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.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

7 Meals in 7 Nights: Sunday - The Breakers, Palm Beach & Hakkasan, Miami Beach

"What? I don't remember going to Burger King last night?", was the first thought that entered my mind as I woke up Sunday morning face down on a pullout couch and noticed a BK soda cup on a nearby coffee table. Yeah, it was that kinda night. I also have this stupid problem where I cant sleep in when I'm not at home so I was up around 9am. I got bored sitting there so I got up and headed out onto the porch at my cousin's place to play a little guitar and enjoy the warm breeze coming off of the ocean. The rest of the gang awoke about an hour or so later and, after much talk of me not believing I ate BK the night before, it was announced that we had a poolside cabana reserved for us at The Breakers Palm Beach. Sweet.

Driveway leading up to The Breakers Palm Beach Resort

The Breakers is an over-the-top resort in Palm Beach overlooking the Atlantic Ocean. It boasts 2 golf courses - the Oceans course on premises and the Rees Jones course about 10 miles away, 10 restaurants/bars/cafes, about 5 pools lined with poolside cabanas (from what I counted anyways), and a nice section of sandy beach. The facilities, including golf, are private and usually reserved only for use by hotel guests and club members. Ive heard that a simple pool membership STARTS at $30,000 per year and that is a reoccurring charge yearly! Being the offseason, however, they have opened up the ability to purchase poolside cabanas to regular ol' folks like us.

View from our poolside cabana @ The Breakers Palm Beach

Luckily, we had a cabana reserved at the "Tranquility Pool", meaning there were no kids screaming and splashing around in the water. This was key for my friends who, unlike me, are prone to hangovers. I have an immunity for some reason, most likely because my body is used to being abused. The cabana was sweet. It had 2 cushioned lounge chairs along with an umbrella and a few more chairs outside (view above) and then an indoor area with a wrap-around couch, coffee table, a few more chairs, and all the amenities of a hotel room like a stocked fridge, plasma TV with cable and all channels, towels, and a sink. The back of the cabana also had a nice bathroom vanity with 2 sinks, a toilet in a room off to the right of the vanity, and a private outdoor shower complete with 4 body jets to the left. With all these amenities, there's no wonder that there is a sign letting you know you aren't allowed to spend the night in the poolside cabana!

After a dip in the pool and a frozen alcoholic beverage, we were starving and ready to chow down. The menu was pretty decent for a pool bar menu. My cousin and I went with the pulled pork sandwich, another buddy had the shrimp po' boy, and the girls each got a lobster roll, made just like we do 'em back in New England (but at 3x the cost haha). The pulled pork sandwich was awesome and definitely hit the spot. The bbq sauce was nice and spicy and the bun was a formidable one and didn't get soggy at all. Well, the bun didn't really have a chance to get soggy because I inhaled that sandwich. I didn't get to try anyone else's sandwich but all reports were good. A couple more Coronas and a few dips in the pool and it was time for me to hit the road back to Miami. I had plans to meet up with Paula, of Mango & Lime fame, and her husband, D, at Hakkasan to check out their Miami Spice menu and I was looking forward to it as it would mark my first trip to the Fontainebleau since their $500M makeover.

Hakkasan comes to Miami Beach by way of London where Chef Alan Yau first established his Chinese restaurant under the same name. Typical Miami, always the bridesmaid, never the bride. After all of the hype it had received in newspaper and online reviews, I was eager to give it a shot. I was also aware that this would be an expensive meal if we got away from the Miami Spice menu but that's kinda to be expected at a large hotel on South Beach anyways. I valeted the car, fully aware that parking would be gratis if I got my ticket validated at the restaurant, and then walked into the hotel lobby. What a cool space! Very big and very open with a bar to the back of the large lobby that had its flooring illuminated in an electric blue light. The place is the closest thing we have to a Las Vegas casino here in Miami.

Snazzy dessert menu and bill jacket @ Hakkasan

After finally figuring out which direction I needed to go in to get to the restaurant, I began walking. I walked down a few hallways and up a ramp before finally hopping in the elevator that would take me to the restaurant. We were greeted and sat immediately. The restaurant space was sick! I am a huge fan of Asian inspired design and I loved the layout of the space with large latticed wood panels separating different sections of the dining room from floor to ceiling, of which I estimated at about 18 feet above. Dark wood tables and ice blue leather booth seating with embroidered elements and pillows lined one wall while chairs sat opposite the table. They also had a sweet bar back lit with water effects and on the western side of the room they had some more communal style tables and the kitchen which was separated from the dining room by a large blue glass wall so you could just see the shadows of the men and women working behind. On the eastern side of the room, there was a separate area with slate stone walls that had figures jutting out of them and a hallway that led to the bathrooms. Even the bathrooms were sick! Large 18 foot floor to ceiling doors in white led to an all white marble bathroom in which to carry out your business. But enough of me fawning over the space, we were here to eat.

