Monday, March 31, 2008

Burger King. Where Schwampnuts is King...

Just when I thought no one could top the great experiences I've had all weekend X-ing at WMC, comes the news that my second-favorite restaurant chain, a local Miami establishment, in fact, will be opening a Bar that will “put a little more theater into it,” and where you will be able to “Pimp Your Burger”. Has Rick Ross opened a burger joint? Is Jeffrey Chodorow finally going to give Flava Flav his own celebuchef launch? (I know Flav would look great in the big toque. Just picture it. Exactly.) No, it's the Whopper Bar, where such items as the Western Whopper, the Texas Double Whopper, and the Angry Whopper will be featured. This futuristic stroke of genius got me to some stroking myself. My beard I mean. And it got me to thinking...

I called on my slanty-lipstick-ed sweaty-balled he-she companion Schwampnuts for advice, only to find out that he/she was already working for the dastardly corporation, creating pimped-out burgers like the Whore-per, which resembles a crack-whore's wrinkly junk; the Dr. Rockso Whopper, which is a toasted bun with an eight-ball inside it (also called simply, The Miami); and the Chicken Whopper, which is made out of boy. By the way, “Pimp Your Whopper” is a direct quote from The Wall Street Journal article:

At the 'Pimp Your Whopper' Bar patrons can choose from additional toppings like jalapeño peppers, bacon, barbecue sauce, and KY. There are also Hummer Whoppers, where you can eat all you want but you have to spit it out. If you swallow, it costs extra. And the Lap Dance Whopper, where the Bartender rubs the sandwich all over your face, but in the end, you need to go eat somewhere else, anyway, unless you order the Whopper Plus, which comes with a happy (meal) ending. By the way, there may be beer at the new Whopper Bars. No shit. Happy Flaming April 1st. This is not a joke. For more foolishness, see

Sunday, March 30, 2008


Remember, by smoking Cuban cigars, I'm not supporting Castro's economy, I'm burning his fields (apologies to Kinky Friedman).

In support of those in Cuba (and Miami) who hope for change, I smoked some Havanas, Romeo & Julieta No. 3's to be exact. The Cohiba is next. They are still the best. If only Cuban food were this good...

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Za'atar Pizza Pies and Fresh Pita Bread...

Fresh Pita Loaves...

Baking Going On Here...

Chicken and Feta Pies

Finished Za'atar


Fresh-baked anything is hard to come by in the Miami area, so when I first heard about fresh-baked Pita bread, as well as homemade za'atar pizzas and pies at Noor Bakery in Ft. Lauderdale (or is it Dania?), I ran. It is worth the trip if you are anywhere near there, especially on your way home from the Fishing Hall of Fame, which is right down the street and a crazed-tourist haven (for people who really love their fishin'). It is a quiet, off-the-highway kind of place, with a few pita-eaters there for lunch, and large take-out orders being custom-filled. Other than the pita, which has a crunchy dough, and as a wine writer might say, a long finish (it tastes, for lack of a better description, 'artisanal'); there are the za'atar pies (I call them pizzas but they're really just similar), which are fresh dough sent through the oven once, then topped with meat, cheese, etc., and sent through again. Za'atar refers to the Middle Eastern spice mixture that coats the bread, which contains the distinctive marjoram and sumac, as well as oregano and a few other things. To eat them, they are folded in half, and eaten like a slice of pizza or giant tortilla.

The chicken pies, as well as the feta pies, which are fresh dough wrapped empanada-like around the fillings, have that Middle-Eastern tang, that is best when eaten hot right out of the oven. Make sure you get there early, they do run out. It's just one or two turns off 95, so if you're heading up, or down, that way (Exit is Griffin Rd. West), stop in. Noor Bakery

4691 Anglers Ave
Ft. Lauderdale

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Try This At Home...Kewpie Cooks...

How It's Supposed to Look...

Ingredients...and the finished sauce...

