Monday, November 15, 2010

Sol Kitchen - Sol Sundays Menu - NFL Week 11 forty-two...hut-HIKE!!!

Sol Kitchen 'back to pass' on some Sol for your NFL Sundays!  Now get all 3 Designed Plays for one great price!  Each game day package includes utensils and paperware and is designed to feed 6 hungry fans for $150.  Check out this week's menu and send your order inquiries to

Mulled Sangria Blanco ‘Gell-O’ Shot – grapes, pear, shaved smoked pecans
Cane Sugar Kettle Korn – corn nuts, toasted cocoa
‘1st & 10’ Charred Scallion Dip (aka crack dip), kettle chips

Designed Plays
‘Tom Turkey‘ Quesadillas – grilled corn~poblano salsa, queso Oxacan
Sol Biscuits & Gravy – cherry~bock braised shortrib, buttermilk biscuits
‘Grid-Iron Wings’ – pastrami  brined, kraut dip

smothered green beans, smoked bacon, caramelized onions
stuffin’ bell peppers, sage~chorizo, cornbread

2-minute warning
Wild Turkey  Pumpkin Newtons – ‘drunken’ bourbon raisins

Monday, November 8, 2010

Sol Kitchen - Sol Sundays Menu - NFL Week 10

The kick is up...AND IT'S GOOD!  Week 1 of Sol Sundays kicked off this past weekend and boy was it exciting.  Feedback was extremely positive and food comas were reported in the greater Miami area.  We are working on an official Sol Kitchen website but until then, stay tuned here and on Chadzilla's site for weekly menu postings and updates.  We also encourage you to follow us on Twitter (@SolKitchen) to keep up with the latest news.

Check out the menu Chef K & Chadzilla put together for NFL Week 10 and write us at to get in the game!  Each 'gameplan' is designed to feed 6 players.

Dark n’ Stormy Gel-O Shot
“Charred Scallion Dip” with Kettle Chips
Homefield “Cracka’jax” – kettle korn, wasabi peas, ginger, soy caramel

1st & 10
Deep South Brisket ‘Po-Boys’
Peruvian Wings – inca cola-miso brine, tossed in aji panca bbq sauce
Crawfish ‘Griddled’ Cheese Sandwich – sourdough, fontina, Louisiana crawfish

Huancaina Country Potato Salad
Brussel Sprouts with Grilled Chorizo

2-Minute Warning!
Smoked Cranberry White Chocolate Oatmeal Cookies

$150 includes all Kickoff, Sidelines, and 2-Minute Warning items plus choice of 2 '1st & 10' items or MAN UP! for $180 and get all 3 '1st & 10' items!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Put some Sol into your NFL Sundays!

Let's face it, there are some things that just pair well together - peanut butter and jelly, wine and cheese, lobstah and buttah.  On my weekends it's football, beer, and good food.  Unfortunately, meeting up with buddies at the local watering hole to catch a day of NFL action can be quite costly at times.  I mean, most of the time I can head to the liquor store and buy a 12-pack for what will get me 2 beers at a bar.  That and bar food never really provides much flavor and is more relied on for sustenance and it's sopping-up-the-beer qualities.

Enter Sol Kitchen, a new way to enjoy great food in the friendly confines of your own home field without having to do much more than turn on your oven.  Chefs Chad Galiano & Kurtis Jantz (of Paradigm & Cobaya fame) have crafted a gameday packages with food that focuses on flavor while allowing you to focus on the game.  This isn't tail-gating the way you did back in the day... this is Sol food delivered to your door before the first kick on Game Day.  Supplies will be limited the first week, so jump in early.

This is how it will work... email to place an order.  Be sure to include your address with your order.  All orders must be in by Thursday at 5pm.  Payment will be through PayPal (details will be given via email).  Sol Kitchen is currently only offering a 6-man package but more choices may be possible in the upcoming weeks.  You will receive the food packed up on Sunday late morning (Miami and surrounding area only at Sol Kitchen's discretion) along with a Play Book (just a set of instructions on how to set your oven and hold the grub throughout the game).

The 1st menu (NFL Week 9)
'Jock'tail- Bloody "Hail Mary" gello shots

Cracka-Jax- our home-made version with brown sugar kettle corn, Mexican japones, and pumpkin spice
Chips & Dip- charred scallion & kettle chips

Touchdown!!! (or some more substantial grub)
Grid-Iron Wings- root beer marinated, grilled with onions and poblanos
Sol Roll- chilled shrimp salad, buttered potato roll, Maine-influence (that means lobstah roll-style)
Korean BBQ Pork- on a bun, kimchee slaw

2 Minute Warning ~ 1 Timeout Remaining...
Bourbon Brownies- smoked pecans, dulce de leche 

Sign the 1 Day contract today!   $150 feeds 6 with a choice of 2 touchdowns (wings, sol roll, or pork)... or Man Up! and get all 3 touchdowns for $180 (again for 6, but more chance of having left-overs for the Monday night game at home after work).

Follow Sol Kitchen on Twitter (@solkitchen).

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Better Late Than Never: My Thoughts on This Year's Iron Fork Event

Ok, so Iron Fork took place a little less than a week ago and I attended with good friends Paula, David, and their buddy Mike.  As Paula would say, the event is our "Fork-iversary".  I met Paula and David at the inaugural Iron Fork event in 2008 and we have been good friends ever since.  Awww...

I thought the Iron Fork event last year was fantastic and a HUGE improvement on the failure that was the 2008 event.  Unfortunately, the 2010 Iron Fork did not measure up to its predecessor.  In my opinion, it sucked.

The event this year was held at a different site which had me skeptical already.  I thought a huge reason for the success of the 2009 event was the location at the Bank of America building downtown.  It allowed plenty of room, easy access to tables, and even an outdoor area with great views of the city.  For 2010, the event was held at Grand Central, a club space that occupies an old rail terminal (or so the story goes) in a gritty section of downtown.  The venue was much smaller than the BoA building and everything felt crammed.  They did have a tented area outdoors with booths and music but the music was way too loud and you had to yell to have a conversation. 

We got there early with passes that let us in at 6pm, an hour before the main crowd was let in.  We met up with our good friend Chef John Critchley, Executive Chef at Area 31 who was defending his title as Iron Fork Champion against Jose Luis Flores, Sous Chef for De Rodriguez Cuba.  Chef Critchley joined us as we picked up a few beers and inspected the tables for some good eats.  Unfortunately, there weren't many to be found.  The only standouts for me were a mango barbecued pork offered by Chef Allen's, a tuna tartar by Gibraltar, and a short rib offered by The Grill on the AlleyWhisk Gourmet also did a great pulled pork w/ southern slaw and cornbread and laughed when I called them out for repeating last year's dish.  Hey, if it works, it works.  Most other offerings were pretty weak.  If you wanted sushi you had about 8 freakin options.  Cupcakes?  About 5 or 6 options (at least it seemed like that many).  Indoors got crazy crowded once the majority of the rumored 1200 attendees arrived.  It was impossible to get to certain areas at that point.  The outdoor tent was basically all bar food - wings, sandwiches, and an inferior frita from El Rey de las Fritas.  Let me repeat, when it comes to fritas - El Mago es El Rey!!

It was hot as hell inside the venue too.  Some sushi restaurant passed out little fans that some appreciated.  I stayed cool with Famosa beer until they ran out at about 8:30pm, a mere 1.5 hours after the main crowd arrived.  I guess bribing the beer girl for whole bottles rather than little cups paid off in the short term but cut the supply short in the long run.  Oh well, just an excuse to have the smokin' hot chicks from Bombay Sapphire saunter over with some refreshments, one of the few highlights of the night.

