Thursday, January 31, 2008

Miami Shores Mullet

Like Chef Dewey LoSasso at North One10 has his Miami Shores Mangoes, this guy likes to keep it local with Miami Shores Mullet. Andy, from Puerto Rico, by way of Brooklyn, and Miami Shores, catches some mullet off a bridge, a few hundred feet from where I live (below). I saw a couple of hundred in the school, and he just made a bad throw and hit a tree, and got only one (he can snag two dozen in one throw). They looked good enough to eat, and I wanted to take some home to grill, kind of like the passing bus driver. But Andy actually uses the mullet as bait to catch Bluefish and King Mackeral down at the beach. We left him, and the fish (they sense you're there and head out), alone, and he promised us some Bluefish. Doesn't get more local than that.
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Monday, January 28, 2008

Rib Reverend

(Click after the text to smell the smoke)



Pastor/Rib Blaster Mark A. Gibson and his twin smokers return to his old spot in the church parking lot at 4600 NW 2nd Ave with a clap of thunder! Even though his card states 'Ribs-2-Go' and 'Mobile BBQ', it seems as though he plans to set a spell, after his 'vacation' over at 45th and N. Miami Ave. He has a new "72-Hour" secret marinating regimen, and I believe the ribs he is now serving are possibly the juiciest I've ever had. The taste has always been top-five, but I think he shoots to the top of the best-seller list with his latest batch. Smoked just right, warm and tender with just a little bit of understated but complementary homemade sauce whose recipe is also, of course, a secret. (These ribs are delicious without sauce, too, but a little goes a long way.) You can even drive up and he'll bring it to your window (above). I may be dreaming, but I think I've found the promised land. Of ribs. The secret is out.


(He also does chicken, which everyone was ordering, too, but I didn't get a chance to taste it. Mark is pretty much there all the time, reasonable hours. Look for the big yellow banner and a big man in shades.)





Scratch and Sniff below. You can smell the Smoke.


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Sunday, January 27, 2008

See Miami in a New Light...

I was motoring down NW 2nd Avenue on Saturday, and I came across this inpromptu musical feast, co-starring local Miami celebrity-troubador, Jesse Jackson, who had also stumbled upon these guys in the parking lot of the beer store at NW 36th St. Makes you believe in Miami all over again. Bailo!
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Saturday, January 26, 2008

This Is Hot...




North One10 Chef Dewey LoSasso's Wattle-Seed Seared Scallops With Dragon Fruit, Virgin Dewey, and Hot sauces (above). I mention Chef LoSasso first because he had the smart idea to bring Owner/Grower Roger Washington from Red Dragon Fruit Company to the Upper East Side Green Market. You wanted farmers? You got farmers. Roger was handing out samples of his heirloom tomato varieties, which include Pink Brandywine, Red Brandywine, Cavern, Cherokee, Green Zebras, Black Prince and Garden Peach (below), so named for their lightly fuzzy texture. All the tomatoes I tasted were vibrant with flavor, with subtle nuances that surprised and delighted me, including the tiny yellow teardrop, fresh from the farm. He had organic avocados and bananas. He also grows lychee's, longan, jack fruit, and mangoes. (Funny, but mangoes almost sound ordinary in that group.) He was cutting up a canistal for a kid who 'only had three dollars' (this exotic fruit can get expensive), and showing him how to eat it (you scoop out the flesh with a spoon). Coincidentally, his farm is adjacent to Gaby's Farms http://www.miamisunpost.com/011008bites.htm and he supplies her with passion fruits for her sorbet. As Dale LoSasso looks on (third photo down), Sandra Stefani enjoys a Virgin Dewey. Let me just say that we both felt it was a great drink on a hot day, refreshing and nutritious, and that we were both looking at each other to see who had brought the ice-cold vodka. I assumed she had it under a basket at her booth, but she demurred (she also told me she sold out of her artisan breads). The hot sauce has habaneros in it, the second hottest pepper in the world, but the guava hot sauce starts out sweet, and then the fire builds. Just when you think you're going to start tearing, it magically dissipates. The Hot Sauce is pretty hot. I slurped down a teaspoon, and almost instantly I thought I was in trouble. Hot, hot, hot....and then just a lingering peppery taste, just as you start nervously looking around for a bottle of water.