Try This At Home...
Trying to duplicate a recipe from an article about MSG in the NY Times food section, I prepared a fairly decent simulacrum of their finished product. Well, maybe it doesn't look as good, but the taste was great. Kewpie Japanese Mayonnaise is available at most Asian groceries. Also, I used canned straw mushrooms instead of the enoki mushrooms, and they retained a lot of their moisture in the high heat. I couldn't get the top as crusty as I wanted, but after just one extra minute under the broiler, I knew the scallops were not going to be any good, so I took them out of the oven, and they still retained a lot of moisture and flavor. A very easy dish to make, and if you can't find Kewpie Mayonnaise, you could probably substitute whatever you have on hand. Of course then you don't get the MSG flavor-enhancing, but it seemed to be a very small part of the overall flavor, anyway.

My dish, a half-moon, cooked in a cast-iron skillet...

On the plate, it looks pretty good!

(Remember that scallops tend to retain a lot of moisture, so if you buy them frozen, or semi-frozen, they will shrink substantially-I used about ¾ of a pound. Be careful not to overcook-they'll get very rubbery. And be generous with the mayo-topping.)

Baked Scallops With Creamy Spicy Sauce Published: March 5, 2008 NYTimes
Adapted from Ginza, Boston
Time: 25 minutes
8 large sea scallops
5 ounces enoki mushrooms
For the creamy spicy sauce:
6 tablespoons Kewpie brand Japanese mayonnaise (available in Asian markets
and some supermarkets) or other mayonnaise
1/2 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon sriracha (Asian chili sauce) or sambal.
1. For scallops: Preheat oven to 475 degrees. Cut each scallop horizontally into 4 equal slices. Cut off roots of mushrooms and divide mushrooms into four equal portions, arranging them on a pie plate or other shallow baking dish. Spread scallops evenly over them, overlapping them if necessary. Bake until about half-cooked, 3 to 4 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare sauce.
2. For creamy spicy sauce: In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, lime juice, sugar and sriracha or sambal. Mix well.
3. To finish and serve: Remove scallops from oven and spread evenly with sauce. Return scallops to oven and bake until surface is lightly browned in places, about 6 more minutes. Place equal portions of mushrooms and scallops on each of four plates; serve hot.
Yield: 4 first-course servings.

Monday, March 24, 2008

LL COOL J J (Ladies Love Cool Jesse Jackson)

Hawai'i Slide....

Somehow the 'Twin Peaks'-style weirdness works. Dressed in full costume as a trucker-hat-wearing, guitar-carrying General George Armstrong Custer (“but this time he wins”), Jesse Jackson, the singer-songwriter, sets up for his regular Tuesday night gig at Amendment XXI. At 10PM, there is no one in the place, it's quiet. It seems like nothing's going to happen here. But the place gradually fills, and by 11PM it is packed. There are visitors from New York, local dance and theater heroes, celebrity bar owners, and some Colombian girls who arrived early to try the new inexpensive menu.

Special Guest Hilary from New York

Octavio Campos, Chorographer, Dancer,

Creator of 'Bugchasers"

Music You Can Dance To...

Sound-Stylings of Jesse Jackson

Buffalo Brown Makes It Official...

Churchill's owner Dave Daniels, with

performer Yvonne, and artist Andrea Preston

Amendment XII owner Perrone, in a photo

style I like to call, 'blogger blurry'.

Lost & Found Saloon owner KB, chills with

the one and only 'ZERO', Natasha Tsakos...

Cigarette Break...

JJ is in very good form tonight, his Mick Taylor 'Can't You Hear Me Knockin'-style guitar noodling seems to get better every show, as does his cover-song picking. Tonight they include a bluesy, Basement Tapes-like version of Bob Dylan's Outlaw Blues, from 1965's Bringing It All Back Home, as much a tribute to Dylan and The Band, as to the White Stripes' stripped-down live version; and a solo encore of Paul Simon's somber American Tune, from 1973, which was achingly-rendered, and perhaps even brought a tear to the eye of more than one slightly-sodden audience-member (well, me).
There were a lot of pretty girls, cigarette-smoking, care-free dancing, old friends, and a general damn-good feeling. There was a vibe player. The sound was great, and the Reverend, as I like to call him, took advantage of the crowd's buoyant mood, and soared.
190 NE 46th St

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Pure Hondure....Meche's is The One...

