Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Frod Burger at Blue Collar

The month of May, according to authoritative source "A Hamburger Today," is "National Burger Month." To celebrate the auspicious occasion, Blue Collar Restaurant has been running burger specials every week inspired by local food writers, including - yes - yours truly. I'll admit: it is difficult to resist the allure of having a menu item named after you.

Blue Collar, by way of quick background, is a casual comfort food kind of place run by Chef Daniel Serfer, a Chef Allen alum. Opened around the beginning of the year, it's tucked into the small nook in the Biscayne Inn that used to house the now-defunct American Noodle Bar. I've not written about it yet but have been in several times.

Blue Collar's burger creations thus far have included the Chowfather Burger, topped with their "Big Ragout," latkes, bacon and a fried egg, the Fat Girl Hedonist Burger with chorizo, fried shallots, smoked gouda and chipotle mayo, and the Food-E Burger (a/k/a the Breakfast Burger), with Canadian bacon, an egg, maple mustard, and a side of cheese grits.

Now, behold the Frod Burger:

Frod Burger

My particular version was loosely inspired by the outstanding burger served at Le Pigeon in Portland, Oregon.[1] It includes slow-cooked, golden, caramelized onions, sharp cheddar cheese, an iceberg lettuce "slaw," and a smear of a a ruddy piquillo pepper aioli for good measure.

All of Blue Collar's burgers use a patty fashioned from prime dry-aged NY strip, a pretty luxurious grind for a pretty casual place. They also now all come housed in a "Portugese muffin," which may be a close to perfect vehicle for a burger. It's like the love child of an English muffin and brioche, tender but still having enough heft to hold up to a juicy burger, while not taking up nearly as much space as a brioche bun and distracting from the burger itself. Chef Serfer was awfully excited to get these in, and after trying it, I can begin to understand.

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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Pubbelly Sushi - Miami Beach

Pubbelly Sushi

When the gang behind Pubbelly first announced that their expansion plans included a sushi bar, I'll admit I was more than a bit dubious. I like Pubbelly's mashup of Asian, gastropub, and Spanish stylings, but when it comes to sushi I'm something of a purist. I want great fresh seafood, properly cooked and seasoned rice, and really, that's it. Those goofy "specialty" rolls, stuffed with cream cheese, deep fried and drenched in cloyingly sweet "eel sauce," are just not for me. And when you start going cross-cultural with it, you quickly run the risk of turning into something truly frightful like Guy Fieri's sushi-bbq abomination, Tex Wasabi's.[1] These are dangerous waters.

But I'm also willing to engage in some culinary "suspension of disbelief," at least once. And even though it is not remotely the kind of sushi bar I'd regularly patronize, I nonetheless find myself regularly patronizing Pubbelly Sushi.

Pubbelly Sushi menu

Like its parent, Pubbelly Sushi is a tight, cozy space - brick walls, exposed ductwork, loud alt.rock, mismatched wood furnishings, and about 6-8 seats at a bar along the back. The primary feature of the menu is a list of about ten "Pubbelly Rolls," many sounding much like those overwrought concoctions I usually avoid. But the menu is also populated with about an equal number of izakaya-like "Snacks," a selection of various things packed into "New England Style Rolls," several robata grilled items, a few composed "Pubbelly Sashimi" dishes, various sides, as well as a somewhat abbreviated selection of basic sushi and sashimi (you can also, if you choose, order just about any of the Americanized canon of "California Rolls" or "Dragon Rolls" that is to your liking).

(You can see all my pictures in this Pubbelly Sushi flickr set - apologies for the wonky lighting).

shishito peppers

It surely says something that I went in a complete skeptic and came out a fan. It helped to start with the shishito peppers from the "Snacks" section. My first visit, the blistered peppers were served with an unlikely combination of raita, pine nuts, and roasted peppers. It was the kind of combination that makes no sense until you try it, at which time everything just clicks. On a subsequent visit, these were instead served with miso and pistachios, which was almost as good.

madai sashimi

I passed up the "Pubbelly Sashimi" dish that combined bigeye tuna with burrata cheese and tomato, but I did sample the Japanese madai snapper, paired with yuzu, mandarin, serrano chile and aji jus. That's a pretty long and strongly flavored list of ingredients for a pretty delicate fish. And while I can't exactly say that it brought out, rather than obscured, any hidden nuance in the madai, it was a pleasingly bold combination of flavors, more in the neighborhood of a Peruvian tiradito than anything else.

These kinds of cross-cultural tendencies manifest themselves throughout the menu, and happen to result in some of the best dishes. Another was the tostones with ceviche, a Caribbean direction this time, the crispy, salty disks of fried plantain both foil and vehicle for a small glass jar's worth of hamachi ceviche, its flavors tugged gently back toward Asia with soy, ginger and yuzu.

So far, so good. So how about those "Pubbelly Rolls"?

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Sunday, April 29, 2012

The Return of Naoe - Downtown Miami

bento box

When I wrote about my first experience of stumbling upon Naoe, I described it as seeming almost like a dream: a tiny 17-seat jewel-box of a restaurant serving a bento box of gorgeous Japanese dishes followed by a procession of pristine nigiri, all entirely "omakase" or chef's choice. But it was real, and I went back several more times just to make sure. (You can find recaps of some subsequent meals here, here and here.)

In December, Naoe had to vacate its Sunny Isles space when the landlord hatched other plans for it. They closed up shop and began work on a new space on Brickell Key, adjacent to downtown Miami. The new venue reopened last week, and I made my first visit this past Thursday - exactly three years after my first post on Naoe.

I'm not usually a superstitious person, but I do worry that a place can lose its "mojo" when it moves locations.[1] Any such worries about Naoe were absolved by my visit to Naoe on Brickell Key.

Walking into the new space was again something like a dream: it looks almost like a mirror image of the original spot in Sunny Isles. It has the same smooth hinoki wood bar stretching in front of the open kitchen; it has the same austere grey-brown tones throughout the dining room; it has the same pinpoint halogens which literally put the spotlight on the food. There's actually less seating than there was in the original spot, and Chef Kevin Cory will only be serving eight diners per service.[2]

There have been some other minor tweaks. Instead of the $26 bento box followed by nigiri priced by the piece, Naoe now offers an $85 omakase menu that includes both the bento box and eight pieces of nigiri. Additional rounds (either repeat visits to items served earlier or, possibly, some different items) can then be added a la carte. Though bargain-hunters might rue the loss of the $26 bento, I have trouble believing anyone ever went to Naoe without sampling some sushi as well. If they did, they were missing out.

(You can see all my pictures in this Naoe April 26, 2012 flickr set).

The food is every bit as good as it ever was:

bento box

Bento box with sashimi of cobia and scallop mantle, with Japanese seaweed, shiso and freshly grated wasabi; tsubugai (whelk, or sea snail); fried whiting; wilted mizuna; tofu with uni sauce and walnuts; sardine and portobello mushroom rice with daikon nukazuke.[3] A bowl of miso soup with puréed corn was served alongside.

salmon belly

Salmon belly nigiri. Always the first nigiri served at Naoe. Perenially one of my favorite bites.

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