Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Check, Please! South Florida Premieres

The South Florida edition of the Chicago-born series Check, Please! premiered last night on WPBT Channel 2. Along with San Francisco, South Florida becomes one of three metro areas with the program which picks three diners from different walks of life and has them pick their favorite restaurant to review. All guests on the show dine at all three restaurants (at different times). The three meet at the show's taping and discuss their picks as well as those of the other guests.

Tonights premiere episode featured a beauty pageant president, an assistant librarian, and a skydiver (didn't know that was a profession). Restaurants reviewed were Sheba in Miami, Cafe Maurice in Miami Beach, and Jeff's Beach House Grill in Fort Lauderdale. Info on the show, restaurants, guests, etc. can be found here.

Instead of the restaurants, I wanna focus on the episode itself. Michelle Bernstein hosts the show and without her presence I think it would crash and burn. Last night at least, she was the most personable person at the table. She was trying to extract whatever information she could with friendly questioning; however, the skydiver guest just seemed uptight. You could tell whenever he was asked a question that his mind was tinkering to come up with something witty but it never happened. The other guests were friendly and chatty but not very sophisticated when it came to dining at least. One described having a "California wine" with dinner and it was spectacular. How's about telling us the wine?! But the show is exactly what it purpots itself to be, three people off the street sharing places they like, trying new ones and talking about them. Michelle, either throught questions or comments, gives a much more educated dimension to the show, whether it's explaining kofta or embellishing on a guests description of a restaurant's decor.

I just hope enough South Floridians tune in and keep the show going. It gives a great cross-section of our community and culinary landscape which many cities don't have and it's something we should show off.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Weekend run around town

This weekend I took advantage of the research and recs from fellow bloggers to run around town and stock my pantry. Here's what I found:

- The Upper Eastside Greenmarket is growing. Even though farmers remain non-existent, it's turned into a meeting place for locals living off Biscayne. The cookie guy sold out fairly early and, according to Danny at Daily Cocaine, local UES chefs made appearences to either cook or buy. I'm still holding out hope that farmers will show up, but it seems unlikely according to a few posts on Chowhound which the Chow police deleted.

- This year's first Coral Gables Farmers Market happened on Saturday (great review and pics from mango & lime). Some of last year's participants were there (the guy who buys wholesale and packages everything to look "farmer-like", the bakeries, the honey guy, the citrus family, etc.). What was exciting were the new vendors: Le Boudoir (which forgot to bring their tent, resulting in very unhappy workers and melting macaroons), a tea and spice vendor and, the biggest surprise of all, Paradise Farms, the Homestead farm that supplies many of Miami's top restaurants with fresh produce, was doing a trial run at the Gables market. The produce was pristeen but ridiculously expensive. Greens were sold by the ounce! There were a lot of takers which will hopefully mean they'll return but one employee I heard said they had to actually convince Paradise's owner, Gabriele Marewski, to allow them to come to the market. Now for someone who extolls organic produce and allows people to pay $150 a pop to come to her farm to have dinner prepared by some of Miami's best chefs you figure she'd want to get her product to as much of the public as possible. Hopefully this experiment will go well and Paradise Farms will continue to sell to the public.

- The Homestead Farmers Market brought to our attention by Critical Miami is just as described. It's a barnlike building with fruits and vegetables next to a flea market selling 5 pairs of white socks for $5. The vast majority of the vendors and customers were Mexican or Central American. There were, however, the occassional bikers on their way to the keys, and me. The produce is insanely cheap and there were tons of things not found at your local Publix (or most markets around you for that matter) including: fresh garbanzo beans in their pods, fresh squash blossoms, epazote, dried chiles and bitter melon. More common produce looked better than what I get at my BiBo Publix and much cheaper (onions and beets $0.60 a lb!). It's worth a trip when your crisper is bare.

-My last stop was the fruit stand at Knaus Berry Farm. The cinnamon rolls seem to have grown from last year, and so have the lines. Still, it's a great excuse to drive to the country.

Thanks all for the finds. Next time I'll have a camera in tow.