Jaiba-Crab Soup....A Sunday Special

Hangover Cure Pork Chop Takeout

While riding on NW 2nd Ave two months ago, where I shop at the cheapo produce market near 34th St., I spied an interestingly-named restaurant. Meche's sounded so much like Michy's, that I was instantly intrigued. Let's face it, I got lucky. Even though I had been thinking of touting NW 2nd Ave as Miami's New/Old Restaurant Row for some time now, I had never been inside this cozy joint, which you enter through a blue screen door.

Well, over a month ago, I posted about this great Honduran restaurant I had discovered. I failed to give the name and address, because I had written a piece for publication, that examined how two very different restaurants feed their customers. 'A Tail of Two Eateries' is here... and I thank my readers for their patience. I think the food at Meche's is some of the best authentic homemade grub in the city, and the atmosphere is old Latin Miami, in the historic Wynwood neighborhood, located at 3104 NW 2nd Ave. This part of the neighborhood has definitely NOT been gentrified, and it still retains its small-town 'charms', for better or worse. Please read the full article, and grab a hard copy, if you can. There's a great photo of Meche's Mondongo that accompanies the text, as well as one of Michy's delicious Colossal Shrimp. The beautiful thing about Miami is that there is plenty of room for both...

Full Pot of Beans, Bubbling On the Stove,
with a homemade tortilla grilling (above)

I have eaten some good food. Haute cuisine prepared by some of the world's finest, and most cutting-edge chefs. Foie Gras popcorn and 36-hour short rib; scallops, picked from the bottom of the sea by a Portuguese diver named Jõao, and of course geoduck tartare. But earthy, authentic food, which can come from anywhere, with recipes handed down from the indigenous, to the conquerers, and on and on to the great-great-grandchildren of the inter-marriage of both, can have such a family history, that the ingredients, and the final product, are unique to a place, yet universally recognizable, and satisfying. I was lucky enough to experience this at a Honduran restaurant, in a place that I will soon christen 'Miami's Hidden Restaurant Row'. Not NE 79th St., or Biscayne Boulevard on the 'Upper East Side' (I know it's tired, but I'm tired of fighting it), but an old neighborhood that's never left us for a more gentrified, yuppified, and generic future. Where the lingua franca is good, hearty, inexpensive food, a meal that will cost under $10, and will satisfy a very large man or woman's appetite (I'm speaking about the appetite, not the man or woman-no letters, please), or anyone's craving for honest fucking food. I think you know what I mean. I'm not talking about some Miami simulacrum of Cuban, or Spanish, etc., etc., or another, endlessly tedious take on Italian or 'Mediterranean ' (geez, isn't anyone as tired of this stuff as I am? We got it, you can cook a damn noodle). I'm talking about the uncompromising cooking of a mother/chef, a person who remembers and can recreate those home-cooked meals in a restaurant setting, which is so much harder than it looks, and rarely succeeds in its true dimensions. Well, I have found that place. The Touchstone. The Motherlode. And here are the pictures. Baleados, 10” across, dough homemade, browned on the grill, crisp and smoky, like an Indian chapati (the world is a small place, oh my brothers), filled with eggs, queso blanco, and sweet, crumbled chorizo; or carne asada (grilled steak, carnalitos) and beans, queso blanco, and crema (sour cream). The über-taco? Heresy? Well then, hello Satan, because I'm a convert. And the Sopa De Frijoles? Contains more chicharron de cerdo (pig skin, to be exact) than is to be believed-and it is pure skin, not crisped but SOAKED in beautifully rich broth. A slurping shock to the system....Each piece bringing another shake of the head, and another dive into the Full Quart, damnit, of soup. And then there's the Jaiba....Have a great weekend, I'll see you on the nickel. Till then, I must be on my way....Part Two next week: the mystery is revealed....

