Sunday, May 24, 2009

Getting it Right-Pizza Volante in the Design District...



Chef Jonathan Eismann doesn't want to leave anything to chance. Although he is a noted risk-taker-he races his own Ferrari and flies his own planes (although the planes are rentals, for now)-every detail at Pizza Volante, his new pizzeria/mozzarella bar in the Design District, has been well thought out and planned, right down to the height of the pizza oven (52", although he wishes it were lower now). He has had the same recipe for making pizza dough since his New York days, where he was possibly the prototype for Rocco DiSpirito, as he was the first chef for Jeffrey Chodorow's China Grill. He even had a nineteen year old Bobby Flay on his line at one time-ah, those were heady days.

And his eye for detail means that he is the one who gets up on a step-ladder to change some prices on the chalkboard menu. Is that a little too hands-on, maybe a little obsessive? "Not really," Eismann deadpans. "It's just that nobody here has really good hand-writing." The best thing about Pizza Volante for Eismann, is that it is just steps away from his flagship Pacific Time restaurant, on NE 39th St. He is trying to bring more movement to the 'west side' of the DD, and hopes Pizza Volante will accomplish that. He can also help set up at PV, make some sauce, do some prep, then go work lunch at PT, literally walking back and forth. Of course, for fun he could also drive his tiny Fiat back and forth the hundred or so feet (according to the chef it came from Italy "in a box"), but it probably will remain planted in front of PV for the foreseeable future.

The mozzarella from Italian transplant Vito Volpe (who is himself quite a character) has been rightly praised, especially right here. http://dailycocaine.blogspot.com/2008/04/italian-man-makes-pizza.html
And here http://dailycocaine.blogspot.com/2008/02/shutupayoumouth.html I knew Vito would become legend, and I'm proud to have been his earliest booster for all his great products (more whey butter, please?). But more on the mozzarella bar at a later date. I ate a great pie here, the 'Cacciatorini'. The meat toppings-a meaty 'California' pepperoni; the wild boar sausage that gives the pizza its name; and the guanciale, oh jesus the guanciale, were draped over a good-sized round of wood-smoke-charred dough, that had enough 'wood-char' on it to bring a smile to a lumberjack. In fact, the first, and most overpowering aroma of the pizza is that of the wood-smoke. The oven burns at about 800 degrees, with a wood-fire inside. The pine adds not just heat, of course, but the pies, when you have a live fire in the oven, must be turned constantly or they will burn. This takes technique and diligence, and makes sure that the pie can not be ignored.

The wines are very, very, cheap, and are served in tumblers. This helps prevent 'chef-shudder'-when a bunch of wine stems can be heard breaking, and the chef 'shudders' as he adds up the dollars he just lost. It also helps keep costs down, and I had a perfectly serviceable Chianti for $4 /glass. The bottle was $16. In fact, all of the wines are $18 or under/bottle. The pie ($11) had two slices left, which I took to go, so it was a pretty reasonably priced lunch, and would be an even more reasonable dinner. All of the DD heavyweights, like Craig Robbins, Michael and Tamara Schwartz, etc., had already been in before Saturday, when I stopped by, and I think Chef Eismann may be on to something here.

There are chefs (Michael Jacobs, Clay Conley) moving, or planning on moving, into Wynwood, and Pizza Volante sits at the juncture, almost, of the Design District and Wynwood. A gateway restaurant, if you will, with low prices, that also may have the effect of driving diners to try the chef's more upscale Pacific Time. So in the end, the risk-taking will have paid off. And maybe that's why the chef seemed so relaxed and expansive when I spoke with him on Saturday. He was already where he wanted Pizza Volante to be about 60 days out, and on just his second day. In this economy, maybe pizza is king.






Guanciale...









Char, baby...













Not running out of flour...


The cheapo wine list-and guess what? They deliver...










Pizza Volante
3918 N. Miami Ave
Miami, FL
305-573-5325

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Three Hots and a Cot...and Caviar?



Dulce de Leche-filled scones (front) and other pastries (beef and coconut/cheese) from Yiya's...

While not exactly subsisting on prison fare, we here at DailyCocaine have definitely been hacking away at the food budget until the piggy bank's ass has started to look, as someone used to say about the spring weather in Washington, DC, scrumptious. I started my day with these adorable little dulce de leche-filled scones from Yiya's, the new Cuban bakery on NE 79th St. Perfect size, and just sweet enough. A buck each.
I've heard it said that Cuban bread is a cry for help, but somehow Yiya's turns out a loaf that is soft on the inside, and just a little crunchy on the outside ($1.25). Cuban bread is made to be toasted or pressed, and toasted with a little peanut butter and sliced banana, it gave me a mellow morning protein lift.



