Sunday, October 12, 2008

Lots of art goin down

On the 2nd Saturday of the month, the Miami Design and Wynwood districts hold an event called Art + Design. Basically all of the galleries stay open late and offer snacks and bevvies while flocks of people peruse their wares. I got my art fix in a few different flavors.

The first came in the form of a delicious smattering of cured meats and veggies at Fratelli Lyon. I eat at Michael's on a regular and have always wanted to break out and give this place a shot so I was glad to get the chance, even if it was just for a snack. They have a nice selection of wines by the glass and bottle. I opted for a pinot nero. She went with a viognier. Both were good. We ordered the salumi misti, a 3-way combo of prosciutto di parma, bresaola, and speck that we selected from their selection of about 10 or so meats. When it arrived on a nice wooden board with a little cup of olives, a few other people at the bar got excited. Salty cured meat rules like that. The prosciutto was my favorite but all were good. We switched back and forth from the meats to a plate of asparagus and white beans that was refreshingly tasty.

Next we visited the various galleries up and down 39th and 40th street, admiring paintings, furniture, glass, and other mixed media. Lots of cool stuff to be seen and purchased if the price is right. My favorite part of the night, however, was taking in a few short films at Enea Garden Lounge. Nothing wrong with free short flicks and cocktails while lounging in a zen garden. I got a nice laugh out of one short about a guy whose keyboard could "undo" past actions every time he hit "ctrl-z".

The art isnt confined to the galleries though. Beautiful women were everywhere, company included of course. It was buffet of nationalities, personalities, and style. Very sexy. Our group headed over to the Vagabond to wrap up the night with some music and cocktails. I hadnt been before but Id read about it. Very cool place. The DJ(s) kicked ass and they even had a few of my favorite bourbons on hand. Great end to a great night.

This was the first time I really got to experience Art + Design. Its something different and a nice break from the norm. Kinda serves as a little reminder of why I like living down here, if only for the walk outside on a beautiful night with fun friends and the rest of the beautiful people.

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Restaurant Review: Cita's Italian Chophouse, Coconut Grove

A few nights ago I met up with a few friends for dinner at Cita's Italian Chophouse which had just opened in the Grove recently. I had been wanting to give this new joint a try because I need a new place to add to my "just back in town dinner" rotation. We started with the burrata and the scallop appetizers. The burrata was good. Nothing to get excited about but good nonetheless. I thought it was lacking in the creamy department, like the piece we got was mostly the outside layer. Anyhow, the scallops kicked major ass. They came wrapped in prosciutto on top of some sauteed greens with a creamy mustard/red peppercorn sauce. The sauce was housed in a little cup so you could apply to your own taste and I liked that because I like to taste the scallop without sauce first. This scallop was perfectly cooked and tasted delicious on its own but the sauce took it to a whole 'nother level.

Next up 2 of us had the Soup of the Day (potato) and one requested the house salad. The soup was incredibly good. Normally when I think potato soup I think "heavy" but this was potato puree and it was light and tasty. Arugula and parmesan floated around and added flavor to each bite. I didnt try the salad but I was told it was really good. So good, that when the person who ordered the "house salad" found out it was the Cita's Chop Salad at $14 he said he'd get it again anyday.

Mains came out and each one was a winner. I had the grouper and my friends had the rack of lamb and salmon. The grouper was moist and flaky and full of flavor. The lemon caper sauce was a great add too as was the side of jasmine rice. Only disappointment for me was that I was so full that I had my membership to the Clean Plate Club temporarily suspended. I just couldnt finish the rice. I tasted the rack of lamb and it was damn good, especially with the roasted garlic. I was too full for the salmon but the person who had it was picky about salmon and said it passed the test.

Throughout the meal, the waiter was very informative and made recommendations when asked. At one point, there was a mixup with what was ordered and what was received and the waiter not only found a way to remedy the situation, he then offered to buy dessert. Dessert came like a "chocolate 5-ways". There was a chocolate lava cake, peanut butter panna cotta topped with chocolate shavings & whipped cream, chocolate cookies, chocolate ice cream, and a white/black chocolate mousse. I dont even like chocolate much but I tried everything but the cookie and it was allllllll gooooooood.

I gotta say, I went it expecting to have an average meal and was completely blown away. The menu is quite extensive, good wine selection, incredibly good service (just opened recently and still working out a few kinks but the staff was informative, speedy, and eager to please and remedy any mistakes), and the food was phenomenal. We got a tour after dinner that exposed a whole other mini-bar and back dining patio that I never wouldve imagined being there. It was really cool. This one will be a winner in the Grove, mark my words. They have what Grove yuppies and the like have been looking for - fantastic food in a neighborhood setting. The prices are slightly expensive but they are justified by the ingredients and quality of each dish. I definitely recommend checking out this restaurant to anyone looking for a nice meal in the Grove.