Yes, they're that big. Ten Full Inches, homes.

Pig Skin Makes It All Better, Baby

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

From (Kobe) Tongue to Tail...

Crispy Skin...

Juicy. Tongue-y.

Cooking Show...

Kitsune Soba (Hot) with Deep-Fried Tofu...

Grapefruit on a silver juicer with liquor...

(Further New York Stories...)
The “Chicken Limited' section of the Soba Totto menu is so named because they are sometimes out of the 'soft knee bone', the 'soft bone', which is completely different, the neck, the 'chicken oyster', the 'tail', or the heart. Or is it just 'limited' to those adventurous types who prefer the beak to the breast? The heart was in, had some of that, it was soft and spongy, as Morgan Freeman might say- like a Twinkie, like a Twinkie. The 'regular' Chicken Skewers part of the menu (Yakitori Chicken) also contains some gems-the quotidian wing, which is flattened and made to look and taste like a delicacy, not a bar snack; the gizzard, whose usual combination of grisly and fibrous is made to seem a virtue; and the Kawa, or skin, which IS, in fact, made to taste exactly like a bar snack, and pairs nicely with the grapefruit and Shouju cocktails. Okay-they fill your glass with the clear rice liquor, which I'm guessing is about 25% alcohol, and they bring you a half-a-grapefruit, and a little juicer. You juice the grapefruit, and slide the juice into the booze. Lovely. The skewers are $2.50-$3, we ordered two of several for three of us.

This is an elegant setting, adoring service, and a great show watching the chefs cook behind a partial wall of glass in a thick cloud of smoke (get to know them now, they'll probably all be dead from cancer in ten years-just kidding). The highlight for me, other than the Dango, which are “steamed rice dumplings with chicken meatballs inside”, had to be the Kobe Beef Tongue (Gyutan). Now of course I love tongue, in all of its different preparations, but this was an uncured version, that had the gaminess of great beef, and the taste and texture of fucking tongue. I don't know how else to describe it. The skewers were $8 each, and I'm glad we just got two, because my dining companions and I started exchanging bad looks when we finished them, and probably could have ordered them all night. But we went on to the Soba, hot and cold, and on to another Grapefruit Nama. The check for three of us, very full and slightly buzzed, was $145 before tip. I am amazed. Simply amazed.

Soba Totto

211 E. 43rd St

New York, NY


Monday, March 17, 2008

Little Creatures Crawling Weirdness...

I had this 'creepy' dish on a recent trip to New York. It looks very, very strange. In fact, it moves. But it is not what it seems. Unless you know your Japanese food very well. The menu simply describes it as Aspara, or asparagus. And like all great foods of the world, it comes on a stick. This was part of an incredible meal I had at Soba Totto, in midtown Manhattan.

[Strangely (or not, from my brief experience in NYC), the cabbie had trouble finding the restaurant located at the rather ordinary address of 211 E. 43rd St. Another guy didn't know where St. Mark's place was. But at least you can watch TV in the back of the cab-they even have the mobile map so you can yell out when your driver has missed the turn. "I said Avenue A, dammit!"]

But I digress. I had not just better (which is certainly expected), but cheaper, 'fine dining' meals in New York than I have ever had in Miami, with very few exceptions. The cheaper part is really what irritates me. I also had some better cheap meals, that were also pretty cheap. But I know there is hope for the future-it's crawling here as fast as it can. To be continued.

(Oh, I forgot to mention-this dish was $2.50. Midtown Manhattan. After this, I've put up with the last bit of bullshit whining about Miami rents from anyone-and that includes (especially) myself.)

Sunday, March 16, 2008

DailyCocaine Meets 'NightlyCocaine'....

