Sunday, September 28, 2008

El Palacio de Los Jugos on Biscayne Boulevard?

An old friend of mine opened this 'branch' of the famed El Palacio de los Jugos on Biscayne Blvd., just south of 87th St. Is this too good to be true?


...and chicharron...


I was told that the chicharron, tamales, and fresh juices would be coming in every morning. The owners, Ray and his lovely wife Aileen, are 'family' with EPDLJ, and speaking of family, 'El Duque' is a cousin. Cuban food back in the 'hood? Chicharron con Yuca ($3.50) and Tamales ($2) are a great start...

El Q-Bano
8650 Biscayne Blvd
(They Deliver)

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Best Macaroni & Cheese Recipe...

I admit I love the yuppie crack-and I have to admit that I'm almost always disappointed when I order macaroni and cheese in a smart restaurant. Even the soul food joints often disappoint. It is very hard to produce the taste and texture that will make you glad you spent the $2-$12, or make you long for that serious macaroni and cheese you've, sadly, never really experienced. Nostalgia for something that never was? What is all the fuss? When your local newspaper has a piece comparing store-bought boxes, when your local diner's stuff is stiff and greasy, when your local steak joint has you shaking your head, what is the kid in you to do?

There is only one way to make it right, and that is the French way, mon frère. Get some decent boxed macaroni, cook it al dente, drain it, let it cool a little (don't rinse), and soak it overnight in some heavy cream. The macaroni (I like to use rigatoni) will absorb the cream. Exactly. The next day, pour some more cream over the macaroni, and mix in a bunch of cheap, shredded cheese. The cheaper the better. Then also mix in 1/2 cup of good cheese, like Parm or imported Romano. Mix it up, throw a handful more good cheese on top, grate some nutmeg-THE key step in this, and all great creamy cheese dishes-and bake at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Then combine two egg yolks with about 4 tablespoons cream, whip it up good, and top macaroni with
the mixture. Broil until top is nicely browned-don't be scared, but don't burn it, either.
Here it is, all bubbly, with a slice of bacon-wrapped turkey terrine (meatloaf to you non-Frenchies); although it is perfect by itself, with a glass of lightly chilled Alsatian Riesling if you like white, or Chianti if you prefer red. Because the best macaroni and cheese, the dish you make at home, makes friends very easily.
Anyone want to comment on their great recipes or favorite restaurant macaroni and cheese?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Category...POST-SEX Time...4AM...Meal...SUMTAIN

Ah, it’s four in the morning. As you light up your cigarette, you turn to your bedmate and light one for her as well. The first drag settles in like a cloud of numbing smoke in your belly, and as you look into the misty eyes of the beautiful woman next to you, her skin dewy with the fresh gleam of intimacy, both of you still tingly-tired from a round of good loving, one tender thought separates itself from all others, demanding expression. “Are you hungry?” you ask. This one sentence seems to arouse as much passion as that first bit of foreplay two hours ago. “Yes,” she breathlessly sighs, and excitement fills the air. But then you both exchange a quick concerned look as she continues, “but what have you got?”
Only now do you realize you may have made a premature promise, one on which your kitchen may not be able to deliver. You rack your brain, as the refrigerator light comes on in your mind-a brown head of lettuce (why do you always buy a whole head?-it’s enough for like thirty salads), several imported cheeses, slashed down to the rinds, a jar of capers with about ten capers swimming on the murky bottom, various exotic condiments you haven’t used in a decade (nam pla, pla nam, mango chutney, etc.), and 17 or 18 half-empty vitamin jars. “But wait!” you think, didn’t I buy eggs last week to make that definitive recipe for spaghetti carbonara from the NY Times Food Section? (never made?). And what about that leftover baked potato from a dinner you didn’t eat because you filled up on beer and chips? “Sugar”, you confidently say, “I’ll be right back.” And you head into the kitchen to prepare what, for me, is always the best meal of the day. It is not lunch, dinner, or even breakfast, although it often includes eggs. It is the meal you eat in bed at 4 AM with a stranger, a lover, perhaps even your partner if you’re lucky, after a night of drunken debauchery. For what bacchanal is complete without a little food? You’re hungry, you don’t know what to eat, but you need to eat something. And that’s why I call this meal, the most important meal of the day, Sumtain.
For Sumtain, an improvised menu is customary. It will include only what you have in your fridge and your cupboards, and only what one can cook in a semi-drunk state (no bacon). If you like, both of you can cook, but I recommend that only one cooks, while the other smokes cigarettes in bed. This way, you both have a little quiet time to reflect on how lucky you are. The occasional shouts of “Hey, lover, I’ll be back in five minutes”, and, “Wow, that smells great”, are really all the convo you need. Now as to the makeup of Sumtain, this is always tough, and limited to what you have on hand. Eggs are common-just fry them, you can’t do over easy when you’re seeing double. Keep stirring them in the pan in some butter until they’re done-nothing fancy. Got any leftover tortillas from that Mexican meal you made two weeks ago? Rip’em up and throw them in, for fiber. You’ll need some fiber to soak up all that alcohol. If not, toast is the second most popular ingredient in a 4 AM Sumtain. But now here comes the surprises.
Take a look and see what you have. Can of Mexican peppers unopened in three years? Three cans of kidney beans (I hate kidney beans, I only eat black beans, why on earth do I continue to buy kidney beans?), a smushy onion or two, even those rind-only cheeses are all going into the Sumtain pot. Got any spices that haven’t turned to dust yet? A couple of jars of cumin, perhaps? Get ‘em out, you’re going to need them. Of course any leftover take-out food is acceptable, but that’s not really Sumtain. Anyway, I prefer to save that and cold pizza for the next day’s lonely hangover lunch. And, of course, don’t worry about eating breakfast today, you’ll have already had your fill for Sumtain.
Several quick no-no’s-try to do as little chopping as possible. It’s extremely unromantic to spend the wee hours alone in the emergency room (I guarantee she won’t come). Don’t drink any milk-it’s probably bad, and you won’t be able to tell until it’s too late (again, the emergency room). A glass of wine’s okay, but don’t try to make coffee-hot water burns. And finally, the best and most memorable Sumtains always include the one ingredient I am almost never without, chocolate pudding. When you ask Miss X if she would like some chocolate pudding, I guarantee her eyes will fill with tears of love and joy. You might even get a second round. But first, eat your Sumtain.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Michael Schwartz, Terry Riley, Sandro Chia, and The Art of Hunger...

