Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Best Buddies Event at Glass

Haven't posted in a while. Here's something to do on a hot, sweltering Saturday night.

Monday, April 21, 2008

When Crayons and Chicken Nuggets are Key

My fiancée and I recently hosted her brother and his family for a week, which included a very intelligent and outspoken three (almost four) year old and a boundless source of energy and troublemaking in the form of his brother, a one year old. Usually when dining out food was the main focus of the decision for the destination, followed by atmosphere and décor along with service. I learned when dining with the under 4 crowd, crayons can have an affect on where you dine. Décor does also, but in this case it has to do with tablecloths, in that a lack of them is ideal as it gives the one-year old nothing to grab onto and yank and cause irreparable damage to everyone else’s clothes when glasses and food go flying. Chicken nuggets are also key. They appear to be the food of choice that adults order their kids when out on the town. I don’t know what the equivalent food was when I was growing up, but the prevalence and importance of chicken nuggets in today’s society cannot be overestimated.

We wanted to give the brother and his wife a taste of Miami but we had these two lovable limitations. Here’s where we ended up:

Oasis Café (Key Biscayne) – we usually take visitors with young kids to the beach at Bill Baggs because the water is calm and I can take a walk along the trails if I need to get away. After crossing the causeway I realized we had empty stomachs and figured a pitstop for some Cuban sandwiches was in order. Both adults and kids loved them making this a stop on our second visit to the beach. Thumbs up.

Jaguar – although they don’t take reservations, you can call ahead and get your name on the wait list so you’re table is ready when you arrive. Obviously, with youngins in tow, we arrived too early for this to be an issue. Although Jaguar had no crayons or chicken nuggets and plenty of tablecloths, the meal went off well. We were given the most isolated table in the place which was perfect. The kids were entertained with the tortillas and baked pita that comes to the table first thing. We also had a bowl of decorative fruit at the table which the waiter said we could help ourselves to, but decided peeling oranges while smartly dressed was not a good idea. The waitstaff was very accommodating at getting us extra plates (the kids basically ate from what each adult donated, I was a little jealous as they got churrasco, ribeye, and chicken tacos). I’d give this place a thumbs up.

The Daily – for breakfast before our day at Jungle Island (formerly Parrot Jungle Island, formerly Parrot Jungle in Pinecrest). I’d never been for breakfast and only once for lunch. I really like the place. Ingredients seem fresh, menu is varied but everything came out well prepared. Another thumbs up.

Café at Books and Books (Beach location) – the stop after our exhausting day at Jungle Island. Although seating is outdoors and there’s some kids selections on the menu, the uncomfortable (for kids) chairs and the cumulative distractions of Lincoln Road means a fussy three-year old who barely touched his melted cheese sandwich (we had to fake it because he didn’t want a grilled cheese sandwich from the kids menu so we got him a melted cheese sandwich from the adult menu…at the kid menu price). Although I love the place, the food, etc., it’s not a place for the 4 and under set. I’d have to give it a thumbs down.

Hard Rock – on a side trip to Orlando. The place was noisy and not really much for kids to do. Kids were also exhausted. Not a bad choice, but not a great one. Then again, we’re stuck in Universal Citywalk and the pickings are slim.

Havana Harry’s – Cuban restaurants are mainly family restaurants and they handled the kids with ease. Mamey shakes came in disposable cups with straws, bread was brought out quickly and replenished even quicker. Only drawback was no kids portions, but with the size of the adult portions, the kids could’ve been fed from our plates. It was here, and at a visit to my parent’s house, that the three-year old discovered his love for Cuban food. He loved black beans and rice, roast pork, the mamey shake, flan…you name it. Unfortunately he and his family are from Sacramento and from various visits there I know that good Cuban restaurants, or any Cuban restaurants for that matter, are non-existent. Guess uncle L2M will have to do some cooking next time he’s out there.

So that’s my experience with the four and under set. It’s an entirely different world when dining with kids. Luckily the (almost) nephews were well-behaved and receptive to trying new things – more so than their parents in some cases! I don’t know if there’s a tried and true method for picking a restaurant to take kids, but I think we did pretty well avoiding the crayons and chicken nuggets rule and still having a good time.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Red Light. Go!

