Monday, January 25, 2010

Ribs @ Gardner's Market

I was on my way to hit some golf balls on Saturday when I noticed the signs for RIBS being offered by Joy Wallace Catering at Gardner's Market in the Grove.  I needed lunch so I stopped in to scope it out.  I ended up purchasing a 1/2 rack of ribs that came with some slaw and baked beans for $8.50.  It ended up being a great deal.

After paying for the ribs, I sat at one of tables that Gardner's has in front of the store.  When I first unwrapped the ribs from their foil, I noticed that they were pretty big and that they weren't cut.  They also looked like they were going to be tough and certainly weren't falling off of the bone.  Luckily, they weren't tough at all and they were loaded with meat! 

I tried the first rib by itself and thought it was ok.  The meat was nice and tender but the rub didn't have much flavor.  Things got better when I added the barbecue sauce that came on the side.  It was a little too ketchup-y but pretty good.  A few people walked by and saw me eating ribs outside the market and went and got their own.  One woman pleaded with her husband not to go for ribs, a battle she obviously had no chance of winning.  When I wasn't making a mess of myself devouring ribs, I was digging into the beans and the slaw.  The beans were average if a bit sweet but the slaw was unbelievably good.  I honestly never eat slaw but this came with lunch so I tried it and it was awesome.  It had a fresh, crisp texture and just the right amount of moisture.

I didn't see what days these ribs are available but I do know that the Joy Wallace setup is currently there from 11am to 6pm on Saturdays.  If you're looking for a nice deal for lunch and you happen to be in the Grove then, check it out.  The half rack I got was a ton of food, so much that I actually left a rib on the plate and had my membership to the Clean Plate Club temporarily suspended.  All for a good cause :)

Good Find at Fresh Market

I walked into Fresh Market the other day and noticed that they had Asian pears that were bigger than my fist!  I love Asian pears and I'm trying to make more of an effort to make dinner at home instead of going out all the time so I picked one up.  Look at the size of this bad mutha!

I also picked up a bushel of Earthbound Farms' fresh herb salad mix and some goat cheese and then I noticed that blueberries were 2 pints for $5 so I jumped on that too.  If you like raspberries, blackberries, and/or blueberries, Fresh Market usually has them on deal at 2/$5.  So, if they aren't that price on your particular visit and you don't mind waiting check back the next week they likely will be.

Tonight I sliced up 1/2 of the Asian pear to make a salad for dinner.  This thing was so big that I only needed to slice up 1/2 of it.

Then I filled a bowl with the fresh herb salad mix, added the pear, blueberries, and goat cheese and tossed with a tiny amount of olive oil and this pinot noir vinegar I'd received at a Slow Food Miami dinner.

The end result was a winner.  I liked the sweetness of the pear against the slightly tart blueberries and the acidity of the red wine vinegar.  The goat cheese balanced everything out nicely.  I suppose you could also add grilled chicken to make this a more hearty salad too.  If you've never tried one of these pears, give it a shot.  They are great in a salad and I also like to use them with brie and turkey in a sandwich.  Or you could just eat them like an apple.  Regardless of how you use them, you can find these giant Asian pears at the Fresh Market in Coconut Grove.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Gracias, Sra Martinez

When Sra Martinez first opened in the Design District, I was pretty excited.  I had been to Michy's a few times and really enjoyed the food and 1/2 plate options.  Seeing that my friend/neighbor who shared a lot of Spanish dishes with me had just left town, I was looking forward to a new taste of Spain too.  My first few visits were outstanding and friends that accompanied me gave me quite a few pats on the back for my dining choice.  Amongst my original favorites were the crispy artichokes, patatas bravas, a pork belly dish, a tasty sweetbreads dish, and some clams that I could have and would have eaten for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if given the option.  The restaurant had a nice vibe almost immediately after it opened, most of which probably came as a result of Chef Michelle Bernstein's endlessly growing popularity in Miami.  It was a great spot for dinner.

Then things changed a bit on my next couple of visits.  The one that hurt the most was the elimination of the clam dish that I so loved.  I later heard that it was a slow seller and clams aren't exactly something that keeps for a long time so a change needed to be made.  That was too bad because I'd have signed a contract that required me to eat X portions per week if it meant they would stay on the menu.  Seriously.  They were that good.  After a dinner that I helped organize came off as "just ok", I decided I need to take a break from Sra Martinez for awhile.