Before the new MAP hits the streets (patience, it will be worth it), MAP Magazine's online edition of the 'Pleasures' issue is worth a second look. I think this is the most interesting and unique magazine in Miami, and perhaps anywhere (there, I said it). 'Guest Epicurean Editor' Danny Brody (me) finds much to like (of course). From a food/wine/spirits standpoint, start with Terry Riley, Director of the Miami Art Museum (and Design District denizen), and Michael Schwartz, chef and eye-candy extraordinaire of Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, in a conversation about the intersection of art, food, and the pleasures of both. This is not your usual 'interview', as Riley, an architect and former Director of Architecture at NYC's MoMA, plays interviewer and asks Schwartz the questions. This piece is a verbatim transcript of two very smart guys at the top of their respective games, bouncing notions and historical references off each other in a heady whirlwind of ideas. Riley is probably the most well-prepared dude I have ever met, and tossed a few curveballs at Schwartz. When I asked the chef afterwards what he thought of the whole experience, he said, "It was great...I think." See for yourself.

Also, if you are not familiar with the artist Sandro Chia, this issue contains a piece on his evolution from '80's New York art-star, alongside Schnabel and Basquiat, to Brunello di Montalcino winemaker. I interviewed him from his vineyard in Italy, and also spoke several times with his son, Fillipo, who runs the winery. Sandro Chia was at Danceteria in NYC when Madonna performed for her first time, and he and I, coincidentally, remembered the same clubs and heady atmosphere of NYC in the early eighties (CBGB's, Mudd Club, Max's, etc.). Very interesting guy, great wine, and great photos (and great wine!).

There's booze, and then there's good booze, as Jackie Gleason used to say. Follow the 'Booze Map' around Europe where, from Scotch to Calvados, from Grappa to Champagne, the place where it's created defines what's in the bottle.

With help from Mitch Weinstein (Weinoo of in NYC, and Don Rockwell ( in Washington, DC, MAP examines the phenomenon of 'hidden bars'-dark and tucked away like speakeasies of old, but legal-where the craft of the cocktail is the number one priority. And as an alternative to overcrowded bars catering to that section of the general public that just wants to get drunk and loud (also okay on occasion), at these joints you won't have to worry about anyone jostling your Gosling.
The Art of Hunger is all about comfort food this issue, and comfort cocktails, of course, as well. Is it possible to fuck up a hot dog? Can anyone make a decent drink in Miami? Go to and download the 'readable PDF'. I guarantee it will be worth it-or better yet try and get your hands on a physical copy of the magazine, which is gorgeous, with an amazing cover by Miami's own Brandon Opalka, and illustrations and photos by other local heroes.
(Photos/Illustrations courtesy MAP Magazine-for more info, see )

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

The King of Sandwiches....Really?

Start with the Sweetbreads......

