While having a friendly discussion about the worth of Zagat's guidebooks, I mentioned the oft-seen 'Zagat Rated' decal restaurants proudly stick on their front doors. It always reminds me of McDonald's boast that their meat is 'USDA Inspected'. But the framed, blown-up, newspaper review is one of my all-time favorites. Usually located in the vestibule outside the bathrooms or behind the cash register for easy viewing, they capture a reviewer's praise for all the restaurant's customers to appreciate. Or do they? Of course it's best if the headline is positive, although it can often be neutral ('New Spanish Restaurant Has Fresh Ideas', etc.). According to the Hallandale Digest, *** (Three Stars) 'Wong's Long Time Excellence Creates a South Florida Legacy.' I know that Wong's has been around for a while; long enough, in fact, to be listed in the 'Directory of Fine Dining', an adjunct to Sandy Lesberg's 'One Hundred Great Restaurants of America', copyright 1981. The other Miami eateries listed are Cafe Chauveron, The Depot, Food Among the Flowers, Prince Hamlet, Raimundo, and the Tiger Teahouse. Pretty impressive company, and a hell of a legacy. I guess it's a pretty good takeout with delivery, and it's convenient and open seven days a week. And the review? It's dated January 16th, 1992, and that's a little scary. I pray something good has happened to Wong's in the intervening fifteen years. 12420 Biscayne Blvd. N. Miami (305) 891-4313
Nothing to do with food-this lucky man (Mr. Dan Brody, Douchesquire), standing in front of the Gulfstream Racetrack toteboard, is holding a winning ticket for the Breeder's Cup Classic. (Although luck had very little to do with it...)
Sometimes you just have to cook for yourself. No money, no friends, the overwhelming urge to veg in front of the computer and watch random videos on YouTube. The only problem in Miami is sometimes you don't want to stand in front of a hot stove after a long day of helping rich ladies try on Mahnolos; or have to use your brain to figure out some recipe after spending all day sweeping up all the dirty follicley things from the salon floor. Here's a gift-scallop ceviche. Get the big ones, the Sea Scallops, about half a pound. Buy a lime and a tangerine and squirt half the juice on the scallops after you wash and dry them. Refrigerate. Avocado, tomato, cilantro, choppity chop. Refrigerate separately. Small bag of corn nuts. Open and smell. Reserve. After about an hour, and a glass or two of some inexpensive sparkling wine, remove the two bowls of food and combine. Taste for flavor, and add more lime or tangerine as desired, salt and pepper. If you want to make it look real nice, you can slice the scallops and fan them out, real pretty-like. If you're all alone, just dump in a bowl and throw on some corn nuts. More wine.
While thumbing through my newly purchased copy of 'Recipes from the Regional Cooks of Mexico', a seminal work from 1978 by Diana Kennedy, it almost brought tears to my eyes when I realized that here was this magnificent lady, who was (and is) a champion of Mexican cuisine, (much as Julia Child was a promoter and interpreter of French cuisine for American cooks), who was so, not just ahead of her time, but who took a cuisine that was never thought to be on the level of anything European, and elevated it through her love and dedication to the status that it so richly deserves.
It is sad, that in 2007, people who consider themselves gourmets, or knowledgeable eaters, know very little about this cuisine, especially here in Hispanic Miami. It is an indifferent ignorance that states that somehow Mexicans could not have a varied and complex cuisine, in spite of the fact that their civilizations go back thousands of years, and their country's cuisine is as regionally diverse as our own. The title says it all-Regional Cooks. Not 'cuisines', because these great recipes are actually being cooked, right at this moment, all over Mexico. And if you are lucky, maybe even in your hometown, here in the States.
I like to do my own regional Mexican cooking, and while preparing my huitlacoche tacos the other night, I tried to recall where I had first eaten this delicious corn fungus. Most recently it had been in a quesadilla I ate at a little Mexican take-out place in Washington, DC, called Pepito's (not his real name), run by an actual Mexican guy who brought his recipes with him when he came to the US as a teenager from Mexico City.