The battle for the title of Iron Fork Champ finally got underway and was interesting.  Chef Allen was a pretty good MC and Chef Critchley even busted out some liquid nitrogen for a dish but the panel unfortunately chose Chef Flores as champ.  Kudos to Chef Flores.  Both chefs produced dishes that sounded very tasty.  Honestly, I would've been surprised if they picked Chef Critchley as champ two years in a row.  Just doesn't seem like they would want the same dude winning year after year.  Either way, it looked like the chefs had fun competing and both put on a good show for the crowd.

We bailed on the event after the competition.  Honestly, had it not been that my friend was competing on stage I'd have exited at 7pm, a mere hour after arriving.  There just wasn't much to see, taste, or learn about and the offerings were very weak.  Hopefully the 2011 Iron Fork is a much better event. 

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Local Love: Coral Bagels - A Rare Find in Miami - Coconut Grove, FL

Growing up in MA I always liked the feel of a good diner, a place where you could have a simple breakfast or lunch for a couple-a-bucks.  Something about those places always had a good vibe.  Down in Miami there really aren't many diners that capture that feel.  One that does, however, is Coral Bagels in Coconut Grove.

I've been going to Coral Bagels for years now.  I love that I can walk in at any time of day and get a quick, hearty breakfast and be on my way.  The staff there is really friendly, even when the place is mobbed and there are a line of diners waiting to scoop up the next available clean table.  People of all different ages, shapes, and sizes come in and out and actually show courtesy to one another, holding the door, helping to move a table.  I've even offered a lone stranger a seat across from me at the table when the diner was crowded and they looked like they wanted a quick meal.  Something about the place just makes people feel good. 

I get the same thing every time I go to Coral Bagels - two eggs scrambled w/ cheese, bacon, homefries, wheat toast, and an iced tea.  Service is fast and the food is good.  I especially enjoy getting some slightly charred homefries from time to time.  I'll sit and read the paper or some blogs and websites on my phone and work away at my plate.  I always save a slice of bacon for last before slapping some grape jelly on my toast for "dessert".  It's the same meal, every time.  Today I went crazy and used orange marmalade on half of my toast.  That's right, I'm a rebel.  But sorry orange marmalade, grape jelly is the one for me.  This meal sets me back $8 and that includes tax and a $2.10 tip.  Awesome.

Being inside Coral Bagels is a nice break from the hustle-bustle of Miami.  I once talked to the owners of the place and told them it was a great spot and that I'd been coming for years and years.  They were appreciative and said they love having all of their customers in to get a simple meal.  I told them I hope they never change the place and I'm quite certain they never will. 

Coral Bagels
2750 SW 26 Avenue
Coral Gables, Fl. 33133
Phone: (305) 854-0336
Fax: (305) 858-5759

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Local Love - El Mago de la Frita, Miami, FL

 There's magic inside...

I think it was about a year ago that I received an email from the Burger Beast inviting me to join up with him and a few other people for lunch at El Mago de la Frita.  I work further North and don't really have much of a lunch break, so I had to decline.  Well, it just so happened that the night before that day, I came down with a 24-hour cold that was bad enough to keep me home from work feeling like crap the following morning.  As a kid, sometimes when I stayed home sick from school my Dad would come home on his lunch break with a burger and fries from McDonald's.  I'm not sure if it was the grease from the food or just the spiritual boost a kid gets from Dad bringing home some McD's but it always made me feel better.  So, I decided that a burger would get me back on track and went out to meet the Burger Beast and his band of merry men and women at El Mago.

I'd never been to El Mago before.  Actually, I'd never even heard of it.  I certainly didn't know what the hell a "frita" was either but I remembered "Best Frita" being a category at last year's "Burgie Awards" so I figured it was something I'd have to try.  El Mago de la Frita is located just West of Red Road on Calle Ocho.  I arrived on that first visit to find a counter lined with friends: Paula, Jackie, Gagit, and The Beast himself were ready to scarf down some fritas.  An older Cuban gentleman dressed in a white shirt and apron paced behind the counter cooking fritas to order.  This was El Mago "the magician" himself and he was in the zone, flipping patties with his magical spatula.  A frita, I learned, is a Cuban burger where the patty contains some ground beef, a little onion, and a bit of ground chorizo.  Sounds kinda awesome, right?  It is topped with crispy shoestring potatoes, some magical sauce which I believe is ketchup, and you can add can add a slice of cheese too which I'm told is "for the gringos".  Using Paula as my translator, I placed my order gringo style and added a fried egg for good measure.  Yeah, this gringo came to party.  Once the patty has been grilled on the flat top, it is placed on top of a bun made from Cuban bread and then the toppings are added.  The frita then heads to the panini press for a few minutes to toast the bun and warm the awesomeness inside it. 

My frita arrived and I quickly dug in.  To my surprise, I really liked the Cuban bread bun.  Normally I am not a fan of Cuban bread but this worked and held the frita together without getting soggy.  The flavor of the patty was awesome.  The chorizo adds a nice savory flavor with a little spice.  The fried egg was also a winner of a decision, it's yolk adding a creamy texture to each bite.  I think my favorite part was the shoestring potatoes though.  They were so tiny and crispy and added nice crunch to each bite.  I think my frita lasted about four minutes on my plate.  It was so good that I immediately forgot about my cold and started feeling better.

There was a frita from El Mago here but it magically disappeared
into my belly faster than my iPhone's shutter speed could capture it

I sat at the counter and chatted for a bit before saying "adios" and heading back to my place to veg out on the couch and get some rest.  Since then, I've been back to El Mago a few times and even visited El Rey de la Frita for a comparison.  What I learned is that El Mago es El Rey!! 

See footage of the Burger Beast annihilating some fritas at multiple locations but declaring El Mago the best here.

Check it out:

El Mago de la Frita
5828 Southwest 8th Street
West Miami, FL 33144
 (305) 266-8486 ()

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

On the Road: Lobsters, Steamers & Bourbon, Oh My! - Beach Blast 2010 - Long Beach, Rockport, MA

Wow, you know you've lost some focus when you get called out for not updating your blog.  That's exactly what my Dad did a few days ago.  "What's up with Blind Tastes?  I can tell you must be focused on something if you haven't posted about the lobsters yet!", he said.  He was right.  Time to refocus!

 View as the tide heads out on Long Beach, Rockport, MA

Every summer for the past I-don't-know-how-many years my folks have rented a beach house in Rockport, MA on Long Beach.  Well, they actually started on Pebble Beach and eventually scored a spot next to our best family friends, the Flynn's.  Heck, I consider the Flynn's part of our family.  That's how many great times we've had together over the years.  I've been going to Long Beach since I was a wee lad and, for me, it's the best beach in the world.  Sure, there are no palm trees, no exotic drinks, no scantily clad women (besides the one we saw walking the beach whom Dad and I agreed should never wear a two-piece again), and no blue-green warm water seething with sea life.  Nope, just a long arching beach with soft sand and chilled waters backed by an elevated boardwalk overlooking it all.  I'm not sure whether it's the sand, decent surf, or all of the great family memories that make this beach my favorite of all.  It certainly isn't the cold water, that's for damn sure!  Talk about shrinkage!  Maybe it's the good beach folk, falling asleep in the bed on the front porch, or the fact that the beach quadruples in size at low tide, providing ample room for whiffle ball, bocce, and all sorts of fun.  Wait a minute, who am I kidding?  It's the beers, bourbon, lobsters and steamers!

