Thursday, April 28, 2011

Goes Around ... Comes Around: Italian Edition

In a piece that will be appearing in this Sunday's New York Times magazine (apologies to anyone shut out by the new paywall), former NYT restaurant critic Frank Bruni writes of the latest obsession of the New York trendsetters, Torrisi Italian Specialties. I've heard very good things about Torrisi, and I'm intrigued by the thesis of the piece, which is that Torrisi's unorthodox grab-bag approach to culinary traditions represents a new direction for Italian - or, maybe more precisely, Italian-American - food.

Having said that ... the couple of examples he gives of culinary brainstorming that supposedly reflect Torrisi's "fierce and sometimes mischievous creative itch" sounded mighty familiar.
"What about repackaging scungilli along the lines of escargots?"
Hmm - you mean like Michelle Bernstein's escargot-style baby conch that she was serving back in 2007 at Michy's?

"Italian-Jewish would be the term for a Passover-pegged riff on porchetta that the group deliberated at even greater length. Porchetta is a classic Italian pork roast, but they wondered aloud about substituting lamb. And, for a glaze, what about using Manischewitz, a semisweet kosher wine? Would the nuances be right?"
I dunno, maybe you could ask Ilan Hall, who was doing Manischewitz-braised pork belly when he opened up The Gorbals in 2009.

Va Intorno ... Viene Intorno

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Route 9 - Coral Gables

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

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

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

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

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

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Friday, April 22, 2011

More Eating (and Drinking) than Writing

There has been a lot more eating than writing going on over here lately, for which I feel somewhat guilty. Also, more traveling than local dining. Here - if for no other reason than to assemble something of a to-do list - are some of the places I've been lately, and hope to write about eventually:


Jeffrey Brana Common Threads Benefit Dinner

Washington, DC

Café Atlantico (Nuevo Latino Dim Sum Brunch)
Central Michel Richard
We the Pizza


Purple Pig
Saigon Sisters

Some general thoughts by way of preview:

(1) Brana is the real deal. I hardly got to his brief-lived Coral Gables restaurant before it closed several years ago, and it's great to have another opportunity to sample his cooking. He's doing a series of private dinners for groups of 8-10, and from my experience at the Common Threads benefit dinner he put on, it may be among the best meals you'll find in Miami, in a restaurant or out.

(2) Overall, Chicago met pretty high expectations, while DC fell a bit short - though I can hardly claim that a brief visit of a few days can give any really meaningful impression of a city's dining zeitgeist.

(3) That said, one of the things that really stood out in Chicago was the multiplicity of funky bars with serious cocktail agendas. We stopped in at Maude's Liquor Bar and Watershed, and were completely charmed by both places. Maude's is a crowded, bustling place on the West Loop, newly opened but stocked with mismatched reclaimed furnishings and decorations for a purposefully dilapidated look and feel. They have a short list of classic old-fashioned cocktails (including five different smashes and a respectable, if unexceptional, Sazerac), great music, and a menu of mostly simple French bistro style fare put together by Chef Jeff Pikus, an Alinea alum.

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