It's a restaurant attached to a once down-and-out motel trying to clean itself up, across a crummy canal from a strip club that alternates between straight, gay, black or white performers and on a street that's been under construction since before the U.S. invaded Iraq. A recipe for success if I've ever seen one.

Kris Wessel has taken one of the biggest gambles in the city outside of the multi-million dollar Karu & Y space in, well, wherever it is. Judging from the crowd there this Friday night, his gamble looks like it's initially paid off. Everyone seemed to know each other but I knoew no one except Douglas Rodriguez who presided over the first booth by the entrance. Red Light is a small space (I hate the word cozy, but that's what it is) with booths in an "L" shape along the windows that face the aforementioned street, canal, and performance space. The bar, with cool vintage orange bar chairs, runs parallel along the booths. The outside area isn't quite done, but when it is I see many lazy Sunday spent there.

But believe it or not we went to Red Light tonight not for the location, but for the food. The menu is very limited and there's only about 5 or 6 dishes in appetizer sizes available. Apparently these dishes will be the basis for the upcoming full menu. 5-hour braised rabbit with carrots in a freaking insanely good stew sauce, bbq shrimp in an even more insanely good sauce and a savory oyster pie were the dishes we chose. I'm not much for sopping up sauces with bread, but we didn't leave an ounce of sauce on the plates of the rabbit and shrimp dishes. We skipped on a fish chowder, ceviche, and frog legs. We saw most of these dishes come out and watched people's faces as they ate. No negative reactions at all. There shouldn't be. The food came out freshly prepared and piping hot. Desserts were limited to a key lime pie and homemade banana rum ice cream which was more banana than ice and cream (so I used it as an excuse to count it towards my fruit intake for the day).

There's the obvious kinks in service but you get the feeling that when they get worked out this place is going to be really, really good. It's the kind of neighborhood place every neighborhood should have (which we had when Michael's and Michy's first opened and before the national media took notice) and I'm glad it's in mine. Yet another nah-nah-nahnah-naaaah to South Beach.

Foodie and Drink Event for a Good Cause

Thursday, March 27, 2008

No Swill Zone - Cameron Hughes Lot 26

I’d seen these wines lying around Costco before. Same looking label on the same looking bottles, the only difference being the color of the label, the contents of the bottle, and the “lot”.

Turns out Cameron Hughes does not make wine by vintage or vineyard but by “lot”. See, Cameron Hughes’ wines are made from excess grapes sourced from wineries worldwide and most are a one-time deal. Like a Syrah from the Edna Valley? Buy up because it might be the only one he’ll ever make. Not to worry, most lots are enough that if you like a particular wine you’ll probably be able to get your hands on some. But after that, it’s gone forever.

My particular run in came when we got some clams (farmed in FLA by the way!) at Costco and realized we needed a wine to go with them. With my girlfriend braving the checkout line I ran to the back of the store to pick something out. Again I’d seen these wines at Costco before but never thought twice about them until now when I was hurried, panicked and noticed the $10.99 price tag. It was Lot 26, a Sauvignon Blanc sourced from vineyards in Marlborough, New Zealand.

With wine and mollusks in tow we headed home. Initially we were going to have clams with pasta but my girlfriend felt too tired to cook so it was up to me. Since I’m not a pasta fan I braved to find a different method to make these puppies. I picked up The New Spanish Table by Anya von Bremzen (one of my favorite cookbooks) and sure enough there was a recipe for clams braised in butter with serrano ham. ‘Nuff said.

Clams were made and wine was opened. I didn’t think the wine would outshine the clams, but damn! The wine and clam pairing was horrible, in fact awful. The clams were buttery and salty and smoky and were excellent. The wine blew up with kiwi and grapefruit but drank a little drier than I’d imagined. Together not so good, but we couldn’t stop drinking it. For $11 the quality of the wine was way above its price range. As for pairing it with some smoky clams, it was a bad idea. But given that summer is coming up and lighter meals are on the menu (like clams in broth without Serrano ham and pimenton) it’s a perfect with our Floridian snapper, shrimp etc. Buy this stuff up while you still can. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

My take: get out and buy as much of this as you can but leave some for me!

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

We're #4!

