurateur extraordinaire Danny Meyer would be opening his first branch outside of NYC on Lincoln Road in South Beach. "It's the best!" "New Yorkers wait in line an hour for their burgers and shakes!" "It'll make you poop rainbows!" The official opening date was yesterday, June 22,[*] and already no less than 17 citizens of Yelpistan have checked in, plus more in Chowsylvania. Why on earth haven't I been there yet?

OK, OK. One ShackBurger, some Cheese Fries, and a "Shark Attack" Concrete, please.

Fortunately, when I got there around 7pm the line was only - well, one person deep. Like I said, everyone's already been there. But the tables all around were mostly full, and there was a steady flow of customers. I got my order after about 10 minutes, which I spent watching 15 or so people mill busily about the open kitchen.

All of Shake Shack's burgers are made with hormone- and antibiotic-free Angus beef. I'd be curious to know whether the Miami branch is getting its beef from NY butcher legend Pat LaFrieda like the NY ones do; doubt it. The "ShackBurger" ($4.75 for a single) features a modestly sized 4-oz. patty topped with American cheese, lettuce, tomato and "ShackSauce." If you don't opt for the "ShackBurger," the burger will come entirely unadorned, or with your choice of lettuce, tomato, pickle or onion. For better or worse, there will be no "Stairway to Heaven" burgers topped with foie gras and truffles or "Rock Lobster" burgers with lobster, watercress and tarragon remoulade here.

How was it? After all the hype, frankly, it would have been a disappointment if this burger didn't do a triple axel with a back flip to arrive on my plate, while simultaneously giving me a handjob under the table, and taste like I was eating the very flesh of Kamadhenu, the divine Hindu cow that can grant all wishes.

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Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Norman Conquest

Overall, it has been a pretty good year for additions to the Miami restaurant landsacape. The past several months have seen the openings of Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill, a star in the making; Sakaya Kitchen, a treasure for low-budget, interesting eats; plus Mandolin Aegean Bistro, AltaMare, Gibraltar, Q American Barbeque, Smoke'T, Mercadito, Morgans, The Forge, Water Club, Zuma, First and First Southern Baking Co., Sparky's Roadside BBQ, Chowdown Grill, the Shake Shack invasion ... it's a pretty impressive list.

I have a hunch it's going to get a lot more impressive in about another week, when Norman's 180, the new restaurant from Chef Norman Van Aken in the Westin Colonnade Hotel in Coral Gables, opens its doors. I've long been a big fan of Chef Van Aken's cooking. Though I never got down to Louie's Backyard in Key West when he was in its kitchen, I still have vivid memories of a meal I had at his first Miami restaurant, A Mano in the Betsy Ross Hotel on South Beach. I celebrated my 25th birthday there, and I can still tell you what I ate: a Flintstone-esque cowboy-style rib steak, and a dessert of bananas with rum and chiles.

From there he moved on to what became his flagship, Norman's in Coral Gables, where I had a number of other memorable dishes: his orange and saffron inflected conch chowder, with a coconut "cloud" floating on top; his "Down Island" french toast, topped with foie gras and tropical fruit caramel; salmon rolled in smoky lapsang souchong tea, in a dark "Mer Noir" sauce which was like a liquid mar y montana or surf and turf, layered with flavors of bacon, seafood liquor, red wine and meat stock. It's been three years since Norman's closed, and it's like I can still taste them.

This is what Chef Van Aken has always been so good at doing: creating dishes that tug at the memory, that tell a story. So I'm looking forward to finding out what new stories he will have to tell at Norman's 180. Though Van Aken is generally thought of as one of the godfathers of "New World Cuisine," I've always found that his culinary reach extended all over the map, while still having local roots. And though Norman's 180 is not setting out to be the high-end fine dining experience that Norman's was, a look at the preview menu suggests he still has a few more stories in him:

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Monday, June 21, 2010

TV Dinner

I've been watching a lot of food-related television programming lately. Truth is, I've always been a regular watcher of Top Chef, but this season has particular appeal, with local hero (and one of my favorite chefs) Andrea Curto-Randazzo, of Talula and the newly opened Water Club, on as a contestant. Let me be clear: I hate "reality TV." I like cooking shows. Though Top Chef may skew more towards the former than the latter, there's still enough real cooking going on to hold my interest, and though there are a good number of contestants each season who are clearly Starfleet Red Shirts, it has provided an opportunity to highlight some genuine talent as well.

The season premiere for Top Chef Season 7 was this past Wednesday, and though it didn't feature much of Andrea, she did move on to see another day. If, like me, you didn't get enough Andrea during the episode, you can find some more on YouTube, where she's uploaded a three-minute interview (wine glass in hand) she calls "I'm Just Sayin'."

In it, she gives fellow contestant Kenny Gilbert, a/k/a "Kenny G," yet another nickname, dubbing him "Twenty G" for having won the initial $20,000 Quickfire; considers giving some grief to another fellow contestant, Angelo Sosa, for being cocky, but decides better of it since it was so obvious to everyone; proceeds to give Padma Lakshi a lesson in "Miami 101" for not recognizing the "Miami" in her Elimination Challenge dish,[1] a chorizo-infused gnocchi with slow-roasted pork, calabaza, manchego and orange gremolata, suggesting that maybe instead she should have served a blackened mahi-mahi with mango salsa; and closes out by making me spurt my drink through my nose with a "Jam out with your clam out, rock out with your cock out" sign-off.

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