Lately I had been hearing great things about some new dishes and great service so I decided to make return visit.  After making a reservation for four, I was told we were to be six, changed the reservation, only to have to change it once again to a party of eight.  The hostess couldn't have been more polite and helpful with changing the reservation and putting us inside so the women would be warm.  Dinner that night was fantastic.  I really enjoyed the scallops with spinach and peas.  The scallops were cooked perfectly and very flavorful.  The table loved the uni risotto that I had ordered on a friend's recommendation.  It was topped with calamari and a chimichurri sauce.  I thought there was a bit too much chimichurri flavor but I was in the minority, even amongst friends who had the dish recently.  I guess I need to try that one again.  My favorite dish of the night was actually a vegetable dish called "choclo con chiles", a mixture of corn and chiles topped with shaved manchego.  The cheese actually looked like fresh snow had just fallen on the plate, covering the dish.  The corn was so flavorful and the chiles had a nice kick.  It was a phenomenal dish for being something so simple.

A few nights later, I returned to Sra Martinez for a cocktail after dinner down the street at Mandolin Aegean, the new hotspot in the Design District.  One of my favorite things about Sra Martinez when I first started going there was the little bar upstairs and the bartenders.  These guys make a great drink and can talk spirits too.  The bar has a prohibition era vibe to it, maybe because vials of drink-making liquids (shown above) bunch on the bar in certain areas and the bartenders dress in vests, ties, and drivers caps.  We went for "a drink" and ended up staying for three, sipping sidecars, sazeracs, and a drink called flor de espana that was made with scotch, sherry, lemon, and egg whites.  It was a good night.

I'm glad I went back and tried Sra Martinez again as they are doing some good things there.  It's also a great place to take a group and share a bunch of dishes.  I have a feeling I will be headed back soon.

Sra Martinez
4000 Northeast 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33137
(305) 573-5474

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Burger Bash Blunder

I'm usually good for about a handful of dumb mistakes each year so I guess it's fitting that I made my first one yesterday, a mere 18 days into the new year.  I was working on scheduling a business trip around a big meeting in NJ on February 23rd.  I usually do a Boston trip at this time of the year so I booked a flight into NJ and then on to Boston, returning on Friday, February 27th.  I wasn't too happy that I had to book the flight on JetBlue out of Ft. Lauderdale because I prefer to fly American Airlines out of Miami but the fares weren't even in the same solar system so I went with JetBlue.  Plus, I'd be getting back at a reasonable time on Friday night so it worked out...or so I thought.

Sitting at my desk today, I decided to take a little break and surf the internet for a few minutes.  I can't quite recall what made me think of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival but that is when my dumb move dawned on me - I had booked this business trip at the same time as SBWFF and now wouldn't be in Miami for the Amstel Light Burger Bash!  "Dammit!" was all that could be heard from my office at that moment.  It was such a bonehead move.  I tried checking flights to get me back into Ft. Lauderdale around 5pm but no dice.  My proverbial goose was cooked.

So now a ticket I purchased about 4 months ago is useless since I won't even be in Miami.  I would like to sell the ticket to someone who is eager to stuff their face with burgers and beer on the sands of South Beach.  If you or someone you know would like to buy my ticket, please comment and we can work something out.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

2010 Taste of the Grove

Yesterday with football on all day and with the the Taste of the Grove food festival ending early due to the cold and rain, I didn't have a chance to walk into the Grove to check it out.  Today the temperature dropped even lower than yesterday and the wind picked up but the rain held off enough for me to walk down to Peacock Park to get some lunch at the Taste of the Grove.  All things considered, it was pretty good.

I left the house wearing a t-shirt and sweater.  It was pretty cold but I knew I wouldn't be gone more than an hour and I like to soak up a nice chilly day here in South Florida.  In hindsight, I probably should've worn a hat too because the wind while walking down the hill of South Bayshore and at Peacock Park was howlin'!  When I got down to the event, I hit up the ticket booth for $10 worth of tickets and went to search for my lunch.  There was a band playing some good jazz/funk music that people were enjoying and there was plenty of cover in case it did rain. 

I first spotted Ideas Restaurant's booth and went for some white bean soup with chorizo ($4) to help me warm up a little bit.  The soup was nice and warm without being too hot.  I liked the bits of chorizo and the flavor of the soup but there was some sort of pulp in the soup that was very stringy.  The texture just threw the whole dish off for me.  I'm not sure it was worth $4 either.  I finished off the soup and went in search of something a little more hearty.  I stopped by Panorama's booth and liked the looks of both the raviolis de aji de gallina and the lobster ceviche but the tax was too high at $6-$8 each (I forget the exact prices).  I just didn't feel like getting more tickets to give it a try and I was in a hurry to make it back to my place to watch the Patriots/Ravens game.  Glad I rushed for that...

