Monday, December 29, 2008

New Year's Eve at Casa Toscana or North One10?

Romantic table for two at Casa Toscana...

The Wine Grotto at Casa Toscana...

Tough call, as both are in walking distance from my house, more or less. Casa Toscana is traditionally Italian, homey and cozy, and North One10 is cutting-edge cozy and homey. But here are the menus. You decide...but you better hurry up as reservations are filling up...



Duck sausage lentils and wild greens baked in a parmesan basket 15.

Wild mushrooms and Taleggio cheese tart with truffle oil 14.

Crabmeat roasted vegetables and wild greens soup 12.

Goat cheese stuffed zucchini blossoms with citrus risotto cake 14.

“Maltagliati” uneven cut pasta with rosemary scented wild boar ragout and shaved pecorino cheese 21.

Open lasagna with shrimps in creamy lemon citrus sauce 23.Black Grouper and grilled Scallops with roasted baby bell peppers in yellow tomato bisque 32.

Risotto with chunky Lobster Prosecco and chives 28.

Grilled trio of Venison tenderloin beef tenderloin and Lamb fennel sausage with gorgonzola potato mash and caramelized baby golden beets 36.


Lavander scented panna cotta with almond spike 12.

Homemade blood orange semifredo with rosemary cookies 14.

Flourless chocolate cake with espresso mascarpone mousse 14.

Panettone pudding with vanilla ice cream 12.

Vin Santo and biscotti (a Tuscan tradition) 14.


























North One10 Dining Room

Christmas Eve at Miami's Royal Bavarian Schnitzel Haus

My constant companion and I have been going to the RBSH for Christmas Eve Goose Dinner since it opened. Although I wrote this piece years ago, and some of the personnel has changed, the moment of that goose arriving, and the warmth of Chef Alex Richter, his staff, and the festive ambiance have not changed one bit...

Chef Alex Richter, whose Christmas Eve Goose Dinner is legendary....wait 'til Karaoke starts up again on Mondays after New Year's

I'm gonna get killed for this...

A total Zen moment...

...followed by...

...preceded by...

Homemade sausages and pretzel.

Kind of woozy at this point...

There is nothing like a Christmas Eve goose dinner, and nowhere better to celebrate Christmas than in sunny Miami FLA. All thoughts of the North Pole drift away on the warm ocean breezes, and the palm trees sway along Biscayne Bay, where some sailboats are sliding under the raised drawbridge. They say that people in Miami don’t mind waiting in traffic for the boats to glide under the drawbridges, because everyone imagines that someday that will be them sailing by. In a small restaurant just off the water, if you look around and listen to the languages being spoken, you might be surprised, since this is Miami, NOT to hear Spanish, but German and Turkish. It’s as if Miami were a small German town near the water; and the aromas from the kitchen and the big black beers on the bar complete the illusion. It doesn’t hurt that the owner and chef, Alex Richter, is a hearty man, big and bald, and charmingly gap-toothed, a la Schwarzenegger, who stands behind the bar in his packed, yet comfortable, place, and chats amiably with friends and neighbors who sit at or near the bar. “Tesekur Ederim,” he waves to an older babushka-wearing woman, who is visiting from Turkey. Her daughter, Tuva, is the waitress here, and, as Mr. Richter waves his thanks, she explains that she hasn’t seen her mother in five years. A nice Christmas reunion. My wife and I happen to be lucky enough to live around the corner from The Royal Bavarian Schnitzel Haus, but it is the kind of place you must seek out, whatever the location. You are not going to leave the ‘Haus hungry, or thirsty, and you will remember your visit as warm and toasty, even if the weather outside is not ‘frightful!’ The special Christmas Eve menu included a “Portion of fresh crisp oven roasted Goose”, and we are lucky to get the last ‘portion’. It is a huge leg attached to a piece of breast (goose breasts don’t have an awful lot of meat), and it is the kind of thing that, even though it is as big as your forearm, you know that at some point you will have to pick it up and eat directly from the bone. When I do this halfway through the meal, the leg almost snaps off the breast (I swear my hands are15 inches apart holding this thing), and I envision it flying through the air and smacking a gentleman at the bar across the face. He must have seen it coming, too, because he flinched and ducked when the bones snapped. But let me start at the beginning, and of course that means the sausage. It is inconceivable not to start your meal with sausage, and Chef Richter makes his own. The ‘Original “Munich Weisswurst” with sweet Mustard’, is an unusually subtle, pale sausage, whose deep flavor is countered by its smooth texture. A tiny, tiny, dab of sweet mustard is almost more than this juicy wurst needs to disappear, and it is pleasantly light on the stomach. This is followed by a salad of winter greens dressed with warm goat cheese, which is a crunchy palate-cleanser. But the animal awaits. Sourcing goose in Miami is not the easiest thing to do, and Chef Richter gets his from up north. In fact, as he told me, his meaty and plump geese come from Pennsylvania, and are provided by none other than the Amish! I had previously been unaware of a ‘Miami-Amish connection’. Obviously you can’t just pick up the phone and order. The chef sends a letter to a neighbor of the family who raise the geese. The neighbor contacts the farmer, and he let’s the Chef know when the geese are ready. When Chef Richter had a Mother’s Day special of goose, the spring birds were a little skinny, so he is very happy with the plump winter birds he received for Christmas. The goose is roasted and served with red cabbage, reduced pan juices, and a potato dumpling the size of a lacrosse ball. All of the flavors are complementary, and, again, everything is substantial, but unexpectedly light. Even the dumpling, which is savory and flavorful, and the cabbage, red and semi-crunchy, have distinct flavors and textures. The goose is perfect, smelling of the oven and the farm; the leg moist and wild, with the meat attached to the bone the most succulent of all, demanding the aforementioned liftoff. It is not easy to gnaw on a goose leg in a crowded restaurant without losing your dignity, but it was essential, and worth it, my face smeared with goose fat, the King of Fat. Luckily, you are provided with a large and thick cloth napkin. All of this was washed down with a black German beer in a huge stein. The other entrée on the special menu was a baked seafood-stuffed salmon fillet, served with fresh vegetables and mashed potatoes. While not heavenly like the goose, it was nice to have something to eat while I waited for my wife to pass the plate with the bird back to me. There was a dessert and traditional Bavarian Gluehwein, a hot, spiced wine served in a festive mug, but by this time we had had our fill, and the desserts were graciously wrapped to go. The festive atmosphere and warm-hearted welcome stayed with us, and reminded us of our own Christmas party the night before, where we served traditional Venezuelan treats like pan de jamon and hallacas, and drank the Puerto Rican Christmas drink Coquito. World’s apart, but just around the corner.