Cita's Italian Chophouse
3176 Commodore Plaza
Coconut Grove, FL 33133

Friday, June 20, 2008

Restaurant Review: North 110, North Miami

I had been wanting to give this place a try for awhile now but couldnt muster up the energy to make the drive up from Coconut Grove (damn MGFD is like a vaccuum - I cant seem to make it past the exit for 195 haha). Well, I had some business up north to attend to so I decided to call a lady friend and check out this spot.

The place has a dining area up front and a dining/bar area in the back. It was POURING outside, so the place was somewhat empty. We chose the bar area since it was a Wednesday and they had live music - a great jazz singer with a few tables of fans sitting nearby. I think she sings every Wednesday and she was great as was the music. Only drawback was that the space is very tight so its hard to have conversation while she is performing but thats really not too big of a deal.

I really enjoyed the way that they break down the wine list by tasting notes. I selected a '06 Williamette Valley Pinot Noir (Willow Tree or Willow "something", the name escapes me at the moment) from the "truffles and mushrooms" section. The waiter liked the pick and we really enjoyed the bottle, enough that we had to pace ourselves as to not run out before the mains came out. For an appetizer, we ordered the Ricotta Risotto Fritters with Parmesan Dipping Sauce. These were fantastic. Nice semi-crunchy exterior with a filling of incredibly smooth, cheesy goodness. The parmesan sauce was great for dipping too.

The mains came out next. The waiter had informed us that the menu changes weekly and I liked that. Using the waiter's recommendation to help me decide between 2 dishes, I ordered the large portion of the Barolo Braised Short Ribs with Bacon and a grain that is also escaping me at the moment. She had the Grilled Skirt Steak with Sauteed Corn and Pancetta and a Warm Mushroom Vinegarette. The waiter handed me a knife and said, "This is for appearance only, you wont need it." He was right. The meat fell off the bone and tasted delicious. The Barolo liquid had awesome flavor that I felt really enhanced the flavor of the meat. The bacon was a thin slice of pancetta that was cooked to a crispy well done. Im still struggling with whether I liked that or not. At first, I didnt because Im a bacon fan and I dont like well done bacon. However, I thought the crispiness and slightly charred flavor really meshed well with the rest of the dish. I tried a little of my companion's steak and it was excellent. I will likely order that next time.

We were pretty full from the wine and meal, so we opted to skip dessert and I asked for their bourbon selection. Knob Creek and Maker's Mark so I chose Maker's. Kinda disappointing because this restaurant has an elegant high-end feel to it and these bourbons are kinda pedestrian. I recommended carrying Basil Hayden in a conversation later on with the hostess/manager but its somewhat silly on my part to expect a nice bourbon list at every restaurant I go to. A bourbon connoisseur can dream though... (Side note: The hostess/manager was extremely nice, polite, and informative when we asked about a spot to check out for a cocktail afterwards. The waiter and the rest of the staff were equally awesome. I think this is important to the success of a restaurant and it was much appreciated). Before my drink came, our waiter presented us with some Blueberry Fritters, compliments of the chef. Man, they like them some Fritters at North 110 and these were a nice end to a great meal.

Overall, I really enjoyed the dining experience at North 110. Service was great, food was delicious, tried a new wine that I loved, and the added bonus of a sultry jazz singer made for a killer time. Its not easy on the wallet but I thought the quality of food and presentation fit the bill. I will definitely have to make an effort to get back up there for another meal. A seared foie gras and that skirt steak are calling my name.

On the Kentucky Bourbon Trail

This is long overdue but procrastination is kinda my middle name. I will warn you that this is a long post that took a shitload of time to put together, again, mainly because procrastination is kinda my middle name. Im also a tad wordy and tend to relate every detail possible but hey, at least the few who read this will be gettin their money's worth. Enjoy...

Around my 21st birthday, my Dad gave me a salute with a glass of bourbon. At the time it tasted like gasoline and I was not a fan. I was used to sucking down beers not sipping liquor. As time went on, however, I began to get more into new liquors. I remember sitting at an airport bar waiting for a flight that was delayed and deciding to order a Maker's Mark and Coke so I could get a nice buzz and nap on the flight. I liked it right away. The Coke subdued that gasoline taste and added to the sweetness of the bourbon. As time went on, I switched from bourbon & Coke to bourbon & ginger ale. One day, I decided that I wanted to begin trying new bourbons and Dad had kept Basil Hayden at the house on my last visit home. He told me that was a bourbon to be consumed on the rocks only, so naturally I ditched the soda I had been mixing with other bourbons like Maker's Mark. This is when my love for all things bourbon began.

This year, I gave my dad a killer Christmas present. I booked some business in Louisville on a Friday and had him fly out to meet me that night. That was the start of the Bourbon Trail for us. In the next 2 days we were going to be visiting various bourbon distilleries and learning the secrets of their sweet nectar.