I saw the booth for Atchana's East/West Kitchen and remembered that they had some good value there last year and figured that I could fill up on something with the 6 tickets I had left in my pocket.  I checked out the menu and saw something simmering in a foil pan and figured that was a good option.  Turns out it was curried chicken and rice which could be had for $5.  "How hungry are you?  This is a pretty big plate..." was the reply I got from the guy in the booth after asking for a plate the curried chicken.  He wasn't kidding.  He set up a nice pile of rice and ladled some of the yellow curried chicken on top.  Then he let me know they had some hot sauce if I wanted, which made me happy.  I squirted on some hot sauce and found a standing table in the sun to dig in.  I'm not sure if I was seeing things when I saw the curry in a foil pan, or if it was really that cold but by the time I took my first bite the dish was barely warm.  No matter, it was good.  The rice was a little sticky and clumped together but I'm certain the cold had a lot to do with that.  I thought the flavor of the curry was deliciously sweet without being overpowering and it made for a great combination of spicy/sweet when I worked in some of their hot sauce.  There was plenty of chicken in the dish and the vegetables were nicely cooked while staying crisp.  I'd like to give this one another shot when I can get it hot off the stove.

I stuck around for a few minutes while the band played on through the wicked winds that battered the park.  I noticed that Johnsonville Brats had a HUGE setup in the back by the stage.  It was some sort of mobile big rig with a bunch of bbq grills.  There were about half-a-dozen people standing at the booth, most likely workers that were to man the grills and pass out marketing schwag.  Talk about Ma Nature making a mockery of your PR efforts, geesh!  It must've been two days of standing around chatting in the cold for that poor booth. 

It was not the best conditions for the Taste of the Grove this year but the vendors showed up and did their best.  The cold weather keeping crowds away did allow me to have two dishes in about twenty minutes though and that curried chicken dish was pretty darn good albeit a little cold.  Perhaps there will be "Another Taste of the Grove" this year when the weather is a bit warmer? 

Thursday, January 7, 2010

My 2009 Bourbon of the Year

As I've mentioned before, I am a bourbon connoisseur and sip one almost daily as an after dinner drink.  I'm proud to be a bourbon drinker.  Bourbon is the only spirit that is 100% American, recognized in 1964 by U.S. Congress as "a distinctive product of the United States".  It also has many different layers of flavor.  From sweet to spicy, bourbon always seems to fit the flavor profile that I enjoy.

A few facts that I will share with you from my trip to the Buffalo Trace Distillery about what makes a bourbon and what makes a Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey:
  •  Must be made from 51% to 79% corn.  Other grains include rye, wheat, and barley.  Typically bourbons will be made from a combo of corn, barley, and rye OR wheat.  Woodford Reserve bourbon released a Four Grain boubon a few years back that utilized all four grains (and it was pretty good :))
  • Must be distilled at less than 160 proof (80% alcohol)
  • Must be aged in charred white oak barrels at no higher than 125 proof (62.5% alcohol) for a minimum of 2 years
  • Must be distilled using Kentucky limestone water in order to be called Kentucky bourbon.  A.H. Hirsch is an example of a non-Kentucky bourbon as it hails from Illinois.
  • If all the above requirements are made and the whiskey has not been blended with other whiskey and has been aged for a minimum of two years, then it may be called Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey

This year, there was one particular bourbon that stood out to me as the best bourbon of the year.  The sweet elixir that got me all riled up this year was George T. Stagg's uncut/unflitered bourbon, part of the Buffalo Trace "Antique Collection".  I had stumbled upon this one at Total Wine & Spirits while visiting to pick up a few wines for a dinner I was to attend that evening.  When I got home, I took a small sip and knew I had to head back for another bottle (the production is limited) so I did just that the next day.  This year's version was aged for about 16.5 years and bottled at "barrel proof", meaning that it goes from the barrel to the bottle without being filtered or diluted in any way.  This bourbon is what I like to call "a real ass kicker", weighing in at 141.4 proof or 70.7% alcohol!  The nose is pure alcohol which has gotten some funny reactions when I've offered a taste to friends.  Upon hitting the tongue, a little flavor of spice and wood presents itself and then the alcohol burn sets in when swallowed.  Upon swallowing, I find that is where the best flavor presents itself.  So far, I've noted cherry, wood, vanilla, caramel, cinnamon, white chocolate and char and it seems like some of these notes become stronger depending on what I've had for dinner that night.  For example, the night I dined on a linguine with a spicy red sauce was the first night that I really picked up a strong cinnamon flavor in the Stagg later in the evening.

