Friday, February 29, 2008

SET event

This deals with the "drink" side of my "food and drink" blog. It's for a good cause (and my girlfriend is on the committee that's putting it on). Take a break from the film festival or unwind after a long workweek and come out and support Best Buddies.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Why does the Herald's Food section suck so bad?

We live in one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. We have a restaurant sector that's booming and more and more new places are opening than any time since I've lived here. And what does the Herald decide to spotlight on the front page of its Food section? Casseroles! Not only that, the picture on the front page is a casserole with tater tots! Where are we, Des Moines? Can you imagine the NY Times front paging a tater tot casserole? Miami is about 5 years behind the rest of the country when it comes to educated dining (local sourcing, sustainable farming, etc.) but this paper, and especially this food section, is about 50 years behind the times. There's even a section for "Quick Suppers". Who the heck uses the word "supper" anymore?! Food Editor Kathy Martin has to go and the Herald needs to find someone about 80 years younger to refresh this section and bring it at least up to the 1980's.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Now we'll never get into Michael's without a reservation!

Michael's Genuine Food & Drink continues to rake in the accolades landing on NY Times' Frank Bruni's list of the 10 best new restaurants in the U.S. (outside of New York, we all know it's special and better than wherever we live, right?). Chef Schwartz's place beat out the likes of Michel Richard's Central in D.C. and Guy Savoy's eponymous place in Las Vegas. Holy crap!

The list includes restaurants in several cities (including my old stomping grounds of Culver City, just outside of L.A.). What jumps out is the restaurants Bruni left out. Ad Hoc (Thomas Keller's French Laundry Lite in Napa) and Comme Ca in L.A. were eagerly anticipated openings that missed the cut.

This is a huge achievement for Michael's. Not only has he brought local recognition to the dead-by-night Design District, he's brining nationwide recognition to Miami. But damn, it's going to be hard to get a table at this place.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

An Offal Weekend

In an effort to exact my revenge on the throngs of out-of-town avid boaters and crafty people here for the Boat Show and Coconut Grove Arts Festival, I decided to skip town and bother the good citizens of New York City with skreechingly annoying questions like “which way is the Empire State Building?” and “what time do I have to get to Rockefeller Center by to be able to see Ann Curry up close?” Unfortunately, our hotel was in Midtown and I could see the Empire State Building from it and we woke up too late every morning to see the Today show taping. New Yorkers were saved.

In an effort to entertain myself more than in past weekend getaways to NYC I decided to try to have a theme for this trip. Since it was a surprise for my girlfriend I got to plan where we’d be eating (actually, even when it’s not a surprise trip I end up selfishly planning our dining picks, God bless her for her patience and understanding). For some reason I thought about a trip revolving around offal. Most major culinary destinations are well unto the offal bandwagon that started with Fergus Henderson at St. John (although the consumption of offal goes back thousands of years before Mr. Henderson served a bone marrow). Even though here in Miami we’re able to get offal fix from mondongos and callos a la madrileña, there are few non-ethnic restaurants serving up tasty innards (Michael’s and Michy’s are two that come to mind). So my quest began to hunt down offal in the Big Apple.

We started off at Momofuku Noodle Bar. There’s been a lot of talk and press about this place and I’m a little late to the party. Chef David Chang cranks out pan-Asian dishes with Western additions and techniques. Lunch started off with pork belly steamed buns. More like fluffy tacos, the sauced pork belly was wrapped in a light, doughy wrap that was like eating a cross between Wonder bread and Marshmallow Fluff. The next dish was the requisite offal. Fried sweetbreads were tossed in a light breading and served with a sweet chili sauce. The sweetbread nuggets (I hate that word, but that’s what they were) were light as clouds. Seriously, these were amongst the best sweetbreads I’ve ever had. Luckily there were two of us to make it through the order. Lastly were our entrees. Momofuku ramen was a rich, smoky broth with typical ramen accoutrements which included shredded roast pork and pork belly and rice cakes with oxtail ragu, the rice cakes rolled to resemble gnocchi, but a little heavier.

For dinner we decided to brave the cold and the 2 hour waits and hit the Spotted Pig. Known for better-than-your-neighborhood-bar bar food the menu contained tasty treats like calves liver and pig ears. Unfortunately the pig ears were off the menu the night we went, but the chicken liver toasts were there. We ordered them once, then again after our entrees arrived. The livers were left chunky and with minimal fillers (butter, cream, etc.) and tons for seasoning. Most excellent and perfect with the cask ales served.

