Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Restaurant Review: Baleen, Coconut Grove - Miami Spice Edition

Baleen, located on a private island named Grove Isle in Coconut Grove, was my second stop for this year's Miami Spice month. Having dined there on a regular night, I knew what to expect - stunning decor, serene views of the bay and downtown, and delicious food.

I met up with the rest of my party of 7 and the hostess brought us to a nice, long table outside. Right off the bat, my friends commented that "this place is sweet!" When I made the reservation I let them know we'd be doing Miami Spice so they had the menus ready along with a wine list. We ordered a great wine, 2003 Truchard Pinot Noir, which was reasonably marked up 50% at $60. I had the thai lobster bisque for my appetizer and man was it good. The broth was a traditional bisque with an added twist of coconut milk, sake, and jasmine that really reminded me of tom kha gai, which is one of my favorite thai dishes. Add in a fat piece of lobster tail and this dish had it all.

For my entree, I thought about the short ribs but I didnt want that hearty of a dish. Some in my party had that dish and said it was really tasty but very filling. I went with the wild king salmon, mostly because it came with a three potato black bean hash, corn nage, and chipotle cream that sounded awesome. The salmon was good but it was slightly overcooked, not enough that it was too dry, but I like my salmon more of a medium rare. The hash had a nice sweetness to it due to the sweet potatoes and, although I thought it was a separate item, the corn nage was mixed in with the hash which added a nice fresh flavor. I wish that the dish contained more of the chipotle cream as the amount on the plate was about the size of a quarter and only added flavor to a few bites.

I opted for the apple tart for dessert and I did not care for it at all. Im not a dessert person really, but I dont need to be in order to point out that this dish missed the mark. First off, it was not warm as advertised and the pastry was really dry. The almonds totally overpowered the dish to the point that I think someone may have overdosed it with almond extract. The ice cream could have saved the dish, but the portion was minuscule.

The overall dining experience could have gone better. I was really disappointed in the fact that it took about an hour to get our appetizers, then another 30-45 minutes before the entrees arrived. During this time, we consumed 3 bottles of wine and it gave some of us the impression that it was intended to boost the tab at the end of the night. We had an 830p reservation and finished dinner at 1130p which was unreasonably long. I thought the food could have been better as well. The appetizers were great, the entree was good but not great, and the dessert was two thumbs down. If I hadnt been there before Id have questioned ever going back, but I know they can do better and Baleen is just a great atmosphere to dine in. So, grab a date and head over to Baleen to give it a try yourself. If the food falters, at least you will have a nice evening under the stars overlooking the bay that will definitely end with a goodnight smooch, guaranteed. ;)

Monday, August 6, 2007

Restaurant Review: Table 8 - Miami Spice edition

Yup, its Miami Spice month again and I think Im going to try and take advantage of it better this year. I say that every year and it never really happens but, hey, the intention is there. Friday night, I took my first Miami Spice trip of the season.

I met up with a group over at Table 8 inside the Reagent on South Beach. I was there late and I hate being late. But fortunately this is Miami and I ended up being the first one there. We had a rez for 9pm but had agreed to meet around8-830 for a cocktail at the bar. The bar was pretty cool. Its set more on the Ocean Drive side of the building and its kinda like an inside/outside bar. You get the breeze and sounds of being outside but youre under the cover of the building. Theyve got huge fans that blow all over the place and keep it cool, and for the ladies who wonder what this might do to your hairdo, they will gladly redirect as requested. I asked a female bartender what types of bourbons they carried and was set to order a Woodford on the rocks when the other bartender mentioned that they also had Blantons, which has a nice kick to it with a semi-smooth caramel-like flavor. Typical of South Beach, this drink cost me a cool $18 with tip included. I didnt care because I already had a buzz going and Im pretty much numb to the South Beach tax at this point. I even gave them an extra tip by dropping some bourbon knowledge on 'em. Each bottle of Blantons has a killer cork that has a Derby horse and rider figurine on top of it. Near the foot is a little circle with a letter that is either a B, L, A, N, T, O, or S. If you put them all side by side and spell BLANTONS it looks like the horse is running the race.

Everyone finally arrived and we were seated in a comfortable booth. The waiter came and passed out both regular and Miami Spice menus and I ordered a bottle of red wine for the table ('03 Latour Noir). He returned with bread, water, and wine which was quite biblical. We all decided on the spice menu. Earlier in the day, I had asked some fellow food bloggers what a "Warm Boucheron" consisted of so it made me look all smart when I was the only one who knew what it was. So, thanks for that. Anyways, I ordered the warm boucheron and really enjoyed it. The warm smoked goat cheese was served with some tasty avocado and a balsamic roasted onion which I actually liked too and I am not an onion fan at all. One person had the soup and said it was excellent while another got the salad and found it to be nothing special.

For entrees, nearly everyone ordered the skirt steak with avocado gremotala and crispy plantains. One person ordered the olive oil poached salmon. I thought about the chicken, but I had seen a pic of it earlier on the website and didnt find it appetizing so my mind was made up. The steak was cooked to a nice medium rare as ordered and the sauce and plantains were a nice addition. It didnt blow me away, but it didnt leave me wanting more either. I had a bite of the salmon dish and found it to be cooked well but I thought it couldve used a bit more flavor to it.

Now, Im not usually a dessert person. Maybe I'll do an occasional creme brulee but thats rare. WIth Miami Spice, I'll usually give it a shot. This time it was the best item of the night. I had the vanilla panna cotta, which is sorta like creme brulee without the ramekin but more pudding-like in texture/flavor. It was served with a not-too-sweet raspberry sauce that tasted great with the vanilla. I couldve had about 3 more of these and still wanted one more.

All in all, I thought the experience was pretty good but nothing wowed me and made me want to come back again sometime soon. It was, well, good. With all the options these days, good doesnt really cut it anymore. It is nice to know that you can get a solid meal there though, and the atmosphere is pretty cool. Id recommend giving it a try though. We all have different tastes. Not quite sure about the value though. I got out of there for about $70 which included my meal, portion of the wine bottle ($60/4 people), tax and 18% tip which was added on.

I will likely go to the bar again sometime though. In fact, I went to check out the free Common/Erykah Badu concert across the way on the following night and had a girl say to me, "Hey you were at my bar last night!" I didnt recognize her and was trying to remember what the hell I did on the previous night (I had been drinking on the beach all day at this point) when she said, "You were drinking Blanton's and told me about the horse race..." Now thats a good bartender!