I had booked a hotel in downtown Louisville, walking distance from area attractions like Stevie Ray's Blues Bar and Fourth Street Live, a pedestrian street with shops, bars, and restaurants much like Lincoln Road on Miami Beach just with bigger buildings. After settling in and planning the next day's itinerary, we headed down to Fourth Street Live to check out the Maker's Mark bar. After all, this was a bourbon trip so we needed to make sure we drank as much as possible!

The Maker's Mark bar was stocked with around 70 different types of bourbon all lined behind the bar in alphabetical order waiting to be served up by Chris and Melissa. Both took good care of us and we decided to stick around for dinner so we could eat and watch the Celtics/Pistons playoff game. I sampled 5 bourbons, Dad had 3. Rock Hill was my favorite that night. The food was ok, mine was overcooked but Chris sympathized and passed me a free round so it was all good. Celtics came back in the 4th to finish off the Pistons and we got nice and buzzed before heading to the hotel to crash. Saturday was going to be an early start, late ending day.

We started the day early and arrived at the Jim Beam distillery around 9:15am. They are known for their namesake bourbon but have gained much more notoriety from their small batch collection - Knob Creek, Basil Hayden, Booker's, and Baker's. Basil Hayden is my favorite everyday bourbon, Dad's too. Its incredibly smooth with a nice flavor and for that reason I always recommend it to scotch drinkers who want to give bourbon a try. The tour at Jim Beam was kinda lame because it was self-guided. You got to see a movie about the Beam family history and then you could walk around the grounds before finishing off at the Beam House for some tasting. Not much learning, mostly browsing. I did think the Beam family history was pretty cool though. When we finally made our way around to the Beam House it was about 10am. The house was decorated with pictures and memorabilia from the Beam family business. There was one room that housed what is believed to be (and in my opinion has to be) the worlds smallest distiller. It can still produce 4 gallons of "high wine", the clear liquid that is poured into charred white oak barrels and aged, eventually bottled as bourbon. Other things like Beam's long pipe and an old piece of paper that held Beam's computations from when he tried to figure out what it would cost him to get going after Prohibition was lifted adorned the walls. Pretty cool. We then went for the tasting and we were in luck. The 2 bourbons available that day were Booker's and Basil Hayden. Basil at 10:15am, neat (no ice), after a full night of drinking, wasnt too bad but it did give me a little "HELLO!" moment. Booker's, on the other hand, was rough. At 124.6 proof, it was like drinking fire, especially since I'd only had an english muffin all day. But hey, I was awake now!

We hit the road and began the drive to the next stop on our Bourbon Trail - Buffalo Trace. This was the one I was most looking forward to because they produce some of my favorite brands and the most highly rated brand in the world known as Pappy Van Winkle's 23yr. Pulling into the parking lot, we get hit by the aroma of aging bourbon wafting through our car windows, also known as the "angel's share". That was awesome. We enter the store and find we have 40 minutes until the next tour. I was excited to see a whole basket full of corks from Blanton's bottles being sold. Each cork features a horse and rider figurine on top and each of those bears a letter of the name "Blanton's" at the horse's back foot. If you take all of them and spell out "Blanton's", the figurines resemble a horse race from standing position to full stride and ending with the rider raising his hand in victory. The "S" piece was rumored to be the hardest to get so I was fired up when I found the only one in the bowl. I also got the "T" and "O" to complete my collection (See below).

Here are some other highlights from the shop:

Barreling process

Buffalo Trace Milestones (6,000,000+ barrels!!!)

List of Distilleries throughout history

The Roll of Honor - all the award winning spirits made at Buffalo Trace (Impressive!)

The tour started at 1pm and we headed on over to the Free House to watch a quick movie about the history of Buffalo Trace. Turns out, the "Buffalo Trace" was what they called the paths that buffalo created as they walked through the fields of yesteryear, paths followed by our American forefathers on their expedition West. After the video and a good amount of Q&A with our guide, we headed on over to Warehouse C to check out the racks of aging barrels.

Warehouse C is where the smell of the "angel's share" was coming from when we arrived. Wooden ricks about 11 stories high with barrels upon barrels of aging bourbon lie inside, hibernating through each Kentucky season. Buffalo Trace has actually found a way to control the climate inside during the various seasons to maximize efficiency. Bourbon must be aged a minimum of 2 years to be considered Straight Bourbon though most are aged for 6-8 years. Dad and I really liked this pic I snapped next, looking out from the dead center of the warehouse.

From the warehouse we headed on over to the Albert Blanton Bottling Hall. Large batch bourbons, like Buffalo Trace's namesake brand, are a blend of 100+ different barrels aged in the warehouse. See, barrels will age differently in different sections of the warehouse, with the ones on top usually aging at a higher proof than those down below. Small batch bourbons are a blend of a much lesser amount of barrels, a select few from the heart of the warehouse. Let's not forget single barrel as well which is poured from a single barrel in the warehouse...imagine that! (Interesting fact: Booker Noe, master distiller @ Jim Beam, believes that the best barrels are located in the middle of the warehouse. Hence, "Booker's" brand bourbon is a small batch bourbon poured from barrels selected from the heart of the warehouse. It is the only bourbon in existence to be poured, unfiltered, from the barrel to the bottle) Inside the bottling hall they had a case with all of the small batch bourbons inside that were bottled at Buffalo Trace...