Eggs are high on the list of cheapo fare, so I made a tortilla espaƱola for a light lunch. I used the Jose Andres method where you use potato chips instead of frying the potatoes. It doesn't really work that well, unless you are using pretty freshly fried potato chips (and then what's the point?) or super-premium chips. The leftover Lay's I had just gave the dish a faint hint of potato. I threw in some roasted red peppers, some sauteed red onions, a lot of pimenton dulce, and some fresh parsley. Sliced a few plum tomatoes, and ate it standing up outside on the patio, staring off into space, all zen-like.






Dinner was light, and easy. Just boiled some spaghetti (Anna), heated up some fried garlic in olive oil, dumped the spaghetti into the pan, swirled it around a bit, then onto the plate. A little fresh chopped parsley, some lemon zest shavings (microplane, people), and then I happened to have some leftover bottarga (from a food show) which I also shaved on top. Bottarga is the salted, dried roe of a mullet (or tuna), and is extremely subtle yet intense at the same time. The lemon really brings out the flavor. In fact, a few squeezes of lemon juice at the end won't hurt. And since it was free, it tasted even better. 'Cause cheap is good, but free is great. Even if you're not on the government's dime.
Didn't actually use the cheese in this dish, or the fresh garlic...
Best $1.65 you'll ever spend...
Bottarga is pressed, then packed in wax...In Italy, it is often called the poor man's caviar...

Friday, May 15, 2009

RACKS is not Italian for 'Boobs'...or is it?


All the action is in front of the pizza oven...




Or out on the waterfront patio...


All the agonizing lately about a code of ethics or some such nonsense for food bloggers/posters on the Internet, made me hungry; and then it made me realize just how much I love Racks (cough, the restaurant). This new Italian place with a great view on theIntracoastal in N. Miami Beach has great pizza It is baked in a domed brick/coal burning oven, and has the perfect crust-charred, a little ash-y, thin/crisp, but also a little chewy on top with that distinct dry coal finish. The oval-shaped pie I had was topped with artisanal sopressata secchi, goat cheese, aged provolone, and San Marzano tomatoes, and cooked just to the exact heat to separately bring out the best in all these high-quality ingredients, while also allowing them to mingle flavors for extra depth. When it is removed from the oven, the pie is then topped with a few hand-gratings of three-year-old Parmigiano-Reggiano, and some Olio Verde. The roof of my mouth is still ripped open the next day, as I could not stop consuming my two slices, right from the oven (which I was reverently standing in front of, naturally) before they cooled even slightly. I was offered one slice by the sweet-talking chef, but I 'mistakenly' ripped off two from the hot pie. I wanted to stay right at the counter, talking to the chef, Matthew, all evening, and just sample the pizzas as they came out of the oven. I mean I will talk to anyone about anything for perfect, free pizza, and his running commentary was pretty entertaining. He even explained that the dough spends three days rising in wooden boxes he had hand-made in New York. But there were 300 other people there, and they were all eating and drinking for free, like me, and I could endure the dirty/hungry looks no more.



Of course they also have the red Berkel hand-slicer (I loves you Berky-see below if you've never seen one in such sensuous, tantalizing action), and they were serving some beautiful prosciutto, speck, and some other imported salumi. But without a doubt, they have vaulted to the top of South Florida pizza-making. I guess that's easy, when, according to the chef, "You love what you do. You gotta love what you do." So yes, the secret ingredient, once again, as Marge Simpson once said, is salt. Sea salt.
video
Berky do your stuff...


video
[Insert Caption Here]



video
The perfect pie? Or is too dark to tell? Either way, owner Gary Rack has made his move...

Racks Italian Bistro and Market
Intracoastal Mall 163rd St and NE 36th Ave
N. Miami Beach, FL
305-917-7225
www.GRRestaurant.com

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Miami (Five) Spice Recipe-Grouper Fillets and Pasta For Two Under $10


Back row-Baiana peppers, limes, capers, mango, banana sauce...
Front row (clockwise from left)-Lavender sea salt, ginger, mushrooms, Asian cilantro, fat scallions...


Grouper fillets-12 oz. $3.99 (six frozen fillets) at Food Giant on 79th St Causeway...
Start wrapping in aluminum foil...cover with other ingredients, then other 3 fillets...


Wrap tightly and cook at 350 for 25 minutes. Unwrap and slide onto big plate...



The fish stays very moist in the foil-but don't overcook it...



Serve with some thin spaghetti, which has been doused with olive oil, fried garlic, and sriracha sauce...




This is also an unusual sauce for the fish...use discreetly...



These peppers are extremely hot-have plenty of cold beer ready...



From Brazil...




Did I mention the five-spice powder? Always works with fish... didn't end up using the mango in the dish-I ate it while waiting for the fish to cook. Who knew mango went so well with Hoegaarden?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Summer Rolls-Miami when it's hot...


Asian cilantro, fat scallions, limes, cucumbers, ginger, mangoes...