Every day, as I hand my business card (above) to people who may or may not know what I do, I explain that I write for Daily Cocaine; but that it is a mostly-Miami food and wine blog, and has nothing to do with cocaine. Food is the new cocaine, I say; but in reality, cocaine, especially in Miami, has never gone away, and is still Cocaine with a capital C. The clubs that stay open all night, the restaurants that turn into 'scenes' after 10:30, the beach.... The drug economy has built Miami, it's an open secret, and that has made the powder cheap and plentiful here. So in deference to the titular drug that is one of the main reasons Miami is more popular than ever (Lord knows it's not the dining options that are bringing the tourists here-contrary to Anthony Bourdain's maniacal ravings), and to help you stay awake through another long St. Patrick's Day debauchery, I present the first in a series on the best restaurant bathrooms in which to partake, for whatever reasons. This list is only about restaurants; no clubs or art galleries, no gyms or yoga studios. That's for another blog.

The most important aspects of a good snort-hole, are the following:
1) It must be roomy, in order to fit you and the two or three sunburned Ohioans you just met at the bar.
2) It must be clean, at least on the first go-round, to prevent any fatal gagging
3) It must have a lock that works, although a solid door you can lean your shoulder against might have to do sometimes (e.g., Churchill's)
4) Toilet paper's a plus for obvious reasons
5) Tucked away somewhere, so no one can hear you scream; although not too far away, that you get lost on the way back and have to ask directions
6) Mirrors. Lots of mirrors.
7) Bidet? (Only problem is, you might never come out)
8) Condom machine
There may be some more requirements, but we'll get to them as we go along. Disclaimer-In spite of the preponderance of what we used to call 'go-go' in Miami, it is still not legal. Of course, powdering your nose, still is.

One of my favorite restaurants in South Beach is Le Bon on Lincoln Road. Moules Frites, Belgian beers, right in the path of strutting tourists and locals, you never know who you might meet. The B-room is all stainless steel, baby. You can look right into your own eyes as you take a whiff from the roomy sink, toilet tank, toilet cover, or even the reflector-topped trash can. A lot of options for a big group; or just a way to amuse yourself while you try to get your eyelids to work properly again.

Lots of Options...

The Burger King at Biscayne Blvd. and 17th St. has a lovely tiled bathroom with a lock and key, a couple of handicap rails to keep you steady, and a charming group of $10 hookers hanging out in the parking lot. Probably better for rock-heads, but will do in a pinch when you realize your buzz won't take you all the way to your destination. Or that, sadly, this IS your destination. Try the Hershey's Sundae Pie. No, that's not the name of one of the working gals, it's ice cream, freak. Or maybe both. But at least it will keep your twitching lips busy. The ice cream, I mean.

The Tile-Work is Dreamy...

Nothin' But Hershey Pie, Sugar....

Next time...Whatever you do, don't fall in the pool...

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The Return (Rehash) of Shwampnuts, Or, Steak Burrito For Breakfast...

(Now that my favorite Mexican Food joint in Miami has 'Steak Burritos', I'd like to re-run my homage to their glorious food and to my pet food-taster. Enjoy.)
(For Holiday Cocktail Recipes, inspired by the Miami Herald's 'Car Bomb' for St. Patrick's Day, please go to )

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 hard 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 Miami restaurant critic once said, long ago, I could eat that burrito for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; and then make love to it later that night, when we're alone.

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.”

Actual Ripped-Out Ad

Mouth-Watering Actual Photo From Actual Ripped-Out Ad Containing Close-Up of 'Food'

Monday, March 10, 2008

Design District's Am(bitious) Brosia...