Tables looked beautiful...

Hot spiced wine (Gluehwein) and cookies come before the traditional dessert. BEFORE THE DESSERT...

Yes there was a salad...

...and dessert...which we brought home for Christmas morning breakfast....

Sunday, December 28, 2008

When 'Local' Means Your Own Backyard

Fresh Grouper Sandwich

Fried Oyster Sandwich and Slaw

Frog's Legs over french fries and gravy

Alligator Fry Bread

The owner's delightful daughter...

View from behind the sangria

Homemade sangria poured from a jug...

Sometimes a drive to the country clears the head. The lonesome, even sometimes boring, stretch of highway, with the promise up ahead of nothing more than quiet and distance, stretches out before me, and I glide along on an empty brain and a Nina Simone CD. The relief comes about 90 miles away, in a place called Everglades City, pop. 513. An odd place, one that was supposed to have been a golden place. But like many Florida dreams, this one ended not with a bang, but with a whimper, when cities like Naples and Miami bullied their way onto the stage, leaving EC, as I like to call it, a sleepy gateway to other, more exotic, places. (Also leaving it room to become a leading drop off point for pot smugglers in the '70's and 80's.) And on an August Thursday afternoon, the pure clean air and quiet waters are all the evidence one needs of this place's simple charms. Over some strong coffee at Big House Coffee, which is actually in Chokoloskee (don't ask), I wonder where a poor city kid can get a decent lunch away from the crowds (just kidding-there's no one here). I 'm sent to Camellia Street Grill, whose screened-in dining room, with a wrap-around porch, overlooks the waterway where air boats and barges cruise by. Go ahead, wave to the nice man in the cowboy hat. The chef/owner, Terri Rementeria, is a pleasant, smiling woman, whose pride in her restaurant is evident. Help yourself to a drink, like the just-sweetened iced tea, and order off the blackboard menu. This is frog's legs country, and here, instead of fried like in most places, they are served sauteed, so I order them along with a salad. They are moist, taste like froggy chicken, and I pick up each one to get the last of the white, silky meat. Their juiciness is the result of expert pan-work by the chef. The herbed bed of rice on which they are served absorbs some of the juices, which give it an extra-rich flavor. The salad is fresh-all the ingredients, I'm told, except for a little iceberg lettuce added 'for color', are from the garden out back. The salad is topped with various edible flowers, including hibiscus, and is just gorgeous. Fresh basil, fennel, and, surprisingly, collard greens, are aromatic in the warm, humid air, and it feels like you are eating as close to the land as one can eat today. The view from the porch, along with the slight afternoon breeze, and this simply but expertly prepared lunch, is gently relaxing my brain and body. Terri reminds me that this is the South, thus the collards, and the warm hospitality that always ends with a 'come back and see us'. As I walk back outside for the drive back to Miami, there's the fragrant garden, with everything in full bloom. The wooden screen door, on its spring metal coils, boings shut, and I imagine the chef, with fistfuls of fresh-picked greens and blossoms, making her way to the kitchen, to wash and chop the just-picked morsels, and compose another soul-satisfying meal, for another weary traveler.
NB-Before you head back to your car, check out the photo exhibit in the men's room. Tight.
Camellia Street Grill
208 Camellia St
Everglades City, FL
(239) 695-2003