At least Michael's Genuine is on the NY Times' Frank Bruni's list of the top restaurants outside of New York. Congrats to Michael and staff for showing Miami dining isn't just about 6 1/2 foot tall hostesses in drag and pick-your-meat and add mango salsa to it entrees.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Direct Wine Shipping to Florida in Jeopardy

I knew this was coming up soon. Another sign of the apocalypse or at least another sign that Florida is destined to take as many backward steps possible in making this an advanced and progressive state. Heck, we just allowed evolution to be taught in schools (but only as a scientific theory, which is more than can be said for creationist theory. What’s their proof?).

A few years ago the Supreme Court struck down protectionist laws regarding direct wine shipping. In a nutshell, the Court said that states could not discriminate between in and out of state wineries shipping to citizens within a state. In Florida for example, the few wineries which we have in the state were allowed to ship their product to individuals; however, wineries from out of state were prohibited from shipping directly to consumers and had to go through retailers via distributors. After the Court’s decision Florida had no choice but to open its borders and allow all U.S. wineries the ability to ship directly to Floridians after filing regulatory and tax-related paperwork. This was a boon to Floridians who could now get wine from their favorite wineries regardless of the state in which they’re located.

But now we’re about to pull the typical Floridian ass-backwards move. There a not one, not two, but FOUR bills in the legislature (two in the House and two in the Senate) which impose all sorts of restriction on direct wine shipment. One thing all have in common however is a restriction on the size of the winery where a Floridian can order wine from. The winery can only produce a maximum of 250,000 gallons of wine, which is a heck of a lot of wine. However, with holding companies buying more and more boutique wineries, it gets to a point where even a teeny tiny winery, if part of a big conglomerate, would not be allowed to ship to this state.

Who’s behind all this? Why should so many state legislators care about direct wine shipment? Well, Florida is home to Southern Wine and Spirits (SW&S), the largest wine, beer and liquor distributor in the state (as well as the country). They’re based in Miramar but have distributorships in most major states. So who’s sponsoring these bills? They happen to all represent the districts of Southeast Florida! They’re Representatives Rene Garcia (Hialeah) and Ellyn Setnor Bogdanoff (Fort Lauderdale) and Senators Gwen Margolis (Eastern Miami-Dade/Southeast Broward) and Steven Geller (Broward County). Research shows the following donations to each individual’s previous campaigns:
Steven Geller ($500 each from SW&S of Florida and South Carolina, and Gold Coast Beverage Distributors),
Rene Garcia ($500 from Diageo, SW&S of Florida and South Carolina, Harvey Chaplin (founder SW&S), and Florida Wholesale Spirits),
Ellyn Bogdanoff ($6,500 worth of donations from the Food & Beverage industry including 2 donations from SW&S of Florida, SW&S of South Carolina, Gold Coast Beverage Distributors and Florida Wholesale Spirits),
Gwen Margolis ($500 each from SW&S of Florida and South Carolina, and Gold Coast Beverage Distributors).

So there you go. All four bills have been introduced by persons whose districts basically cover Miami-Dade and Broward counties and who have received donations from various liquor distributors. Arguments against direct shipping include the possibility of those under 21 years of age ordering wine and the effect of direct shipping on local distributors who have spent millions setting up legal distribution channels. Counterarguments for both issues are easy. Delivery services are required to have someone 21+ sign for packages containing direct-shipped wine so chances are it’s easier for an underage person to acquire alcohol at their local liquor store than via mail (and what teenager do you know would get drunk on Screaming Eagle or Seasmoke?). As for distributors, the amount of wine ordered direct is so miniscule compared to that any effect on their business would be negligible.

What this bill effectively does is give local distributors the decision as to what you can buy on the shelves of your local wine shop or supermarket. If a winery doesn’t have a distributor in FLA, you’re not going to get their wine. For small wineries this will make Florida off limits because our giant distributors will avoid wineries that can’t fulfill large orders for their retail clientele.

So what can you do if you care? If you’ve read my rant this far you might as well help me fight the power! Write to the introducers of these House and Senate bills, write to your local Representatives, and write to Governor Christ. Lookup information on Free the Grapes (a non-profit organization trying to lift wine shipping bans in all 50 states). Keep Florida from reverting back to a backwards Puritan state. And order some wine from another state before it’s too late!

Gwen Margolis e-mail
Steven Geller e-mail
Rene Garcia e-mail
Ellyn Bogdanoff e-mail