After being informed that any drinks with passion fruit were off the menu due to the restaurant not being satisfied with the quality, we started with a round of drinks. I went with the Georgia Julep, a peach-inspired version of the Kentucky classic mint julep. Paula went with the Green Destiny which I cant remember what was in it but she seemed to enjoy. D ordered another drink that didn't have passion fruit in its description only to have the waitress come back and say that it did and wasn't being offered, so he went with the Georgia Julep as well. Of course, this normally would mean that the waitress would wait until all drinks are ready before serving but that wasn't the case. D had to watch us suck down our bevvies for a few before getting his. The Julep was good, though I prefer the Kentucky classic version much better. With drinks flowing, we were ready to order. We opened up the menus to find no Miami Spice menu inside. Bad vibes. I hate asking for that damn thing. We bit the bullet and asked and were given one promptly. The offerings appeared to be some of the weaker selections on the menu and, judging by the price points on the regular menu, smaller portions. I wasn't really feeling the options on the Spice menu and neither was D so we all opted to go with the regular menu since a minimum of 2 people were necessary to order from the Spice menu. I found that minimum to be fairly reasonable, however, I soon learned that there was another stipulation... A group of 6 people came and sat in the booth behind our table, ordered drinks, then became very irritated and left the restaurant but not before having a few words with the hostess at the hostess desk. Apparently they have a rule at Hakkasan that only allows a maximum of 5 people to order from Miami Spice. That makes no sense to me. The way I see it, they just lost out on probably what would've been a $500+ check after all was said and done. What if the group of 6 split into 3 and 3? Then it would be OK? In my book, if it don't make dollars, it don't make sense and this silly rule made the restaurant lose money and piss off a customer who would likely tell others about his experience. For a hotel that just invested $500M, you'd think that they'd want to make every little buck that they can.

Dim Sum Platter Appetizer @ Hakkasan

After looking over the menu and deciding to share 3 appetizers, we ordered the Roasted Mango Duck, Dim Sum Platter, and the Roasted King Soya Squab only to be told by the waitress that they were out of the squab. That mightve been nice to know ahead of time. Instead, we opted for the Wild Mushroom Lettuce Wraps. To give you an idea on pricing, these apps were $18 each and $24 for the dim sum. So we're already tallied at $60 just for apps, not to mention 3 $14 drinks and two $9 bottles of Voss water for the table (man, my ass hurts just typing that). That's $111 in just drinks and apps, so you can get an idea of what ordering off the regular menu is like.

Slightly dominated Wild Mushroom Lettuce Wraps @ Hakkasan

Roasted Mango Duck appetizer @ Hakkasan

The dim sum platter had 4 sets of dumplings presented in a bamboo steamer. There was a set of scallop shumai in the center topped with tobiko which were probably my favorite. The two with the green in them were shrimp dumplings with chives and there were another set of shrimp dumplings, both of which were good. The translucent dumplings that are shown in a square-like fold were stuffed with vegetables seasoned with Chinese 5-spice powder. These were my second favorite and would've been my favorite if the scallop shumai hadnt been cooked perfectly. The mushroom lettuce wraps were good but by god were the lettuce "wraps" small! Take your hand and give a "thumbs up". Now look at the size of your thumb. The lettuce was so small that you could maybe fit about a half of thumb's worth of mushroom mixture into the lettuce. This left a lot of the mixture leftover on the plate and kinda sucked the life out of the dish which was too bad because the flavors were on point. The roasted mango duck was a huge winner and quite possibly the best dish we had all night in my opinion. The dunk was tender and had a nice layer of fat and a crispy skin. This paired incredibly well with the fresh slices of juicy mango whose juice also made for a nice plated marinade for the duck. Just a very simple and very flavorful dish that I will probably order every time I eat there because it was that damn good.

Spicy Assam Prawns in Coconut @ Hakkasan

After another round of Georgia Juleps we ordered our main courses. Not knowing that the dishes are supposed to be served "family style", we each ordered individually. Paula went with the Spicy Assam Prawn in Coconut, D requested the Braised Black Bean Grouper Claypot with Bitter Melon, and I opted for the Stir-fry Scallop and Pumpkin in Black Bean. My dish and Paula's dish arrived together and D's about 5-10 minutes later which was about par for the course on this night.

Crappy iPhone pic of the Braised Black Bean Grouper Claypot @ Hakkasan

Stir-fry Scallop and Pumpkin in Black Bean @ Hakkasan

We did manage to share a few bites of our dishes with each other so I got a good taste of everything. I'm always weary of scallop dishes that involve them in some sort of stew or stir fry because the heat from the other components can sometimes continue to cook the scallop, making it a little more chewy. Not the case here. These scallops were spot-on perfect. The pumpkin in black bean sauce was also very tasty and I liked the texture as well. They were cooked so that they were soft yet still had some firmness to them so they didnt get all mushy. D's grouper had the same black bean sauce and was another example of carefully cooked seafood. The fish was tender and moist and went down easily. I thought Paula's prawn dish was awesome. The coconut kept the contents hot for the entire meal, even still steaming when we were finished eating. The coconut milk broth had a fiery kick to it that reminded me of the Cambodian Scallop Amok served at Origin Bistro in South Miami and the prawns were tender and tasty. I'd order any one of these plates again.