Can't beat sleeping on the porch bed listening to the waves come crashing in

This year the annual lobster beach blast was extra special.  It was Dad's 60th and Mum had conspired for a surprise party and invited friends to "roast" Dad.  This was great for two reasons.  The first was because it guaranteed we would have a great turnout and an even better time.  The second was pure selfishness for me.  You see, I've been grooming Dad into a bourbon connoisseur for a few years now - a trip to Kentucky for distillery tours, a subscription to The Bourbon Review, alerting him when I find a new bourbon, etc - and I knew that he had passed on enough education to his buddies for there to be some nice bourbon gifts as a result.  These gifts would have to be shared, of course.  Poor me!  Wow, some of my favorites just happened to pop up - Eagle Rare, Wathen's, Pappy Van Winkle 23yr(!!), and the new Makers 46.  Dad's only mistake was leaving the Makers 46 out on the table and not tucked away inside.  It was gonzo within a few hours!

Big Ol' Bucket O' Bugs!

Dad's been sourcing our lobsters from Ken Porter at Roy Moore Lobster Co. in Rockport for years.  This year we ended up with over 50 two pounders and about 18 pounds of steamers which were both a few more than we ordered without the charge for the overage.  Great customer service, pricing, and flavor of the lobsters from Roy Moore's ensure repeat business each and every year.  It also explains why they move over 100,000 pounds of ocean-fresh lobster each year (probably more since this was written in 2004 - a good read for more info on Roy Moore Lobster Co.).  I must admit that this year's lobsters were the best I can ever remember them being.  I started my methodical destruction of lobster with my favorite part, the claws, before working my way to the tail, a few legs, a few fins, and even a little lobster roe.  The sweet meat dipped in butter tasted better and better with each bite.  I was more than willing to polish off my cousin Sarah's claws too when she couldn't handle more than the tail.  I still think it's funny when people in Miami try to tell me that spiny lobster found in Florida waters with no claws is better than New England lobster.  That's just plain crazy talk.

Lobstah, lobstah bib, lobstah shirt! ~ Photo by cousin Ben Hodson

The steamers this year weren't up to par with years past.  Their bellies were sandy and smaller than usual and kept coming separated from the rest of the clam, making a mess.  No matter, lobsters and steamers are a dirty sport best enjoyed on a picnic bench with good friends and family.  As usual, we had a few leftover lobsters that were chilled and then shelled the following morning by Dad who didn't leave much left in the shell.  That promptly turned into a nice batch of lobster rolls that my Mum put together with butter-toasted flat-bottom buns, a minimal amount of mayo, and a touch of lemon juice to perk up the flavors.  I like to add some dill flake onto mine too and managed to take down two of these bad boys shown below before leaving for the airport.  Dad's suggestion to take one on the plane was considered but ultimately rejected because I knew I'd have inhaled that roll in the car.

Lobster leftovers = lobster rolls for lunch!

It was another awesome year at our annual Beach Blast, packed with a lot of flavor.  This truly is my favorite vacation every year because I get to fully relax and just spend time with family and friends without a care in the world.  I'm already looking forward to next year!

Navigating the Atlantic on my friend Ryan's SUP ~ photo by cousin Ben Hodson

 Sunrise on Long Beach, Rockport, MA - July 2007

Friday, July 9, 2010

Dinner with a Top Chef While Watching Top Chef

I don't watch much reality TV but there are two shows that I enjoy* and watch regularly when they are on.  One is Survivor, a challenge of mind and body for a million dollars that seems to get better every year.  The other is Top Chef, where chefs compete in various cooking competitions to determine who is the best.  This year Top Chef got a little more interesting for us South Florida folks as we learned that Andrea Curto-Randazzo of Miami Beach's Talula would be a contestant (or "cheftestant" as they would say) that would be competing for the title of Top Chef.  I'd dined at Talula many times and had some fantastic meals there so I was looking forward to seeing how well Andrea would fare.

After watching the first two episodes of the show while on business trips, I was able to finally make it into Talula on a the night the show airs (Wednesday, 9pm, Bravo) where I understood that they would be showing the episode at the bar.  It was fun to watch Andrea compete on the show while eating at the bar and then see Andrea watching along too.  I can't imagine how weird it feels to see yourself on TV, especially when it's reality TV where only bits and pieces of clips are tied together to make a show.  I'm sure wine helps.

Admittedly, it had been awhile since my last meal at Talula and I had forgotten how much I love the food.  Braised tripe on two out of three Top Chef visits was phenomenal.  Then there's the shortrib that I have ordered almost every time I've dined there because it's that damn good.  A smoked trout with potato, malt, and creme fraiche was also extremely good pn my last visit.  With each meal, I thought about why I hadn't came in more often and decided that it was the South Beach location that I usually dismiss as "out of the way" when in reality it's really not.  Parking at the meters on the streets nearby is also easy to come by which is nice.

With all that said, as I have sat at the bar for the past three weeks I've been surprised at the lack of support from the locals here.  You would think that a local chef on a show as popular as Top Chef would bring in some diners to watch the show and have some dinner but the bar has never been full for the show.  With the amount of people in South Florida that love to call themselves "foodies" and dine out a lot, why doesn't anyone come down to show some support and love for a local chef that's been cooking great food on Miami Beach for years?  I talked to a guy this past week who was on vacation from New York and had never been to Miami.  He was here 10 days and ended up eating at Talula three times because he liked the food so much.  He's right too.  The food is superb and the chef couldn't be a nicer gal even when she talks smack about me being a Red Sox fan and her a Yankee fan.  She's just lucky I love her cooking...  Actually, now that I think about it, I am glad no one comes down to show support on Wednesday nights.  The bar is small and I don't want competition for a seat. 

*This season of Top Chef, outside of seeing a local contestant on it, has been less than stellar and less enjoyable than usual. 

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fried From Being Un-Fried

For the month of June, I set out on a quest to remove fried food from my diet.  Why?  Well, I don't really have any health related issues as a result of my diet.  Last checkup said my cholesterol levels were normal, as was blood pressure and virtually everything else.  Part of it was to see what kind of effect it would have on me.  Would I lose weight?  Would I not get heartburn as frequently as I do?  The main reason, however, was due to the fact that I have what one might call, "a french fry problem". 

Simply put, I love french fries.  Steak fries, skinny fries, crinkle cut, truffled fries, duck fat fries, pommes frites, Belgian fries, "chips", curly fries, frrrrrrriiiiasdklfj;alsdjf...  Excuse me, I just had to wipe drool off of my keyboard.  According to Wikipedia, Belgium, France, and Spain are possible origins of the french fry, with history stating that fries were made as early as 1680 in a region known as the "Spanish Netherlands" which was controlled by Spain, Austria, and annexed by France before eventually becoming modern day Belgium.  I'll just thank all 3 regions for inventing this glorious item for consumption, you know, to prevent war and stuff. 

I like my fries extra crispy, even well done.  You know those fries that become somewhat translucent because they've been chillin' out in hot oil for awhile?  Then they crunch when you bite into them?  Yeah, those are awesome fries.  Those are the treasures of a fry batch though.  To eat a whole batch like that would be a little much.  Add some salt too.  You gotta have salt.  Condiments for dipping aren't 100% necessary as sometimes they just get in the way, kinda like clothing during sex.  Occasionally I will dip in some ketchup and/or mayo, or add a little malt if I'm doing the fish n' chips thing.  Just don't give me soggy fries.  It seriously ruins my day.  I get really depressed about soggy fries because I often won't eat them and then have to stare at the little buggers on a plate, watching them cry little oily tears because they realized they weren't good enough for me.  That's a main reason why I don't do cheese fries or "loaded" fries or any of those other silly concoctions.  All that crap makes the fries soggy and ruins the whole experience.

Wow, I've managed to ramble on about french fries for 3 paragraphs now and this was supposed to be about fried food in general.  Can you see what I mean by "french fry problem"?  It's not that loving fries is a problem.  This is America after all.  The problem is that I find myself ordering food just because it comes with fries.  On business trips, I'll pass up a sub for lunch and head to a TGIFriday's or something like that just to get something that comes with fries.  It also causes McDonald's runs, strictly because they have awesome fries.  McDonald's is not what I associate with healthy.