Overall, the strong alcohol nose and many different flavor notes made this bourbon one I really enjoyed as a nightcap.  It's a bourbon to be sipped slowly and enjoyed.  It's definitely not one for the bourbon beginner, as evidenced by the many "what the f@$k?" faces that I got when I gave out some introductory tastes to friends.  If you're into bourbon for the flavor and for the slow sipping enjoyment of a true American spirit, I strongly recommend picking up a bottle if you can find one.

FYI - Prices on a Google search came up higher than I paid at Total Wine & Spirits.  My cost was $67.99.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Best Restaurants of 2009

I had so much fun thinking about everything I ate in 2009 that I decided to keep it going with a quick "Best of" list. 

My Top Miami Area Restaurants of 2009:

Sunday, January 3, 2010

2009: The Edible Memories

Ok, ok, so just about everyone has weighed in on their favorite meals/dishes/restaurants of 2009, mostly focusing on South Florida.  Even the New York Times' acclaimed critic, Frank Bruni, offered his two cents.  That doesn't mean that I can't be a "me too" and post my favorites.  So there.

Without further ado, my most memorable meals/dishes/experiences of 2009:

  • $1.00 tacos from little taco trucks in Playa del Carmen, Mexico was a great way to start the year.  They were also the only food in Mexico that I didn't have to remind myself, "Yes, this tastes awful but you're gonna need it for a base to sop up the alcohol."
  • BBQ chicken on the beach sand in Quepos, Costa Rica.  This was possibly the best bbq chicken I've ever tasted in my life.  My cousin, Andy, and I loved the hot sauce too and sat on a bench picking these chickens down to the bone while sipping on an Imperial.  
  • Attending "Dinner in Paradise" as part of the South Beach Wine & Food Festival was an awesome experience.  A cocktail hour and a tour of Paradise Farms followed by an incredible meal prepared on the farm itself using local ingredients.  Dining under the stars far removed from bright lights of the city of Miami made for a great memory, one that I hope to repeat this year when I fly my mom down and take her as her Christmas present.  I definitely recommend checking out one of these dinners if you haven't already.
  • Parts, lots of them.  2009 was not an "awful" year but rather an "offal" year for me and the dish that really got me going was the Crispy Pig Head at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink.  It's first incantation was my favorite, served with some acidic greens (forget exactly what they were) and an awesome mustard sauce.  It was so good I ordered another one immediately afterwards.  Other fond offal memories: the tripe & pork belly stew and pig trotter terrine at Abattoir in Atlanta (thanks to Ed @lax2mia for the tip), the roasted marrow bones at Holman & Finch in Atlanta, the ankimo sushi @ NAOE in Sunny Isles and Tsukushinbo in Seattle, WA,  the tripe tacos in McAllen, TX, the grilled Deep Creek Ranch beef tongue with white corn puree, salsa negran manchego, and fried egg, the calves liver dish (I forget all the details but it was damn good), and the grilled sweetbreads w/ lemon fregola at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, and the char grilled primed aged spinalis and the braised tripe risotto we had at our inaugural Cobaya Dinner at Talula. Oh, and all things pork belly, of course.
  • The creation of the Cobaya group.  It started as some small talk while waiting for the valet and the next thing I knew The Chowfather and Frodnesor had already started making moves to make this thing a reality.  Chefs cooking what they want without the confinement of a set menu and diners ready to eat anything, anywhere.  The inaugural Cobaya dinner at Talula, hosted by Chef Andrea Curto-Randazzo and Sous Chef Kyle Foster was pound-for-pound my favorite meal of 2009.  It's been great getting to know everyone in the group and talking serious eats and recommendations, many of which I've met up with on separate occasions for beers, bbq, and more.  I have a good feeling that 2010 will push the bar even higher.
  • The culinary creations of Chef Kurtis Jantz and Chef Chad Galiano, the first knife-wielding chefs I ever trusted.  These guys are a huge part of the creation of the Cobaya group.  The launch of Paradigm: The Test Kitchen brought together a group of 11 strangers known only by their posts on the Chowhound Florida boards, none of who realized they would soon be doing this quite frequently as a group and growing in size as well.  The very core of the Cobaya mission statement has many Paradigm qualities to it that we experienced at that first meal, one that combined the chefs culinary prowess with some of their showmanship to turn the gathering from a dinner into an experience itself.  It reminded me (and possibly Chowfather too) of Daniel Boulud's After Hours show in that aspect.  Since then, I've enjoyed incredible dishes from Chef K and Chef Chad - prawn dogs, sanpei mussels, smoked salmon gel film as "lox", chorizo ice cream(!!), sous vide lobster w/ melted St. Andre (my new favorite cheese), chicken livers crisped with Trisol, blind quail, amazing gumbo, and a grilled green onion dip that could end wars (or start them if one side ran out!).  I've learned a lot about food and how it's prepared from these guys and their passion for food is definitely contagious.
  • My traditional family lobster & clam bake continued strong this year and still serves as the one meal that I look forward to each year starting on January 1st.  Gone was the raw bar this year but the picnic benches were still stacked with paper trays filled with lobsters and steamers for all to disassemble by hand, dunk in a butter bath, and devour.  Nothing beats friends, family, and good ol' fashioned New England seafood at the beach in Rockport.
  • The pizza crawl to determine Miami's best pizza pie that lasted 4 rounds was a lot of fun.  It also amazed me how the group was so laid back when it came to pie selection and paying the tab.  I've heard calls for other crawls but I'm under the mindset that pizza and beer are the only two crawls that make sense.
  • Friendships formed on a foundation of food.  Throughout all the dinners, tweets, chowdowns, and crawls I was fortunate enough to meet some really cool people and form some nice friendships.  Best gastronomic wishes for 2010 to @djkmia, @mango&lime, @ktchnintvwr, @frodnesor, @lax2mia, @thechowfather, @jmdsmiami, @zillamonster (twitter names), and all of the other great people I had the pleasure of dining with.
  • The quail hunt and the Blind Quail BBQ that followed was a great way to close out the year.  Having my cousin take me on my first quail hunt with dogs and all was one of the best times I've ever had and a truly awesome experience that I hope to repeat in 2010. The barbeque to make use of the bounty was, as Peter Griffin would say, "freakin sweet".
With all that said, I'm looking forward to seeing what 2010 will bring to the table.  Hopefully more great Cobaya dinners, a resurrection of restaurant life in the Grove, bars that have an actual menu listing all of their spirits, more success for local talented chefs, and more delicious dishes for me to consume with a smile.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Blind Quail