Breakfast was going to be a challenge but I figured sausage counts as offal-eating since who knows what is in any particular link. Prune provided both my girlfriend and I a tasty, offal tinged breakfast of homemade lamb sausage (for me) and, in a dish I have to give props for originality for, the Hostel plate. It reminds you of food you ate when, well, you were hostelling around Germany and the Netherlands. The plate consisted of liverwurst and hard sausage along with various pastes in tubes along with grain breads and other accoutrements. Definitely some offal to be found somewhere in this dish. And great with Prune’s Bloody Marys.

Our last two stops didn’t offer as much offal as I though, but by then I’d about had it. Boqueria had great tapas and croquettes better than I find in Miami. And brunch at Clinton St. Bakery was all about every breakfast food excess.

So the offal weekend can be considered a partial success. A true measure would’ve been to check my cholesterol count before and after the trip, but insurance co-pays are getting excessive and I don’t like my doctor enough to see him twice in four days. And the fact that I’m thinking of going vegetarian for a few days makes me think that all that fat and cholesterol is still running around my system. But heck, at least I know I won’t be iron deficient for a while!

Monday, February 11, 2008

No Swill Zone - Inaugural Edition

Given the state we're in, and particularly the location in the state that we're in, it's no wonder that Miami is a crossroads for many things. Banking, the arts, food, and, this recurring post's subject, wine. Florida is, according to who you ask, the second or third largest wine consuming state in the nation. But given Florida's three-tiered distribution system, and the fact that we're home to the largest alcohol distributor in the country, our choices in wine are sometimes limited.

We do, however, enjoy the benefits of being a crossroads which wine-wise means we excel at having a having a diversity of wines that reflect our region's culture. This means wines from regions with Latin influences, with Spain, Chile and Argentina leading the way, as well as from our neighbors way West and Northwest. A recent study found that if you live east of an imaginary line going from Ohio to Texas, it's actually better for the environment to purchase wines from Europe that are transported by ship (versus wines from the West Coast which come by truck). Given that much ofwhat we buy comes from Asia, and China in particular, I figured I'm probably ruining the environment more by buying plastic forks made in China versus Pinot Noir grown in Oregon. So when it comes to drinking wines, destination and environmental concerns take a back seat.

National wine reviews are great, but many times it's tough, if not impossible, to find the wine in Miami because it lacks a distributor. There's a few local wine critics in our daily or weekly rags, and most seem to pander to those searching for everyday value wines from large, well known producers. The reviews are usually basic but it's an almost certainty that the wines reviewed can be found fairly easily.

Where do I fit into all this? I'm not necessarily sure. I'm not a wine expert by any means, but I figured if I end up liking a wine, maybe someone else in MIA can take it as a suggestion to try something they normally wouldn't. And one thing is that with almost complete certainty the wines that will appear in the No Swill Zone will have been bought in, or accessible to, South Florida. And I can assure with complete certainty that there will be no swill. And as for scoring the wines, I hate the point system, I hate the star system so I haven't decided what it'll be. I'll try some out in the coming months and see what sticks.

One such wine which we opened the other night is the 2005 Prima from the Toro denomination in Spain. Toros have been getting a lot of press recently as Robert Parker has seemingly fallen in love with some woman from Valladolid or they have some dirty pictures of him somewhere and they've blackmailed him into awarding the 2004 Termanthia a rare 100 points accompanied by a host of others receiving high 90's. With Spanish wines so popular in South Florida we're flooded with Toros and have easy access to the 100 point giants as well as smaller producers.

Toros are knows for being big, bold wines ("toro" meaning "bull" in Spanish) so they're not for swishing in a backyard picnic in July. But as our weather is a little more temparate this time of year, it's the perfect time to pop this baby open. Prima delivers what you'd expect, bold dark flavors yet a little mellow at the end. It's still a bit tannic so a bit of aging might help it (or some decanting prior).
Prima can be found easily around town. The distributor has been doing tastings at Sunset Corners and Bin no. 18. I'm sure other retailers carry it as well.
So here's the lowdown:
Wine: 2005 Prima, D.O.C. Toro, Spain
Producer: Bodegas y Vinedos Maurodos
Purchased: Sunset Corners, $19.99
And something timely for the rating:
Randy: "Yes", Paula: "Yes", Simon: "Yes". Congratulations Prima, you're going down my gullet!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

You like us, you really, really like us

The Herald bursts out of it's ink and paper shell and runs down a list of local food blogs.