But the first time was a little more elusive. I know it was during the early or mid-nineties. I was able to narrow it down to Coyote Cafe in Santa Fe, Topolobampo in Chicago, or, most likely, Cafe Atlantico in DC. I was startled when I realized that these three places were all run by top chefs (Mark Miller, Rick Bayliss, and Jose Andres, respectively), all of whom are nationally and internationally recognized for their excellence and creativity. A humble ingredient, elevated to haute cuisine, by a talented cook-none of whom (like Diana Kennedy as well), are Mexican.
A tribute from some of the most acclaimed chefs of our time to a cuisine that is, perhaps, one of the most interesting and undiscovered treasures out there.
That being said, I direct you to Mi Rinconcito Mexicano...1961 SW 8th St. (Calle Ocho). The menu proclaims “Autentica Comida Mexicana”. And that, my friends, ain't no lie. http://www.miamisunpost.com/1025bites.htm
Yes, I've seen 'Vampire' wine from 'Transylvania'-it's High-larious. 'Cause it's Halloween, and wine is red like blood. Get it? For you grownups, however, and to avoid excess hangover from lame red wine, please do not bring 'Vampire' wine to your Halloween party-don't worry, everyone else will. Here are two great inexpensive wines that will impress your friends, and still get you a buzz. They're so cheap, in fact, buy both. One is a Rhone wine, that's French, Zippy, and it's $9-oh, now I have your attention. Chateau De Nage. It's got that Syrah grape in it that all the kids love, and some other shit to fuck you up, namely 14.5% alcohol. For the Spano-philes, try the $11 ERCAVIO-it's 100% Tempranillo from Toledo, Spain, which, hey, do the people living in Toledo know that their name hasn't travelled very well? And does anybody in Ohio think of that Spanish Citadel? Scary. A kiss on the lips for the asking to anyone who knows that one. Boo.
What is the affinity that strip clubs and fried shrimp have for each other? These are fresh-fried in a big outdoor contraption by a guy working out of the back of a hatchback. He would not tell me what they had been marinated in, nor what spices he added, nor where they came from, nor why they were almost as sweet and mouth-watering as a sweaty young half-naked hoochie shaking her rump. But they were. And we're all entitled to our secrets.
Mango soup with jellied fruits and roots Mini jello shots (eat the whole thing)
Cupcakes-icing, fillings, cake ...pure sugar high... ...details Monday... +++All Desserts purchased from the good people at Vinh An (except the cupcakes) 372 NE 167th St in Miami-and don't forget-October is Improvement Hearing Month...
Sometimes you gotta do it yourself-although this instant 'agar' dessert comes right out of the package. Boil it up and cool it down-in an hour you have a real Asian-style dessert. Contains no dairy products and is vegan as well. (Agar-agar comes from seaweed, and is a great vegetarian substitute for animal-based gelatins.) You can throw a can of fruit cocktail or some maraschino cherries on this for the retro '60's look, or use fruit chips, like I do, for more of a textural treat. By the way, the fruit chips include both taro and sweet potato. Use your imagination.
Next time you're invited to a party, bring these adorable little packages instead of a bottle of wine. No one will forget your gift-of course, you may not be invited back again, but that's the chance you take when you try to spread a little Far East Sweetness, sweetness.
Actually these were pretty good. Not exactly your cannolis or your creme catalan, but unexpectedly not disgusting. Of course it's hard to please the Western palate when your pastries are made of beans and roots. A special gift for anyone who can identify these dezaaato.
1) Saute fresh rock shrimp in equal parts olive oil and butter for about 30 seconds, scoop them out, then pour a little white wine in the pan, and boil down for 15 seconds. Pour the sauce over the shrimp, and squeeze on some lime. Top with some crunchy fried garlic.
2) Using a very hot cast-iron pan, film with oil, then heat ostrich burgers for 30-45 seconds per side. On second side, add cheese. Top with bacon (microwave your bacon-it comes out crisp with no mess).
Rock shrimp are both fresh, local, and plentiful; and frozen, organic, ostrich burgers are available at Whole Foods. The funny thing is, ostrich tastes just like you think it would.
