Saturday, December 26, 2009

The Hunt

My cousin, Drew, is more than just my cousin.  He is also one of my best friends.  The guy is just awesome and I can't even count on two hands and two feet the amount of epically kickass times we've had together.  Drew is also into a bunch of stuff that I've never really got into, and because of that, I've learned a lot from him.  One of those things was how to shoot a shotgun.  About a year and a half ago, Drew took me up to Quail Creek Plantation to shoot clay pigeons.  I was extremely nervous because firearms had always made me uneasy but Drew demanded that I go, so I did.  Did I mention that in addition to being a kickass guy that Drew is also the biggest enabler on the face of the earth?  I ended up having an awesome time and was a pretty good shot too.

This year, right around my birthday, I had been talking with Drew about going shooting again as I knew he is always looking for an excuse to go.  It was then that he decided that he would one-up our last shooting trip and take me on a quail hunt with a guide and hunting dogs for my birthday.  The real deal.  Once again, I was a tad nervous but I had a feeling that this would be a great time so I said, "I'm in".  It turned out being one of the best times I've ever had.

Quail Creek Plantation

We woke up on a Saturday morning at 5:30am and were out the door by 6am.  We had got in on a hunt that had become available at the last minute thanks to a cancellation so we had to be at Quail Creek in Okeechobee, FL by 8am.  It was only about a 1.5 hour drive from Drew's place in West Palm Beach, but we wanted to give ourselves some time to get there and wake up.  It was a chilly morning and we were driving with the top down so waking up wasn't too hard.  We arrived at the plantation and checked in.  They brought me a 20-gauge shotgun to use for the day as Drew only had his one 20-gauge because his 12-gauge was with the gunsmith for a tune-up.  A smaller gauge shell is better for hunting the tiny quail anyways.  After signing our waivers and meeting our guide, Eric, a guy about our age who had relocated from Illinois in 2005 to work at Quail Creek, we headed to our buggy which would take us out into the field to hunt for quail.

The Hunting Buggy

The buggy was equipped with a couple of gun racks, comfy seats, some storage space, and cages where the dogs were held.  We donned our orange vests for safety while out in the field and loaded the pockets with shells.  Eric then introduced us to three of the five dogs that would be helping us locate the quail that hide amongst the bushes in the field.  The cages opened and two "pointers" (I forget the actual breed) named Willie and Joker went flying by the buggy, followed by a black lab "retriever" named Storm.  These dogs were tearing up the field, running with great speed and bounding over tall grass and in between the brush while taking a few short breaks to relieve themselves.  I told Eric that I wished I had about one-tenth the amount of energy these dogs had.  He said that they have a high protein diet and will run and run for our hunt as well as an afternoon hunt on a nice cool day like the one we had going for us but he liked to give them a rest and let the other dogs (there were 2 more pointers in the buggy) stretch their legs too.

Storm, Joker, and Willie searching for quail in the field

It wasn't long before Joker and Willie stopped dead in their tracks, nose and paw pointing at a bush in front of them, tail raised high and stiff.  "Whoa dog!  E-zay.", Erik commanded.  "Bird in 'ere. E-zay."  Drew and I took position to the left and right of Eric and the dogs who had this bush surrounded.  Once we were set, Eric called for Storm to come over and flush out the birds.  "Storm!  Bird in 'ere, dog.  Get 'em bird.  Get 'em bird."  Storm prowled up to the bush looking for his spot and, once he found it, darted at the bush.  This sent two quail flying to our right where Drew had the shot, the flutter of their little wings filling the air in front of us.  He missed and Eric decided we'd call it "morning rust".  It actually made me feel better because I was sure I was going to miss a lot throughout the day and I did just that the next time the dogs sent quail flying to my side.  On our third attempt, however, I nailed the first quail of the day and at a decent distance too!  I was pumped with adrenaline and excitement and was now completely over my "first quail jitters".

Willie returning with quail as Storm looks on

"Hunt dead, Willie.  Hunt dead, Joker.", Eric commanded and both Willie and Joker set out to the spot where the bird had gone down.  Willie proudly returned with the quail in his mouth, the bird still squeaking as he approached.  "I guess that one's still alive?", I asked Eric.  "No, you shot it in the head, I'm quite sure it's dead.", Eric replied while I stood there puzzled.  "Why is it still squeaking then?", I asked.  "Oh, that's the original squeaky toy.", Eric said while removing the bird from Willie's mouth.  He held it up and gave it a few squeezes and, sure enough, the bird squeaked each time from the air going in and out of its lungs.  I laughed at what I had just learned and we returned to the hunt.

Willie and Joker were doing a great job finding quail for us and later on Clyde and Maggie were pretty effective as well when they came in from the bullpen to give the first 2 sprinters a rest.  These birds don't fly too far but man can they hide.  Sometimes we would be able to see them running on the ground away from the dogs too which was kinda funny.  We had to be careful at all times once the birds flew as the dogs would take off after them and sometimes be in the line of fire.  Any sort of wound inflicted on a dog would carry a $2000 fine and the guilt of knowing that you shot a dog, a feeling I was not eager to experience.  There were many shots that I held off on because of this and I know Eric appreciated my caution.  I also held off on a few shots when we had ventured into the more wooded part of the field as I was not eager to get a face full of splinters.

A couple of times the dogs flushed out a covey of anywhere between twenty and thirty birds!  It was almost too overwhelming deciding where to point and shoot so I rarely aimed at these times, operating on the premise that I had to hit something and both Drew and I did just that.  At one point Drew was on fire, the dogs flushing birds his way and him taking 'em down with one shot.  His streak lasted for about 8 birds, including one where he started laughing as Storm literally bounced a quail off the ground twice before it flew and then continued to laugh as he shot it down with one pull of the trigger.  This made us all crack up and pretty much summed up the day as a great time.

At the end of the day we had taken down 32 quail and had a lot of fun doing so.  Hunters are allowed 12 apiece on the hunt but we were having a great time so we stayed out for a few more at an extra fee before the hunt's scheduled completion at 11:30am.  At that point, we unloaded and stowed our shotguns, watched as the dogs leaped back into their cages, and fired up a victory cigar.

 The victors and the spoils!

 We chatted with Eric on the way back about various hunts that they do at Quail Creek which include quail, turkey, deer, and hog.  The hogs actually are quite a nuisance as they tear up fields and leave them prone to slight flooding as evidenced by a field we saw with large lines of what appeared to be swampy marsh.  Once we got back to the lodge, we were greeted by the plantation chef and served a nice lunch that consisted of pork with mushrooms in a mustard sauce, fried quail, zucchini with a cheese sauce that was seasoned with a little cinnamon, some yellow rice, and one of the best biscuits and gravy I've ever had.

Good Grubbin'

After lunch we sat out on the deck at the lodge and enjoyed another cigar while basking in the sun.  It had warmed up throughout the day and ended up being one of those days where I am extremely thankful to be living in Florida.  Eric appeared with two coolers filled with sixteen quail apiece for us to take home and eat.  These weren't the actual quail that we shot, rather ones from a hunt on the previous day as it would've been a few hours for us to wait for our quail to be cleaned.  With hunts going on at a clip of twice per day, I know these quail had not sat long.

Nothing says, "I'm going hunting" like a 1987 Ferrari 328

As we walked to the car, a hunter in a cowboy hat looked at us and said, "Howdy, men."  I thought that was fitting.  We said hello and I turned to Drew and said, "That guy's right.  You see a couple of guys with two bags of quail and a shotgun and "men" is the appropriate way to address them."  We laughed as we loaded up our "hunting mobile" and were on our way back to West Palm Beach.  I was smiling from ear to ear and extremely thankful to have been invited on such an awesome trip.  Another batch of great memories for the good ol' memory bank and a perfect final adventure to end what has been a somewhat tumultuous year for yours truly.  Thank you times a thousand, Drew.  