Knowing I didn't have any health problems from eating fries or other fried food was good news but I think I started to take it for granted and decided to curb my fried intake for a month.  No fried oysters, no fried clams, no crispy chicken sandwiches, no fried calamari, no french fries.  That was the plan.  Was it successful for the full 30 days?  Sadly, no. 

I gave into temptation four times, two of those being unavoidable and one that was influenced by alcohol.  The first was at Podzilla, where Chef Mike was rockin' his fried chicken again.  Chef Mike has, pound for pound, the best fried chicken in the country.  I can say that because I've been to a lot of the "best" spots around the country in my travels.  Some come close but none can match the flavor, crisp outer texture, and moist flesh of Chef Mike's chickenlaksjdfl;kajs;d.  Sorry, there's that drool again.  The second was on the road in Buffalo, NY where I ordered a burger WITHOUT fries and got them anyways.  They sat there looking so good that I had to eat them.  My third breakdown came in Chicago where I sat with friends at Castaways on the North Beach of Lake Michigan drinking beers all day and just had to indulge in a shrimp po' boy (fried shrimp) with fries.  I didn't break down because I was drunk, I broke down to avoid becoming drunk.  I needed the base and it worked.  The final breakdown was at Shake Shack, the new burger joint on Lincoln Road that everyone and their grandmother hyped like crazy the day it arrived.  I'd had their burger before but never tried the fries.  The fries were incredibly awesome, quite possibly the best in Miami. 

All that said, 26-4 is a pretty good record in any sport.  I was surprised that I was able to make it through June with that high of a record, actually.  There were lots of temptations, most notably a happy hour at Area 31 where I had to resist croquetas AND a killer fritto misto.  It was a hard challenge and I missed eating fries a lot.  But, I made it without giving in too much.  I noticed that my heartburn was decreased, especially when sleeping on my right side which I normally can't do without getting heartburn.  That was pretty cool.  I also lost a few pounds, three to be exact.  Not exactly stellar for a month but, then again, I was still eating everything but fried food and didn't change any exercise habits.  Hey, with beach trips increasing now that we're in the midst of a hot summer, I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

On the Road: Vessel, Seattle, WA

On my first business trip to Seattle, I wasn't able to stay in the city because I had an early business meeting just outside the city in Renton the following morning.  I did, however, make it in for dinner with my sales rep and we enjoyed some sushi at a restaurant that I've forgotten.  It was pretty good "American" sushi, with flavorful rolls and such.  Since then, I've been back to Seattle a few times and on the last two trips I've stayed right in the city so that I could be in close proximity to a new customer I developed over the past few years.

Staying in the city meant having a little more freedom when it came to food and drink as Seattle is pretty easily to navigate by foot.  The first time I stayed in the city, I arrived around 2pm and checked in at my hotel and then walked around and did the tourist thing since my appointments weren't until the following morning.  After a long walk to the Space Needle and back, I decided to search Chowhound to find a place for happy hour.  It was there that I learned of Vessel, a recommended bar for happy hour that served a wide array of bourbons.  SOLD!  It was also a block away from my hotel! 

 Bartender Jim is master of his domain

I found a seat at the bar and was greeted by the bartender, Jim, who offered me a menu to look through while he made a few drinks for some other patrons.  We talked bourbon for a bit and I learned that this dude was a serious bartender, one who really appreciates his craft and has absorbed an insane amount of information to dispense to those like me who love drinking spirits.  It was tough keeping my eyes fixated on the menu because Jim was mixing up some drinks that looked crazy good!  There was the Bootleg Fizz, a traditional gin fizz made with gin, egg white, simple syrup, lemon juice, and soda, all frothed up with a hand mixer.  The Vessel 75, a concoction of bourbon, peychaud's bitters, simple syrup, orange zest, and maple syrup foam, was a favorite on my latest visit.  Then there was quite possibly the best looking Mint Julep I'd ever seen - a pile of crushed ice in a silver cup with a sprig of mint strategically placed next to the straw to charm the olfactory senses with each sip.

Vessel 75

 Bootleg Fizz

I remember on my first visit starting with a traditional Manhattan that was on the happy hour menu and it was perfect.  I decided to ditch the cocktails and go with a bourbon, choosing Blanton's to get me going.  Jim returned with my Blanton's on the rocks as requested, or should I say, rock.  This was the first time I'd ever had a bourbon served with a ball of ice rather than cubed ice.  Jim informed me that the ball of ice melted much slower than cubes so the bourbon could be enjoyed cold without becoming watered down too fast.

 Straight Ballin'

In addition to a spirits and cocktails menu, Vessel also has another menu that contains rare spirits.  On my first visit, I enjoyed an Eagle Rare 17yr bourbon that is part of the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection and also on that earned Bourbon of the Month earlier this year.  On my last visit, I tried a Willet 16yr bourbon, a brand I'd never heard of but enjoyed.  After that, Jim (who was tending bar on both of my visits) brought out an old looking bottle.  It's label read "Special Old Reserve" and Jim told me to look at the dates printed on the neck.  They read, "Made 1917.  Bottled 1933".  Yup, this was a 77 year old bourbon, 93 years since it had been barreled!!  Naturally, I had to give it a try but it was a little on the pricey side so I opted for a 1oz pour.  At 77 years since bottling, my suspicions were confirmed when I found this bourbon to be pretty sweet, almost like a port wine, lacking a strong alcohol burn.  The alcohol had most likely burned off a little bit over the years.  Still, it was pretty cool to drink a bourbon that had been around since before prohibition.

Pre-Prohibition Bourbon

In addition to all of the brews and spirits, Vessel has a pretty good looking menu of small plates.  I've yet to eat there though.  On my first visit, I told Jim I was looking for a good Japanese restaurant and he recommended Tsukushinbo.  I had one of the best Japanese meals I've ever had there and have gone back on every trip since.  More on that someday when I stop procrastinating.  In the meantime, take my advice and visit Vessel next time you're in Seattle.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Local Love: Lobster Rolls @ Linda Bean's in Delray Beach!!

Lobster Roll pic courtesy of Timeless Gourmet
I am originally from Boston and summer in Gloucester and Rockport every year where my family has a clam & lobster bake.  I know my lobster rolls and have eaten thousands of them.  I was in Delray for a wedding last weekend and was driving down Atlantic Blvd when I saw a sign for Linda Bean's Perfect Maine Lobster Roll on Atlantic.  We were starving so we stopped to grab a lobster roll.  It was expensive, yes ($15.50 for 1/4lb lobster roll w/ chips, sweet pickles, and slaw), but absolutely phenomenal and the best lobster roll I have tasted outside of New England.

First thing I noticed was a nice piece of claw meat on the top of the roll.  Claw meat is the best meat on the lobster!!  It is the sweetest and most tender and flavorful.  Linda Bean's lobster roll was LOADED with claw meat and I couldn't have been happier.  Second thing I noticed was that they only use a little mayo so you get the full flavor of the lobster along with a little of their dry seasoning which I believe contained celery flake and a little dill.  Third, the bun.  They use authentic New England hot dog rolls that stand up on their own because they have a flat bottom.  Those are so hard to find down here that there is even a thread on the Florida Chowhound board about where to find them.  The bun was toasted on the flat top with a little butter which adds another flavor element to the lobster roll.  A lobster roll is not supposed to be hot or warm.  The bun should be toasted, that's it.

We loved that lobster roll so much that when we saw a parking spot out in front of Linda Bean's the following day, we just had to go grab a lobster roll for the road.  It wasn't the first lobster roll I've eaten behind the wheel and I'm sure it won't be the last.  I just hope they open one of these up in Miami (which I believe there is a rumor that they could be looking to do just that).