Attending the ballet at the Carnival Center for the Performing Arts was an eye-opener for me. I just haven't been involved enough in the rich tapestry that is the Miami cultural scene, and it is reflected in my lack of knowledge about the cultural renaissance that is exploding across downtown Miami. Just kidding. It's the same old dingy, scary, empty few blocks, not much going on. I would hate to think what might happen to a couple of tourists who get a flat tire, or a couple of kids who get in a drug deal gone wrong. Because the great thing about the location of the place formerly known as the Performing Arts Center, or PAC (they sold the naming rights to Carnival Cruise Lines, which, I guess, is better than Burger King), is the close proximity to one of the most drug dealer-rich neighborhoods in Miami (after the other new and hot neighborhoods, the Design District and Wynwood). Although in this case, with all the police milling about, I would recommend you bring your own, or, as we used to say, Arrive Stoned.
This is a place people love to hate, and, except for the view looking down from the fourth tier into the lobby below, which some might call 'soaring', I can understand the ambivalence. At intermission you may think about jumping, but just head over to the bar instead. Why they have volunteers or staff who don't speak English, or, even worse, slow bartenders who can barely handle a bottle of sparkling water, is beyond me. I mean, you have twelve minutes to recover at intermission, and you are going to need that drink fast! My recommendation, as with all cultural events (well, really all events in general), is bring a flask. Mine saved my evening, when, in the second portion of the show, they brought out the big hamster wheel and all the dancers started to swing from it. I actually had to slow down a little, as my head was beginning to spin as well. Luckily, I had purchased some food at the bar in anticipation of possibly peaking too soon-an 'artisanal' cheese plate. Now, I'm not no grammarian, nor am I one of those stinking word-lovers, but since when is a triangle of yellow cheese considered artisanal? And I'm pretty sure there was a tiny cube of feta, as well as an unidentifiable pale triangle that I threw on the floor in disgust after one bite. Bad cheese-I take it personally. Has 'artisanal' become just another generic buzz-word, a marketing ploy and nothing more?
Of course, at least artisanal HAD meaning at one time, as opposed to, say, Angus Beef, a pure marketing term-there is no evidence that Black Angus tastes better than Hereford, or any other breed for that matter. For you Cognac drinkers, same goes for VS and VSOP-pure industry marketing, I'm afraid. Or something that seems to be in fashion here in Miami (which means it's probably 5-10 years old), 'direct from the Chicago Stockyards'. Please. Now I'm supposed to care about exactly where they slaughtered the poor cow? “Raised on Mary Beth Willoughby's Heavenly Farms, at the foot of Mt. Shasta, in beautiful Siskiyou County, California, where he was raised in Barn No. 11, Stall D, and fed a wonderful diet of beer and Chee-tos, before we shipped him off to the Stockyards of Chicago, the Vegas of Stockyards, where we bid Brucie (our 4-year-old daughter Mollie's nickname for him-she's a big Springsteen fan!) adieu, before they hit him with the pith gun that drives an 8” spike into a cow's brain stem, killing him instantly. Enjoy!”
And speaking of beef, another very funny example of modern marketing is a TV ad from McDonald's that boasts that their beef is 'USDA inspected'. Wow, really? The only problem is that ALL beef sold in the United States must be USDA inspected, so I guess what McDonald's is saying, is that they are serving beef whose standards are the lowest they possibly can be, and still be legal for human consumption. Those are some bragging rights! And, luckily, there are several McDonald's (and not much else) in the area for your post-PAC event munchies drive-thru fix. I recommend you try the new artisanal fried apple pie.
At first this little carryout, which is super easy to miss, may seem forbidding. A little small and dark, an overworked staff, eyeballing from the customers at the few tiny tables, unfamiliar dishes, etc. But catch them in an un-busy moment, and all your little questions will be answered with a smile. And the food is worth the trouble, man. It's all flash anyway, there's really no worries here. These are Jamaicans cooking old school breakfasts, traditional Jamaican meals, and hearty soups every day. I can't go through the whole menu, so I'll just hit the high spots.
Callaloo (pictured below) is stewed greens with flaked cod fish, great for breakfast or lunch. It's a little spicy with a deep fish flavor (salt cod is usually used-it's a long process to reconstitute the salted, dried, fish, but if it's done right, it is worth it). Try to add some 'boiled food', like a dumpling or banana to your order. The dumplings are soft, then substantial, but not at all doughy. Breakfast is officially served until 11AM, but sometimes there is still some stuff warming in the steam table dishes later in the day. This is food that will not break down from a long exposure to heat.
