Friday, May 20, 2011

Michybaya - Cobaya Dinner with Chef Michelle Bernstein

Sometimes, with her radiant smile, former-ballerina perfect posture, and national (Top Chef judge) and local (Check Please host) television presence, it's easy to forget. But let there be no doubt about it: Michelle Bernstein is a badass chef. Yes, it's the quality of her cooking that cemented her national reputation and led to those TV gigs, and her namesake restaurant Michy's on Biscayne Boulevard and the Spanish tapas-inspired Sra. Martinez in the Design District are regarded as among the top restaurants in Miami. But neither of those restaurants are "new" any more, and in a somewhat magpie-like food community, restaurants that are five, or even only two, years old are sometimes overlooked in favor of the latest shiny objects.

That's stupid. Thirty-four of us got to see just how stupid earlier this week, as we finally connected with Chef Bernstein for one of our "Cobaya" dinners. Since we began doing these events nearly two years ago, we've been trying to get Michelle to cook for us. Indeed, we first started talking about it back in the summer of 2009; but then she was busily gearing up to open at the Omphoy in Palm Beach, and any number of things intervened thereafter. The stars finally aligned recently, particularly with her new bakery/café down the street from Sra. M, Crumb on Parchment, turning out to be a perfect venue for the dinner.[1]

As we always do, we gave Chef Bernstein complete free rein to come up with the menu and the format, and she put together one of the most elegant, polished, and satisfying dining experiences we've had so far. You can see all my pictures from the dinner in this "Michybaya" flickr set, and find links to some other pictures and recaps over at the Cobaya website.

the table

The space at Crumb (basically the airy, open atrium of a collection of home furnishings shops in the Melin Building in the Design District) was rearranged for our dinner into one long table, with 34 of Crumb's artfully mismatched chairs lined up on either side. The table was set with naturalistic centerpieces that actually incorporated some of the mise en place for our dinner (OK, not really, but those were real mushrooms), and enough silverware to baffle even Emily Post.

Chef Bernstein said that she doesn't like to overstuff diners with too many courses, so she held it to five (actually six if you count a pre-dessert, which I would):

Oyster Chawan Mushi with Scallop and Uni Ceviche
Julien Fouet Saumur[2]

Whole Roasted Foie Gras with Garden Vegetables
and Carrot-Orange Sauce
Kiralyudvar Tokaji Sec

Chupe de Mariscos with Squid Ink Croquetas
Mercy Pinot Noir Arroyo Seco

New York Steak with Truffle Butter and
Gnocchi with Celery Leaf, Lily Bulbs and Budding Chives
Mas Sorrer Montsant

Calamansi Soup with Pineapple and Mint Ice Cream

Banana Tarte Tatin
Rock Wall Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc

oyster chawan mushi

This was a very nice way to start things, an oyster "chawan mushi." Chawan mushi is a savory Japanese egg custard, often a bit more watery than a Western custard with the addition of dashi and/or soy sauce. Here, Chef Bernstein steamed the custard right in the oyster shells, with the briny (Kumamoto?) oysters nestled within, and a little cap of softened enoki mushrooms and green onions. This carried all of that wonderful "taste of the ocean" of a good oyster, but with the flavor stretched and prolonged by the creamy custard. Mrs. F doesn't particularly like oysters, but she loved this dish. For a bit of contrast, between the oysters was a small bowl of a scallop ceviche (not a "true" ceviche, Chef Bernstein qualified, which I think means the scallop was very lightly poached rather than just "cooked" in the acid of citrus juices), given an extra dose of richness with a tongue of orange uni laid over the top.

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Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Gabose Korean BBQ Restaurant - Lauderhill

Korean BBQ

On a certain level, I think we all agree with Beavis and Butthead: fire is cool.

But fire - in the form of table-top charcoal BBQ - is just one of the many things that are cool about Gabose, a Korean restaurant in Lauderhill.

I won't pretend to have "discovered" Gabose. Though it has no website and does little advertising, the place is not exactly a secret - it's been around for about ten years, and was featured a couple years ago on Check Please! I also won't be the one to vouch for its authenticity - I'll leave that to those who have, or claim, more expertise in such matters. But I will say this: Gabose is just about everything I hope for in a Korean BBQ restaurant.

Since it's difficult to find online, I've posted photographs of the menu here, as shaky and blurry as these iPhone pics may be; click on any picture to enlarge (there is also a full Japanese menu, but really, why bother?):

Gabose Menu #1Gabose Menu #2

Gabose Menu #3Gabose Menu #4

The menu starts with a list of nearly a dozen appetizers, several of which are variations on "jun" (also spelled "jeon"), a kind of savory pancake that can contain any number of different ingredients. The kimchee jun was flecked throughout with tangy fermented kimchee, the pancake thin and crisp-edged with a texture oddly but happily reminiscent of matzo brei, and served with a soy and vinegar sauce for dipping. It was a generous portion the size of a large dinner plate, cut into triangles for serving.