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Bourbon of the Month: Woodford Reserve

I knew when I first posted my Bourbon of the Month back in February that I was being quite ambitious.  It wasn't that I was afraid of lacking material for posting about a different bourbon each month.  After all, I sip a bourbon after dinner almost daily.  My timidness came from the fact that I knew there was about a 99% chance that the "Bourbon of the Month" feature would most likely be forgotten each month.  Sure enough, it's been four whole months since the last Bourbon of the Month.  Who knows me better than me?

Sipping a bourbon on the rocks (or "on the ball" as I do) at the end of a sweltering Sunday in Miami just makes sense.  And with that, I headed to my local liquor store to see if they had anything new.  They didn't, but they did have a decent price on Woodford Reserve so I figured I'd get a bottle for the home bar.  It wasn't long after I got home that I remembered how much I love this bourbon.
Gold Medal Winner of the 2006 San Francisco World Spirits Competition and official bourbon of the Kentucky Derby and Breeder's Cup, Woodford Reserve is no stranger to popularity.  This premium small batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey is distilled at the Woodford Reserve Distillery, located amidst miles of horse farms just outside Lexington in Versailles, Kentucky.  I had the pleasure of visiting the distillery a few years back when I hit up a few stops on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and it was impressive.

Built in 1838 by the Pepper family, the Woodford Reserve Distillery is one of the oldest in the country.  In fact, it has been designated a National Historic Landmark.  In 1878 the distillery was sold to Labrot & Graham who then sold it to Brown-Forman Corp in 1947.  Brown-Forman operated the distillery until 1968 then sold it in 1971, only to buy it back again in 1993, renovate it, and begin producing Woodford Reserve as a premium bourbon in 1996.  Oddly enough, the bottle that holds this rust-colored spirit still bears the Labrot & Graham name today.

Woodford Reserve distillery is the only operating distillery in America to triple-distill its' bourbon using copper stills.  The bourbon is then aged in a warehouse built of stone rather than one built of wood.  The stone helps to slow the warehouse's change in temperature as the seasons change, allowing the whiskey to slowly work through the charred oak barrels as they expand in the warmer months and contract in the cooler months.  The aging process continues for a minimum of six years before the bourbon is removed from the barrel and bottled at 90.4 proof (45.2% alcohol).

To me, Woodford Reserve is perfect in the Spring and Summer.  It's surprisingly tame for a 90-proof bourbon, lacking fiery spice notes found in other bourbons of the same proof and finishing smooth.  For this reason I have, on occasion, mistakenly labeled it an 80-proof bourbon.  The flavor notes of this bourbon are fantastic.  The nose is very woody with a hint of char, vanilla, and dried fruit.  The palate starts woody as well before yielding to a very flowery flavor.  The finish is the best - long and very full of fresh flowers.
Each year since 2005-2006, Woodford Reserve releases a limited edition batch of premium bourbon as part of the Woodford Reserve Master's Collection.  The first batch came in the form of Woodford Reserve Four Grain, a bourbon comprised of all four grains that can be used for bourbon (corn, malted barley, rye, wheat - most bourbons use rye OR wheat).  They followed with one of my personal favorites, Woodford Reserve Sonoma-Cutrer Finish, a bourbon aged in charred oak barrels and finished in barrels used to age Sonoma-Cutrer chardonnay.  In 2008, it was Woodford Reserve 1838 Sweet Mash.  Usually, sweet mash is found in Irish, Scottish, and Canadian whisk(e)ys, with bourbon utilizing a sour mash, a method by which an old fermented sweet mash is combined with a new one, lowering the pH and making the yeast in the mash all happy.  I tried this one at Vessel Bar in Seattle, WA and thought it was just ok.  The last batch of the Master's Collection for 2009 was the dark-colored Woodford Reserve Seasoned Oak Finish, a bourbon aged in barrels made of charred oak that has been seasoned for 3-5 years as opposed to the regular 3-5 months.  One with a good eye will note that the bottles from the Master's Collection are shaped to resemble the copper stills from whence the whiskey is distilled.

Woodford Reserve is pretty easy to find at most liquor stores and many restaurants and bars in South Florida.  Retail price on a 750ml bottle usually falls in the range of $32-$40 though I've seen it as low as $25 and as high as $45.  A fair restaurant prices it around $8/glass.  Unfortunately "fair price" doesn't compute in Miami and most places charge $12-14 per glass.  The Master's Collection typically retails for $78-$90.  While I like my Woodford neat or with ice, it does make for a pretty stellar mint julep, the official drink of the Kentucky Derby.  In fact, each year Woodford Reserve puts out a $1,000 mint julep for the Derby.  Here's the less expensive recipe in case you'd like to try:

Woodford Reserve Mint Julep

3-5 mint leaves
1 tsp powdered sugar
2 tsp water
2.5oz Woodford Reserve Bourbon
Crushed ice

Muddle (stir/gently crush) four mint sprigs and sugar in the bottom of a julep glass.  Add water and continue to muddle.  Add Woodford Reserve Bourbon.  Pack the julep glass with crushed ice.  Add a mint sprig for decoration and sipping straw.  If a metal julep cup is used, be sure to use a wooden muddler (bottom of a wooden spoon) instead of a metal spoon. This will eliminate the possibility of any metal shavings getting into the drink or scratching the julep cup.

Since this post, I was fortunate enough to find a bottle of the Woodford Reserve Master Collection Seasoned Oak Finish.  A truly fantastic bourbon that shows the effects of this bourbon being finished in barrels with seasoned oak wood staves.  A nice balance of sweet and spicy.  Through two tastings I have found this bourbon woody with a sweet hint of black cherry on the tongue that finishes with notes of caramel and vanilla.  Plenty more tastings in store...  :)

Friday, June 4, 2010

A Taste of Area 31

A few weeks ago, I heard from Chef Critchley, head chef at Area 31 at Brickell's Epic Hotel, that he was revamping the Sustainable Seafood Tasting Menu.  So, I gave a call to my good friend Jackie (@ktchntrvwr) and foodie power couple David (@djkmia) and Paula (@mango_lime) and suggested we check it out.  It had been quite some time since we all got together and I was looking forward to catching up over a good meal.

I've dined at Area 31 a few times and have always liked what the kitchen puts out.  Fresh seafood enhanced with flavorful components and sauces is what they do best though they recently have added some new dishes for the landlubbers out there.  We all decided to stick with the aforementioned seafood tasting menu ($55) and also decided to go with the wine pairing for an additional $35, choosing the sommelier's option to "step outside the box" with pairing selections.

We started out with a refreshing tuna and escolar dish, the fish served raw with citrus that had a bit of a spicy kick to it.  It was a great way to start the meal and also allowed me to share my funny fact about escolar.  This dish was paired with a Japanese Tozai Junmai Daiginjo Sake* which was a perfect compliment to the clean tastes of the dish.

Next up were some clams sourced from our state of Florida (I forget exactly what kind they were and didn't make note of it either) that were fried crisp and served with fresh tomatoes and a Tabasco crunch.  At first I was worried that the small clams would lack flavor after being fried or that they would get tough but I came around after my first bite.  The chef did a great job showcasing the flavor of the whole clam even if it wasn't like the big belly fried clams I'm used to in New England.  The Tabasco crunch was a nice element, starting off sweet and then finishing spicy.  We enjoyed a 2005 Schramsberg Brut Rose, a sparkling wine that was ok but I say that because I'm not really a sparkling wine fan.

A pasta mirepox dish was placed before us as the third dish, it's flavor and nose reminding me of a chicken soup or a Thanksgiving dinner.  I thought this was very light for a pasta dish and appreciated that with the understanding that we had three dishes to go.  The sommelier paired this dish with a wonderful 2006 Bodegas Mauro Crianza, Tudela del Duero (Tempranillo, Syrah.  I love tempranillo and this one was big and bold but smooth without being overly fruity or acidic.