Friday, December 12, 2008

Michelle Bernstein Threatens Michael Schwartz Empire!

Just kidding. There's plenty of room for both in the Design District, and to prove it, I ate (and drank) at both the other night. At Sra. Martinez I went with the Tortilla Española, and a $4 glass of Borsao red. It is an amazingly cheap glass, that drinks very well, and the tortilla was moist, a little bit loose, and glazed with mayo. A very gutsy take on the traditional presentation, although it definitely needed some salt and pepper. At Michael's Genuine, I went with the chicken wings and a $13 roasted pepper martini. The bartender Ryan, uses the juice from roasted peppers, muddles some basil, some lemon vodka, and maybe a lemon? (My notes are unreadable.) Really great taste, subtle yet definitely adding an unexpected smoothness. Chicken wings are something I almost never order outside of say some sort of Shuckers or Kingdom drunkfest, but these are classed up by a great hot/sweet glaze, and a cucumber yogurt sauce on the side. The juiciest damn chicken wings-fresh, and obviously from a great chicken.

(For more on the Bernstein croqueta battle, see . When will Schwartz enter the croqueta fray?)

Sra. Martinez Berkel Hand-Cranked

The Tortilla

Michael's Wings

Both places were packed, by the way, and the chef-and-spouse eye-candy quotient was high...
Sra. Martinez's now-infamous Croquetas (Mushroom and Melting Manchego)
Duck and foie gras sausage with white beans in a port reduction (by request)

Monday, December 08, 2008

Art Basel Restaurant Recap, Day One. Nopales...

Yes I could bore you to death rhapsodizing about the huge slab of chocolate cake at the restaurant at the Mondrian, and don't worry, I will (it's disgusting, in a word), but the best meals my out of town guests and a few lucky fair-goers and I had were at some local favorites. And so I trade in the 'usual suspects' for my own list of 'UNusual suspects'. Starting with the required trip down to Li'l Havana for some 'Cuban' cigars. And that brought us to 'Mi Rinconcito', about which I've rhapsodized many times, including in the Miami SunPost , and elsewhere on this blog.

The new and improved Mi Rinconcito is still the best Mexican food in Miami. The special the other day was 'Tortitas de Pollo en Salsa Verde con Nopales'. I did not know what to expect so I was surprised at what looked like crabcakes, but with chicken (the waitress had described them as "like chicken meatballs", which they weren't at all). The 'nopales' are fresh cactus that is first boiled and then cut into strips, and laid over the chicken patties, which are basically poached chicken breasts that are shredded, formed into a patty with egg whites, and then finished on the grill (or griddle, if you prefer). The nopales really reminded me of okra, which I love, but a little less slimy. Incredible. Also the green sauce was just like I had remembered it, smooth and spicy. The chicken held its flavor, and had a crunchy crust that was an added bonus.

This restaurant has doubled in size, but the service has stayed smooth and friendly, and, just as importantly, the Tecate is still frosty and inexpensive. One of the best restaurants on Calle Ocho, incidentally, and a nice break from Cuban food. More to come on their holiday treats. They have added a bakery and have one of the most interesting dessert items I've eaten this year, corn cheesecake. As I have said earlier, incredible.

The one on the top left is the corn cheesecake, which they also sell by the slice.

Mi Rinconcito Mexicano
1961 SW 8th St (Calle Ocho)
Miami, FL
Open 10 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. daily

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Miami's Mad Cat Theater Presents Mixtape...

I saw this play last weekend, and the run is coming to an end this week with performances Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 8PM. You simply must go. Mad Cat is full of talent, and the energy and excitement they bring to every performance is evident in 'Mixtape', a group of plays mostly written by local writers (including '3:59', which was previewed to raves at 'A-B(o)MB'), as well as the Borscht Film Festival's Lucas Leyva, whose short play involves Meatloaf.... The short plays all emanate from a musical idea, and the influences range from the Replacements to the musical Sunday in the Park with George(!). That's quite a wide range. There is also a great performance of poetry and lyrics written by Wilco's Jeff Tweedy. For $25, this play should not be missed. There's a cheap donation bar, and a great selection 0f $5 Mad Cat swag. For more info, go to

Friday, November 14, 2008

North One10 Hosts Miami Chef's Club...