Saturday, May 7, 2011

Cobakayapaz - Cobaya Dinner with Chefs Richard Hales, Vanessa Paz

It was almost exactly a year ago that we did our "Cobaya in the Night Kitchen" midnight dinner at Sakaya Kitchen. At that point, Sakaya had only been open a few months. The late-night diners who came out for that event got a good sampling of what was going on there, with Chef Richard Hales mixing in some standard menu items (his Filipino egg rolls and pork buns) and some more adventurous twists (Korean fried sweetbreads, "Chim Quay" quail).

Chef Hales has been itching to do another Cobaya dinner for a few months now, and we finally put it together. This past Monday, he rolled the Sakaya Kitchen truck (truck #2 for him, with the Dim Ssam a Gogo truck being the first in the fleet) over to Villa 221 to serve a small group of 20 guinea pigs. As an extra bonus, he brought in pastry chef Vanessa Paz of Michy's to do desserts.

You can see all the pictures from the dinner in this "Cobakayapaz" flickr set.

Villa 221, located just north of downtown Miami just a few blocks past the Performing Arts Center, was a gorgeous venue for the dinner, with a nice breeze keeping things cool enough for outdoor dining, and the group small enough to fit around one open-square table beneath the trees.

Villa 221

Chef Hales' cooking at Sakaya takes a good number of its culinary cues from Korea - bulgogi, ssams, ssamjang and kimchi all play prominent roles - but often looks elsewhere, both East (baos, Filipino egg rolls) and West (the incredible Bulgogi Burger, spicy tater tots) for inspiration. This Cobaya dinner was even more diverse, with dishes that drew on Vietnamese, Thai, Japanese, Italian and even American Southern motifs. Here is the menu he and Chef Paz put together:

Nuoc Mau Spiced Pork Rinds
Pickled Papaya, Peanut Brittle, Organic Tomatoes, Local Mint
Mushroom Brioche "Toast," Ssamjang Mayo, House Cucumber Pickle, Local Cilantro
Burrata, Blackberry "Panzanella," Sesame Oil, Fuji Vinegar, Brioche, Maple, Basil
Fried Baby Artichokes, Quail Yolk, Fish Roe
Colossal Shrimp, Blistered Organic Shishito Pepper, Miso Cauliflower Purée
Kurobuta Pork Belly, Peach Gastrique, Grilled Ramps, Corn Croquetas, Black Eyed Peas
Miso Chocolate Brûlée, Hot Chocolate Foam, Spicy Pecan Crumble
Pineapple Pie, Coconut Ice Cream
Dulce de Leche Panna Cotta, Pistachio Sponge Cake, Dry Meringue
Shot of Strawberry Sake
"PB&J" Peanut Butter Ice Cream Sandwich
Green Tea Mascarpone Cake, Sapote
Chocolate Doughnut, Passion Fruit Sauce

His first course was a small plate of airy, crispy pork rinds drizzled with nuac mau. Cleverly combining a Southern snack stable with a classic Vietnamese caramel sauce often used as a marinade or glaze for meat dishes, this dish sounded a couple notes that would be prevalent throughout much of the meal: (1) the mash-up of culinary genres, and (2) the interplay of savory and sweet. Many of Chef Hales' dishes play in that neighborhood between sweet and savory (Sakaya's honey-orange ribs have been Frod Jr.'s chosen dessert on more than one evening), and we would see much of that in this menu.

Papaya Salad

The next dish was a take on the Thai classic som tam, or papaya salad, which traditionally uses unripe green papaya shredded into a fine julienne, dressed with lime juice, fish sauce, sugar and chiles, often tossed with some tomatoes and peanuts. Chef Hales' version used ripe pink-fleshed papaya,[1] plump, halved grape tomatoes, a sweet, crunchy peanut brittle, and sprigs of local mint and cilantro. Clean, light and refreshing, I would have welcomed even more spice and tartness to balance out the sweet of the papaya and the brittle.

Mushroom Brioche Toast

This mushroom brioche "toast" fell somewhere between a French canapé and a Chinese shrimp toast, all the while borrowing the flavors and accompaniments of Sakaya's delicious pork buns: ssamjang mayo, thinly sliced pickled cucumbers, and a shower of fresh cilantro sprigs and green onions. This was good, though a bit heavy, plus these flavors were already very familiar to those of us for whom the Sakaya pork buns are a weekly staple.


The next course veered into more unfamiliar territory: burrata, served with a "panzanella" of blackberries and toasted brioche, dressed with sesame oil and Fuji vinegar and a julienne of fresh basil. This is the kind of dish I love: an unexpected combination that seems to make no sense and perfect sense at the same time. The cheese was just gorgeous, perhaps the freshest-tasting burrata I've had, luscious and exploding with creaminess. The "panzanella," subbing plump blackberries for tomatoes, provided a nice foil for the burrata, crisp cubes of bread giving some substance and the tangy blackberries some sweet, acidic contrast, further reinforced by the Fuji vinegar, all while the sesame oil provided an additional layer of lush richness. Italian and Asian flavor profiles don't meet very often; perhaps that's a missed opportunity. This was one of my favorite dishes of the evening.[2]

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