As we rode I-95 on the way home, I thought of the meal that could be had with our quail and made a phone call.  We'll save that for another post on another day though...

Cobaya Dinner 3: A Trip Up & Down the East Coast

Earlier this year, the Cobaya Gourmet Guinea Pigs group was formed with the goal of providing local chefs with a no-holds-barred creative outlet for creating dishes outside of their everyday menus (or their diners palate range).  A prerequisite for being part of the group and attending the dinners was that you, the diner, needed to be open to eating just about anything, trusting the chef to enlighten you with something that may not be in your culinary comfort zone.  For our 3rd dinner, Chef Jonathan Eismann took us on a trip up and down the east coast, featuring dishes composed of fresh seafood flown in from Massachusetts, Maine, the Carolinas and Florida. The dinner was held at the spot of one of his two soon-to-be-opened restaurants, Fin (the other is a BBQ joint called "Q"), which is right around the corner from his Pacific Time spot.

I won't spend too much time on each dish since I'm way late to the party for writing about each dish.  Mango & Lime and Food For Thought already have recorded their thoughts, so be sure to check them out.

The first dish was a scallop with a hard sear on one side with the rest left raw and sprinkled with coriander, cilantro, and sea salt with a little lime juice added.  Being a  big scallop fan and very finicky about my scallops, I was both anxious and guarded when I took my first bite.  No disappointment at all.  The texture was perfect and I loved the tiny amount of chew left from the sear (mightve been dipped in egg prior to the sear but Im not sure.  The texture seemed more than just seared scallop but my memory might not be serving me correctly).

Next up were warm curried Davenport oysters from Massachusetts.  I'm not a huge curry fan so this dish wasn't something I was excited to try.  The curry was a bit overpowering for my tastes and the oysters that had been fried crisp had become cold and slightly soggy from sitting before I got to take a bite.  I thought the use of some Trisol here would've been a great way to keep the oysters crisp.

The third course featured a fluke and squid tiradito from Long Island, served "saigon style" with red grapefruit and nuoc cham.  This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.  I especially loved the consistency of the squid which was tender with a slight chew to it.  Funny thing was that I'm not a real grapefruit eater but I loved the way the grapefruit balanced the dish and I ended up clearing my plate of all things grapefruit.  Yum.

Our next dish was a crabcake made from Florida stone crabs and served with a napa cabbage kim chi and accompanied by a black bean vinaigrette for dipping.  This was another dish met with some skepticism from me as I have yet to find a restaurant that serves crabcakes as good as the ones I make at home.  Chef Eismann once again did not disappoint (though I still like mine better :-p).  The crabcake had a wonderfully crisp outside and a meaty inside without being too bready.  The star of the dish for me, however, was the black bean vinaigrette which had an incredible flavor that was heightened by a few drops of what I believe was sriracha that brought a little heat to the sauce.

At this point, I was beginning to feel full and we still had 5 dishes to go!  I was happy to see on the menu that the next dish was of lighter fare - steamed clams from Sebastian Inlet, FL, served in a rocky mountain sake broth with green onion and crushed tomato.  The clams were great but the broth was phenomenal and LOADED with butter.  Mr. Frodnesor and I both decided that drinking the broth directly from the bowl was an awesome idea while we waited for bread to come around and I'd reckon to say that we were correct.

The last 4 dishes were all hunks of white fleshed fish, served in what I would call "main course" portions.  It was clear that Chef Eismann wanted to make sure that we diners would want nothing to do with food for the next 24 hours after this meal with the amount of food we were served and I'm sure I'm not the only one who enjoyed nearly every bite while simultaneously wanting to raise the white flag and surrender with me belly full.  Some quick comments on the final four dishes...

Pan roasted snowy grouper from Miami served with braised fennel and a preserved lemon risotto was first up, bringing one of my favorite pairings of tender grouper flesh and preserved lemon.  I loved this one.

Wild striped bass from North Carolina served with cucumber salad and a mustard oil/soy sauce was another great dish.  The mustard/soy sauce was freakin awesome and paired quite well with the monster hunk of bass we were served.

Hong Kong yellow tail from the Florida Keys served as a whole fried fish that had a really light batter with some red curry in it and was accompanied by some sliced jalapeno pepper and cilantro leaves.  A little dish of sauce comprised of some yuzu, ginger, and soy was great for dipping.  This was a great dish.  I liked the textures of the flesh and slightly crispy skin of the snapper and the flavor of the dipping sauce.

Pan roasted North Atlantic cod from Maine with black pepper potato and a slightly spicy escabeche made of red and green peppers was the final dish and the only one I fully disliked during the entire meal.  I didn't like the flavors of the escabeche at all and also thought this was way to savory of a dish to finish the meal with.

Wild Striped Bass with Cucumber Salad, mustard oil, soy

Hong Kong Yellow Tail with red curry and yuzu, ginger, soy dipping sauce (not shown)

I was glad that we were served a nice trio of fruit sorbet (coconut, pineapple, and lemon I believe) that was drizzled with a little bit of honey which I thought was a fantastic topping, especially as it became slightly hardened from the coldness of the sorbet.

Chef Eismann came out at the end to thank us for coming and received a nice round of applause from the group.  With 34 diners, this was by far our largest dinner group yet and I think that Chef Eismann did a great job.  This Cobaya dinner was a bit different than the previous two as the Chef didn't come out to explain each dish but I guess it was understandable as I knew he also had a separate beer dinner going on at his neighboring restaurant, Pacific Time.  I later learned that some of the dishes we were served are to be featured at Fin and I look forward to dining there in the future when I'm in the mood for a great seafood-style meal.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Paradigm: Redux

Art Basel - an international celebration of all forms of art.  The city of Miami serving as a canvas for sculpture, paint, clay, paper, metal, photography, and many other casual ways to stimulate one's mind.  It really is a sight to be seen.  However, it is also a sight to be tasted.  After all, food is art, isn't it?  Well the group at PH2 put together an event to showcase just that, pairing a local artist with local chefs for an event called Art|Dining|Culture.

I attended the dinner event on Friday night.  The art of Stephen Gamson was featured along with the gastronomic art of Chef Kurtis Jantz and Chef Chad Galiano.  Having experienced the chefs' cooking before at Neomi's, I was fired up.  These guys really shine when given the opportunity to create and I knew they would be placing a heavy emphasis on pairing dishes with Gamson's artistic style.  Since my artistic style with the iPhone camera isn't so hot, I didn't take many photos of the dinner but Mr. Frodnesor has posted some here.

A horrible picture of the menu

I'm gonna go with my gut and say that the first course meant to say "Stick" Figure Antichuchos.  Skewered grilled baby octopus and skewered fried chicken liver plated vertically with whole slices of lemon and lime lying on the plate resembling "heads" for the stick figures captured the playful simplicity of Gamson's art and made for a nice presentation.  The octopus was tender with the right amount of chewiness for me but the chicken liver was my favorite.  The liver was fried in a flour mix that included a substance called Trisol that I had read about on Chef Chad's blog previously but never experienced.  It allows for a much crispier texture when used for tempura or fried food and the chicken liver really showcased just that.  It was a perfect crisp that stayed that way even after sitting in a tiny pool of aji panca sauce which paired well with the liver.

The next course featured 2 different tails - oxtail in the form of a meat pie and lobster tail in a lobster salad.  The meat pie came with a nice glob of pepper jelly on top that provided a little heat and moisture to the crisp dough of the pie, while the filling was warm and tender.  I enjoyed the crisp green beans in the lobster salad as well as the flavor of the airy micro-corn cake that came with it.