After dinner we didn't really feel like leaving so Paula ordered up a dessert called Mangia e Bevi that I cant remember what it exactly was but I remember some sort of sorbet being involved. I recommended a few glasses of Eagle Rare 10yr on the rocks for myself and D to enjoy. The Eagle Rare was really workin it for me so we ordered another round before asking for the bill. Now, one would think that when a menu says that an Eagle Rare is $14, it means regardless of how you drink it, right? Well, apparently not at Hakkasan for when we received the bill we were charged $17 for said bourbons. When we asked the waitress what the deal with that was, she replied that we ordered drinks on the rocks which got a greater pour, hence the $3 extra charge. So I'm paying $3 for a couple cubes of frozen f**king water?!?! Gimme a break already! Its not as if Hakkasan wasn't already making bank off the price of the drink (a bottle can be easily had for $26.99) but if you're gonna price your liquor, price it no matter how it gets ordered, goddammit. That really frosts me. Ive never been to a restaurant that charges for something as silly as cubes of ice to keep a drink cold. I can tell you that the Georgia Julep had bourbon and some other ingredients and also came with ice for $14 and that had to be higher in cost than my Eagle Rare on the rocks. I guess they expect for diners to just do shots all night? Its kinda funny how a restaurant will turn away 6 diners who want to spend $35+ each like they don't need the money, then they turn around and bone diners for $3 to put ice in a drink. That's just blatant douchebaggery.

Bill @ Hakkasan noting their menu price of $14 for Eagle Rare and then the mystery add-on of $3 on the bill for f**king ice

Overall, I thought the food and decor were paramount to the spotty service and douchebaggery shown at Hakkasan. I now understand why so many raved about the food at Hakkasan prior to me having the chance to experience it for myself. Every dish, no matter how simple or complex, really focused on a feature flavor with tiny hints of complimentary flavors identifying themselves and elevating the dish. That is what made the food worthy of the price of admission. I also think, design-wise, this is the most impressive restaurant in Miami. I will definitely be back someday Im sure, maybe even to try that $200 Peking Duck with Osteria Caviar. :)

What a great day I had and a glorious finish to an epic week of dining out every night. I made it! 7 Meals in 7 Nights had come to an end and the meal at Hakkasan, annoying little details aside, was a phenomenal way to end it. I had made it from Monday to Sunday and I'd had many fantastic meals, enjoyed time with friends and family, met some new people, and got to throw in a little travel as well. I'd consumed burgers, pizza, lobster, scallops, ceviche, and various bourbons. Many, many bourbons. All this made possible thanks to the social gathering we call dining out. My cup is running over with happiness and great memories and I look forward to seeing friends, meeting more strangers, and creating more memories around plates of good food.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

7 Meals in 7 Nights: Saturday - Palm Beach Grill

I woke up Saturday morning around 8am feeling pretty good. Id hit the hay early so I was well rested and ready to go play 18 holes with Rick from South Florida Daily Blog. My game was streaky and I hung in there for about 13 holes then birdied the 14th to get within 5 only to put one in the drink and go down 7 on the 15th, pretty much ending the match. Rick had 1 blowup hole and I managed to win the back 9 and lose by 3 overall without losing a ball so that sure helped me sleep easier. Well, that and the wine and bourbon I was about to consume...

After golf I hit the showers at home and then packed a light bag and headed up to West Palm. Some friends were moving into a new house they'd rented and my cousin also lives up there so good times were set to be had. (Side note here: I don't know what it is about West Palm but I always end up having a kickass time when I'm up there. I guess its kinda like a mini-vacation? Every night I go out up there I have fun and usually end the night at McD's or BK at 6am. Its funny because I think of WPB as kinda boring yet I always have a bitchin time going out up there. Anyways, back to the story...) As I drove up from Miami, I was lobbying hard via text for dinner at Cafe Boulud but I was getting much resistance in favor of Palm Beach Grill. I had never been to either restaurant but Daniel Boulud is one of my favorite chefs, if not my favorite, so I was dying to go. Well, of course I lost that battle and we ended up heading to Palm Beach Grill. The reason being was that the scene was more lively even if the menu was bor-ing.

We were seated and ordered some drinks. I of course chose to drink bourbon because that's just how I roll. The selection was weak so I went with ol' reliable Maker's Mark. We ordered some apps that were pretty good. The steamed artichokes came with a fantastic remoulade for dipping which my cousin liked so much I think he might've placed it at #2 of his top all-time condiments, 2nd to only Tabasco which is in 1st by a long shot. Thats kinda huge. Me? I enjoyed the remoulade, especially considering that I hadn't eaten steamed artichokes in a little while. It took me eating about 3 or 4 of them, leaves and all, before I remembered you're just supposed to work the "meat" out with your teeth. They tasted a helluvalot better after I remembered that! The standout app for me though was the fried oysters. They came plated on the shell of the oyster and plated with an olive relish that provided that salty flavor that I love. Luckily, everyone was so consumed by the artichokes that I was able to dominate the majority of the oysters. We ordered a few bottles of Pinot Noir and Cab for dinner which was a good choice because the bourbons were starting to go down too smoothly. For my main dish, I was torn between the ribeye, filet, and the chicken. The only reason that the chicken was in contention was because my cousin said it was phenomenal. This is a guy who eats red meat nonstop, makes grilled cheeses in bacon fat, and puts Tabasco on everything. For him to say the chicken was the right play was huge and, since I wasn't feeling the ribeye at that moment, I went with it. Boy was that dumb. The flavor of the chicken was great. It had a strong anise flavor to it that I really enjoyed. However, while there were a few moist bites, the majority of the chicken was pretty dry. To make matters worse, my buddy ordered the ribeye and gave me a few slices to try and it was delicious. A perfectly cooked ribeye that was seasoned perfectly and tender to chew. Huge whiff by me.