Plugged-in palate: S. Florida's online dining community

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Locavore Experiment #1

...failed miserably. My objective was simple, for one week make my (and my fiancee's) evening meals with as much locally sourced products as possible. After my weekend runaround I figured I had enough food to get me through the week. Well, I lasted a day and I'm proud of this wonderous accomplishment. Day 2 failed due to (1) a late night at work meant an easy meal was in order and (2) I really wanted salmon and live salmon does not come anywhere near Florida.

But at least I got a little creative on my one locavore day. We had tons of tomatoes and herbs from "la viejita" so I thought tomato sauce. So a simple tomato sauce was created with tomatoes, thyme, oregano and rosemary (all from FLA), garlic and olive oil (from somewhere else) topped off with parsley (from FLA). So the sauce was at least 90% local. I wanted to add some kind of meat (I'm a meatball fanatic) but wasn't sure where my local Publix's ground beef came from. We had some rock shrimp in the freezer (rock shrimp from FLA!) and figured they're about the size of small meatballs. A few minutes later tomato sauce with rock shrimp "meatballs" served with fresh pasta from Mr. Pasta (on Collins near 71st St. on MB).

We had tons of produce that we'd purchased over the weekend and had I really wanted to make this locavor week successful I couldn've just eaten salad every day (or bought more substantial produce). That obviously didn't happen. What did was this salad made from arugula (la viejita) and heirloom cherry tomatoes and radishes from Redland Organics. 100% South Florida salad (with the exception of the olive oil obviously).

My last use of local ingredients failed miserably. We had two canistels (eggfruit) and, after reading Carolina's mother's experiment on the Menupages blog I decided to give canistel ice cream a shot. I've made simple ice cream from mamey and figured canistel, with its similar consistency, would come out pretty much the same. So into the blender went the canistel, milk, demarara sugar, vanilla and a little salt. From blender to ice cream maker then the addition of sum rum-soaked raisins (basically a ripoff of Gaby's Farms Creme de Canistel ice cream). The results were strange. On first tasting the ice cream was delicious, rich and creamy even though milk was the only liquid used. But the aftertaste, which hit about 3 or 4 seconds later, was awful. It was rough and bitter, kinda like the taste you get when in college you take a shot of some alcohol that you don't really know what it is, but it's alcohol so you down it anyway. We couldn't eat it. It's sitting in my freezer waiting for some inspiration to hit me on how to save it. If anyone has any suggestions, please let me know!
So what did I learn from the locavore experiment? That it's probably possible to get through a week of dinners using mostly local ingredients. We have access to local produce, fish, seafood and eggs. The only thing missing that I haven't been able procure is local meat.
Considering the number of pig roasts I've been to I know it's possible to get a local whole piggie, but not sure where to get local beef or chicken. Once that's covered I think the locavore experiment will have a much higher chance of success.

Monday, February 4, 2008

Attack of the Heirloom Tomatoes (this weekend's run around)

This weekend was spent searching for the best stuff we could find at some of our local farmers markets. Saturday was our local Upper Eastside market. The usual suspects were there (Chef Michael Schwartz with a box of mozzarella and ricotta, the cookie guy, the brownie woman, etc.) and the pickings are getting better and better. For us the winner was baby bok choy at the Market Company booth. They looked fresh and crisp and were 4 for $1. Can't beat that.

Sunday we headed over to the Gardner's farmers market in Pinecrest. Tomatoes, tomatoes everywhere. We stocked up on regular sized heirlooms from Teena's Pride for $5 a box, mini-heirlooms from Redland Organics for $4.25 a pint, then we went a bit crazy at the Redland Organics booth where we got mizuna, canistels, and purple beans (like the green ones, but purple and much cooler looking).

Last stop was la viejita (the old lady). It's a patch of land just south of the Costco in Kendall which has u-pick tomatoes, strawberries and herbs. In a frenzy there we picked up strawberries, arugula (large and baby bunches), thyme, purple basil and cilantro.

Considering that a just few years ago I was buying the vast majority of my (inferior) produce at Publix, I can't believe how far we've come to getting local produce into everyone's hands. Granted, I'm running around town like an idiot wasting gas and spewing ozone-depleting emissions, but it's such a difference come dinnertime to know that what I'm having has come (predominantly) from a few miles away. But our choices are getting better, our restaurants are sourcing locally (with Chef Schwartz leading the charge), the CSA is doing bang up business and the popularity of the brand new UES farmers market shows that people in the area are caring more about what they eat and where it comes from. Granted, I still think that people are being duped by vendors that basically sell wholesale imported produce at these markets (not that there's anything wrong with that) or maybe these people don't really care where their food comes from and just want to buy their produce in the outdoors. Fine with me as long as locals keep coming with their produce so that someday I won't have to write about running around South Florida to procure my fruits and veggies.