Apparently, a few months back Chef Kurtis asked for Mr. Food for Thought's mom's pickled shrimp recipe and obtained it with ease.  He apparently worked on his own rendition, pairing the pickled shrimp with a crisp slaw made of shredded brussel sprouts and honey mustard, giving homage to the recipes' origin by naming the dish, "Frod's Shrimp Dickles".  Homemade cheez-its provided a difference in texture along with a distinctive cheesy flavor that I enjoyed but a few others questioned the relevance of.  Surprisingly, for someone that prefers hot dishes over cold, this was one of my favorite dishes of the night.  Perhaps a Chef Kurtis vs. Grandma Frod "Throwdown" is in order?


Getting back to food as art, our next dish went back to the basics of simplicity both in it's title, "Meat", and its presentation.  A styrofoam tray with a slider-sized patty of 45C beef tartar that had been mixed with a 64C egg yolk, onion, and parsley and then shrink-wrapped placed in front of each table guest.  A few tiny salt dishes filled with caper salt and some tiny squirt bottles of "whas dis here?" sauce (say it fast) also made their way onto the table.  We were instructed to sprinkle some caper salt on the meat and top with a little of the sauce.  The couple next to me looked a little mortified.  The guy had come to the dinner at his girlfriend's request to do "something different" and this was clearly different.  Nevertheless, they both threw caution to the wind and dug in just like the rest of us.  I liked the saltiness of the caper salt with the tartar and managed to ration my whas-dis-here sauce appropriately so its flavor didn't overpower the dish.  The couple next to me seemed to like the dish as well, or at least I got that impression upon seeing both of their plates clean.

For our next course, the chef's channeled their inner Aesop and produced a Golden Egg, its regal self presented on a pauper-like egg carton.  The top of the eggshell was removed and the shell emptied and then refilled with a portion of black pepper and truffle scrambled eggs.  This was another simple yet wonderful dish that had many diners near me declaring their love for all things truffle.

The last course before dessert was a hearty hunk of pork belly topped with a banana foam and cilantro cocoa kettle corn.  A few spheres of yogurt that had been sprinkled with a white chocolate powder flanked the pork belly on each side.  I loved the combination of banana and pork flavors.  Definitely something I'd never had before.  Adding in the white chocolate powder mixed with the yogurt made the dish even more savory.  This one would have been my favorite overall but my hunk of belly was more meaty and didnt have as much of that fat that I love.  Thinking about that though, it was probably a blessing in disguise as my pork belly intake has been somewhat high as of late.

I've said it before and I'll say it again - I am not a dessert guy.  Dessert for me usually consists of cheese and/or a nice bourbon, grappa, or port wine.  However, dessert was part of this meal so it was only right for me to eat it.  Pastry Chef Jenny Rissone was responsible for dessert and the presentation was beautiful.  A dulce de leche gelato encased in a green sugar globe sat on the left side of the plate with a little pile of what I suspect was a raspberry powder next to it.  To the right, 3 crisp meringue "walls" stood erect, with bits of monstera deliciosa fruit sitting in between them.  A green stripe of what I think was the coloring used to color the sugar globe went from east to west on the top part of the plate, so perfectly applied that I thought it was actually part of the plate design.  The meringue was phenomenal, so crisp that you had to apply a little pressure to slice through it.  I loved its sweet flavor and crunchy texture.  It was my first time trying monstera deliciosa and I loved it.  It had a slightly mushy texture and a fruity flavor that reminded me of jackfruit (another fruit I experienced for the first time recently).  The gelato/sugar globe combo was way too sweet for me but others seemed to enjoy it.  I also liked that you could add in a little of the raspberry powder to change up the flavors if you wanted.  This non-dessert guy enjoyed dessert.

During the meal, Steven Gamson was introduced and talked about his background and the inspiration behind his art.  It was cool to learn a little more about the artist and what motivated him but it got a little lengthy and somewhat sales-pitchy at a few points when his agent chimed in.  It was a tad awkward and a bit of a turnoff.  I did enjoy a few of his pieces, however, and was pleasantly surprised when I saw some of his works gracing the walls of Coral Bagels diner when I went for brunch the following morning.  To me, its simple art that allows you to create your own story and/or interpretation of what it means.  Cool stuff and definitely has a local Miami vibe.

Overall, I thought the meal was phenomenal but there were a few things that bugged me.  For one, tickets originally went on sale at $200 or $350 if you wanted to attend a cocktail hour and receive a limited piece of artwork from the artist.  As part of the Cobaya group, I received a $50 discount which made the price of having dinner a little more feasible and I liked the chefs so I purchased on the day tickets became available.  Well, I was a little miffed when "black Friday" came about and a $100 discount was offered.  A Deco Drive promo also offered a $100 discount a few days before the event.  So, in other words, I made a commitment to an event only to have ticket sales come up short and thus a greater discount offered.  This left me, a supporter of the event, feeling like I got a bit of a raw deal.  But whatever, I was there to support Chef Kurtis and Chef Chad anyways so I got over it. The other shortcoming for me was that I thought that the wine that was offered during the dinner was a bit pedestrian for the price of admission.  Luckily, a few diners by me brought bottles of wine and were generously sharing with our end of the table.  I guess my point is that I've been to many dinners that were very similar to this concept, sans artist, and most weighed in at $75 (BYOB wine) to $120 (wine featured as a part of the meal with a different vintage paired with each course) with anywhere from 8-12 courses featured.  In fairness though, previous dinners have been held at restaurants and not in a private location that I imagine deserves a little coin for offering up the space.

Again, the meal itself was a home run.  Chef Kurtis and Chef Chad put on a great show in the kitchen, on the plates, and in showcasing that they are comfortable in this type of setting where the chef is not only cooking but interacting with the diners as well.  I keep waiting for the day that these two are lured away from Sunny Isles to an area where they can gain more exposure and I'm certain it will happen someday.  Until then I'm hoping to see them featured at a Cobaya dinner or another event like this PH2 event.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog and Chef Chad Galiano Featured on Deco Drive to Promote PH2 Dinner

Finally caught this Deco Drive piece that featured Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog (of Gastropod fame) and Chef Chad Galiano (of Neomi's fame, former home of the Paradigm dinner and part of the inspiration for the Cobaya Gourmet Guinea Pigs) promoting an Art Basel dinner at PH2, who provided the venue for the last Cobaya Dinner which also featured Chef Jeremiah.  I actually attended the event on Friday night which featured the art of Stephen Gamson paired with the culinary art of Chef Chad and Chef Kurtis Jantz (also of Neomi's) and I will be posting about that soon.  It's good to see these guys getting some love from the media.  They deserve it.  Cooking is an art form in itself and these guys are inspirational artists.  Funny to see Chef Jeremiah go all Hollywood with the shades too haha!

Check out our local Chefs here

Note to Deco Drive: how about an embed code??

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Untitled in B

She was an elusive one, always busy when I spontaneously popped into the neighborhood.  A real Miss Popular type and although I had grown tired of competing for her attention on previous attempts to meet her, I was willing to give it one last shot.  Besides, my friends thought she was sexy as hell.

I planned to meet her at the bar.  A friend of hers told me that the game would be on there so it was a perfect scenario for me.  I watched as she moved around the bar, each patron sizing her up and dreaming about their favorite ways to dress her.  She is hot after all.  Most people get caught up in her her appearance and dress but not me.  I like her with as little makeup as possible with plenty of exposed flesh and minimal accessories, though sometimes I like when she gets all dolled up in something sexy.  I motioned to the bartender who sidled up and asked how he could assist me.  Some intimate quality time with her was all I needed.  It had been a long day and I was drained.  She would help me find my inner peace again.