After dinner, we headed over to Cafe Boulud for cigars and cocktails. I gotta go eat there next time I'm in WPB. The space is cool and they have a nice indoor/outdoor thing goin on there. I know the food will be good too. We enjoyed our smoke and a few bourbons and then headed to Cucina where we always end up, hammered. The night ended a few hours later after many more bourbons and the whole bar belting out "Dont Stop Belivin" by Journey. I remember leaving the bar, I remember getting in the car (not a smart play by our group...shoulda cabbed it). Apparently we went to BK because when I woke up fully clothed, face down on a pullout couch a few hours later there was a BK drink cup next to me on the coffee table. Yeah, yeah, Cucina!

Monday, August 10, 2009

7 Meals in 7 Nights: Friday - Zeke's & Casale (AGAIN!), Miami Beach

When I originally started these posts on 7 Meals in 7 Nights, I wanted to post every day for a week. Man, that was ambitious... For reasons that Ive noted before, plus some serious partying this weekend, I got a little behind. So, I'll pick up where I left off on Friday and report on my return to Casale after some Happy Happy time at Zeke's.

All day Friday I was hurtin. After consuming mass quantities of awesomeness at Naomi's, I just didnt want to eat. I woke up full again for the 2nd time this week. I could slowly feel the 11 pounds I'd lost recently coming back in one week-long eating binge. So, I skipped lunch and then decided to meet up with some friends at Zeke's to get happy after the work week ended. I effing love Zeke's. It's an oasis of $4 beer in the desert of getting raped by inflated prices that is Miami Beach. Every beer is $4. Guinness? $4. Bud Light? $4. Efes, my favorite Turkish beer? $4. They boast of having over 200 beers available by the bottle, all at $4 each. They also have some generic house wine for those that must bring their girlfriend/wife who wont drink beer. (Note: Im fully aware that my comment may come off as a tad sexist but in reality I just refuse to believe that a guy goes to a beer garden and orders wine without being severely beaten and covered in tampons.) Zeke's also serves up a few delicacies to snack on with your beer. They have bags of chips, microwave popcorn, and even one of those hot dog toaster machines for making hot dogs. They do not allow outside food to be consumed at their tables. In other words, youre here to drink beer and maybe have some popcorn with your beer.

While sippin suds with my friends, we got to talking about how I'd been eating out every night that week. I mentioned my visit to Casale for the Pizza Crawl and knew they would love the place. They got fired up to give it a shot and so we walked from Lincoln Road over to Casale for some Friday night pie and to sample the mozzarella bar. This time, we were seated in the main area by the windows, right in front of the pizza ovens. It wasnt hot but it was a tad uncomfortable. There was at least a 10 degree difference between this table and the one I'd sat at Tuesday night by the entrance. Much like my visit at Fratelli la Buffala though, it just helped the Morretti's go down easier. We started with the grand tasting from the mozzarella bar which came with 2 portions of bufala campana, burrata pugliese (the outer casing of burrata), stracciatella (the inside stuffing of burrata), treccione (a braided smoked mozzarella), and fior di latte (mozzarella made from fresh cow's milk). The dish also came with 2 sides so we chose bresaola and anchovies. The stracciatella was my favorite on its own but I kinda expected that since I love burrata so much. The best combo for me though was pairing the bufala campana and fior di latte with the anchovies. Those tiny fishies were loaded with flavor.

One of my friends is a vegetarian (or pescatarian as she does eat seafood), so I recommended that Funghetto pizza from the night before. This time they used regular white mushrooms and that robbed the dish of some flavor. The taleggio and sage didnt stand out as much as they had the first time Id had that pizza either. Not that it was a bad pizza but I doubt Id have been quick to order it again if this was the way the first one was made. The other pizza we ordered was the capriccioso which came topped with parma ham, artichokes, mushrooms, and arugula. It was a pretty good pie, no more, no less.

I left the Beach shortly after dinner and was in bed around midnight because I had planned to play golf early the next morning. It was a nice, light Friday night sippin suds, eatin pie, and catching up with good friends. I needed that because after golf I was planning to head up to West Palm Beach to visit some friends and family and things usually have a tendency to get outta control up in WPB...

Friday, August 7, 2009

7 Meals in 7 Nights: Thursday - Calafate Grill & Naomi's, Sunny Isles

Having made it thru "hump day" with a small dinner to help the hump on my belly go away, I awoke with an appetite for the 1st time all week. I had my Thursday morning bagel at the office then a light lunch. Why a light lunch? Well, I was to be heading to Naomi's at the Trump International Hotel in Sunny Isles for a tasting event, thats why.

Since I work halfway between my home and Sunny Isles, I headed up there right after work. Id be getting there about an hour or so early, so I decided to stop at Calafate Grill for a $3 beer and $3 tapas to snack on. I ordered a Pacifico and the croquetas. The beer hit the spot. The croquetas...well, I wasnt really a fan. The breading was kinda weak in the crisp department so when I cut one in half the rest would just turn to mush. Also, the 3 spinach and cheese croquetas came sitting in a generous portion of aioli that was loaded with what I deemed to be celery seed or celery salt, most likely the former. I just know that taste from my own taco meat recipe. The aioli was just overpowering and since the croquetas were swimming in it, there was no way around getting that flavor or at least having the option to minimize it. This tapa was a miss for me. The calamari I had on my previous visit, however, was a winner. Plus, tapas for $3 is tough to bitch about. I was the only person at the restaurant for quite some time so I asked the staff about the happy hour. They said not too many people take advantage of it which was surprising to hear. I asked if it got busy on the weekends and they gave a resounding "yes", noting that they bring in a flamenco act on Fridays that gets the place packed until they close. I think maybe they need better promotion because $3 tapas and beer should not be ignored. I finished another beer and headed off to Naomi's.