Brosia's Gazpacho Caprese
(Photo Courtesy Richard M. Brooks/Miami SunPost)

The problem with Brosia isn't the setting. It has a gorgeous, mosaic-ed courtyard with old oak trees, lots of space between tables to stretch out, a lounge area with softly-cushioned bentwood chairs and couches, colored glass lamps on the tables, and the open sky overhead. The interior is pretty slick, too, with long mirrors and vaulted ceilings. The problem with Brosia isn't the service. Informed and unobtrusive, many of the staff here having followed either the manager or the chef from previous establishments (when I lit up a Havana, the waiter replaced the cigarette ashtray with a large cigar ashtray). The problem with Brosia is not the bar service, where they will handcraft a muddled-fresh strawberry and basil vodka cocktail, or even make you a Ramos Gin Fizz with Plymouth Gin (although I prefer fresh sour to bottled). The problem with Brosia is not the wine list. A bottle of sparkling Spanish Cava, from Segura Viudas, goes for just $24, and there are three other wines under $30, although the reds are oddly California-heavy, for a pan-Mediterranean restaurant. There is also the Col d'Orcia 2002 Brunello di Montalcino for $98-not a great year, but just about twice the retail price, and a nice splurge. The problem with Brosia is not even the food, especially the Catalan Shrimp and Clams, with their chorizo and garlic-laden broth, reduced with sherry down to a rich sauce, which is just begging for an order of Creamy Polenta, foamy and cheesy with Parmigiano.

No, the problem with Brosia can be summed up in two words: Michael Schwartz. The chef-owner of the Design District's deliriously successful Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, has set the bar so high, especially for restaurants opening anywhere near him (Brosia is located one 'plaza' over from Michael's), that diners may be asking, “Why eat anywhere else?” And while there is certainly room for plenty of competition in the near-barren Double D, anyone who opens here needs to provide a creative counterpoint to MGFD's classy ambiance, relatively inexpensive but cutting-edge menu, and generous wine list (note the short-lived tenure of Michael Jacobs at Grass).

Brosia comes close to the standard on most accounts, misses on some others. The chef, Artur Artiles, has a pedigree that includes Chispa, Mundo, and Norman's. The cooking here is often stunning, as in the appetizer, Rabbit Stiffado, a meaty portion of the little fellow, served in a sweet, aromatic reduction, which is enhanced by little pieces of feta cheese, toasted walnuts, and a couple of pearl onions. A truly rustic dish, and the sauce also goes well with the Creamy Polenta. Some bread might be nice here, as well, although either way, you will have to hand-carry the rabbit to your mouth in order to rip the last bits of flesh from the bone with your teeth. The aforementioned Catalan Style Shrimp and Clams has some well-cooked shrimp and fresh little-necks, and the Moroccan Steamed Mussels, with fragrant herbs in a coconut curry broth, helps the ubiquitous steamed mussel to unexpectedly delight diners. The grilled bread accompaniments go fast, and you will want more for mopping purposes. The Piri-Piri Shrimp, which are four grilled shrimp, served with a small ramekin of cucumber sambal, are done right, but are really nothing extraordinary, and the cucumber sambal is basically chopped up, lightly marinated cucumber.

Of the entrees, the Grilled Pork Tenderloin is the standout, especially at just $15. Served over a bed of braised greens, which absorb some of the juices from the pink meat, the crunchy crust of the pork adds texture to the juicy, tender meat. The caperberries, cornichons, dijon mustard demi-glace, and a pool of what tastes like sweet, homemade apple sauce, are all traditional, yet somehow reworked pork-partners. You'll want to eat everything. The '12 oz. Grilled New York Strip' (the most expensive entree at $26), however, didn't appear to have made weight for that night's dinner, and the overcooked, dry meat had to be sent back and replaced with a medium-rare one. The steak was not overly flavorful, and a few bits of gristle had to be overcome, but it was cooked right the second time. Something other than the few drops of 'herb oil drizzle', might have helped, too. The 'blue cheese and caramelized onion stuffed piquillo peppers' that come with the steak were oddly bland, and the peppers, although I was assured they were roasted in-house, tasted like they came from a jar.