After a tasting of Buffalo Trace bourbon and Eagle Rare (a personal favorite of mine and a great value at about $30) the tour came to an end. Dad and I sat and talked bourbon with the tour guide and got some of her recommendations on new brands to try. She enjoyed our conversation/enthusiasm so much that she offered to sneak away for a few and give us a private tour of the fermentation process. Awesome. We headed back to the fermentation tanks via golf cart and then got a nice tour of the insides and the process.

The fermentation tanks

This bubbling is a natural reaction between the corn, rye, malted barley, Kentucky limestone water, and a little yeast that can last up to 5 days.

From there its off to the Beer Stills (the fermented product looks a lot like beer) where the product is distilled to a clear alcohol liquid. This is called "white dog" at Buffalo Trace. Jim Beam calls it "high wine". Here are the beer stills followed by a pic of the "white dog" tap. I loved the tasting glass next to the tap. The "white dog" is what is poured into the charred oak barrels to age, eventually becoming bourbon.

Oh and just for kicks they decided, since they were so good at distilling, to give vodka a try.

We took a walk around the grounds before heading on to the next stop. Here is Thunder. The plaque reads, "carved from a fallen 300 year old sycamore tree to commemorate the majesty of migrating buffalo in a wilderness past. Created by sculptor Stan Schu, June 1999"

Our final stop for the day was Woodford Reserve, just down a ways from Buffalo Trace. The ride there was pretty cool. Miles up miles of horse farms with horses EVERYWHERE. Its no wonder Woodford Reserve creates a special bottle for the Derby each year.

Eventually we arrived at Woodford Reserve. This distillery was different to me in that it had this "high society" type vibe. Maybe Im just saying that because of the Derby connection, I dunno. Pretty cool location though.

We spent so much time at Buffalo Trace that we didnt get to Woodford Reserve in time to catch the last tour. So, we walked around the museum exhibit and read up on the history of the place and the process they employ to make their bourbon. We also got a tasting and Dad got busted going back for seconds which was pretty funny.

On our way out, we met a nice couple from Utah who I recognized from our Buffalo Trace tour. They had seen a few different distilleries the day before and we decided we would have to make a return trip next year to hit up the rest of the Bourbon Trail. The husband also talked about how he has to drive to Cali to get his bourbon thanks to the laws in Utah.

We headed back to Louisville for the night and checked out Proof on Main, a spot recommend by Sara over at All Purpose Dark. We didnt have a reservation and didnt feel like waiting for over an hour so we decided to have a few bourbons at the bar and then go dominate a nice hearty steak over at Morton's across the street. I did get this shot of the outside of the 21C museum-hotel where Proof on Main was located.

A few more bourbons at the Maker's Mark bar and it was off to bed. We were flying home the next afternoon and planned to hit up the Louisville Slugger Factory before heading to the airport. You know, for a relatively quiet city, there really is a lot to see in Louisville and the surrounding area. Thats one of the things I really enjoyed about this trip outside of getting to spend time with Dad. There is so much history and so many sights and cool stuff to be seen inside the borders of our own country that most people never would think about. Sure, it may not be as glamorous as Paris or Athens but the sense of adventure is still there.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Restaurant Review: George's in the Grove, Coconut Grove

Well, this will be less of a review and more of a rundown of the food and experience Ive had at George's in the Grove on my first 2 visits. Ive been there twice and Ive yet to order an entree. This is for 2 reasons. First, for some reason the 2 times Ive been I wasnt super hungry. Second, the apps are HUGE. Here is a quick rundown of what Ive had there. Bear with me because Im long-winded :)

Tuna Tartar - this French version uses creme fraiche in the mix along with some chives. The pile o' tartar was enormous and came with a little side of greens w/ balsamic. I could only finish 1/2 of it. This was my least favorite dish to date because the creme fraiche left it tasting really bland. Needed some spice of some sort. I mentioned that to one of the managers there when he asked my opinion and he said it was valid point. You could easily split this dish between 2 people and be fully satisfied portion-wise.

Mediterranean Vegetable Salad w/ Lobster & Truffle Oil - This dish was surprisingly awesome. I was surprised because usually when you think salad you think "greens of some sort w/ veggies on top". This one was ALL VEGGIES. Julienne carrot, zucchini, squash, and cauliflower all mixed together and topped with Maine lobster - both claw and tail. Although the menu said "truffle oil" mine tasted more lemony, like the veggies had been marinated a little bit. They still were very crisp and fresh. The dish was light and really hit the spot after the tartar, plus I got more than my daily intake of veggies. This could be split between 2 people as well.