Ok, by now you've read about my quail hunting experience but I still have yet to post about what was actually made with the bounty of little winged creatures.  Knowing that I had a bounty of birds to consume, I did what anyone who knows 2 kickass creative chefs would do - called them and said "let's close out the year with a quail BBQ!"  Unfortunately, I failed to take any pictures of the event but Ms. Jackie over at Kitchen Interviews managed to document the whole darn thing and did a great job of it (though she was off by 2 quail - we took down 32 on the hunt :)  ), so please venture on over to check out the highlights of the barbeque that we had featuring "Blind Quail", traditional Nawlins gumbo, green bean & laughing bird shrimp salad, potato salad, a bacon wrapped short rib, and some killer grilled onion dip for chips. 

It was a great night with great people that I'm proud to have met and developed friendships with over the past year.  We slugged down many a beer, sipped some Woodford Reserve bourbon, and raised our champagne glasses in a toast to a tough year that was made a little less tough thanks to some great meals and company to eat them with.

The Great Bourbon Bargain Alert!

As many of you know, I'm a bourbon connoisseur.  I have quite a collection of full, partially full, and completely empty bourbon bottles at home and I choose to sip a bourbon almost daily.  With that said, I'm always on the lookout for a good bourbon deal and yesterday I found a great one to share.

I went to Big Daddy's liquor store in Coconut Grove yesterday to commandeer a keg for my New Year's Eve party and naturally sauntered over to the bourbon shelves to see if they had anything interesting.  Big Daddy's doesn't really have a terrific selection of bourbons but they do have the staples like Maker's Mark, Basil Hayden, Booker's, and Blanton's.  Lo and behold, I noticed that one of my favorite bargain bourbons, Corner Creek, was on sale for $9.99!  I didn't think it was possible for bargain bourbons like Corner Creek (usually priced at about $17.99-$19.99 per 750ml bottle) to become and even better bargain but the proof was sitting there on that shelf, staring me in the face with its' little red sale tag taunting me to make the purchase.  Naturally, I did just that.

So, if you're into bourbon and want a nice, smooth sipper at a great price - head to Big Daddy's in the Grove now and get yourself a bottle of Corner Creek.  It's an 88-proof bourbon that is only lightly filtered so it holds some nice flavor notes to it - vanilla, caramel, char/wood, and hints of cherry.  Somewhat surprising to me is that it is also a very smooth bourbon that I like to sip neat or with a cube or two of ice, depending on what kind of a mood I'm in.  The flavor isn't overly bold, so a little ice melt won't ruin it for ya.  It comes in a bottle resembling a wine bottle, actually.  At $9.99, this is a must buy, must try.

Your welcome.