I sipped a bottle of suds to take the edge off while I waited for my chance to romance her.  When one didn't cut it I popped a second while peeking at the game on TV, still waiting, growing more hungry to be with her.  It was then that I saw her floating gracefully across the bar.  She was advancing towards me, her chest slightly exposed to give everyone a view at what they would be missing while she was with me.  To top it off, she was wearing one of those sexy signature outfits - a silky scarf of American cheese covered the prime angus flesh left exposed by her open sesame top, bacon dangling across her chest, with a bourbon bbq sauce by her side.  I had heard that she called this outfit, "Thunder Road", and it was apparent that she came to bring the thunder.

With her now in front of me, I wasted no time on foreplay and chose to ignore her skinny fries.  Instead, we just went at it.  Right there.  At the bar.  In front of everybody.  She squealed with pleasure as I devoured her, each bite into her flesh releasing her seasoned juices, sending them dripping down my chin.  Her bacon was a perfect balance of crisp and chew, making me lust for her even more while the bourbon bbq sauce kept things sensually sweet.  At one point she submitted herself to a sprinkling of Tabasco, letting me know she was there to please.  And damn did she wear it well.  She shuddered as I finished her off, leaving nothing but a trail of bbq sauce dripping over her exhausted skinny fries.

Our passionate affair ended almost as quickly as it had began.  A wink of a last bite of her sesame buns and she was gone.  I tossed the bartender a fifty and told him to keep the change.  She had been worth waiting for.  I grabbed my beer, took a final swig, and then headed for the door.  I'm not sure when I'll have the chance to see her again, or if she'll even be available, but I know that there will be a "next time"...

Many, many more.

The Thunder Road burger can found at:
Burger & Beer Joint
1766 Bay Rd
Miami Beach, FL 33139-1414
(305) 672-3287

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NAOE on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon!

Check out Wendy from Sunny Isles' NAOE gunning hot dogs on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon! 

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

RIBFEST 2009: Sticky Sweet, Slightly Sour

RIBFEST 2009 was held down at the Homestead Air Reserve Park this past weekend and I was fired up to check it out.  A late night of drinking during Saturday night's "Sleepless Night" event on Miami Beach had me waking up with fire in my belly, a fire that was beckoning for sweet, succulent ribs and ice cold beer.  After some wacky coordination, I met up with Paula of Mango & Lime, her husband, David, and Jackie of Kitchen Interviews and began the trek to Homestead.

It was a beautiful day out with the sun shining and a cool breeze flowing thru open windows as we motored on down the turnpike, using Google maps to get us to our final destination.  At exit 5, we were hit with a huge log jam of traffic that was being poorly coordinated by police officers.  I say poorly coordinated because most of the police were sitting in their cars doing nothing while one of them tried to police the traffic.  Go figure.  I was shocked at how many people would be going to Ribfest.  I mean, ribs are awesome and all but this traffic was ridiculous!  Shortly after making our turn off of the exit, I discovered that the reason for the traffic was that there was also an airshow going on at the same time.  You could see various planes circling the skies getting warmed up for the airshow and a 2-for-1 event kinda made up for the traffic delay.

It wasn't until we arrived about 200 yards from the entrance to the parking lot that we saw a sign that advertised the Ribfest.  Had it not been for iPhones, Blackberrys, and Google maps, we'd have been screwed on directions.  Note to Ribfest organizers - next year have better signage.  We parked and headed into the event.  There was a $15 entry fee that covered, well, nothing.  It got you into the section of the park where all the vendors were set up along with a main stage for live music.  We handed in our tickets and walked into the event and were greeted by some young folk who asked, "Do you want to drink?"  "Sure", I replied, and they slapped a wristband on my wrist.  No I.D. needed.  Awesome.

We don't need no stinkin' I.D.

First Class First Aid

With a band on stage shredding thru their version of "Freebird", we made our way through a bunch of retailer tents where people were hawking wares like bonsai trees, cowboy hats, jerky, spices, and t-shirts.  I'm a jerky fan and stopped by the Fatman & Mike tent to check out what they had to offer.  The Fatman and his buddy, Mike, hooked me up with a sample of their jerky which was sweet on the tongue followed by a little spicy heat.  They use lean beef cuts rather that fatty ones so the jerky is a lot less chewy.  I enjoyed that a lot since chewing fatty jerky can often be similar to chewing on rope in its consistency.  Jackie was into their spice rub, so they offered us a "2 for $10" deal on the jerky/rub combo which saved us each a buck, the only time we would save anything all day.

Next order of business - cold beer.  Miller Lite tents were scattered throughout the event and it was fairly easy to get a beer.  At $5 for a 12oz Miller Lite or a Fosters, perhaps most people were avoiding the beer tent?  Or maybe it was the annoying dude that was behind the counter, asking people what they wanted, giving them their total cost, and then being sure to add, "plus tip".  I guarantee that this booth missed out on a lot of tips thanks to this douchebag.  Every time I got a beer and he said that he pretty much guaranteed that I wasn't going to leave a tip.  Had he kept his mouth shut just one time I'd have tipped but he blew it for himself. 

We walked by some horses and horse riders and made our way over to the real reason we were here.  Twelve "Ribbers" and their booths formed a nice line and offered up all sorts of options from ribs to chicken to samiches, as many called them.  We decided a "divide and conquer" plan would be the best way to sample as many ribs as we could so we each picked a booth and returned to one of the many picnic tables to share our bounties.  Here are the first sets of ribs that we sampled:

Huckleberry Hillbilly BBQ

Skin N' Bones

Aussome Aussie

Porky N' Beans

My least favorite of all of these ribs were the ones I picked, Huckleberry Hillbilly.  Go figure haha.  They were overcooked and pretty dry and the Key Lime BBQ sauce didnt really pack much of a key lime taste at all, though this Ribber did win Best Sauce later on in the day.  I really enjoyed all 3 of the other rib offerings.  The Aussome Aussie ribs were sticky sweet and super tender.  Skin N' Bones were different than the rest in the bunch in that they had a killer dry rub on them that was fine on its own.  Even though these ribs didnt really need any sauce at all, the flavor was enhanced when dipped in one of the 3 sauce options that Ms. Jackie brought along, my favorite being the spicy bbq sauce.  I also liked that these ribs had some major meat on the bone.  My favorite ribs of the entire day, however, were the Porky N' Beans ribs.  These suckers were sauced well with a smoky, not-too-sweet, sauce that carmelized on some of the edges for a chewy, concentrated effect that I loved.  They were also fall-off-the-bone tender and melted in your mouth with little chewing necessary which is key when you're inhaling ribs like we were.

After another round of beers and a quick cameo by Anice of @epicuriouschic fame, David and I decided that we need to sample more ribs so that our guts would protrude more and allow us to fit in better with the crowd.  Paula was also interested in the ribs offered by Blazin' Broncos since they had a huge line outside their booth.  David went with Pig In, Pig Out, who also had a "Ribsicle" at their tent that we somehow managed to avoid.  I went with Willingham's, who also had a long line outside their tent.  It was in this line where I met Chuck, a part of the Willingham's team and a guy who is all about ribs and barbeque.  He gave us "2 reasons why we were in his line" and then pointed to the banners on each side of their booth that indicated the awards these ribs had won.  He also talked about the smoking and cooking processes they used and included some fun math exercises for the kids in line.  Nice guy and definitely passionate about his ribs.  I thought this second round was just OK.  I didnt know if it was because my belly was reaching mass capacity or if it was because I had already had some killer ribs but these ones just didnt do it for me.  Willingham's had the best flavor in my opinion but they were a little dry.  The others were also just OK.