Caprese Salad - its called something else on the menu but its basically a tower of caprese. This was really good as well. The orange and red tomato and the mozzarella are stacked thin with nice pieces of basil in there as well. The dish is drizzled w/ EVOO and a little balsamic. I believe there was a little pesto action goin on there too. Looks pretty and again comes w/ a side of greens w/ balsamic. Another one that you could split between 2 as this nearly filled me up on its own.

Sauteed baby artichoke and shittake mushroom salad - I think this is the name of it anyways... This salad was a winner too but I was a little disappointed that the shittake mushrooms never made it to the dance. Instead, however, was a nice portion of thinly sliced pancetta (or some similar cured pork) and the best way to make up something to me is to provide something along the lines of bacon. Pine nuts were there, cherry tomatoes, and a light drizzle of balsamic dressing.

Also, the 1st night I was there they gave me a free slice of pizza. It had creme fraiche for the sauce and was topped w/ lox (or was it nova?) and capers. Strange but it was actually really good. The warm dough mixed with the cool, salty lox and capers and smooth creme fraiche worked well.

Another reason to check this place out - George himself. The guy is a good guy, funny, and likes to make customers feel special. I knew him from the Le Bouchon days and told him he probably didnt remember me but he would most likely remember the ladies I brought to his old haunt and that got a good laugh. They give free glasses of champagne (at least everyone Ive seen in the place has got one) and George is constantly hustling around, whistling like a songbird to get his staff's attention, and shouting things in French. Really makes you feel like youre out of Miami. I was actually their 1st customer which was pretty funny when they made a big announcement as I paid my bill. Also, I was there the night before last and had dinner with Maurice Cheeks, the coach of the Philly 76ers who just bought a place in the Grove. We chatted about a variety of stuff and he was a pretty cool guy and really likes the area. Mo really enjoyed the salmon he ordered although the goat cheese terrine that George gave him for free was out of his tasting zone. Just not a goat cheese fan. He did enjoy George's whistling and running around and said if anything he would come back just because of that haha.

Definitely give it a shot. The Grove needs the business and I cant afford to lose another quality restaurant in my 'hood!

George's in the Grove
3145 Commodore Plaza
Miami, FL

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Roadside groceries

I think some of the strangest things in Miami are the roadside grocers. You know, the people who walk thru traffic at heavy intersections and offer various fruits, veggies, seafood, and beverages to you while you sit in your car waiting for the light to turn green. This concept totally blows my mind. First off, how is this legal? It seems like any Joe with something to sell can walk thru traffic and try to hawk his wares without penalty. Are these people taxed? I doubt it. Are they operating with a permit? Negative. Yet they are allowed to meander thru traffic selling items to wary commuters.

Sometimes these people dont sell anything, they just beg for money. Like this one woman on 27th and 103rd who is there EVERY DAY with her walker moving thru traffic at a snails pace while shaking a cup and asking you to donate. This woman pisses me off because she wades thru traffic asking for money while wearing a fuckin walkman! If youre really that hard up for money, sell the fuckin walkman! Thats why I wont donate a dime to her. She even gets stuck when the light turns green sometimes and ends up in the middle of the road between two lanes while cars fly by narrowly avoiding her. Not cool.

Other roadside grocers that wont get my money:

The mango guy (you can get these anywhere in Miami for free)
The shrimp guy (do I really need to explain why buying shrimp in a 5lb bag on the side of a road during 90 degree heat is unappealing?)
The woman selling apparel (just plain silly)
The newspaper guy (I read online)

There are, however, a few guys that I do find give valuable service:

The lime/lemon guy (you can get a bag of about a dozen key limes or a half dozen lemons for $1 which is a pretty good deal)
The water guys on 103rd just as you approach 95 heading east (These guys are young and they hustle so I like to support their efforts. I also get thirsty on the drive home and the water that has been sitting in my car is usually 100 degrees by day's end)

As I handed the water kid my $1 yesterday, I thought, "How the hell do these guys profit on water?" For one, there are costs involved. I think that the last time I bought a 24pk of Zephyrhills it cost about $6-$7. That means that these guys would need 24 sales just to make $17-$18. That sucks. I wonder how long that takes and if its even worth it. $18 a day is $90 a week and if they kept that pace for the year they would make an extra $4680 tax free. That doesnt sound bad but I cant imagine they sell that much and I also imagine it take a long time to make that many sales. Heck, they'd have to sell 8736 bottles of water to make that!

I feel like this is just another case of "only in Miami" as I have not encountered these people elsewhere. I think the Food Network should have one of those shows where some guy drives around and purchases food from these roadside grocers and then makes a meal. Then you could guess how many hours it would be until he became ill or how many hours he would spend on the crapper the next day. Hollywood, here I come!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Crawfish Boil @ Tobacco Road - Good Times!