Now, I'm wondering how long someone could go making meals using primarily locally sourced ingredients from South Florida? I started last night (I'll post later on what I made) so let's see how far I can take it.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Rogue Beer Dinner at Lola's on Harrison

Thanks to Sara at allpurposedark for posting about the Rogue Charity Beer Dinner at Lola’s on Harrison yesterday which, with my lapsing memory, I had totally forgotten about after hearing of it just two weeks ago.

I’d been meaning to go to Lola’s for a while and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to schlep past the county line. After turning onto Dixie highway and waiting at a light which never changed (literally, I never got a green light), we saw Lola’s on a pretty desolate Harrison St. I’m not sure why the area isn’t more developed. Lots of shuttered storefronts dotted the street with a few occasional signs of life (basically Lola’s and the wine shop across the street, Hollywood Vine).

Parking was easy and after picking up a few bottles at Hollywood Vine (small store, great prices) we went to Lola’s. The restaurant is fairly small but they’ve done a great job with space. Bright white tabletops set off against dark fabric on the chairs and banquettes. There’s a small bar where our hostess/waitress/bartender (and probably valet if we needed it) Rachel held court. We were offered menus but said we were here for the Rogue beer dinner. [For those of you not familiar with Rogue beers, it began as a small operation in Ashland, Oregon and has grown to become won of the most well-known specialty beer brewers in the US. Our favorites include the American Amber and Chipotle Ale (which has disappeared off the shelves of all shops in South Florida it seems).] Seeing as we were just sitting down and everyone was on dessert and coffee we knew we’d close the place (10:00, which by our Miami training, is still early).

Prior to receiving our first course we were given some literature on Rogue (history, philosophy, etc.) and a description of the beers being served. A good time killer until the first course arrived, coriander crusted scallops with a ginger butter sauce paired with a wheat beer (Half-e-Weizen). Great pairing of sweet scallops, rich sauce and a light, refreshing wheat beer. Personally I like my scallops a little raw in the middle but these were cooked through without being overdone. Great presentation and a great way to start the meal.

The second course was a juniper brined pork loin with a raspberry chipotle sauce and a mango and arugula salad paired with a Juniper Pale Ale. When I saw we’d have pork followed by beef I figured we’d be in for a heavy meal. But the pork was sliced thin and dollopped with the sauce which, even though I’m a fan of heat, was a little too spicy and took away from being able to taste the juniper in the pork. The mango and arugula salad was good enough to make my girlfriend like mangoes again. The pork and salad went well together and the beer was used more as something to cool our tongues than to bring out the juniper in it and the pork. The third course came soon after, a buffalo short rib with hazelnut gremolata and smashed fingerlings paired with the Hazelnut Brown Nectar. This was probably the most successful pairing thus far of dish and beer. The rib was beefier than any I’d tasted (maybe due to it being buffalo) and the gravy and gremolata were excellent. Where the dish failed was with the potatoes. The entrée came in a bowl to hold the sauce/gravy and hidden in there were some fingerling potatoes, some smashed, some not, some underdone, some done just right. It seems as if they’d been roasted and then tossed into the short rib braising liquid. I figured the potatoes would come a little more smashed to soak up the liquid but we actually had to use knives to cut through them. Even though the dish was not the prettiest the flavors worked and my homemade short ribs will be forever compared to this dish.

We were given a few minutes to rest before the dessert course, a stout chocolate cake with chocolate stout frosting paired with, well, Chocolate Stout. By far the best pairing. The cake was moist and dense, somewhere between my preferred Latin-style, rum-soaked cake and my girlfriend’s drier, Anglo-style marble cake. The frosting probably contained cream cheese and some stout to give it a tannish color. The cake and frosting worked great and the beer was like an adult chocolate milk. We must’ve had that look of glee on our faces because Rachel gave us another round of stout on the house.

Our experience at Lola’s was great. We’ll definitely be back to try the regular menu. The beer dinner has turned into a monthly event (last Thursday of each month) and February brings Dogfish Head to town. Even thought it’s a haul to get to Hollywood, the food and service at Lola’s is definitely worth it.