Pig In, Pig Out

Chuck droppin' serious rib knowledge


The last Blazin' Bronco

I was pretty full at this point and luckily so was everyone else.  We took a walk and checked out some of the booths we missed along with the band on stage that had just gone country with Chuck Wicks crooning to a diverse audience, warming them up for Tracy Lawrence.  I have never heard of either of these guys but they weren't bad.  I liked the earlier bands better though.  The tiny walk we took freed up some room in my belly for my favorite veggie - corn on the cob.  Paula joined me at the roasted corn booth where our corn cobs were dunked in a bucket of clarified butter and presented to us.  I housed my corn so fast that Paula likened it to the old cartoon where those black crowes eat corn like it was a typewriter haha.  The corn was damn good though, with large kernals and a nice buttery flavor.  Embracing my inner Ribber, I tossed the empty cob in the garbage, belched, and wiped my mouth with my shirt.  Booyeah!

We waited around to catch a bit of the airshow and listen to the big winners at the Ribfest.  Blazin' Broncos took the top spot in the rib category, followed by my favorite, Porky N' Beans.  Aussome Aussie took 3rd place, so I guess we nailed right ribs by sampling all 3 of the top Ribbers.  This video of the airshow was captured by David.

Ribfest was a good time, albeit a somewhat expensive one.  I think I spent close to $100 on admission, beers, ribs, jerky, and corn.  I guess it was a small price to pay for a good time far removed from the gates of the city, especially after I bought a kickass cowboy hat on our way out.  Yee-haw!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Getcha Sticky Icky on at RIBFEST 2009!

Did you know that people who specialize in cooking ribs are called Ribbers?  Well, you do now!  This weekend at Homestead Air Reserve Park will be the site for Ribfest 2009.  This year's event features a dozen Ribbers rubbin', smokin', and saucin' down some serious ribbage to determine who's ribs will stick with the title of Best in Show. 

In addition to glorious mounds of ribs to scarf down, there are family games, hay rides, and other activities.  There will also be some music acts that some may have heard of.  On Saturday, Joan Jett & the BlackHearts take the stage after a set by Blue Oyster Cult!  Holy 80's!  Sunday goes country with Tracy Lawrence and Chuck Wicks.

Tickets are $15 with a parking fee of $5 per car.  Not bad.  The event takes place on Saturday from 11am to 10pm and Sunday from 11am to 6pm, so be sure to carve out a little time this weekend to check it out.  With the weather poised to be perfect, its a can't miss.

For more information, check out the official Ribfest site here.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Golly Whoppers!!!

When airline travel woes get me down, there are two things that raise my spirits rather quickly - a good bourbon and a good meal.  Being that my latest episode occurred in Chattanooga, Tennessee during the middle of the day and right before a meeting with a customer, bourbon was out as a remedy.  So, my sales rep and I headed out to grab a bite before our meeting.  Our destination: Golly Whoppers.

Yes, Golly Whoppers is an actual name of a real establishment.  It's a sandwich shop with a salad bar and they also bake their own bread daily.  Any time I'm in the South, I'm lookin' to get me some pulled pork barbecue, usually in sandwich form.  Well, GollyWhoppers had just that on their menu.

Now I know where the eatery got its name cuz Golly Whoppers was that sandwich big!!!  It was more like 2 sandwiches!  Fresh baked wheat bread topped with slaw and then piled high with tender pulled pork.  A sweet and savory bbq sauce finished this bad boy off.  I inhaled the first half of the sandwich, each bite erasing some of the bad vibes that had been coursing my veins from the airline losing my baggage earlier in the day.  I really enjoyed the softness of the pork and the crunch of the fresh slaw which was also moist without making the sandwich soggy.  I was pretty full after that first half but I was determined to finish off the second half.  I made a valiant effort but, in the end, I bowed to the awesomeness that is the large bbq pulled pork sandwich that is Golly Whoppers.  If you ever find yourself in Chattanooga and you want a killer lunch, check this place out and get this sandwich.  It's a winner.

Golly Whoppers
6337 E Brainerd Rd
Chattanooga, TN 37421
(423) 855-2001 (Phone)

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Heathy Eatin' at Slow Food Miami's Conference

For me, food is more than just a necessity to survive.  It's a hobby and something I enjoy educating myself about.  After all, knowledge is power.  When my friend Paula from the blog Mango & Lime told me about an upcoming dinner at the Slow Food Miami Conference that was to be cooked by local Red Light chef Kris Wessel, I thought it would be a good opportunity to check out what the organization was all about.  The dinner was held last Thursday and it was a nice event.

The Slow Food organization basically sets out to be everything that fast food is not.  It focuses on reminding people that fresh, healthy food is readily available for consumption and attempts to reconnect people with where this food comes from.  It's more than hippies and John Deere.  There were all sorts of people at this event, all of whom were interested and probably concerned with where our society currently stands in regards to what we eat.  For me, it wasn't as much of an eye-opener as it was a nice reminder.  With my job requiring that I travel frequently, I always seem to end up eating fast food while on the road at one point or another.  I hate that but many times there really isn't a way around it.  When I'm home I eat out almost every night, using the excuse of "travel leads to spoiled food in the fridge" and my love of dining out as excuses for not cooking at home more often.  It's really just laziness and an easy way out.  That being said, I do try to eat healthy when I dine out and I often buy fruits to keep in the fridge and snack on rather than junk food.  The Slow Food Conference reminded me that good, healthy, and locally sourced meals don't always have to be an ordeal and that I should be looking for fresh and healthy meals that I can make at home more often.

I didn't really get any pictures of any of the food because I really didnt feel like taking pictures and with Paula, Trina from Miami Dish, and Jackie from Kitchen Interviews & the New Times' Short Order in attendance, I knew there would be plenty of picture coverage.  I basically ate and hung out with Paula's husband, David, all night, cracking jokes and having a good time.  The event was buffet style with 7 different stations offering various dishes.  I've never been a fan of buffet-style dinners because the food can sometimes get dry as it sits but this one wasn't bad.  I enjoyed everything at the game grazing table that had braised rabbit, "Little Haiti" style goat, and local quail.  The oyster pie was also very tasty.  I had a fruit called rambutan for the first time and liked it.  It reminded me of the lychees I used to get from the lychee nut tree I had in my yard when I first moved to Miami.  The standouts of the night for me were the chocolate rice and the cucumber quinoa.  There isnt much to say about chocolate rice besides that it was surprisingly good.  The cucumber quinoa had a refreshing taste and was loaded with protein.  I could eat that stuff every day.

The Slow Food Miami Conference was a nice event with interesting people and dishes assembled with locally sourced ingredients.  I enjoyed spending time with friends, meeting new people, and talking about our shared interests with food obviously being a main conversation point.  I also reminded myself that I really gotta get over to Red Light soon to get my grub on.  I've heard nothing but good things about the dishes that Kris Wessel prepares there.  Having had the chance to get a taste at this event, I'm certain I'll come to the same conclusion as those who have advised me to go there.  In the meantime, I'm going to make an effort to take advantage of the more healthier options at the Fresh Market here in the Grove and slow down my life enough to enjoy a nice home cooked meal.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Joy to the World - Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog featured at Cobaya Dinner #2

Back in July, I became a part of the Cobaya Miami group, a group of adventurous diners acting as guinea pigs for local South Florida chefs. The group provides an opportunity for chefs to really get creative and cook what they want without restrictions or fear that diners may not enjoy their creations. In other words, this group will eat anything plated in front of us no matter what it is or how it is cooked. For me, the best part is that there is no menu, therefore no decision making. It's putting yourself in the hands of the chef, with the understanding that they love their craft and not only want to fill your belly but also open your mind to a new way of looking at food and the way it is prepared.