Perhaps it would be best, as I did on several occasions, both at lunch and dinner, to order a couple of the great appetizers, glom up some of the gratis white bean puree with pita chips, and split the pork tenderloin. Add some crisp, salty, 'Bistro' fries (although why a Med-focused restaurant would serve them only with a Heinz-like ketchup is beyond me), or the Creamy Polenta, and you've eaten more than enough.
I'd also like to go out on a limb and recommend ordering the flan. Flan? Flan. The candied orange-peel, and the drops of almond extract, give a subtle twist to an old dessert cliché, although $7 is a bit much. Have a glass of the 'Zolo' Torrontes ($7-probably about what they paid for the whole bottle), enjoy the cool night air, and keep in mind: restaurants and other forms of entertainment do not exist in a vacuum. They must keep their standards very high in order to win the fight for our dollars. Brosia gets a split decision.
(Courtesy Miami SunPost)

136 NE 39th St
All Cards
Recommended Dishes
Rabbit Stiffado ($11/Dinner Only), Catalan Shrimp and Clams($12), Moroccan Steamed Mussels ($11), Grilled Pork Tenderloin ($15), Creamy Polenta ($5), Bistro Fries ($5), Flan ($7).
Wine List
No great standouts-more New World than Mediterranean. Go cheap, or order cocktails-$10 and up.

Saturday, March 08, 2008

Miami DC Goes to Washington, DC: A Look Back on Best Restaurant in DC in Salute to Obama

The ever-gracious Chef Michel Richard, a 2007 James Beard Award Winner for Outstanding Chef, flanked by a cold Miami blogger, and brother.

Hanging Hams, including the legendary La Quercia Prosciutto

"Chili is French," the Chef offers.

This man is relaxed...

The open kitchen is bigger than many restaurants...

Put Foot, in Mouth...

Even looks great on the inside...

Faux Gras Terrine...


Shrimp Burger...

When the New York Times restaurant reviewer, Frank Bruni, jets around the country to compile a list of the 'Ten Best New Restaurants in the US (Outside NYC)', people take notice. When one gets to dine at two of them in one week, that's what you might call a good week. Having eaten some 'Buffalo' Frog Legs, and Crispy Hominy two Saturdays ago at the bar of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, in Miami's Design District, one of the top top five, I was off on a brief road trip that involved stops in Washington, DC, and NYC. In NYC, I would have incredible meals at both Momofuku Noodle Bar, featuring the creations of James Beard Award-winning Chef of the Year David Chang; and Soba Totto, a Japanese noodle and izakaye restaurant, populated almost exclusively by Japanese people, where skewers of Kobe beef tongue were just one of the highlights of the meal. I also had some incredible cocktails at PDT, some interesting 'solid' cocktails at Tailor, and a great bowl of Homemade Fish Cake End Cut Noodle soup at Noodle Village in Chinatown. And I met some crazy, sweet, and really fucking out there New York foodies. But back to Bruni's Top Ten.

I had eaten at Michel Richard's Citronelle in DC some years ago, and loved it. But it was very expensive, and not a place where I could really afford a lot of repeat visits. He had made his bones in LA, at Citrus, and DC was his second outpost. After closing Citrus, multi-starred Chef Richard, also a James Beard 2007 Outstanding Chef, concentrated all of his efforts in DC, and even became a leading proponent of cutting-edge/molecular gastronomy-styles of cooking, especially sous-vide. But he desired to reach a broader audience, and thus came the idea for Central (pronounced cen-TRAHL). A big room with small prices. All the techniques and quality ingredients of Citronelle, but available to anyone with $20 (unless you want the 'Lobster Burger', which will set you back $32-but worth every penny if you're a lobster lover). I ate two meals here, had a nice chat with the Chef de Cuisine, Cedric Maupillier, as well as with Chef Richard, who was very gracious and seemed to be having a blast.

Before I get to the food, however, I should probably mention that behind the bar sit a half-dozen bottles of 'Fee' Bitters, a reassuring sign that your bartender (in this case the lovely Raquel), can make a damn good cocktail, something that Miamians know is very difficult to find here in the land of the bad Mojito. There are Bells Amber, Stone Smoked Porter, and Blusser Pilsner on tap, as well as Abita Purple Haze and Turbo Dog, Smutty Nose Porter, and Gouden Carolus Triple in bottles. There are also more than twenty bottles on the wine list at $40 and under, and I drank mostly the $8/glass Bordeaux Superieur, a Merlot that provided a nice buzz.