First crack open a cold beer, or even better, some cold sake. Then try out these cool refreshing 'summer rolls', which just require one to quickly cook some shrimp, cutting down on the heat required in the kitchen. Or you can buy them pre-cooked if you like. Or vegetarians can just leave them out-firm tofu works. Get a pack of spring roll wrappers from the Asian grocery, they are about a buck and a half for about a hundred (try NE 163rd St-there are plenty of Asian markets on that strip). I pick up my groceries at LaGuardia market on NE 2nd ave and 34th St-all the items above for $3.50. Soak the wrappers in cold water for about 30 seconds, then carefully lift out and place on a plate. Have everything else at hand, and start wrapping, burrito-style. Don't fill too much or they will break. Put all your handiwork in the fridge, and let cool down for an hour. Crack open another beer.
Chinese secrets....I hate to give this one away, but five-spice powder is the best for making your dishes taste authentically Asian. Five spices, already mixed, sprinkle on the shrimp while you're cooking it. You get all the glory, almost no work. Works on everything. Also, aside from soy sauce, buy some oyster sauce-great for dipping. Make sure that 'oyster' is listed at the top of the ingredients. Buy the wasabi in the tube while you're there, too. Make sure the ingredients list 'wasabi'. Trust me.
Summer Rolls-the perfect cure for heat-stroke, and whining...


The assembly process is helped along by copious cans of cold beer...


Get the cat involved-they love shrimp, too, once they figure out what it is...


Sloppy, but pretty tasty. Dip in soy sauce, oyster sauce, or a combination of oyster, soy, and wasabi.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Miami's Choice Cafe Still Rules Wynwood...

{I've heard many rumors lately about Choice Cafe's imminent demise. However, CC is still here, at least for the moment. Do not delay your visit! Things do change fast here, and you do not want to miss this true Miami joint. In fact, I am 'repurposing' this post, which is almost a year old, to let everyone know that nothing has changed at Choice, and it is still one of a kind.}

The hole-in-the-wall joint that you heard about but weren't sure actually existed? On a street that, even when it's crowded, looks deserted? Because three's a crowd on NW 3rd Ave., in whatever the heck the Miami Chamber of Commerce is calling this 'district' this week (Fashion? Arts? Let's wait until the developers get their two cents in...). It's right around the corner from the Rubell Collection, and would be a perfect spot for the employees' cafeteria. In fact, it's also hard by MOCA at the Goldman, the Margulies, and the Bakehouse, and just a few blocks from most everybody else in the Wynwood crawl. You'd expect slumming art slags all over the place, slurping their Bibimbap, and watching the TV tuned to Japanese baseball. But there's just a few local workers, and a slow but steady crew of Koreans, with nary an asymmetrical haircut in sight.

A reader and fellow food-lover hipped me to this place, and I hope they don't get fired from their job for aiding and abetting. But I'm certainly not the first person to write about Choice Cafe, and I have a feeling I won't be the last. This is a place where the food is delicately yet firmly spiced, and even the panchan, the five or six little traditional side dish accompaniments, each have something special about them. The chef, the dude with the food-spattered t-shirt, is Go. He mans the over-sized wok, and will happily explain anything you don't understand to you, if he is not cooking. The front of the house is run by the delightful yet stern Kui, who pretends she doesn't speak English (or is pretending to pretend-maybe it's all an ironic performance piece), and prefers when you order by number. She will also ring you up, and roll out the cart to deliver your food.

In deference to taskmaster Kui...

#3..."Kimchi & Pork BBQ spicy marinated thin sliced" ($11.95)
#6..."Homemade noodle top cooked w/potato, pork & bean past[e] special sauce" ($7.95) #8..."Mixed seafood & vegetables with soft tofu in a heated stone pot ($8.95)
#15..."Steam rice, beef & vegetables in a heated stone pot w/house spicy sauce" ($9.95) #21..."Pan fried dumplings" ($7.95)

Everything was served promptly, fresh and hot, and each dish had its own distinctive textures and tastes. This isn't some cheapo joint throwing out lifeless, forgettable food. There is a mastery and love of Koren cuisine here, albeit on a short menu (and I am certainly no expert on Korean food), that comes through in each dish. And as you return, the frosty Kui and the likable Go will probably remember you, and make the extra effort to make sure everything is just right. As long as you order by number

Choice Cafe
2750 NW 3rd Ave
Miami, FL 33127
(305) 438-4224
Open M-F for breakfast and lunch (11AM-4PM, more or less)






Number 8....


I had to add a few rough videos so you could see how hot and bubbly the food was, and how much fun we had eating it...

Number 6
Number 6, Number 21, panchan
Number 21
radish, onion (panchan)
Number 8



Number 15, panchan, Number 3
Number 15, crunchy rice

Homey
They also have an English menu




Clean
Artsy
Number 15
Number 3
Panchan


Total Pigout... Someone please give that guy a napkin and tell him to slow down...





video

video

video

video



Choice Cafe

2750 NW 3rd Ave

Miami, FL 33127

(305) 438-4224

Open M-F for breakfast and lunch (closing around 4 or 5 PM)
video