I arrived at Naomi's ready to see some of the recent changes that the restaurant had made. This restaurant is really a hidden gem, and "hidden" is to be taken literally as the restaurant has the misfortune of being on the 2nd floor of the hotel so you kinda have to know its there. Ive heard some signage at the bar and in the lobby is in the works and that should help. The main reason this place is a hidden gem, however, is due to the food. Chef Kurtis Jantz and Chef Chad Galiano are truly talented and arent afraid to search for new paths to make diners go "Mmmmm...". The restaurant harnesses the creativity of this kitchen team once a week in a "restaurant within their restaurant" called Paradigm: The Test Kitchen. Paradigm dinners consist of an 8-10 course chef's choice menu that is reserved for 10 diners sitting at a communal table. Oh, I almost forgot that 2 of those courses come from Chef Fabian di Paolo who handles desserts in expert fashion. I dont like dessert usually but Ive yet to pass up one of Chef Fabian's. The menu is revealed upon diners' arrival and the chefs come out to explain their inspiration behind each dish. Its an awesome experience. On one hand, you have the excitement and anxiety of putting your faith and trust into the hands of a chef without knowing what will be served but also that understanding that youre in the hands of an expert and a daily scholar of the culinary craft. A "trust me, I wouldnt serve you something that tastes bad" mentality that really makes you expand your mind and tastes. On the other hand, you have the chefs coming out and explaining their inspirations behind the dishes, talking about the different cooking techniques used, and showing that they are really happy to have diners ready and willing to eat what their creativity has drummed up. Its a killer experience for both belly and mind if youre like me and like to keep both of those things full.

Naomi's Grill itself was doing Miami Spice again this year and offered us a sneak peak at their Miami Spice offerings. We started with some of their new kennebec chips and green onion dip which they serve as a free snack when you are first seated. The chips were mega crisp and seasoned and the green onion dip was phenomenal. They blacken some green onions on the grill before pureeing them and combining them into the sauce for the dip and it gives the dip loads of onion-y goodness. The first course brought kogi tacos, made up of korean bbq’d pork, shaved cucumber, and cabbage kimchi. The marinade on the pork provided an incredible taste with multiple flavors popping out, one prominent that brought back memories of a dish my mom used to make but I couldnt quite remember or identify what that flavor was. Im still bothered by that haha. I wish my brain had its own Google search engine sometimes. After the tacos, we were served what I can honestly say is one of the best Miami Spice offerings Ive ever had - a "taste" of lobster. I think the title of the dish is a play off of their regular lobster main course on the menu which, at $85, Im told they sell quite a few of. The "taste" meant you werent getting the whole she-bang but you certainly get more than just a taste. Id estimate that they use anywhere between 1/8 and 1/4 pound of lobster meat in this dish. My guess comes from having ingested many bowls of lobster bisque at the Capital Grill where I know they use 3.5oz (1/8 lb) of lobster in every bowl. The brown butter poached lobster comes on top of a few potato skins that have been topped with Saint-Andre cheese. ***CULINARY BONER ALERT*** Saint-Andre is a 75% milkfat (triple creme), cow's milk French cheese that is like a version of brie on steroids. It was melted on top of the potato skins and topped with the lobster. The cheese gave this incredible buttery taste to the whole dish, complimenting the classic pairing of lobster and butter and also the potato skin and butter. A brilliant combination. I couldnt get enough of this dish even though the portion was large enough to have me full. We also got to taste the 'gaucho' meatball made with argentine sausage, polenta, fresh ricotta, baby arugula, and served with a tomato-fennel sauce and evoo chimichurri. I gotta say, this meatball was damn good but with the lobster on the Spice menu, Id have to be allergic to shellfish or a huge meatball lover to make this my Spice selection.

The meal ended with a trio of desserts from Chef Fabian. White chocolate molten lava cake with coffee and vanilla sauce, cacao sorbet, and a cardamom macaroon. Again, I dont really like dessert but I cleaned my plate because this dessert was that good. It was another incredible meal at Naomi's. Im encouraging anyone and everyone to check this place out, whether you go for a Paradigm dinner, dinner at Naomi's, or Miami Spice. The food is phenomenal and you will not be disappointed. To make things even better, they've recently added another killer option - Sunday brunch. For $35 you get all you can eat at the brunch AND access to the Trump's pool and beach all day! Thats a pretty kickass offering if you ask me. I simply cant say enough good things about this restaurant. The staff is incredibly accommodating from the top down, service is sharp, and the chefs really do an incredible job in the kitchen and out. You can learn more about some of the ongoings at Naomi's and Paradigm by reading Chef Chad's blog. Once you see how fired up these guys are about cooking killer dishes, you'll have to go check it out for yourself.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

7 Meals in 7 Nights: Wednesday - Jaguar, Coconut Grove

I woke up Wednesday morning still feeling full from the final round of the Pizza Crawl and wondering if Id even be able to eat anything all day. I tallied 8 slices consumed by me the night before (4 full slices at Fratelli la Buffala and 8 half slices at Casale), not to mention about 4 beers and then a few bourbons afterwards. That's a lot of 'za.

After another long day at work and only eating a cup of soup for lunch, I headed home with the intention of giving up my quest for 7 meals in 7 nights. I was just too full and it was clouding my brain and preventing me from figuring out where I would eat that night. Just as I got on 95, my friend/neighbor gave me a buzz. I hadn't seen her in awhile so when she said, "I'm running some errands then wanted to see if you wanted to meet up at Jaguar later?", I was happy to oblige. The quest was back on!