Vito was selling fresh handmade Mozzarella ($6/lb), caprese's ($3 each), and burrata's ($4 each), and fresh ricotta $6/lb). He also sells canolli's that looked so freakin good, as well as Taralli, kind of like a small Italian pretzel (below), that is typical of Apulia, where Vito is from. The item I was most intrigued by, however, was the ricotta muffin. Mengya they looked good.












'Be Organic', the chalkboard said. I missed the escargot ($10), but everyone seemed to be lusting after the mango mousse. And I didn't get to try the handground spice mixes, from the spice lady, although everyone seemed to be lusting after them (and maybe her), as well.








And finally I had to go, so I said goodbye to the boys, to the girls, to the girls with dogs, and to the dogs. Chow.



























...and this...








Friday, January 25, 2008

How Hot is It?


Normally hot sauce that wants to tell you it's hot has some screaming monkey with its hair on fire on the label. This no-frills label scares me, kind of like the plain white label on a bottle of moonshined mescal that just says 'Mescal'. Come to think of it, hot sauce and mescal go together pretty well. Maybe not for breakfast; or maybe especially for breakfast. Staggering shirtless down the 5 AM street in Mazatlan's dusty outskirts, bottle of mescal held with two fingers sweaty and dirty, arm of a plump teenager wrapped tightly around my waist for balance, bottle of habanero pepper sauce stuck in the top of my ripped and bloodied jeans (her brother)...

Anyhoo, if you're coming to the Upper East Side Green Market, try some of this sauce in a Virgin Dewey, Chef Dewey LoSasso's take on the Bloody (Virgin) Mary. You'll have to bring your own booze.

Wait, Virgin Dewey? God, I hope not.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Best Mexican, Part II: The Extraterrestrial Burrito...


When I go out for Burritos, I always bring one home for my constant companion. It looks so soft and tasty, filled with authentic Mexican ingredients.



I love Mexican food. I love fresh tacos al carbon, and I love huevos rancheros, and I love a nice soft burrito, filled with tasty ingredients. I'll travel far and wide for that. So you can imagine how shocked I was that this neighborhood eatery, just a few blocks from my home, was serving a special burrito, only available in the morning, filled with all my favorite ingredients. Turns out all of their ingredients are sourced, all of their meat is USDA-inspected, and all of their help is local. No tipping allowed (take that, evil corporate Starbucks), and you can stay as long as you want. I couldn't believe, when I chatted with their spokesperson, (and by chatted, I mean looked it up on the website), that all of their chickens and cows are fed right up until almost the moment they are slaughtered, to keep them happy. Happy pigs make better sausage, they say. Although you probably don't want to watch THAT. Gross.
I passed by a worker with one arm, and thought to myself, in the land of the blind, he'd be king. But here, he was just comically trying to get a broom around an errant napkin. Imagine my delight, eleven minutes later (that's how long it took to get my food), when I passed him again on the way to my booth, and he was down on his knees trying to grab the napkin with his teeth. I applauded his efforts. And then I looked down and beheld my treasure, like a pirate looking down and beholding a he-she named Shwampnuts. It was a little greasy, like Shwampnuts, and it smelled like a pygmy's foreskin. Heaven, dear boy. I hesitated to unwrap it, so that I could prolong the magic of the moment, but then 'lefty' came over and asked if I wanted him to clean off the table. No thank you, I replied, I'm actually enjoying the previous thirty or so customers' built-up spittle, drool, eye-boogers, snot, and hair-grease ( a lot of customers here eat with their heads on the table, it seems). And anyway, the stickiness was holding my napkins in place (the air-conditioning was blowing like, well, Shwampnuts).
I shooed the flies away and began conquering my burrito like Vasco de Gama conquered Mrs. De Gama, and let me tell you: whatever clown makes these luscious loads of bowel-knotting tent-poles must be from outer space, because there is no way anyone who puts together a burrito like this is human. I never ate anything faster, or with more delight and revulsion. I was being naughty. Nasty, even. Yeah, nasty works. I couldn't finish it all, because it was too perfect, and you always want to leave wanting more, wishing for more. As a great restaurant critic once said, long ago, I could eat that burrito for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. (Okay, I lied. It was yesterday.)
I left half the thing on the table, and nodded over at a half-asleep dishwasher. As we used to say in the food-biz, Hey Chazz, why don't you clean the enclosure? That's what we called the dining room. Fancy, huh? I meant it as code for my fellow restaurant-tooer, the dishwasher, that he could finish my meal, I hadn't dropped it on the floor or anything. He made a bee-line for the table just barely beating out the one-armed sweeper who licked his lips at his tragic loss, and absent-mindedly scratched his stump, while Speedy swallowed the remains in one gulp, like a hunk of raw tuna sashimi, sans the mercury.
It was then that I waved goodbye to the cheery staff of this arched establishment, and laid a blessing on them. “Like Shwampnuts' showers, may all of your meals here be golden.”



