Monday, January 2, 2012

A Lost Recap - A "Bizarre" Cobaya Dinner at Azul

Editor's Note: I thought I submitted this post a couple weeks ago but apparently something went haywire because it never posted and I lost some info.  I think I hit the submit button right before takeoff on my last business trip of the season so maybe that had something to do with it. 

A little over a week (Editor's Note: it's about 3 weeks) ago we had another one of our Cobaya dinners, this time with Chef Joel Huff of Azul, located at the Mandarin Oriental on Brickell Key.  The Chowfather was really fired up for this one after dining there recently, so I knew that high hopes had a good probability of being met or exceeded.  I can report that they were.

Locally, I'm late to the party with my report as other recaps were posted about a week ago but that's just how I roll.  I actually tried writing this but couldn't get through it in one sitting.  Then, I thought about skipping it but didn't want to leave the legions of Blind Tastes fans hangin'.  I hope you can taste the sarcasm there.  I recommend checking out Frodnesor's writeup because it has many more pictures than mine and because he writes in ridiculous detail, using words other than "awesome" and "rad" to describe his meals.

Another twist for this dinner was a last minute email from the producers of Travel Channel's Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern.  They heard about Cobaya and were to be in Miami to film for the show.  It just so happened that because of my travel schedule having a conflict, Chowfather spoke with the chef and pushed our dinner back a week to fit me in.  Well, that ended up being perfect timing for the Bizarre folks to hop in on our dinner and film for their show.  Bright lights, cameras, and plenty of action made for a different, albeit bizarre, dining experience compared to our normal Cobaya routine but it worked out fine I'd say.

We started off with some cocktails - first a champange with Japanese peach and then a cranberry mojito with nitro-frozen mint merengue.  They were OK to me but I'm not really into fruity cocktails.  After drinks, it was time for the real show to begin.  Here's the menu...

Our 21st experimental dinner went a lil somethin' like this...

The "Beetzanella" and the "Forest Floor" Risotto were my top two favorites.  The beet dish was one of the best dishes I've had this year.  So many different flavors and textures going on and it was a homerun visually.  A few people I spoke with thought the risotto was somewhat bland.  I thought it was an extremely earthy dish with all it's components, right on down to the basil-fed snails.  I think that was the intent.  I thought the scent of the bowl below (literally items from the forest floor mingled with hot rocks that got doused with a dirty water which then steamed their fragrance up to your nose to you as you ate) accented that flavor even more.  I loved that.  It sorta reminded me of going to NAOE where the flavors in the bento box are more simple and refined rather than than big and bold.

The "72" Beef duo was my next favorite, one hunk of beef being a 72-hour shortrib cooked sous vide and the other being a wagyu filet that got a 72-second hot sear.  An unlikely hero on the dish were the potatoes that were loaded with a creamy onion dip.  Those were awesome. The Octopus dish shown below was equally awesome.  I loved the smokiness.  I think that turned some people off but I enjoyed it.  The cauliflower vadouvan sauce element wasnt overly curry-like in flavor and I was thankful for that.  Next in my favorite ranks was the Pumpkin Swordfish Tataki.  The sear was perfect and the fish was sliced perfectly so that it remained tender.  Some people made a comment that the pumpkin gelee on the plate set too firm and I had the same problem.

I thought the Turbot dish was ok.  Mine was on the cool side and I liked the greens far better than anything else on the plate.  Surprisingly, I liked the interesting Strawberry dessert when I ate it (I'm not a dessert guy) but later on I still felt the sweetness of it.  Too sweet for me though I appreciated the lightness of this dessert dish and it reminded me of a strawberry cheesecake in flavor.  The Uni was my least favorite and that has 100% to do with the fact that I just don't care for uni any other way but on its own, sashimi style with a shiso leaf.

Annnnnnd here's some pics of a few of the dishes themselves...

Beetzanella, Beet Textures, Wisconsin Blue

Smoked Mediterranean Octopus, Cauliflower Vadouvan

Carnaroli Rice Risotto, Chanterelle Wild Mushroom, Forest Floor

Steamed Turbot, Lemon Scented

"Strawberry Cheesecake"

I also really enjoyed the wine pairings for this dinner but I'm not really an expert when it comes to wine so I won't start pretending to be one now.  My knowledge and experience in the category come down to "like" and "dislike".  Each wine featured at this dinner earned a "like" and I thought each complimented it's respective plate well.

Chef Huff, Sous Chef Brad, the sommelier, and all of the staff at Azul really knocked this Cobaya dinner out of the park.  At least two of the dishes (Beetzanella, Forest Floor Risotto) were some of the best dishes I had this year.  I even spotted my SOL Kitchen partna', Chadzilla, helping out in the kitchen.  This dinner had everything - creative dishes that dazzled with flavor and texture, great wine, showmanship from the chef and sous chef who explained each dish, integration of the senses like with the risotto dish, and fun company.  The TV thing made it a little awkward but it was still pretty cool that someone with a show heard about Cobaya and wanted in on the action to film it.  I think they were impressed and pleased with the meal and I know the producer was pretty fired up about the awesome shots he got in the kitchen and in the dining room.  Yup, the bar was set pretty high with this Cobaya dinner.  Here's looking forward to next year, Cobaya 2012

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