I eat at Jaguar a lot. To me, its the best spot in the Grove for good food on a consistent basis. I have a few options that I order depending on my mood. If I'm really hungry, I get the ceviche spoon sampler (2 nuevo, 2 black market, 2 oriental is the way to go) and then follow up with the Shrimp Casserole*. If I'm in a simple mood, I go with the burger which comes topped with chorizo for a nice hearty touch. The Mexican Lasagna has also been on my radar but I haven't taken the plunge yet. If I want a light meal, I go with the ceviche sampler on its own or I start with the ceviche sampler and then move on to a 1/2 Caesar salad with chicken. The Caesar at Jaguar is one of the best Ive ever had as they use just the right amount of creamy Caesar dressing and the lettuce is always crisp. The 1/2 portion option with chicken is a steal at $8 too.

Being that I was still full from the night before, I just went with the ceviche sampler and a Woodford Reserve on the rocks. They serve up some great chips and spicy salsa while you wait for your meal, so I really didn't need more than the ceviche. If you go to Jaguar, be sure to ask for the "Salsa de la Muerte" or "Death Sauce". Its very spicy but it tastes awesome with the chips or you can kick up your ceviche with a few drops. Trust me, you'll have a sweat going in no time. The Oriental ceviche pairs tuna, ginger, avocado, lime, sesame, jalapeno, and cilantro and is usually the first spoon I eat. The Nuevo comes with choice of shrimp or calamari, aji amarillo, ginger, soy, and lime. I like the texture of the calamari best with this spoon so that's how I always order it. The Black Market has white fish, shrimp, calamari, aji amarillo sauce, and corn. I think my favorite is the Nuevo overall though the Black Market is a pretty close 2nd.

I really like the dining space at Jaguar. They have a nice, long bar with plenty of stools along with about 4 leaf-shaped hightops and 2 lowtops. There is also a little seating area just past the bar where many sit for their "Thirsty Thursday" wine tastings. The wine tastings are from 7p - 830p and offer samples of 6 different wines plus steak/chicken skewers and assorted ceviche spoons for $15 plus tax/tip. Its a pretty good deal and a good way to meet people too. The only negative I noticed on the few nights Ive participated is how selfish people in Miami can be. Only a certain amount of skewers and spoons were coming out and rather than take one so everyone had a chance to eat, people were loading up like inconsiderate pigs. Last time I went was over 6 months ago so hopefully things have changed by now. The main dining area has plenty of tables and I also really like the high ceilings. Jaguar has a nice vibe, really mellow, non-intrusive music, and an effective layout for groups or dining solo.

With my 3rd meal in 3 nights under my belt, I headed home to enjoy a few more bourbons outside in my courtyard, strum the guitar, and catch up on some blog reading. Before long it was time for bed and I was already getting excited for my meal at Naomi's Grill in Sunday Isles. Stay tuned for more on that...

*The Shrimp Casserole offers 4 shrimp with aji amarillo and 4 with salsa negra along with white rice. This replaced my favorite dish on the menu and also what I considered the best offering on the menu: the Shrimp Trio. Shrimp Trio had 3 grilled blackened shrimp with salsa negra, 3 fried shrimp with a sweet mango(not sure if Im remembering this sauce correctly) sauce, and 3 sauteed shrimp with an aji amarillo sauce plus the rice in the middle. Id eat all 3 groups and then mix up all the sauce with the rice. It was awesome and it hurt me to see it go. I havent tried the Shrimp Casserole yet mostly because nothing will ever replace my Shrimp Trio... :(

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

7 Meals in 7 Nights: Tuesday - Pizza Crawl Final Round @ Fratelli la Buffala & Casale

After a nice night of sleep thanks to the burger from the Taurus, I was well rested and feeling good about tackling my day. Work was crazy busy all day and I made sure to limit myself to a tiny bowl of frozen yogurt, blueberries, raspberries, and strawberries for lunch. The light lunch was pure strategy because I was planning to attend the 4th and final round of the Miami Pizza Crawl. That strategy definitely paid off...big time.

After downing a few Kronenburgs at Cafe Maurice (soon to be name changed AGAIN to Louis XIII I was told), I met up with the other crawlers at Fratelli la Buffala on the corner of Washington and 5th. The restaurant was cozy with scattered tables here and there and the pizza hearth in the back corner of the room. Our table was right next to the pizza cooking action so it was a tad warm (at least in my seat) but that just helped make the cold Moretti beer that much more enjoyable. Our pizza lineup was decided as:

La Reale - tomato sauce, bufala mozzarella, bufala smoked mozzarella, bufala ricotta & prosciutto crudo
Diavola - tomato sauce, spicy salame, mozzarella, basil & crushed red pepper
Vesuviana - fresh cherry tomatoes, smoked bufala mozzarella, bufala mozzarella, green olives & anchovies
The Special - sausage & broccoli rabe

Our server said the chef had a special pie ("The Special") for our group that stretched the pizza criteria for ordering. It was our first major dilemma. First, we had a special pizza made for the group which meant its a must order, right? On the other hand, said pizza was more of a pizza sandwich or double-decker pizza. You had a regular pizza crust, topped with fresh mozzarella, broccoli rabe, and sausage, then they took another pizza and slam dunked it on top of the 1st pizza. In the spirit of fun and to avoid insulting the chef who had made a nice gesture by offering something special, we went with it. It was pretty good. I liked the tartness of the broccoli rabe and the saltiness of the sausage together. I dont think I'd order it again though as it was really filling. Which brings up another Pizza Crawl 1st...full slices! We all were able to get a full slice of each pie at FLB because they cut the pies in 12 and we only had 11 for this stop on the Crawl. All aboard the carb caravan!