...and on the inside...



(I think that part came from the crotch.)

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Why is There a Press Chops?

http://www.presschops.blogspot.com/

When I was younger I always loved the 'Press Clips' column in the Village Voice. Crotchety dudes would muckrake through the media and destroy their enemies from within. Blunders, lies, cozy relationships, crookedness; journalists who were deemed guilty of any of these crimes and many others were mercilessly exposed and pilloried by the likes of the radical-left-leaning Alexander Cockburn, who often wrote as though he were wiping the bile off his mouth with his right hand as he typed with his left. I'm not saying that what happens in restaurant reviewing is as important as real journalists getting things right. Or...am I? With today's emphasis on 'sustainable' food, and the push (especially in the media) to change the way everyone in this country looks at the way we eat, maybe it is important enough to be taken seriously, and not sloughed off as mere insipid, genre writing. Or...is it? With this column, I'm going to take a look into the weekly shenanigans of our local food pimps, whip myself up into a righteous frenzy when I feel they've used their bully pulpits for naught, and give credit where credit is due when they get it right (just kidding-I'll leave the credit-giving to the rest of the sycophantic foodie tribe). And I promise that all words used in this column will be organic (at least according to USDA standards).

So please go to www.presschops.blogspot.com and let me know what you think. Slurp.

Red Light on the Boulevard


Chef Kris Wessel will do the dishes if he has to...






Chef Kris Wessel has a lot on his mind. But luckily, after nine-plus months trying to open 'red light', his 'regional dining lounge' on Biscayne Boulevard, it's not the crack dealers and their customers, who used to show up on bicycles to buy crack right where he is planning some outdoor, waterfront, seating. He points at the newly remodeled waterfront rooms that no longer serve as 24-hour crack cocaine convenience stores. Chef Wessel, a New Orleans native who came to Miami to attend FIU and never left, is opening his spot (hopefully in about three weeks) in the surprisingly upgraded Motel Blu, at Biscayne and NE 78th St., right on the even more surprising Little River. Although I haven't seen the river up this close for a while, I am still amazed at how clean and free-flowing it appears. He remembers garbage floating by, and getting stuck; and shopping carts rooted in the river, which flowed poorly due to overgrown brush. I remember at least one home appliance (dishwasher?), and the occasional sight of some hookers, dressed in heels and hotpants, fishing off the bridge with their pimps. Now that is what you call a slow day.
But with the Boulevard almost finished, Chef Wessel is starting to look like a genius. There was an old lounge on this spot, so he will have a full liquor license, with a bar right on the flowing river. (Seriously, I saw egrets, pelicans, and he says there are also manatees swimming by. It was shocking.) His cooking, which is legendary, mostly because his restaurants have closed so abruptly, leaving many who have never tasted his food wanting desperately to try it, has many people on the mainland eagerly anticipating another reason to avoid the trip to another overrated crap-shack on the beach. He likes the fact that there will still be a bit of the risqué to the neighborhood-the water view also includes a view of Black Gold, a landmark strip club. I mention that when people ask about the neighborhood (I live a few blocks away), I jokingly tell them that I have the Bay on one side, and strip clubs on the other three. Jokingly.
He is ready for the future, though. He plans on serving a mid-priced menu, emphasis on seafood, with a Florida/Caribbean sensibility, no white table cloths, and, did I mention, a big bar space downstairs facing the river? A potentially neighborhood-changing spot, within walking distance of the other places on the New Restaurant Row, NE 79th St. For a man about to embark on a possibly life-changing adventure, the tall and fit Wessel looks mightily relaxed. He even shows up at 8AM to make coffee for the community meeting taking place upstairs in the neatly-decorated dining room, which also, miraculously, has a bar. And he doesn't blame his delayed opening on red tape, but on “no money”. I don't think he'll be having that problem for long.