Corn Meal Porridge, of which I'll share with you (sorry), is a beautiful butterscotch color, silky and sweet, and slightly spicy. It is perfect on its own, or as a foil for rich or substantial dishes. Just be careful, as the near-16 ounce portion ($3), goes a long way.
And this being Friday, it's Goat Head Soup day. This dish needs no explanation or description, but I will try anyway. First let me simply say that goat does not taste like chicken. The soup is filled with morsels of potato, turnip (or maybe malanga), goat fat, banana, celery, carrots, herbs, including an entire sprig of thyme, and soft, succulent, goat meat. Doesn't taste like head particularly, and that's probably a good thing. No eyeballs, either, except upon request. (Just kidding.) A rich, nourishing soup that will last long into the (long) weekend. $3/small Happy Indigenous People's Day... . Callaloo
Goat Head Soup
Kingston Delight 1340 NE 163rd St North Miami Beach (305) 957-7213
I'm a big fan of the special feasts that only happen on certain days, like Sunday supper and such, and the Brazilian feast known as feijoada is one of my favorites. Normally eaten with the whole family/friends/neighborhood on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, feijoada is a long-simmered black bean stew (feijao means beans), that usually contains many different parts of the pig. Many. Different. Parts. It also may contain fresh beef as well as dried beef, in the form of tasajo or carne seca, usually some kind of sausage, some salt pork/pork belly chunks, and, well, you get the picture. It is served with several traditional accompaniments, including white rice and farofa (toasted manioc flour-you shove it in your mouth instead of bread-weird but it works), peeled orange segments, and collard greens or kale (couve). The beverage of choice would be a caipirinha, which is made from cachaca, the Brazilian sugar cane liquor, shaken together with a sugar-muddled lime-pure alcohol, really, and a cocktail that rivals the better-known mojito (at least you won't be picking mint out of your teeth all evening). This is an afternoon feast, and there is usually music and dancing (Brazilians, people), and lots of laughter and camaraderie for the whole neighborhood.
At Boteco, at 916 NE 79th St., the feijoada feast is held only on the first Saturday of the month, making it even more special, and in September, it was packed. There were musicians playing, and there was even a dude on the patio, from Bahia, in the north of Brazil, frying acaraje, which are fried bean cakes (pictured); basically soaked black-eyed peas mashed into a paste and fried into cakes (like a big fritter), served with some hot sauce and a chopped tomato salad, which is piled into the center of the split-open acaraje. Authentic Bahian street food on 79th Street. Not bad. (Is 79th St poised to become the new restaurant row? We already have a parillada, Brazilian, Bavarian...)
I apologize for losing the man's business card (it was a long afternoon)-pick one up while you're there. As for the feijoada, I had just eaten an enormous sopa de res and about ten steaming hot tortillas at my favorite Mexican restaurant, to cure my hangover, and I was extremely full, so all I could do was drink more alcohol (inside tip-caipirinhas cure everything). But everyone I spoke to was very satisfied with the food. They bring in a Feijoada specialist for their feast, and there was plenty of food, with the trays constantly being refilled with fresh stuff.
(As an aside, just the amazing aromas brought me back to the shores of a little creek in the tiny town of Sana, in the countryside near Rio, where we danced forro every night until the sun came up-musicians putting everyone in a trance with just the triangle, bass drum, and accordion. Watching the broadcast of the huge Carnival celebration back in Rio on a scratchy TV with a hanger for an antenna in the town square, while cracking open beers for the under-aged kids. Dudes riding their horses up to the bar to get a drink. It was all so surreal. But back to the present.)
Everyone seemed to be going back to the buffet spread for seconds and thirds, and at $15 for all-you-can-eat, it's a ganga (bargain). The drinks are cheap, too. There were a lot of Brazilians there, some neighborhood types, and a lot of families-and this was at 2PM, on a very hot Saturday, mind you. I don't know if it got crazier later, but it was already a huge party. You could easily spend all afternoon here. Better skip breakfast, and also plan on a post-feast disco nap if you plan on going anywhere Saturday night.
Tudo bem? Tudo bom!
[Pronounced: Tudo Beng, Tudo Bong-You cool? It's All Good!]