Our fourth course of the sustainable seafood dinner was a seared cobia with chestnut puree, roasted chestnut, and caperberries.  This was my favorite dish of the night.  Simply incredible flavor in this dish.  The fish was cooked perfectly and I liked the crunch of the roasted chestnuts countering the moist flesh of the fish.  The chestnut puree was a huge hit at the table as well, so much so that Jackie asked for some extra on the side.  This dish was paired with a 2003 Jacques Puffeney Melon Queue Rogue, a variety of chardonnay that I loved.  It was my second favorite wine of the night, even better than the tempranillo we had tasted with the previous dish and I'm not really a chardonnay fan.

Our final dish before dessert came in the form of a dorade plated with lentils.  The dish seemed to have an anise flavor to it along with a little pepper zest which helped offset it's fishiness a bit.  While this dish was not my favorite, the wine certainly was.  A 2008 Flowers Pinot Noir from the Sonoma Coast proved to be a stellar finish to the meal and the sommelier left us to have our way with the rest of the bottle because we all enjoyed it so much.

Dessert was a similar dish to the one Chef Critchley prepared at the Dinner In Paradise that I attended earlier in the year.  A flexible chocolate sprinkled with a little sea salt and paired with a mango sorbet.  It was a nice way to end a fantastic meal.

I'm glad I finally made it over to Area 31 to try the tasting menu and I'm happy to report my streak of good-to-great meals at the restaurant is still alive.  It was nice to see the restaurant fairly busy, with service attentive and knowledgeable without being intrusive.  Between their happy hour offerings, the view of the bay from their outdoor terrace, and their incredible seafood dishes (I'll have to return for some of the new landlubber fare but that will be tough because I really like their seafood dishes), Area 31 really is a terrfic spot.

*I'm not sure about this as I couldn't find any listing online for "Tozai Junmai Daiginjo".  This might've been incorrectly transcribed by the sommelier when he wrote down our winelist as a favor post-dinner as I'd like to think the internet has all the answers...

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

A New Club In North Miami Beach

Miami Beach is no stranger to clubs but most are classified as dance clubs or country clubs.  Enter The Water Club, a new player on the club scene providing edible beats to those arriving by land, sea, or maybe even air (there was actually a helicopter taking flight from a patch of grass at the Intercoastal Mall when I arrived to visit).

After a multi-million dollar renovation to the old "Miami Shooters" location, Chefs Frank Randazzo and Andrea Curto-Randazzo of Miami Beach's Talula were brought in to renovate the menu with flavor.  I've had some fantastic, more-than-memorable meals at Talula, so I was excited to see what the chefs had in store for The Water Club.  I sampled a few things on my visit, most notably a pulled pork slider topped with pickled onion and sliced chili peppers.  Savory with a nice spicy kick.  I also tried some steak skewers and a bit of roasted chicken salad on a crostini that was studded with dried cranberry.  The chicken salad was very light on the mayo and had nice flavor.  All that said, the winner of the night for me came in the form of a bite-sized potato croquette.  Well, I'm not sure if that's what it's called but that's what I'm calling it, dammit.  A little disc with a fried-slightly-crisp exterior gave way to a creamy explosion of potato flavor with a hint of salt that reminded me of the orignal flavor Pringles.  I managed to eat two and then gave the server specific instructions to stay away from me to ensure more than just I would sample their awesomeness.  I'm not sure if these items will be on the regular menu as this was a preview night but hopefully those potato croquettes and pork sliders will be there.

The space itself is massive.  That's probably the only word to describe it.  Two separate dining areas indoors and an enormous outdoor space fully covered by an awning, making it perfect for staying dry during our rainy season.  There are two large bars, one inside and one outside, both with a team of flatscreen TVs hanging above them.  I especially enjoyed this as my Celtics were battling the Magic that night (the C's got their asses handed to them in this game but then rebounded and destroyed the Magic in the following game to head to the NBA Finals).

The Water Club also features a dock for boaters to tie up to and head in for a bite and some drinks.  The dock space can accommodate up to 50 boats with a full time dockmaster so bring your friends.  They also have a nice sundeck and a swimming pool!  Check it out sometime for yourself.  Methinks it'll be hard not to enjoy.

The Water Club
3969 NE 163 St.
North Miami Beach, FL 33160

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Local Lunch Love

Recently, I've had some great lunch experiences at two places where I didn't think it was possible.  The first is Tarpon Bend in Coral Gables.  I went to lunch there on Saturday and had a fantastic Southwestern Chicken Salad.  It was HUGE, so huge that I couldn't finish it!  They serve nice pile of lettuce studded with bits of corn, black beans, cilantro, tortilla strips, and thinly sliced chicken breast.  A sort of chunky salsa vinaigrette and a slightly sweet but spicy red pepper (i think) dressing that I had served on the side brightened up the flavors.  One damn good salad.  The shrimp sandwich also looked really good.  A couple of Arnold Palmers made for a nice lunch on a late Sunday afternoon.

The second lunch experience that surprised me was at Chipotle in Hialeah.  Yes, Chipotle is a chain that I'm sure many have been to but when you add Hialeah into the mix, who knows what you're gonna get.  I happen to work on the Hialeah border, so my lunch options are limited.  When I heard about this Chipotle opening and that we could order online, I was pumped.  Their website has what I believe is the best online ordering system I've ever used.  I order for my boss and the two owners of my company too and they are somewhat picky eaters.  The website lets me choose their options and then attach their name to what they order so we don't end up playing "Who's Burrito Is This Anyways?"  You can also pay online which is awesome.  That way, after you battle crazy Hialeah traffic, you can just walk in and go to the register and pick up your order.  I maybe spent a total of 30 seconds inside Chipotle on my last lunch run.  I annihilated my still-warm-chicken-burrito ten minutes after that.

Be sure to check these places out if you're in the mood for a quick and healthy lunch.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Food Poisoning: Calorie Commando Captured After Murder Plot Goes Awry

I was sitting in the lounge at MIA today listening to CNN as I read the local news online when my ears perked up to a story they were airing.  Turns out Juan-Carlos Cruz, the former host of Food Network's "Calorie Commando" show, has gone commando and has been arrested for solicitation of murder.  The plot?  Hire some homeless dudes to take out someone.  Apparently Cruz approached a homeless dude and offered $1000 to murder an unidentified target.  He allegedly gave said homeless person ten $100 bills that had been cut in half, with the other halves of the bills to be provided when the hit was completed.  He was busted when the homeless men told some officers about the alleged plot and officers launched an undercover sting operation with the help of the homeless men.

Talk about a recipe for disaster.  More here...

Thursday, May 13, 2010

More Tastes of the Internet

I am a huge fan of the Internet and the ability to shop for things online that I normally would not have the opportunity to buy locally.  I was surfing the Internet a few weeks ago and came upon the site Cafepress and noticed that they have a lot of food-related t-shirts.  I ended up making a few purchases...

Being a lover of all things bacon-related, this was a natural purchase.  They actually have many bacon t-shirts on the Cafepress website but this one made me actually go out and purchase some bacon to cook it up along with some scrambled eggs right after I bought it.  The three strips just look like they want to be devoured and the exclamation point made me want to devour them as soon as possible.

I was browsing through the food t-shirt section when I came across this one.  I looked at it for a second and then it hit me and I burst out in laughter for a good 10 minutes.  Uncontrollable laughter.  Food humor is funny but when it's combined with poo humor?  That's tear-inducing hilarious!  Ah, the mystical powers of corn.  