Yesterday Tobacco Road held their annual crawfish boil and I made the trip for another year of peeling tails and suckin crawfish heads. The weather was beautiful out yesterday, maybe even a little on the warm side but not dreadfully hot like some Miami days can be. This made for easy crawfish consumption. They were really good this year. Lots of nice fatty crawfish in my 2 pound box and they were spicy but the spice didnt overpower the meat. A clean meal this is not. I felt like I needed a shower after dominating my platter o' crawfish but boy were they good. They also had burgers, dogs, and other grill fare. I think the setup this year was great too. Huge "you have to be a total dumbass not to understand" signs let you know where to order and where to pick up and there was never more than a line of a few people. That could also be because the turnout wasnt as great this year. I remember years past where the entire lot would be packed with people. Maybe because it was April 20th, a stoner's holiday? Lots of people partaking in a doobie or two all around the parking lot. Gotta love Tobacco Road for that haha. Anyways, the lack of crowd mustve sucked for the band that was on stage around 5pm because they were basically playing with absolutely no one standing within 20 yards. Oh well, they did play good music anyways. Overall, it was a great excuse to be outside with a big group of friends swilling beers on a gorgeous afternoon in Miami. Im already looking forward to next year. I just wish I didnt have to get up at 4am to catch a flight this morning...ugh.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Restaurant Review: Pisco's (Coconut Grove)

I finally had a chance to check out this new restaurant that opened up on the corner of Mary and Oak in Coconut Grove. The place is called Pisco's and the menu is Peruvian fare although there is some variety while they work out what works best. I was a bit skeptical walking in because the spot that they currently occupy is the "black hole" of restaurant spots. You can dine "al fresco" but doing so basically means you'll be sucking exhaust from cars that pass by at the busy intersection of Mary and Oak. Ive never seen a restaurant last more than a few months at this location, mainly because its on the outskirts of the "heart of the Grove" and gets little foot traffic. That and previous occupants have done little to draw a crowd. Lucky for me, though the location may not be prime, the food certainly is.

I was deciding whether to choose between the parmesan sea scallops or the octopus so I asked the waiter for his pick of appetizer. He said the octopus was his favorite because of its authenticity. He was right on the money. The octopus w/ black olive sauce was incredibly tender and the sauce was unlike anything Id ever tasted before. Large portion too that I easily couldve shared. My friend got the mixed seafood ceviche and loved it. I thought that was important to note because this friend is VERY particular about his seafood because he fishes a lot and is used to that type of freshness. I tried it and it was more of a traditional take on ceviche when compared to Jaguar which I find to be more "new age" ceviche. For my entree I once again put my faith in the waiter and went with the grouper with shrimp sauce. Another winner. The grouper was moist and flavorful and the "shrimp sauce" also came with 6 sauteed shrimp which I enjoyed very much. My friends split a pasta dish that looked great and both enjoyed.

Overall, the meal was great and I appreciated the waiter's advice and even the manager coming over to check on our table. By the time we had finished the meal, there were 2 more tables of 4 dining outside which is the most Ive ever seen there at one time and pretty funny. I hope they are able to come up with more ways to draw a crowd because the food was really good. They have already added a guy named Joe Donato to play music on Thursdays so thats a start. Oh, and happy hour is 5-8p which is about an hour more than most HHs in the area or anywhere for that matter. If you find yourself the Grove, definitely give Pisco's a shot.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Michael's Genuine Food & Drink (and other Miami eateries) featured on "After Hours with Daniel"

Last week I headed over to Michael's Genuine Food & Drink for dinner with a lady friend of mine, hoping to land a table even though we had no reservation which is risky business if youve ever dined there haha. Luckily the hostess said the wait wouldnt be long so we sat at the bar. As I sipped my Basil Hayden, I noticed a flyer on the bar for one of my favorite shows, "After Hours with Daniel" which is on Sunday nights (and randomly throughout the week) on the MOJO hi-def channel on Comcast. The show follows renowned chef, Daniel Boulud, who picks a restaurant in a given area (up until now I thought it was NY only but apparently theyve expanded to Miami and New Orleans) and joins the chef to cook for an audience "after hours" when the restaurant is closed. Daniel usually invites other chefs in the area along with celebrity friends for a roundtable discussion on food, wine, etc.

Its a pretty cool show and I actually saw the Michaels episode just the other day. Pretty interesting when Daniel shows up with a bag full of an assortment of birds to be plucked and served for dinner. Michael also seems like a "genuinely" cool guy.

Also featured from Miami - Ortanique, The Lido, Sardinia, and Michy's

I enjoyed this show so I figured Id share. For more info on the show, including episode dates/times, visit the show website

Monday, March 10, 2008

Aladdin's Grill, Coconut Grove - Awkwardly good

When I first heard about the opening of Aladdin's Grill on Main Hwy in the Grove, I was happy because I have lunch in the Grove often on weekends and Im tired of all the current options. I also love a good falafel pita, wrap, or sandwich of some sort. So, this past Saturday I headed in to check it out.