Friday, January 18, 2008

It takes Five Guys to make a decent burger

Having grown up in Southern California I've had my fill of excellent burgers. In-n-Out, Tommy's, Apple Pan (the restaurant Johnny Rockets knocked off, but minus the charm). Car culture allowed drive-ups to proliferate and LA was car culture central.
On the East Coast I have yet to find a better burger. Sure we've got Boloud and Bouley (and now Michael Mina's American Kobe burger), but local burger places are awful. One place that's heavily mentioned is Jack's Old Fashioned Hamburger in Ft. Lauderdale. The place is old and hasn't been kept up so the charm is gone. As for the burgers themselves, well, when you order one you get a plastic baggie with lettuce and tomato to use as you wish when preparing your burger. Very sterile. So South Florida has given us Jack's and In-n-Out and Southern Cal gave us In-n-Out. Edge to Southern Cal.
But one place looking to bring some of that squeaky clean, fresh to order burger experience recently landed at the Shops at Midtown. Five Guys Famous Burgers and Fries is an East Coast creation from Virginia. Upon entering you'll be greeted with an unintelligible greeting that I still haven't figured out. Make your way past the boxes of potatoes that act as line barriers to the counter and check out the menu. It's extremely simple which is a good sign. You either get a regular burger (two patties), a little burger (one patty), or a hot dog. As for toppings, the only ones that are extra are cheese and/or bacon. All other toppings, including freshly thin-sliced jalapenos, and the usual lettuce, tomato, etc. are free. French fries are made with fresh sliced potatoes (look for the wipey board stating the provenance of that day's spuds), fried in peanut oil and topped with just salt or cajun seasoning.
The quality of the burgers are excellent. Patties are fresh, not frozen. Toppings are fresh and clean. The bun is a little dense (especially when compared to the sponge bun at In-n-Out) but you'll need it to hold in the burger and toppings. The quality of the fries has differed on occassion. One time they were undercooked and a little raw in the middle, but most times they've been well done. The restaurant itself doesn't have much of an atmosphere and I find it a little dark. However, I recommend eating in house since taking them to go will result wilted toppings and fries that are steamed from their own residual heat. Plus the place has malt vinegar, perfect for fresh cut, peanut oil-fried french fries.
Whether Five Guys could hold its own in Southern Cal I'm not sure. But given the dearth of competition here it should do well. A second Miami location will be opening soon in Kendall Village.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thursday Dining Roundup for January 17

I've figured if there's something already being done right, why improve on it? Carolina at the South Florida Menupages blog recaps dining reviews of the week similar to what my dining roundup did. From now on I'll defer to her to be the local roundup source. But I'll still comment on some of these reviews from time to time. But thanks to Carolina for taking the time to put this together week after week.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Thursday Dining Roundup for January 10

Lee Klein reviews Michael's Kitchen in Sunny Isles and doesn't like it. When the chef actually states that the restaurant is "all about the show" you know you're in trouble. Luckily Lee took the hit for us and waded through what appeared to be vast quantities of highly caloric food. But what first gave me warning about Michael's Kitchen was seeing Chef Michael Blum on a Food Network Challenge show where contestants had to make dishes representing Miami's culinary heritage. He was the only local in a competition taking place in South Beach. It was embarassing. His food came out on wood planks with flowers and palm fronds. All it was missing was sparklers. Now the city of Sunn Isles is ready to let a landmark like Rascal House go (here's a link to a petition to save it) but they're willing to put up with a mediocre, pseudo-chain restaurant?

Also in the New Times, Pamela Robin Brandt checks out Sushi Club in North Beach and compares it to Hiro's. Considering that Hiro's is pretty mediocre there wasn't much to look forward to in the review. At least it was well written.

Two Chefs Too and Jason's at the Harrison open according to South Florida Gourmet. Both are run by chefs with South Florida ties. Two Chefs continues running but Chef Jason McLaine's other ventures haven't panned out too well. I wish him luck.

Normally nocturnal-focused Lesley Abravenel's Miami Herald column, Velvet Underground, takes a detour towards the culinary side of nightlife and looks in on Il Gabbiano, Joley, Segafredo Brickell, Domo Japones, Kobe Club and, something having nothing to do with food but it sounds cool anyway, the Stoli Hotel.

Victoria Pesce Elliot heads south and reviews Village Chalet in Cauley Square.

And a story that doesn't have to do with restaurant critiques but it's worthwhile for anyone who loves the unique produce we grow in South Florida, Maricel Presilla writes about the plight of farmers growing typical Cuban produce in Redlands and their battle against cheap imports and development.