If he can get this excited about a dishwasher...

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Celebrity Chefs Invade Green Market...



Michael Schwartz Got the Good Stuff




Dale (far left) and Dewey (right) LoSasso Got the Good Hot Sauce



Sandra Stefani (left) Got the Goodies...



Soft and Spongy....


When some of the top chefs in Miami are at your local Green Market, you know something exciting is happening. Dewey and Dale LoSasso were dishing out Indonesian Chicken Salad, and when I told them I was on a raw foods cleanse, they tried to tempt me with a crème brulee (I think it might have been lime), which the chef had just caramelized (the torch was at his right hand). They also serve espresso, and maybe one or two other items. They are a delightful and friendly couple, and appeared to be enjoying a great sunny day. Their commitment to the neighborhood is solid. I think they had to endure about three years of road construction right in front of their Biscayne Boulevard restaurant, North One10, one of my top three restaurants in Miami. An unusual thing about their place is that I have seen prices not only go up occasionally, but also go down. I think their mushroom risotto is one of the best mushroom dishes I've ever eaten, and also one of the best risottos I've ever eaten.


Across the way was Casa Toscana's Sandra Stefani, who has just started serving lunch at her Italian Market and Wine Store on Ne 2nd Ave. in Miami Shores. She had a great array of meats, cheeses, and breads, and pastas imported from Italy. Incidentally, I know she will tell you that she makes the best risotto in Miami. I admire her chutzpah, and I have to say it is amazing. Try it at her restaurant on the Boulevard on a cool evening, it will warm your belly.


Also spotted was Michael Schwartz, of Michael's Genuine. Had a nice chat with him about farm fresh double yolk eggs, which he was buying at the market. At $4.50/dozen, that's a lot cheaper than the $1 per egg I paid at Glaser's Organic Market in the Grove. I will say, though, that the One Dollar eggs were free-range 'organic' (whatever that means), albeit somewhat small. I ate them soft-boiled, sprinkled with a few crystals of lavender sea salt to get the most out of them. They were fresh and creamy, and if you haven't eaten a real farm fresh egg lately, for one or two dollars, they will bring you back to a time when your morning eggs had a deliciously distinct taste. I don't know what dish Chef Schwartz was planning for the eggs, but I wish I had had dinner reservations at Michael's last night.


But I had bought my own food, and the fat, round Italian eggplant, that the vendor said was sweet, and wouldn't need any salting, was beckoning. I prepared an amazing semi-raw foods dinner, eggplant parmigiana. I sliced the eggplant thinly, broiled it for about five minutes per side, then topped it with a raw tomato/basil sauce, and a creamy cheese made from pine nuts. I served a raw corn and mint salad on the side. I have to say, it was stupendous, and very sweet.



Day Six of the cleanse ended with trays of mini-burgers at the Standrard, and free booze, but Alex and I stuck to our Club Sodas and Bingo. We headed out at 11 PM, and people asked us where we were going 'after'. (In Miami everything happens 'after'.) Home, we replied, to everyone's utter disbelief.
Day Six of the Cleanse ended without incident.


Eggplant Parmigiana and Raw Corn and Mint Salad


Thursday, January 17, 2008

Breakfast Two Ways...