As I crossed over Main Hwy, I glanced up the street and saw this kooky looking guy eagerly trying hand out menus to passerbys. "Oh, this has got to be it", I thought. The man really, really wanted to give me a menu but got really excited when he noticed I was headed inside. The whole thing was just really awkward and the getup he and another waiter had on wasnt helping. Call me ignorant if you want but these guys just looked silly. I felt like I was at a bad play and thats probably the best way to put it. Im actually cracking up as I type this because, looking back, it was pretty hilarious. The outfits are just too much hahaha.

The awkwardness continued when I went to order. I really dont think I can explain it properly because anything outside of being there would never do it justice. The waiter was obviously new and probably knew little about the food from what I could gather. I thought this because he would tell me something, then leave, then come back and add a sentence, rinse, lather, repeat. This went on at least 3 times and I just chalked it up to him being new. It was a little annoying though because I simply wanted lunch and to get the hell outta Dodge. The menu had all of the typical Middle Eastern/Mediterranean fare along with a selection of flavored tobaccos to smoke through use of a houka. This screams college and I think its a good business idea. Stupid college kids act like the stuff is weed or something and they will pay for the look.

Naturally, I ordered the falafel wrap. It reminded me a lot of the type of wrap you get at Pasha's but it was much larger. Quite frankly, it was damn good. The falafel were nice and crisp on the outside with a warm middle that wasnt dry at all. The rest of the veggies inside and the tahini sauce did their job to keep things cool as I applied hot sauce to each bite. That was the one setback to the food. Most Middle Eastern restaurants that Ive got a falafel at have a special blend of peppers and spices that pack a mean punch. Hell, this is half the reason that I love the falafel pita at Pita Plus on SoBe. This place didnt have that and the owner said he was going to find someone to make that for him. They also didnt have Tabasco so I had to opt for the inferior "Hot Sauce" brand.

I wont hold it against them though. Like I said, the wrap was damn good and it only came to about $8-$9 with tip included. I'll definitely be back to try the kibbe sometime and knowing that there is a falafel wrap within walking distance is a good thing as well. Plus, the unintentional comedy at this place is off the charts!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Restaurant Review: Michael's Genuine Food & Drink

On Sunday, I headed down to South Beach to meet up with some friends and soak in the sun on the beach. On my drive over the causeway to the beach I noticed it was actually kind of chilly and that was when my friends called and said that the wind and lack of sun had killed our beach day. So, after drinking a few bottles of wine on their deck overlooking the bay and city of Miami, we decided to head over to Michael's Genuine Food & Drink for a bite to eat.

I had heard rave reviews about Michael's from various posters on Chowhound, to the point where it was almost overkill. I mean, a simple mention of this place sparked a message board humpfest about the various dishes there. So, I have to admit, I had high expectations walking in and that is usually not a good sign. The three of us arrived and were seated outside on the patio immediately. I think we were lucky that we went early (around 630p) because I had heard it was tough to get a table and had tried to get reservations last minute on a previous occasion and couldnt get anything before 930p. The decor of the place was dark but it had a cool vibe to it and I really liked the outdoor area because the buildings blocked out the wind and the chairs were really comfy. I also liked that the tables werent too close to eachother.

Our waiter came over and took a drink order while we began reviewing the menu. I was excited to see Left Hand Brewery's Milk Stout on the menu and went for that. Foodwise, I didnt know where to begin, so I asked him for recommendations, letting him know that we would likely do a couple of small & medium plates for each of us. It was kinda funny when he recommended almost everything on the menu! We settled on some food to share and off he went.

For my first item, I went with the Woodgrilled Prawn and it was very good. The prawn was a nice large one (which reminded me of the lobster-like prawns I had seen at Casablanca Fish Market days earlier) that was seasoned with a little bit of spice and garnished with a slice of lime. I actually enjoyed this so much that I even ate the guts and the head of the prawn! One of my friends went with the Chicken Wings that came with a killer cucumber sauce and my other friend went with the Roasted Onion Stuffed with Lamb which was awesome. Im not an onion fan at all but thanks to a visit to Whisk Gourmet in the Gables, Ive learned to at least give onions a try and since this one was a sweet onion it made the leap a lot easier to make. This onion was great, but I really liked the lamb stuffing the best. I think the onion was the hit of round one with my prawn a close second.

For the next round, I had the Grouper Cheek while my friends had the Pork Cheek and Persimmon Salad. Now, first let me remark that one of the things I loved about all of the dishes at Michael's was that if they were supposed to be a hot dish, they came hot and most likely fresh off of the line. I loved that. When I slightly burned my tongue on the first bite of grouper cheek, I was actually happy haha. The grouper cheek was awesome - nice crispy outside with a warm, moist inside. But the part of the dish that stole the show for me was the meyer lemon accompaniment. It was comprised of (what I believe are) little beads of pasta in a meyer lemon sauce and boy did that shock the taste buds! The persimmon salad was a very different yet tasty salad that all of us really enjoyed. I thought the variety of items in the salad was nice without overshadowing the taste of each bite of persimmon. The winner for round two though was definitely the pork cheek. Much like the grouper cheek, the pork cheek was nice and crispy, warm, and tender. And much like the grouper cheek, the sauce - in this case an incredible bbq sauce - stole the show. This is probably the best bbq sauce I have ever had and my friend said the same. I think they couldve brought out charcoal with this bbq sauce on it and we'd have devoured it toot sweet.