Linda Bladholm visits a home for Ecuadoreans called Latitude Zero Cafe. And if the food is as good and the people are as friendly as in Ecuador it should be a winner.

Miami Danny himself gives an awesome roundup of the farms and other stops in Redlands and Homestead. Robert is here is missing though, along with Knaus Berry Farm and the Homestead Farmers Market. But heck, it'd take more than a day to hit up all of these places. Great job Danny.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Chowhound Best of Florida Post

Someone spent a lot of time putting this together so I figured I'd dissemenate the info here as well. Frodnesor posted this list of the "Best of" and "Top" lists in the Chowhound Florida message board. It's pretty comprehensive and hopefully it'll cut down on the "I'm coming to South Beach with some friends, where can I go to get good food and a cool atmosphere?" posts. The Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau should be kissing the feet of Frodnesor, tpigeon, netmover and the other regular posters on the Chowhound board. Better yet, why doesn't the GMCVB make their own board for visitors to post their questions and locals give their responses? It'd go a long way in improving the "Miamians are rude and unfriendly" stigma that we have.

Friday, January 4, 2008

The Vegas-izing of Miami Continues...

I recently either read an article or a blog post or something about the Miami becoming like Las Vegas in its luring of out-of-town chefs with national and international cachet to run restaurants where they'll step foot in them about once or twice a year. Get ready for the latest addition. According to Gayot, Jean-Georges Vongrichten is opening an outpost of his tribute to Asian street food, Spice Market. I'm not complaining about it. If any city can be bereft of actual street food yet support a restaurant devoted to reimagined and overpriced versions of it, Miami would be it. Opening is sometime in 2008 but I haven't heard anything of a location. Let's take a guess, in a hotel maybe?

Au revoir Philippe!

For years when I worked in Coral Gables I'd head north on LeJeune a couple of times a month to have a quick lunch and stroll the ridiculously narrow and crampped aisles of Best Time Wine. This shoebox of a wine shop on 8th St. a few blocks from LeJeune was probably the most atypical wine shop around. Compare it to Wolff's on Miracle Mile or Total Wine in NMB? No way. This place was not about presentation. It was about good wines at low prices.
Due to a run-in with the landlord, Best Time Wine closed up shop and moved a few miles west under the guise of Happy Wine. A little bigger space, but the same concept.

The man behind both of these establishments, Philippe Douriez, is taking a back seat to pursue other interests. I can't tell you what this guy has done for the wine scene in Miami. His specials are outrageous. It got to the point where my friends and I referred to him as "the back of the truck guy" because we figured that in order for him to sell at the prices he did, he had to get his inventory off the back of a moving truck. But it wasn't only the prices that had us going back. Best Time, and then Happy Wine, was a constant party. Go any time of the day or night and there are people eating, drinking, and sometimes dancing. And among them with the biggest smile is Phillippe either pouring someone another glass or making suggestions for bottles for an upcoming party. I'll miss Phillipe, but according to his goodbye, the staff at Happy Wine will continue the tradition. I wish them, and Phillipe, good luck and success and hope that the party won't end.

First 2008 Thursday Dining Roundup

Yes, like many I slacked off last week with the holidays. Now back with renewed energy here's the first roundup of 2008:

Victoria Pesce-Elliot kinda blasts Kefi in Aventura. The owners run the cafeteria at my girlfriend's company and she says that although they're great at salads and sandwiches, she's wary of how they'll do running a fine dining establishment. We wish them well.

I always meant to give Sunfish Grill a try when it was in Pompano. Now that it's got nicer digs and much closer in Fort Lauderdale I have no excuse. The food sounds good too, though I hate it when critics describe anything as "delightful".

Lee Klein at the New Times reviews Escopazzo's organic, slow food-centric cuisine. I'm a fan of the restaurant and I'm glad to see it's on the cusp of the organic, slow food movement in Miami. Chef Giancarla Bodoni is cooking at the Pardise Farms Dinner in Paradise event on March 9 with Michael Schwartz, but alas, it's sold out.

Bill Citara pushes readers out of their comfort zones and into the Thai section of the menu at Sushi Siam. I'm not really a fan of the chain, but it serves it's purpose. But after eating Northern Thai food at Lotus of Siam in Las Vegas, I'm spoiled forevermore.

Lastly, from the Biscayne Times, a look at Sweet Tooth chocolate store and factory. It's all chocolate, all handmade, and all kosher. L'chaim!