After a successful first dinner at Talula, courtesy of Chef Andrea Curto-Randazzo and Sous Chef Kyle Foster, I was eager to see what dinner #2 had in store for the Cobaya group. With both the Miami New Times' Short Order blog and UrbanDaddy broadcasting the formation of the Cobaya group and its mission, interest in our second dinner had peaked to the point where two separate nights were opened up to allow for 36 members of the group (24 night one, 12 night two) to partake. The chef for Cobaya Dinner #2 was none other than Chef Jeremiah Bullfrog, formerly of Bullfrog Eatz and currently personal chef to "The Boss" Rick Ross. I had been following Chef Jeremiah on Twitter, so I knew we were in the hands of a chef who was not afraid to experiment. His tweets leading up to the dinner sang of low n' slow shortribs and making his own cheese from scratch. Sweet.

Sick view, huh?  Thanks to Jason at The Factory Interactive for providing the host location for this dinner.  A genuinely cool guy too.  I forget how many floors we were up but I think it was about 35.  A nice balcony that wrapped around the penthouse provided views of the Miami Beach and downtown Miami skylines as well as the prairies of residential flatland to the west.  At one point, you could see it was pouring rain over Miami International Airport and only the airport.  Gotta love the weather in South Florida but boy was I glad to not be flying out as I can guarantee there were delays.  I also got a kick out of this poster that graced the walls of our dining room...

Another thing I learned about Chef Jeremiah thru his tweets was that he was a bourbon fan, so I wasnt surprised when he treated us all to a pre-dinner Old Fashioned made with Basil Hayden which happens to be my favorite everyday bourbon.  Good times!

This is the part where I apologize for not being great at this blogging thing and forgetting to take pictures of the majority of the dishes.  The pics I did get were taken with my iPhone, so its probably best that I only took a few anyways.  To see killer pics of the meal, check out Food For Thought where Mr. Frodnesor has also done a nice writeup of our meal as well as night #2. 

The meal got off to a great start when we were presented with an interesting take on a Greek Salad.  Compressed cucumbers and homemade feta stuffed olives sitting in a bath of tomato water and Hendrick's gin provided a nice, fresh flavor with the textures of the still crunchy cukes and the feta stuffed olives playing well together.  This was one of my favorite dishes of the night.

The second dish was a bite of local stone crab paired with a mustard emulsion, crab consomme, and Meyer lemon oil.  It was an ok dish that I thought couldve used a bit more of the mustard and a bit less of the lemon.

The third dish was an Ode to Autumn in the form of a pumpkin dumpling stuffed with homemade burrata.  Unfortunately, the burrata lacked the creaminess it is known for but I appreciated the effort as I'm sure making burrata is no easy task.  I also thought the truffle oil used overpowered the dish.  This one just didnt work for me.


If this meal were a boxing match, Chef Jeremiah spent the first 3 rounds taking a few jabs at us and toying with our taste buds.  In round 4, he really started working the body, wearing us down while still putting on a nice show for the crowd.  This dish was simply titled, "Bacon" (aka "Awesome"), and featured a hunk of pork belly paired with an egg cooked sous vide at 63 degrees.  A little maple syrup really made me want to take one of these puppies home for breakfast the following morning.  Being a huge fan of runny eggs and all things bacon-related, this dish was a home run for me.  My only regret was having used my spoon for the Greek Salad which left me using my fork to pile the few remains of my egg onto my knife in order to get every last drop in my mouth.  I have issues.

In round 5, Bullfrog threw a punch that I never saw coming with a dish that I found to be the most creative of the night..  I will admit that the name of this dish, "Halibut like a Reuben", frightened me a bit as the only component of a Reuben that I really like is the pastrami while I really dislike sauerkraut.  Lucky for me there was no sauerkraut to be found in this dish.  The halibut was cooked sous vide and topped with a rye streussel.  Once plates were set in front of us Cobaya diners, Chef Jeremiah came around with a pitcher of hot pastrami dashi which he poured into each bowl.  The end result was a piece of fish that was light in texture and tasted exactly like a hunk of pastrami.  This was another one of my favorite dishes of the night.

Round 6 gave us some quality time with our corner-man, icing down our palates with an interesting combination of red curry and white chocolate liquid in a shot glass filled with crushed ice.  I wish someone had answered when I asked what was floating in the liquid because I shot the whole thing back only to end up with a freezing mouthful of ice haha.  The red curry flavor hit me first as I worked on crunching all the ice in my mouth.  This was followed by an earthy mushroom-like flavor which a few Cobaya buds also noticed.  The finish was all chocolate though.  Surprisingly yummy.

Round 7 - 72 hour Shorties - the knockout punch.  Braised short ribs cooked sous vide for 72 hours, parsnip puree, and a big Zin redux.  Notice how I didnt remember to take a picture of this one before I began annihilating it?  As soon as I saw the size of this gargantuan short rib, I got excited and began my assault.  Actually, I'm kinda glad that I chose to do this because it really shows off the texture of the short rib.  I've had many a braised short rib but most tend to be so "fall off the bone" that they lose a lot of their composition and end up on the mushy side of things.  Not this bad boy.  This short rib was nearly fork tender while maintaining a meaty texture.  The parsnip puree was light and creamy and contained a slight celery flavor to it that I really enjoyed though I didn't follow up to determine where that came from.  Another huge winner of a dish for me.

Dessert was an experiment that involved turning Krispy Kreme donuts into flan.  Unfortunately, the flan didn't take form but the flavor was there.  Being the juvenile that I am, I dubbed this one "The Money Shot".  Of course that would be easier to understand if I had a picture...  Jean-Marc has one, as well as other pics of the dinner so be sure to check out his site as well.

The night ended with discussions of all things food in Miami out on the deck, sipping a scotch while some enjoyed cigars.  In the end, Cobaya Dinner #2 was another huge success.  I got to chat with new and old Cobaya buddies, meet Chef Jeremiah who is not only a great chef but a really personable guy, and have a delicious meal in a killer setting.  I also got to experience many dishes that featured the awesomeness that is sous vide cooking.  I mean, at this point I'm ready to name my firstborn daughter Sue Vide.  For more comments on the meal itself, check out the Cobaya blog where you can also read more about our first dinner and find out how to become part of the group.

Now a little Three Dog Night along with some candid animation from some Canadians to take us home...

Friday, October 16, 2009

No More Forkin Around - Iron Fork Miami Returns Better Than Ever

Last night, I met up with some good friends at the New Times Iron Fork event at the Bank of America building in Downtown Miami. It was the 2nd year in a row that Id decided to check out this event. Last year, was kind of a buzzkill. The event was held at the Miami Science Museum and everything was crammed. The stage for the competition was nearly impossible to get to and the event was vastly oversold so it took forever to get a taste from any of the booths. I met Paula (of Mango & Lime fame) along with her husband D at this event last year, so we teamed up again to dominate the event again this year. You can check out her blog at the link I just provided for pics since I slacked on the pic taking front.

Having the event at the Bank of America building was an AWESOME move. Limiting ticket sales also proved to be a huge win. We arrived at around 6pm and, after some awkward "we're not ready to open the ropes at 5:55pm" moments, were free to roam about and sample the various wares of the 40+ restaurants that participated in the event. Naturally, I spotted the Presidente booth outside on the deck and we made a b-line over there to get the night started. The outside deck was a huge hype. Nothing beats an outdoor event in Miami. It was there, after sucking down a cool Presidente, that I stumbled upon the Whisk Gourmet Food & Catering booth and all of its BBQ Pork awesomeness. Their sauce is the boss! Its a play on the South Carolina mustard-based BBQ that I love with enough vinegar to pack a little punch. This would be my first dish of the night and one that only one other dish would overcome.