Gema, Hilary, and Sly

An 'angelic' LoSasso (the wings are hidden)

Some cross-dressers...

Ortanique's Cindy Hutson Belly Dancing...

High-powered publicist Larry Carrino, second from left, as Chef Michael Jacobs plus some star attendees including one blogger-douche...

I had the pleasure of attending a 'Chef's Club' event at North One10 a coupla Mondays ago-well I got there after it was mostly over, as I was bartending at Kingdom that night for MNF. Lots of Miami chefs and restaurant people attend these events, and Dewey and Dale LoSasso rolled out a nice evening for everyone. It was pre-Halloween, so Larry Carrino was dressed as Chef Michael Jacobs, and Chef Nate from Andu came as Mario Batali. Cindy Hutson was, I believe, a belly dancer. After that, it all gets hazy. Chef Dewey was in costume as an angel (go figure). Of course he also played a little guitar, and a good time was had by all. He is doing a pretty cool Thanksgiving menu, for those of you who aren't coming to my house, so check it out. It's their 5th annual T-Giving dinner. Reservations strongly suggested, as they say. For all the details, go to

Monday, November 10, 2008

Miami's Biscayne Boulevard Battles...

Biscayne Blvd Battles Update: Upper Eastside Green Market and Vagabond Market Fight It Out....
My feeling is that both will survive but only one will thrive. Kris Wessel is selling his ice cream at the Vagabond, as well as smoking up some ribs-I ate one and it was the best-tasting rib I've had of his (although of course he was not satisfied-"needs to dry a little more"). My favorite rib in Miami is still The Fat Man's, though. Celebrity Chef Michelle "Michy" Bernstein was ambling through the place last weekend, and Doug Rodriguez was here Saturday with mozzarella in hand. When asked about the rumor that he was opening a stall at The Vagabond, he scoffed (I actually started that rumor, with that question.). He is rumored to be opening another spot in NYC (actual rumor, not started by me).
Aside from Wessel's 'Green Light' ice creams and sorbets (I tried the hazelnut and chocolate-very nutty), downtown's Raja's was serving some fresh Indian food at reasonable prices. Le Cafe was also there with breads, tarts, etc. Wessel has a lot of ideas for this space, and he told me at least 20 in the span of our four-minute conversation. I envision a day, in fact, when this space has Wessel's fingerprints all over it. He is the original Chef Dennis The Menace; and between he and Vagabond (Motel) Market owner Eric Silverman, they are like two mad geniuses on speed.
Silverman has created controversy with the neighbors with his apparently illegal alteration of the historic signs and other questionable moves. But I believe, after this market becomes a landmark of its own, detractors will begin to move on. I may be wrong; but I believe a lot of neighbors went against the Upper Eastside Green Market, and most eventually came around. In the end, I guess the 'market' will determine if a 'market' is the best use for this property. Right now, there are several things I would change, but again, I think the neighbors and other visitors will be voting with their feet. Although the $8/lb. stone crab claws at the Green Market are hard to beat, maybe people will be walking between the two markets, with a stop at Kingdom for a quick Bloody Mary (shopping can be so hard). Remember, the Vagabond is also open Sunday.
In other News For Boulevardiers...The old Mama Calypso across the street is being renovated by Haitian artist Papaloko-first a studio, then a restaurant. And great news!!!! The old Renaisa, Taj Mahal, etc., is going to become Anise-a new Med place by the Ouzo folks. I think this one is going to fight it out with Red Light for waterfront dining. And it is going to be a battle. They are within swimming distance of each other (don't get any ideas, my drunken friends). This has always been an under-utilized location, as Indian food still remains a very small niche here. But look for the Little River waterfront to start getting more crowded (there's something I never thought I'd say...), thanks to Chef Wessel's efforts in cleaning it up.

Raja's Indian Food...

Doug Rodriguez with Vito's Mozz...

Kris Wessel Whispers His Mantra to Staff-
(Don't Fuck Up...)

Anise Waterfront Dining on left...

Vagabond Wildman Eric Silverman is a blur...

$8/lb Stone Crab Claws...

Wessel Rib, Close-up...

Ribs and Swedish Hot Dogs....

When Celebrity Chefs Collide...

Here it comes...