Now, normally Im not a desert person, but in this case we were on a high and almost reordered another pork cheek but instead opted for some deserts. Desert at Michael's is a tad pricey but well worth it. We opted to share the Pot de Creme and the Banana Split. Both were awesome. The banana split came with a nice chunk of peanut brittle and some dulce de leche on top that was a tad too sweet for my liking but when it mixed up with the rest of the dish it was tamed and tasty. My favorite was the Pot de Creme though. One cup of creamy goodness with a piece of baklava and a slice of candied tangerine on the side. The tangerine tasted incredible, especially when mixed up in a fat spoonful of the creme. Mmmm...

Still on a high from dinner and dessert, one of my friends went with an orange dessert wine and I asked the waiter if he drank grappa, and if so, if he could recommend one from the list. Oddly enough, his grandfather makes his own grappa in Romania! He suggested the Grappa Jacobo and although it was the most expensive on the menu, it really hit the spot.

The waiter fetched our check while we finished off our drinks. The bill came to $150 and we left 20% for tip, bringing the total to $180 or $60 each. Not bad at all! Also, considering we had 2 $9 desserts and 2 dessert beverages that came to $23 total I knew I could easily get out of there for less money next time since Im not really a dessert person. Thats and extra $41 right there.

Overall, my experience at Michael's Genuine definitely lived up to the hype. I must say that at first I was a little concerned with the size of the plates, that they wouldnt be large enough to satisfy our appetites, but in the end we all left very content in terms of "fullness" and very satisfied with the quality and the adventure our taste buds had just went on. Im looking forward to my next visit!

Friday, January 18, 2008

More good eats at Origin Asian Bistro

Ok, so I stopped by Origin last night for dinner just like I said. It was incredibly good and I was reminded that I need to go back more often. Being that I was in Loserville, aka "dining alone" haha, I decided to sit inside rather than take up an outside table. It was kind of a bummer because one of my favorite things about eating outside there is that you get to see all the guys coming and going from "Booby Trap" next door...sinners haha. The inside is really nice and I think they repainted because I thought the paint used to be purple and its now a nice sage green. I could be mistaken though. There was one decoration that really stood out as an eyesore though. They have a staircase that leads upstairs to where the bathrooms are located and it is lined with 3 HUGE Alex Rodriguez autographed jerseys, one for each team he has financially sunk into the ground with his ridiculous contract before choking in the playoffs. I was thinking that either the owner is a huge fan or somehow A-Rod is involved with the restaurant, which would explain the eyesore jerseys since he has a huge ego to feed. Sure enough, 2 minutes later A-Rod comes walking down the stairs to have dinner with his wife who was surprisingly not that attractive at all. Now I understand the rumors that he cheated on her haha.

OK, back to the food... For an appetizer I ordered my favorite item - Cambodian Style Scallop Amok. The dish is comprised of tender scallops, egg, napa cabbage, lemongrass, thai basil, kaffir lime leaves, and a little coconut, which are all steamed in a banana leaf which makes for a beautiful presentation. This time it was a little less brothy than usual but delicious nonetheless. From there I wanted to go with the Scallop Cucumber Roll (scallops, cucumber, masago, mayo) and the Hamachita Roll (hamachi, jalapenos, tempura flakes, masago, mayo) but my waiter reminded me that their rolls are quite big (8 pieces in each roll!!) and that 2 of them would probably be too much. So, I audibled to an interesting item that I saw on the menu called Tuna Spaghetti Sashimi. Man, what a call! The dish had tuna sashimi cut into long, thin strips and topped with sprouts. It laid on top of sliced Asian pear that was laid out in a criss crossing pattern with hiyashi wakame on top of it. So we had pear on teh ground level, then hiyashi wakame, then the tuna, then sprouts for garnish. The whole "tower" was drizzled with spicy yuzu, sesame, and soy sauce. What a great dish! I was really surprised how well the Asian pear worked with the dish. It was perfect because it wasnt too sweet and didnt overpower anything else on the dish. The spicy yuzu gave a nice kick as well. The scallop cucumber roll was also very tasty, but I was a bit put off that the sushi chef had included some cream cheese as well. I like it better without and I didnt expect that ingredient since it wasnt listed on the menu.

Overall it was another great trip to this South Miami restaurant and I can understand why they would consider opening another one in Key Biscayne. My bill came to $31 and I added $6 for tip. Not bad for 2 high quality apps, a huge sushi roll, and a beer. I definitely recommend that any Asian food fans check this place out. On my way out, I looked at A-Rod and he gave me one of those, "Yeah, I know you know who I am, please dont bother me" head nods. I can respect that, so I simply said, "Go Sox" as I walked past and he gave me the "Thats funny...asshole" smile haha.