After making our way around the various booths at the event, I was full. Many dishes were mediocre but generously portioned. Nothing was bad which is more than I can say for the event last year. The dish of the night for me was the goat bits with spicy dressing from Tap Tap. A healthy portion of goat doused with some habanero/vinegar sauce rocked my world. I couldve eaten 4 portions of this easily but I managed to keep control of myself. Another dish that I thought kicked major ass was the macaroon with duck mousse and cured duck breast offered up by Au Pied de Cochon. Im not a fan of sweet dishes but the savoriness of the duck mousse and the saltiness of the cured duck breast was a nice counterbalance to the sweetness of the macaroon. I had 2 of these puppies.

The actual Iron Fork competition was kinda cool but once again it was an afterthought. The stage was located in an awkward area where it was tough to see what was going on though it was easy to smell what was going on. In the end, Chef Critchley of Area 31 took down Giancarla Bodoni of Escopazzo and was awarded with a cruise as a prize.

Overall, I thought the Iron Fork event was a vast improvement from last years event due to the location and limited ticket sales. Everyone seemed to have a great time and every participant got great exposure. The only downfall was the band who played the event that sounded like kareoke gone wrong and the jazz band whose instruments played well but whose lame dj scratchin records made the sound awkward as hell. Hats off to New Times though for putting on a nice event that was well thought out and planned properly to allow maximum enjoyment by all.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Top Ten Reasons Why I Eat @ Michael's Genuine Food & Drink Weekly

I am a creature of habit, especially when it comes to eating. No, I dont eat the same thing for lunch or dinner but I do like to have a "short list" of places I like to eat out at frequently depending on what kind of a food mood I'm in. If Im feeling lazy and want a light dinner, I walk a few blocks into the Grove for dinner at Jaguar. If I dont mind a drive to Sunny Isles for a good meal, I'll head up to NAOE for some Japanese or maybe stop in for some killer comfort food at Neomi's. There are a few other places in the rotation too. Im spontaneous and really dont plan on eating out so much but rather just make a last minute decision...many, many times during the week. I often dine solo so I usually like a place that has a good bar to go with good food. That's why more often than not you can expect to find me at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District. The food brought me there but there are many other things about the restaurant that keep me going back at least once weekly. Here are my top ten reasons why Michael's Genuine Food & Drink is atop my dining out rotation:

10.) Hot Dishes Served Hot - One of my pet peeves when dining out is receiving a dish that is supposed to be hot only to find its either become overcooked from sitting under a heat lamp or that its become lukewarm or cold. At MGF&D, one of the first things that I noticed on my original visit was that if you order a hot dish, that dish is coming straight off the line directly to your table. They execute things well and get the dishes plated for the entire table in one full swing and Ive yet to be disappointed with food temperature.

9.) Local Focus - I like when local businesses attempt to support other local businesses and economies. Lots of fresh seafood served at MGF&D is sourced from our local Florida waters and indicated on the menu. A pan seared local kingfish with farro, chorizo, grilled lemon, cilantro and saffron aioli remains one of my all-time favorite dishes there. Another thing I like about restaurants that attempt to use as many local ingredients as possible is the change said ingredients promote on the menu. Ive yet to see that kingfish dish again but there have been similar renditions with other local fish that Ive enjoyed simply because of their subtle differences with that kingfish dish. You also cant beat local heirloom tomatoes served with burrata when in season as well as other herbs, fruits, and veggies sourced locally from places like Paradise Farms.

8.) Killer Tunes - I'm a huge fan of jazz, acid jazz, funk, blues, and rock n' roll. Michael's Genuine Food & Drink always has every one of those genres except rock n' roll playing in the background and thats a good thing. I believe that the music just pumps from the Chef's iPod all day. He's got a killer collection too with a lot of jazz jam bands just establishing rhythms and then soloing over them instrument by instrument. The music gives the restaurant a nice upbeat vibe without being overly loud and intrusive. Its easy to maintain a conversation with the music playing as there are rarely any words in any of the songs/jams and the volume is at a good level.

7.) Ballsy Menu - Im an adventurous eater and I like that Chef Schwartz isnt afraid to throw items like Crispy Pig Head, Pig Ear Salad, cheeks of all varieties, and a few variations of Sweetbreads on the menu. I've heard of people deciding not to eat there because of seeing pig head on the menu and not being open to what that may be, or realizing that they dont have to order it. Hey, it's not for everyone. I also heard of a couple who saw Tempura Sheepshead on the menu and freaked out and left. They apparently didnt know that was a fish from Florida waters...haha. Either way, having these items on the menu for people like me to enjoy and knowing it may turn others off is ballsy and much appreciated.

6.) Hot Restaurant, Hot Women - Apparently, beautiful women are not affected by things like pig head appearing on the menu at MGF&D because they flock to this place in droves. Blondes, brunettes, tall, short, cute-hot, smokin-hot, well-dressed women on a consistent basis and they come for the food. Name your type of woman and she can probably be found there. I even saw the beautiful Halle Berry in there on one visit. Beautiful women in the room just make a phenomenal meal that much more enjoyable, ya know?

5.) Bar Selection - Michael's Genuine has a great bar selection, especially when it comes to the sweet nectar I covet most - bourbon. The bar manager does an awesome job of sourcing high quality spirits and switches things up a bit here and there to keep the spirits menu fresh. Even the beer selections are a step away from the norm. This is the only bar in Miami where I've found Eagle Rare 17yr bourbon which has become my new favorite to sip neat. Lately, they have also had an incredible special on Krug Cuvee NV bubbly at $165/bottle which is nearly half off prices I've seen elsewhere in Miami. A 23yr Black Maple Hill rye (and its cousin, the 8yr bourbon) are also amongst my favorites. Having trouble keeping up with all of this? Not to worry. MGF&D recently added a spirits menu complete with pricing to guide you along. I wish every restaurant with a good bar selection would do this. It just makes things so much easier than playing the "do you have..." game. They also have a great wine list and a sommelier to make recommendations. If youre looking for a non-alcoholic drink, they make some damn good sodas too. So, youre all set in the beverage department no matter what you want to drink.

4.) The Food - Obviously I like the food if I'm eating at this restaurant at least once a week, right? I love the way the menu is broken down into snacks, sides, small, medium, large, and extra large plates. I love the small plates concept because I like to experience a bunch of different flavors, so I usually stick to the small, medium, snack, and sides areas. I think by now I have tried just about everything that stays as a staple item on all of these parts of the menu and I've probably had about 95% of the seasonal or in-n-out items too. Occasionally, as was the case last week, I will pop into the large or extra large areas. The double yolk farm egg, pig ear salad, burrata, chargrilled octopus, duck confit, and sweet & spicy pork belly are amongst my favorites and are staples. Items like the aforementioned crispy pig head, sweetbreads, grouper cheek, pork cheek, and various pasta dishes are ones I've enjoyed when I've been lucky enough to find them on the menu during my visits. Heck, I even started eating brussel sprouts because of this restaurant and they have become something I order at almost every meal! I really enjoy the focus on flavor in every dish and have come to trust the Chef when items that I usually wouldnt eat appear as part of a dish I've ordered. Those items are in there because they enhance the overall flavor of the dish, so I eat them and expand my horizons as an "eater". I think its pretty safe to say that I eat "everything" now. Mr. Frodnesor of the blog Food for Thought has also done a kickass writeup of many of his favorites. The food just rocks here and I can never get bored because the menu is constantly evolving. There is something for everyone. Pretty effin awesome in my book.