After "The Special", we moved on to the other pies. I liked the crust at FLB. It was thin with enough yet had nice stability in the middle to keep it from being too floppy when you picked it up. The sauce ratio was a good one too and I liked the thickness of the outer crust. Unfortunately, like another crawler has stated, none of these pies really blew me away. Ive had the diavola at Spris many times and didnt think this one was anything special. Not that it was bad, just not memorable. The La Reale was a nice pie but, then again, when isnt prosciutto on a pizza nice? I think my favorite here was the Vesuviana. Im a fan of more salty toppings on pizza to pair with the cheese and the combo of the olives and anchovies provided that for me. I did notice that some slices were devoid of one or the other though, so I guess I was lucky.

The next and final stop on the Pizza Crawl was Casale, a brand spankin new pizza joint conceived by Pietro Vardeu, owner of Sardinia right next door. This place had been hyped up rather epically on the Florida board of Chowhound, so it had a lot to live up to.

The restaurant itself is gorgeous. A lot of wood, brick, and stone features along with leather chairs lining both a crudo bar and an illuminated liquor bar that really stood out. Its a rather large space and Im only talking about the downstairs pizzeria right now. Upstairs, they have a lounge area with nice leather couches and chairs, a wine storage room, and another nice illuminated bar. A sweet outdoor patio also awaits diners and drinkers alike with more lounge chairs and couches and a giant umbrella "tree" that branches off into 4 large umbrellas and covers just about the whole patio. I could definitely see this place being a hangout for me if I lived in the neighborhood, thats for sure. Its casual without being too casual and has a nice vibe for chilaxin'.

We added about 7 new Crawlers to this stop on the Pizza Crawl for a total of 18. The menu had a lot of options and I like the creative combos of ingredients. Lots of pizzas you dont really see elsewhere. The pies we ordered were:

Smeraldina - braised fennel & bottarga
Atomica - spinach, artichokes, guanciale & quail eggs
Sag Harbor - mussels, clams, baby octopus & shrimp
Sagaponack - potatoes, anchovies & ricotta

Casale's pies have a nice thin crust, much like many of the pizzas in Miami, and the crust has a nice balance between crispy and chewy. They also use a nice san marzano tomato base for the sauce on most of the pizzas that provides a light flavor without stealing from the rest of the pizza. I'll also point out that the cheese is made in-house which is pretty frickin cool.

The Smeraldina had been hyped up from what I'd read but it really didnt do anything for me. I thought the flavors were sort of bland and nothing really stood out to me. We were splitting slices again, so maybe I didnt get all the ingredients on my 1/2 slice. I was really looking forward to the Sagaponack and found that to be a little disappointing as well. The potatoes either needed to be sliced thinner or possibly cooked a little longer because they were a little soggy and I didnt get any bite of anchovy on my 1/2 slice so I missed out on that flavor (I was crying on the inside). The Sag Harbor was a total trainwreck for me. Calamari on a pizza just doesnt work. It gets way too chewy. I also thought the sauce was off on this one. Sorry Frod, youre 0 for 2 on these types of pizzas. The Atomica was my favorite of this pizza lineup. I cut my own slice purposely so I could get all the ingredients and it totally paid off. The creaminess of the egg mixing with the saltiness of the guanciale was awesome and the texture and flavor of the spinach and artichokes worked well too. Id definitely order the Atomica again. Id probably try the Sagaponack again too.

But wait! We weren't done yet!

With a much larger group now, about 1/3 of which had not already housed 4 pizzas at Fratelli la Buffala, there were groans for more pie. So, we ordered 5 more! This time we went with:

Pugliese - rapini & wild boar sausage
Funghetto - wild mushrooms, taleggio & sage
Catalana - chorizo, manchego, tomato & olives
Buongustaio - baby zucchini, parma prosciutto & burrata
Super Margherita - prosciutto, bufala mozzarella & arugula

I didnt get to try the Super Margherita so I cant comment on that one but this round of pizzas really kicked the 1st rounds ass. The Pugliese was similar to "The Special" pizza we had at FLB yet much less hearty thanks to only 1 crust. I liked the wild boar sausage too. The Catalana was a real winner with the group and provided a nice taste of Spain. The chorizo bits were plentiful and who doesnt like that? The pizza of the night for me, however, was the Funghetto. This was the only pizza where the cheese really stood on center stage and was complimented by the other ingredients. The oyster mushrooms provided an awesome earthy flavor and really meshed well with the sage while accenting the saltiness of the cheese. It was just a great pizza.

I think the pizza crawl was an awesome experience. We had a great turnout during each and every round and the group was a pleasure to hang with. Even paying the bill was a simple process! Everyone had a great time and the costs were minimal considering the amount of pizzas we tried and the beers we sucked down while consuming said pies. I think the Casale visit was our most expensive at $18 apiece but we also covered Mr. 2top's portion since he had these awesome shirts made for the group. What a nice guy, huh?!?

