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.