On New Year's Day, there is not much open in Clarksdale, Mississippi. There are Bowl Games on at the Delta Amusement and Blues Cafe, where the Arkansas fans are drinking hot coffee, tipping back their chairs and cursing, wondering how a) it got so goddamned cold in Mississippi (28 degrees, bitches), b) how the fuck did Arkansas fuck up so badly, and c) where the hell IS everybody? (Oh, right, it's 28 degrees, and we're in Clarksdale.) I'm not leaving the hotel room, I got a hangover and a sudden urge to lie around and watch Bowl games myself, but my traveling companion is starving at some point, and succumbs to road hunger first. She heads over to the cafe, and her brown Venezuelan skin, and Spanish accent, not for the first time on this trip, raise more than a few eyebrows from the large-belt-buckle-wearing, cowboy-hat-doffing, shyly charming, Southern gentlemen. This is a culture clash in which she has a lot of trouble deciphering the accents, and they hers, but it will all be sorted out over some hot coffee. When she asks what smells so good, and what is it that that gentleman is eating, it turns out he is the co-owner with his wife, and she has cooked up a big pot of black-eyed peas, a traditional southern good luck treat for New Year's. It guarantees good luck all year if you eat black-eyed peas on New Year's, in fact, and she spoons a big heap into a bowl for the Venezuelan, who of course feels compelled to mention that her companion is Jewish, to make her seem less exotic. “Oh, we have some of those here,” they nonchalantly reply. Of course there's some tasty pork in there, and she gives her a bowl to go for me. They don't see many Jews here, especially them what eats pork. And that's not all-the breakfast in the take-out styrofoam container, that we each devour in our motel beds, has eggs, toast, grits, biscuits, a short stack (the butter already politely placed between the pancakes for better dissolvement), homemade, dare I say, delicate, hash browns, and homemade sausage patties. “Now I know why people eat these things,”says someone who has never had anything but frozen. Yeah, pork is its own food group in the south, and Good Luck will be our companion all year.
Day Four of the Raw Foods Cleanse brought quiet. I juiced some carrots. beets. apples. celery, and ginger, then squeezed some tangelo (clementine) juice on top. Really delicious and energizing. Feel 'lighter'. Coffee and booze missed much today, dreaming about espresso and red wine. And Manchego cheese. Had several raw macadamias. My companion spit them out. She'll regret that. For more info on the 21-Day Raw Foods Cleanse, or to play along, go to www.chetday.com I've lost seven pounds, and my skin is positively glowing...


Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Outspoken and Outta Sight...





















New Orleans has Bourbon St., and Memphis has Beale St. On Bourbon you'll hear mostly jazz, zydeco, and a lot of 'show us your tits'. On Beale St., blues, soul, and R&B rule. There is a statue of W.C. Handy, the godfather of the blues, in the park, and also one of Rufus Thomas, the Ambassador of Soul, and the King of Rhythm and Blues. I'd been dreaming of eating at the Rendezvous, in an alley off 2nd St., since 1988, when I first heard John Hyatt sing “At least we can get ourselves a decent meal/Down at the Rendezvous.” We drove up from Clarksdale, Mississippi, and meandered about. Well, even though it was New Year's Eve weekend, the Rendezvous was closed, so I guess Charlie Vergos, the owner since 1948, can afford a day or two off. In fact it was closed until the tenth, so we headed back to Beale St. and settled into the Blues City Cafe on the corner of 2nd St. and Beale. At our old wine bar Stop Miami, we served Abita beers, but it became harder and harder to get in the quantity we needed. But here, like in New Orleans where it's a local beer, it's everywhere. We order two Purple Hazes, a half-slab of ribs, a bowl of seafood gumbo (okra moment #1), and some hot tamales. The ribs are dry-rubbed, Memphis-style, and they're crisped, pretty meaty, juicy and tender. A good rib. The gumbo is tangy, and the hot tamales are dense with corn. The spicy ground meat filling is definitely not Mexican, more like Southwest. I could see how after a lot of drinking, a plate of tamales here could end every single night. We were heading back to Clarksdale for New Year's, but we had a feeling we'd be back to Memphis, in the meantime.
Day three of the cleanse finds us in a better mood, as yesterday was pretty painful, starting with no coffee. Headaches, stuffy nose, poisons coming out from everywhere...Starting to remember that I love raw fruits and vegetables. Can't wait for the weekend when I score my okra.