This crawl proved that Miami really does house some great pizza joints that pump out great pizzas, regardless of what the naysayers from New York might say. Honestly, I'll take Miami pizzas over New York pizza any day but thats just me. Miami pizza is more my style - thin dough with a little bit of crust so you arent just eating all bread and getting full, minimal sauce, and fresh quality toppings.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

7 Meals in 7 Nights: Monday - The Taurus, Coconut Grove

"Mon-day, back from the dead. Im letting it go, back for another one.", starts the song "Days of the Week" by Stone Temple Pilots and also pretty much sums up how I was feeling on Monday. After 7 days in Vegas, 18 hours in Miami, and 4 days in Boston/Rockport, I was looking forward to a night in my own bed. Unfortunately, my flight that was supposed to depart at 7pm didnt depart until a little after 10pm which had me arriving at my condo at around 2am. Since Id slept a bit on the plane, I ended up being semi-wired and couldnt fall asleep until about 4am. Three hours later and it was time for work...yay! It was during those 2 hours of tossing and turning that I reviewed my upcoming week and decided I was going to dine out every night - 7 meals in 7 nights.

After a long day of playing catch up at work, dealing with fires while putting out new ones that were popping up everywhere, I was beat. There was only one thing I was thinking about that would put me in a nice, sleepy mood: a good burger. I had heard thru the Grapevine that the Taurus had reopened and supposedly used to be known for having a killer burger. Being that the new owners were completely different from the old, I was a bit skeptic but I decided to stroll on over to give this meat patty a shot. A nearby lady friend of mine was feelin my burger buzz and met up with me at the Taurus.

The Taurus is a tiny little hole-in-the-wall on Main Highway in Coconut Grove. They have outdoor patio seating and an indoor bar with bar seating, a few hightops, and then an area with couches and chairs. Some of the chairs are made from horse saddles which was pretty cool but I cant imagine it being comfy. I ordered a Guinness to start and asked if they had a menu. The bartender pointed to a blackboard on the wall at the end of the bar and said, "Here's what I've got today." There were 3 choices: a burger, 6 wings, or 12 wings. That makes things easy I guess. The bartender confirmed my assumption that the reason for the limited menu was so people could smoke in the bar. I guess this is great if youre a smoker. I personally dont like inhaling secondhand smoke while I eat and a suit-clad press type of guy was sucking em down like his life depended on it. Luckily he left right as our food arrived.

We both opted for the burger. I went with medium-rare with swiss cheese, she went well done with american. The burgers come piled with lettuce, tomatoes, onions, and a pickle. There was also some sort of mayo-based sauce smeared on the bottom bun. I added a little ketchup and mustard and decided Id do a few bites without Tabasco to get the regular burger flavor before getting the awesome burger flavor (Tabasco + burger = awesome) and went to town. The burger was juicy, seasoned, and cooked a perfect medium rare. It was also a rather large burger. I muscled my way thru it but my friend raised the white flag halfway thru and took the other half home. Burger aside, the huge surprise for me was how kickass the fries were. Crispy fries are my favorite and these ones were mega-crispy. They also had some sort of paprika seasoning on them that really enhanced the flavor and complimented the awesomeness of the burger.

After mowing down my plate of fries, I noticed my friend had a few on her plate that looked poisonous so I made sure to eat those just in case. Nice guy I am, right? Now me belly was full. I enjoyed a few Makers Mark on the rocks while she sipped a couple of the bartender's lemon drop martinis. When we got the bill, it came to about $80 with tax and tip included. I thought this was kinda high but most alcohol in the Grove is kinda high in price anyways. The burger was about $11 or $12 which seemed fair for its size and the amount of toppings and fries. The owner stopped by (he owns Calamari Restaurant next door) and asked if we had made it for happy hour. I said we just missed it and he suggested that maybe they would increase it to 8pm from 7pm. Nice guy. The bartenders were also really cool and attentive and seemed to match the casual vibe of the place. All in all, I can definitely see myself having a few more burgers at the Taurus, most likely at an outdoor table if its not too hot so I can avoid the chain smokers. Hell, forget the burger, Im going back for the fries. :)

Taurus (Another Round!)
3540 Main Highway
Coconut Grove, FL 33133

Monday, August 3, 2009

Out and About for 7 Meals in 7 Nights

Last week, I noticed early on that my motivation for cooking anything was way low. Epically low, as in no-way-do-I-feel-like-cooking-eating-cleaning-even-once-this-week-finances-be-damned low. I had just gotten off of back to back trips out of town, the first being a week in Vegas for work and the second being a long weekend up in Rockport, MA sitting on the beach. Both trips came with an 18 hour stint in Miami between them. Gotta love workin those airline miles... I also had already had such a great time on both trips that I wanted to keep the good times rollin and that meant no toiling away at home. With a few planned events for that week on the horizon, I decided that I was going to eat out every night, Monday thru Sunday, and thats exactly what I did.

Im going to do posts on each experience on their own but here is a rundown of my week:

Monday - The Taurus, Coconut Grove
Tuesday - Pizza Crawl - Round 4, Fratelli la Buffala & Casale, Miami Beach
Wednesday - Jaguar, Coconut Grove
Thursday - Calafate Grill & Naomi's Grill, Sunny Isles
Friday - Casale (AGAIN!), Miami Beach
Saturday - Palm Beach Grill, West Palm Beach
Sunday - The Breakers (lunch), West Palm Beach; Hakkasan (dinner), Miami Beach

Up next: The Taurus, Coconut Grove