3.)The Staff - I think a key to having a successful restaurant is having a great staff. The staff at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink is top notch. It starts with the hostesses who are incredibly polite and accommodating and always keep their cool when things get crazy, like on Art+Design nights when the restaurant gets mobbed with people. The servers are knowledgeable, friendly, and attentive. They know the menu, make recommendations, and want to make sure you have a good dining experience and come back for more. The food runners are a big help in making sure all of the table is served at the same time. The managers go out of their way to stop by tables and make small talk if only for a second just to check and make sure things are going well. Its cool to see that the staff buys into the concept of the restaurant and the way that Chef Schwartz wants things done. They also seem to enjoy their jobs. Everyone is on the same page and it's evident in the way the restaurant runs no matter if service is just beginning with a few customers or humming with a packed house.

2.) Kickass Bar Staff - While I will occasionally get a table when out with others, most of the time when Im at MGF&D I can be found sitting at the bar. Dining solo after a long day at work has something to do with that but the bar staff is the main reason. Michael's Genuine has a few of the best bartenders I've met. They always greet me with a hello and a handshake. They know every facet of the menu, make great drinks, and can carry a conversation. Most of all, they are incredibly friendly and seem to remember anyone and everyone who has saddled up to the bar. The barback is awesome too and always makes sure everyone has everything they need. The bar staff treats everyone like regulars on "Cheers" and...

1.) The Hands-On Chef/Owner - I've had the privilege of eating at many great restaurants around the country thanks to a job that requires me to travel a lot and my love of dining out. I've had a lot of great meals, so many that it's nearly impossible for me to name a favorite because there have been so many. There's also been many disappointing meals, so it's safe to say that a chef that consistently puts asses in the seats has the food thing right. Considering that I've dined at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink on every night of the week possible and have yet to see it not at capacity, it's clear that Chef Schwartz is creating high caliber dishes with a warm atmosphere that anyone can enjoy. However, I think that the most successful chefs are the ones who not only showcase their passions and personalities in their dishes but also share their personalities with the patrons who enjoy their food. In the few years that I've been eating at MGF&D I've seen Chef Schwartz behind the line on nearly every service. I like that. He has his staff tell him when customers like and dislike a dish for whatever reason and accepts that feedback. You cant say you're trying to be the best if you're not willing to listen to the good and the bad. He comes out from behind the line to say hi to diners and make sure everything is running smoothly. I've had many conversations with Chef Schwartz and he is, much like the name of his restaurant, a genuine guy. That makes a difference to me. I'm a salesmen and in sales people often don't buy the product or service but rather the person selling it. I think this can also be applied to restaurants. Many of my favorite restaurants in South Florida have this going for them. Its nice to know that a chef can be extremely talented, extremely successful, and extremely personable at the same time.

With all that said, I think its fairly obvious why this is my favorite place to dine in Miami and why I recommend it to nearly everyone who asks me where the best restaurant in Miami is. There are so many options that it is easy to have a great meal for a short buck or a phenomenal meal for a few extra bucks. Like I said earlier, there's something for everyone and I'm looking forward to dining at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink for many years to come.

Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
130 NE 40th St.
Miami, FL 33137
(305) 573-5550

Friday, September 4, 2009

September Wine Dinner @ Neomi's, Trump Sunny Isles

Pretty interesting wine dinner going on up at the Trump in Sunny Isles this month. Chef Kurtis Jantz of Neomi's is teaming up with Sean Bernal of Oceanaire Seafood Room to present a dinner with a few New Zealand wineries. The dinner is taking place on September 14th. I always seem to be out of town for these wine dinners but that doesnt mean I cant share the love.

From the Trump Miami website...

Experience an exceptional evening with not one, but two winemakers from New Zealand's most prestigious boutique wineries, Neudorf Vineyards and Maude Wines. And, pair that with not one, but two exceptional chefs. Sean Bernal of the Oceanaire Seafood Room joins our own Kurtis Jantz as they combine their efforts to create an unmatched culinary delight to partner with these amazing wines. Not one, but four reasons to attend.

Dinner is 79.00 per person, inclusive of tax and service charge

For reservations or more information, please contact 305.692.5770

Friday, August 28, 2009

Its a real Meat Market - Miami Beach

One thing I love about dining out in Miami is the amount of hot women that can be seen out and about doing the same. One place that seems to be a real meat market is, well, Meat Market on Lincoln Road, Miami Beach. The bar just breeds hotties. Maybe its the location? Maybe its the bar? Or maybe its the food? Either way, if you like to eat and drink at a place that is visually stimulating with its decor and its female patrons, Meat Market is a good spot. Its also a place where I have had some very good meals.

Last weekend after a long beach party and at the request of my cousin, I made a reservation for me and some friends at Meat Market. I was looking to sink my teeth into a steak and MM was close to my buddy's place and my cousin's hotel so it was a good suggestion. Plus, they happen to have a killer Kobe* filet. The reservation was for 11p (it was a loooong beach party) and we arrived a few minutes early and were told they were waiting for a table to clear out so we opted for drinks at the bar. After talking to a well-endowed cute blonde and her friend, my friends asked me to check with the maitre d' to see what the delay was. It was now about 11:20p and we still hadn't been seated. Due to the amount of champagne Id already consumed, I didn't really care about the delay but I could agree with their beef. If we were able to make a rez for 11p, why weren't we being seated? The maitre d' was very sweet and did her best to appease me as I told her that my friends were gonna bail if we had to wait much longer. Well, 2 friends ended up bailing out of frustration right as they were getting the table ready for us but I was able to say the magic words "kobe filet" to my cousin and he and I returned to be seated.

The maitre d' really was apologetic and offered to provide us with a few apps at no charge. It was a nice gesture that I really appreciated as she did not have to do that. Matter of fact, a lot of places in Miami probably wouldn't do that so it was nice to see someone in charge that actually cared about customers and making sure they enjoyed their meal. We selected the white truffle kobe tartar with capers, red onion, and parmesan flatbread as well as the cedar-scented hamachi with mango caviar, white truffle, and lime. The hamachi was very good and did have a hint of smokiness that I enjoyed. My cousin loved the kobe tartar but I thought they went a tad overboard with the capers. The capers were included in the mixture of kobe tartar as well as on the side and I made the mistake of combining both and getting more saltiness than I had bargained for. Probably user error on my part but then again it was caper overload that could've been avoided had they not been abundantly present.

For our mains, we opted for the only cut of beef Ive had at my half-dozen or so visits to Meat Market, the Japanese A5 Kobe Filet. At $95, its a pretty good deal and when you're paying that much for a steak you might as well add some seared foie gras to it, right? Yes, you should and we did. My cousin selected a Spanish red wine, El Nido, to have with our meal. I really enjoyed it but I must be honest and admit that I'm no wine expert so I wont go on and on about tannins, nose, flavors, etc. It was just a really good wine and the decanter used to let it breathe was pretty frickin sweet and could also double as a tool to impale an unruly dining patron. The steaks came out a nice medium and were like butta baby! Add seared foie on top and its hog heaven for me. A side of grilled asparagus had a sort of smokiness to it that I really enjoyed and thought complimented the dish very well. Another phenomenal kobe meal for me at Meat Market.

Throughout the dinner, the waiter and maitre d' came by the table to make sure everything was to our liking but not to the point where it was overkill. They really couldn't have been nicer or done a better job, especially the maitre d'. I hope the owner recognizes that he has a good staff up front and on service, at least based on my experiences there. The bar staff is also pretty solid. Overall, I recommend checking this place out. The food is good, the service is solid, the scene is swanky, and the women are sexy.

Meat Market
915 Lincoln Rd
Miami Beach, FL 33139-2601
(305) 532-0088

*While I am skeptic of restaurants that have "kobe" beef, Meat Market advertises theirs as Japanese A5 Kobe Tenderloin from Kobe, Japan, so I gotta believe that is what it is.