While I'd like to go into detail about everything my dining companion and I ate, I really want to concentrate on the Pied de Cochon (Pig Foot). I mean, the 'Faux Gras', which is chicken liver blended with so much butter it turns a glossy, light pink, and literally floats off your tongue into the ether, and which comes with rich duck rillettes, pickled onions and cornichons, is gone so fast onto crusty bread that you'll want an order all to yourself next time ($14). The Shrimp Burger ($18) was sweet, bursting with liquid flavor, and crunchy, on a brioche-like bun, with housemade mayo, tomato slice, and a potato(?) tuile added for extra crunch, served with hot, crisp, fries. An essential beach shack meal, but elevated by fresh, high-quality ingredients, and French technique. The mac and cheese ($7) was melted and creamy-thick cheese, crunchy on top, and the pasta was 'toothy'. The 'Chili Soup' is a disc of French-style meatloaf, topped by a circle of thick cream and grated cheddar, then the hearty brown broth is poured around it, an invention that Chef Maupillier assured me was French. “Some say America, some say Mexico, but after consulting with both countries on this, I believe we can say 'chili' is a French dish,” he told me, only half-joking.

But the fuckin foot stole the show. At my second lunch, when I was by myself, I decided to keep it simple. Pied de Cochon. $16. One of the best and most satisfying plates of food I've had in a long time. The foot is cooked and then the meat comes off the bone and is sauteed with mushrooms. Then it is wrapped in a sausage casing, lightly breaded and fried. It looks like an enormous egg roll, but the surprise inside is a classic peasant meal, armed with the subtlety and richness that the French specialize in, and that Chef Maupillier brings off like a four-star pro. The plate is perfectly balanced, with the cooking liquid from the feet made into a gravy that is finished with demi-glace, and a dash of whole-seed mustard; the tiny onion rings that are light, because they have been soaked in a little buttermilk and then flash-fried (no breading, just a bit of salt); the mashed potatoes that have little lumps are buttery and oniony, but mostly taste like fresh potatoes; and the lardon/frisee salad is just the right mix of bitter and salt, chewy and crunchy, wet and dry. The bread and butter are all the accompaniments you'll need, the crunchy, thick. bread kept warm under a towel, and the butter a star in itself. I was full on the first bite of the foot, it is that rich. But I managed to work my way through the whole plate, along with a couple of glasses of red, and watched the action in the big room reflected in the enormous angled mirrors over the bar. Incidentally, the kitchen is completely open, and the hanging hams are also visible behind glass.

If you have a spare hour or two, and find yourself in downtown DC, this is a meal you will want to write home about. The first crunch of that foot made me misty-eyed, and if it weren't for the 20-degree weather outside, almost a little nostalgic for Washington, with its demanding restaurant-goers, whose high standards are often rewarded by Chefs who also insist on the best, even sometimes for under $20.

A big thank you to Pamela, who was gracious enough to explain the cooking techniques to a slightly befuddled (it was cold, man!) Miami dude, and to Raquel for her pouring prowess. In fact, everyone on the staff was helpful and friendly, a very comforting feeling, especially when you're a thousand miles from home.
Additionally, a Merci Beaucoup to the ever-gracious Chef Michel Richard, and his Chef de Cuisine Cedric Maupillier, for inviting my brother and I to share a table with them, as well as some laughs. Although, along with Dupont Circle's Bistrot du Coin, this had been my go-to bistro for a while, when I lived in DC, I hadn't been back in over a year; but really, over the course of two visits, I was made to feel as though I had never left.

One more lovely look at the foot...and the kitchen from whence it came...

If you go, the long bar is cozy, especially on a cold afternoon...