The gang at Cafepress have a lot to offer if you're looking for a good t-shirt and their customer service is top notch.  Check them out sometime!

See you tomorrow!  Hahahaha!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

On the Road: New Orleans, LA - JazzFest

This will be the first of many sequential posts in the "On the Road" category.  Why?  Perhaps because I just completed an 18-day road trip that began in San Jose and ended in N'Awlins.  I may try to fit in a few local Miami posts in between but as of right now I plan to cover NOLA, Seattle, and Portland.  There were also stops in Vegas and San Diego but I didn't really have any meals worth relaying in those places (Julian Serrano at the new City Center in Vegas was a disappointment.  Sushi Ota in San Diego was crazy good as usual but I played it basic.  Their omakase is a must do if in San Diego.  Cowboy Star in San Diego was decent for me but a total bust for my dining companions who let the manager know areas where the restaurant could improve itself, starting with cuts of beef that should never have hit the grill.  Ouch.)

Ok, enough with the babbling and onwards to NOLA and JazzFest!

This was my first trip to New Orleans.  As a matter of fact, it was my first trip to Louisiana which was awesome in its' own right since I could cross LA off of my lists of states not traveled (only 8 left including AK and HI!!).  I had flew out of San Diego on Thursday, landed in Miami Friday morning, did some much needed underwear laundry, and then headed to Ft. Lauderdale to catch and air chariot to NOLA.  I arrived around 6pm that Friday night and was picked up by a member of the bachelor party in a big white van that already had a weekend acoustic guitar purchased and ready to be rocked.  After meeting up with the rest of the group, we headed over to some hotel that I forget the name of to get the night started.  The best part about this group was that it contained some college buddies that I hadn't seen since ten or eleven years ago while "studying" at UMass in Amherst, Massachusetts.  Turns out one of the guys was playing in a band named Hi8us and touring across the country and, as luck would have it, was playing at the hotel that I forget the name of (we'll refer to it as the Forgotten Hotel from now on) that very night.

We showed up and the band was already rockin'.  Thirsty from a long day of travel, I searched out a frosty beverage that the locals call "beer".  Our luck streak continued - the hotel apparently does a crawfish boil on this particular night offering FREE crawfish, fried chicken, new potatoes, salad, bread, and all the beer you can pound until it runs out and someone has to go to the store to refill the cooler.  Talk about awesome!  When there is free beer and crawfish to be had, I check my shyness at the door and dive right in!  This was my leadoff plate...
Crappy iPhone pic of my 1st plate of crawfish, mid-domination

I mowed through this first plate, putting on a clinic of crackin' tails and suckin' crawfish heads for the rookies in attendance.  These bugs were meaty as hell with a spiciness that started out mild and then got fiery the more you sucked 'em down.  I gotta give props to the rookies who attacked the heads without reservation and became quick fans.  They probably would give props to the beers for the boost of liquid courage.  After another mini plate of crawfish and some fried chicken that was serviceable, I had enough base in my belly to feel confident about bar hopping all night long.  So, we bid adieu to our band buddies and the Forgotten Hotel and headed to Frenchman Street to check out some local jazz troupes before heading to Tipitina's to catch one of my favorite bands - the Greyboy Allstars.

 Frontman Karl Denson sax solo backed by the Greyboy Allstars @ Tipitina's

The Allstars put on a kickass show and the night kept moving along to a steady beat.  We bounced from venue to venue, taking in more music and having a great time.  Me and the groom-to-be found ourselves in a taxicab around 6:30am with bellies that needed sustenance.  I believe my words to the cabbie sounded something like, "Hey man, where can we get a po' boy right now?"  The next thing I knew, we were in front of The Trolley Stop Cafe.
Leaving The Trolley Stop Cafe @ 7:30am after annihilating a killer oyster po' boy

Granted, I was weathered, weary, and tired but this was an awesome oyster po' boy.  Just enough dressings to freshen up the flavors of the fried oysters themselves.  Yum, yum, yum.  I even contemplated taking one for the road and leaving it by my bed just in case I had a bout of sleepeating.

After about 4 hours of sleep I was up and at 'em again.  My roommate for the weekend and I both needed some fuel to get going.  I had sadly slept through the text inviting me to Elizabeth's in Bywater where they serve praline bacon so I figured, "why not another po' boy?"  We walked from the hotel towards Canal Street and happened upon The Pearl Restaurant & Oyster Bar which I had heard about previously from a friend and figured they probably made a decent po' boy.  The sweet woman at the counter filled us up on iced tea (unsweetened for me) and delivered a couple of shrimp po' boys to go.  After a quick stop at Meyer the Hatter, the South's Largest Hat Shop that sadly ended without a new headwear purchase, we headed back to the hotel to meet up with the rest of the gang at the van to head to Jazzfest.  Unable to contain myself, I devoured half of my shrimp po' boy on the walk back and finished her off in the van.  This po' boy was just OK and didn't have much in the way of dressing (tomatoes, lettuce, mayo).

 Galactic jams for the masses behind some dude's giant head

We got to the fairgrounds, grabbed a few beers, and headed to the main stages.  We caught the end of the Band of Horses set and then headed over to the big stage where Galactic, another one of my favorites, was playing.  Pearl Jam was set to play on this same stage later so we traversed through the masses and finally found a spot to setup camp for the rest of the afternoon.  There were thousands upon thousands of people at the fairgrounds and tons of vendors with good eats.  It wasn't long before I suggested a crawfish pie to the bachelor and he went and scored us a few.  After that it was strictly a liquid diet of Miller Lite while we watched Galactic jam.  Irma Thomas came out and belted out a tune with the boys.  She is featured on their latest release, Ya-Ka-May.
Yat Ca Mein - sobering revival

Speaking of Ya Ka May...  I was hungry and spotted a sign for "yat ca mein" and had to give it a shot.  I first sampled yat ca mein (yakamein, jakamein, yat ka mein) at Cobaya Gras back in March when Chef K, Chef Chad, and Chef Mike put their spin on it and I was eager to check out the traditional version while in N'Awlins.  Yat ca mein is basically spaghetti noodles in a beef broth with beef, scallions, and 1/2 a hard boiled egg floating around (I had already scarfed up the egg in the above pic).  The best description I've found is on my buddy Chef Chad's blog, Chadzilla, so click the link and get yourself some free knowledge.  The version at the fairgrounds was nice and spicy, reviving me from lack of sleep and many beers on a muggy day.  I was ready to go for a few more hours now and headed back to the group to catch Pearl Jam who put on a kickass show.

We left the fairgrounds and headed to a sports bar to watch game one of the Celtics/Cavs series.  What's for dinner?  Another po' boy of course!  My third po' boy of the day came in the form of a crawfish po' boy with ample dressings.  This po' boy was better than the shrimp one I had from Pearl but not as good as the oyster one from the Trolley Stop.  After watching the C's blow a nice lead and the game, most of the guys went back to the hotel to nap.  Knowing that would be the death of me for the night, I powered on with the Best Man and stayed to watch the Mosley/Mayweather fight.  The fight was a real snoozer after the first couple of rounds, so much so that we left with a few rounds to go because it had "judges decision" written all over it and we were to catch another killer jazz band, Soulive, at the Blue Nile on Frenchman.  After Soulive jammed a drum circle broke out and a few local horns players came in and added their touch to the music.  It was, in an obvious word, awesome.  So awesome, in fact, that once again I found myself in a cab at 6:30am headed to the hotel, doing my darnedest to avoid another po' boy attack.

Sunday morning we woke up and a few of us planned to hit up Commander's Palace for their jazz brunch.  CP's is a classy joint and requires a collared shirt and/or blazer to be worn while dining.  I had the requisite collared shirt but I still felt underdressed as most of the locals who were dining there did so in their Sunday best.  Next time I visit, I'ma do it with the proper duds.  I ordered a mint julep and looked at the menu where my eyes immediately focused on the words, "Eggs Cochon de Lait", and it's description, "Smoky braised pork debris over black pepper and rosemary biscuits with soft poached eggs, winter mushrooms and bourbon-bacon fat hollandaise".  Just typing that gave me a heart attack.  Anything that combines the words pork, eggs, mushrooms, bourbon, and bacon has got to be good.  An appetizer came with the entree so I went with the Turtle Soup which was rumored to be a house specialty.  For the also-included dessert, I went for the Creole Bread Pudding Souffle, aka the "Queen of all Desserts".  A few Bourbon Smash's later, our meal arrived.

Eggs Cochon de Lait @ Commander's Palace

It's fitting that this was the best picture I took with my trusty iPhone on this trip because it was the best damn thing I ate on this trip.  The pork was tender and the eggs added their runny awesomeness to the pile.  The bourbon-bacon hollandaise?  I don't think that needs any commentary.  Just read those words again and if it doesn't sound completely, mind-numbingly, heart-stoppingly awesome you probably need to reconsider getting up in the morning.  This was a very rich dish and it left me reeling on the ropes, uncertain if I could even take a bite of the Queen of all Desserts when it arrived.  I found the will to continue though and found the Queen to be one helluva dessert.  The souffle was topped with a meringue that was browned nicely on the top, making the dish a little sweeter than I thought it would be.  I enjoyed it a lot but had to tap out halfway through.  The only thing that sucked about this whole meal was when I agreed to play "credit card roulette", knowing that I had 33% chance to lose and that 33% chance meant 100% with my gambling luck as of the past 2 years.  Oh well, it was a fantastic meal and I had a great time reliving the past few days while tapping my feet to the jazz trio who livened up the room with some classic New Orleans tunes.

We rode the trolley back to Canal Street, the rumbling of the street car on the rails and its' screeches and squeaks sounding off like a jazz band drum solo with a horn buzzing in.  My feet were still tapping.  In fact, I don't think there was a time over the whole weekend where my entire body wasn't moving to some sort of beat.  The heartbeat of New Orleans seemed to sweep me off my feet with soulful food and soulful music and that made for a perfect ending to a long road trip.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Food & Garden Festival at Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden

Yo!  Fairchild Tropical Botanical Garden has it's annual Food & Garden Festival going on this weekend!  I'm out of town and unfortunately can't make it but I thought I'd spread the word.  It sounds like a fun event and a great chance to learn about various plants found on the grounds and see chefs using them to make delicious dishes.  Plus, you'll get to see cooking demos and meet local culinary celebrities like Simply Delicioso's Ingrid Hoffman (who is also behind the Latin Burger & Taco Truck), Wok Star Elenor Hoh, and Mango & Lime's Paula Nino.

For more information, tickets, and even a $5 coupon, click on over to Fairchild's site here.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Dinner In Paradise

My mother is a vegetable eater.  If she didn't like the occasional protein, I'm quite sure she would eat nothing but vegetables.  As a result, I grew up hearing, "eat your veggies" quite a bit.  So, when I first experienced Dinner In Paradise as part of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival in 2009, I knew it would be a perfect gift to fly her down and take her to one.

On April 11th, my Mum and I made the drive from Coconut Grove down to Paradise Farms, an organic farm located in Homestead, Florida, far removed from the bright lights of the city.  The weather was not cooperative at first, with blinding rain pouring down on us as we drove South.  A recorded voicemail message let us know that the dinner area was under shelter and that the show would go on.  Luckily, the rain ceased just as we pulled in to park outside Paradise Farms.  A simple sign greets each visitor - Welcome to Paradise Farms - No Meat - No Cigarettes.

The concept of Dinner In Paradise is simple.  Chefs from the Miami area are called upon to create a six-course meal using local organic products.  Each course is paired with wine, courtesy of Shari Gherman, President of American Fine Wine Competiton & Gold Medal Wine Tour.  This dinner featured Jeff McInnis of The Dilido at Ritz Carlton South Beach, Marco Ferraro of Wish at The Hotel, and John Critchley of Area 31 at the Epic Hotel.  After a cocktail hour with passed hors d' ouevres, guests are treated to a tour of the farm.  Mum loved the tour and was happy to hear that all but one of the flowers that bloomed all over the farm were edible and could be plucked and tasted as we walked the grounds.

Oyster mushrooms growing @ Paradise Farms

The grounds @ Paradise Farms

At the end of the tour we were seated at communal tables of ten for dinner.  After exchanging hellos with the rest of our table, we sat silent as Gabrielle gave an introduction to the dinner and the first course made its way to the table.  Chef McInnis had prepared fried green tomatoes with local goat cheese cherry tomato jam, seared sheep's milk cheese with chilled watermelon, and farm cheese with roasted beets and honeycomb.  Chef McInnis talked of being raised in Florida and gave a shoutout to his brother who was in attendance and also sporting a kickass handlebar 'stache.  I love a good cheese course and this one was a great way to start a meal.  My favorite was the seared sheep's milk cheese with watermelon.  It was incredibly refreshing.

Chef McInnis introduces his first dish

Chef Ferraro's chilled corn soup being plated

Chef Ferraro provided the second dish, a chilled corn soup with corn hash, toasted pine nuts, corn shoots, basil oil, and lemongrass foam.  He explained that no cream was added to the soup.  Instead, the soup relied on the natural "milk" from the corn along with a minimal amount of butter.  The result was absolutely fantastic.  I could have devoured an entire swimming pool of this soup.  I loved how the textures of the corn and pine nuts worked in this dish.  A truly awesome soup.

Course three brought Chef McInnis back to provide us with a coconut crab salad with avocado, grapefruit ginger, and cashew oil (pictured at the beginning of this post).  I liked the flavor of this dish when I was able to get a bit of the grapefruit on my fork along with the crab.  Chef Critchley came out with the fourth course which was meant as a palate cleanser.  A lychee "sponge" with lychee, curry leaf, a farro crisp, and some bee pollen was plated before us.  The most interesting thing was the use of the curry leaf, something I'd never had before.  This dish was also paired with a 2009 Il Poggio Sangiovese that was my favorite wine of the night.

I think we were all a bit puzzled looking at the menu and not seeing any proteins listed.  That was a minor gaffe.  The fifth course wasn't just cherry tomato, easter egg radishes, charred green beans, baby carrots, and mixed herbs with tomato dressing.  Chef Ferraro informed us that there was also a nice piece of skate involved that somehow got left off of the menu description.  The skate was light and flaky and soaked up the flavor of the veggies and dressing nicely.  My favorite part of this dish, however, was the cherry tomato.  These tiny tomatoes grow on the farm and are so incredibly flavorful.  I remembered them from my last Dinner In Paradise and I hope to find out how I can obtain some for home use.

 Gabrielle presents the chefs with hats and knives

Chef Critchley finished the meal with a dessert consisting of a rich bittersweet chocolate seasoned with flecks of sea salt and local mango.  Wine flowed freely as things began to wind down and Gabrielle thanked everyone for attending and supporting the farm.  She also presented the chefs with a Paradise Farms hat and a knife that I forget what the brand was.  One lucky guest also won a knife.  Though the night got off to a rough start with some rain that had me shaking my fist towards the sky in frustration, it ended up being just perfect.  The skies ceased their crying and we got to experience all of what Paradise Farms' Dinner In Paradise has to offer.  The dishes were incredibly fresh and filling and the company was great too.  Best of all was that I got to spend some nice quality time with my Mum which is something I don't get to do too often (and kudos to her for all of the great pics!).  I recommend that anyone who is looking for a different kind of dinner experience to check out next year's Dinner In Paradise series.