Yeah I love the big fat sandwich with everything on it-the 'steak', the ham, melted cheese, and of course the crispy fried egg. It seems like every joint in North Beach has one. But at El Rey Del Chivito, the sandwich (the 'chivito') is almost elegant in its crunchiness. Accompanied by a big pile of fries, there is a surprising lack of greasy drippings rolling down your wrist when you eat it. My only quibble with this place, and while it may seem small, it has kept me away, is the tourist-ripoff act they pull when you order a glass of water. I ordered two glasses of water, and the waiter brings two bottles of some crappy no-name stuff they probably pay about twenty cents for, and proceeds to pop one open. "Wait, I don't want bottled water, that's why I ordered two glasses of water," I remind him in my kindly timbre. "But I've already opened it," he says, even though I asked him to wait and he actually only had one bottle open. "Well I'm not paying for that," I respond, reassuringly (they are $2 each). "But the owner will make ME pay for them," he cries. "Then send the owner over and I'll tell him myself, brother, but I'm not paying for something I didn't order," I reply politely but firmly.

Of course the owner isn't there, and the sandwich is great, but an extra $4 for something one doesn't want, followed by dead silence, makes for a discomfort that my constant companion and I feel for a good portion of the meal. The service was fine after a minute or two, though, and we had ordered a huge plate of sweetbreads to precede the chivitos. An enormous amount of mollejas are plopped down (above), and we probably could have made a meal from half the food we ordered (there was some to-go-box shoveling-into, I can assure you). The decor is tacky/chic, with a bunch of photos of people you never heard of, and a couple of Valerrama (the corkscrew-haired soccer star, not the dude from 'That 70's Show' who gets all the young poon).

Great coffee, too, called lagrima, which I guess is like a colada. You'll need a few glasses of water to wash it all down. Be very specific.
Ever had a great meal almost ruined by upselling or flat-out ripoffs? Please add your own story...

They got the goods...
6987 Collins Ave, Miami Beach - (305) 864-5566
and 18120 Collins Ave, Sunny Isles Bch - (305) 792-7776

Monday, September 01, 2008

New Orleans Cooking At Home (Including Recipe)...

Anyone like to add a favorite New Orleans Food Memory/Recipe?

The other night at a party someone brought up a restaurant that I had recently been touting, and whose chef I was calling a genius. "I ordered the steak and it was no better than anything I could have made at home," he said. I don't necessarily go around defending restaurants I like, although I do tend to run into people who "hate" a particular place that, it turns out, they've never eaten at, or maybe had one average meal and don't understand what the fuss is all about. There's also the inevitable backlash due to success and popularity among critics or the general public. People like to be first, they like to 'discover' new places, and then, when others 'discover' them too, the trashing begins. "Isn't what it used to be." "They've gone downhill." "Too expensive-prices have gone up way too high." "Service has gotten snotty." You get the picture. And do the chefs and staff get complacent and start turning out 'blah' meals, with the excitement of fresh success having worn off and the whole enterprise becoming a mere grind? Definitely. But more often than not, it is simply just what it is. One bad meal, or one bad dish.

And that brings me to the mirliton (above). A quirky squash that I've cooked with a lot, as it is very easy to prepare-simply boil until soft, or even eat raw in a salad like jicama. It is fairly cheap, 4/$1 at the local market, and goes by the name chayote. It is very popular in New Orleans, and I mentioned it briefly a couple of months ago when I was ravenously digesting New Orleans cookbooks, including a Paul Prudhomme number. So imagine my delight when I spotted "shrimp stuffed mirliton" on the small menu of a local hangout. But when I ordered said dish, it was a sad, flavorless afterthought, with two admittedly delicious shrimp on the dish, but the "stuffed" part of the dish was dubious-a thin layer of cheesy sauce with no discernible flavor. This dish should be bold, spicy, make you stand up and and get all tingly. Blandness is its enemy, as the mirliton is, after all, just a squash-it needs a helping hand.

So here's my version, Mirliton Stuffed with Andouille Sausage and Shrimp. It is inexpensive, and the key to the dish is a nicely spicy roux. Saute an onion in a mixture of butter and oil, then add a tablespoon or so of flour and stir a lot. Three kinds of pepper should be used: white, black, and most importantly, cayenne. Sprinkle liberally. Cook the shrimp shells in a cup of water, and use that to thin out the roux when necessary. Cook up the sausage separately, throw in the shrimp for two minutes, then scrape up the bits (deglaze) with a little white wine. Add it all to the thickened roux. In the meantime, you've boiled and halved the mirlitons, scraping out the rough stuff in the center. Pour the stuffing over the mirli's, then some bread crumbs and butter (and some cheese if you like), and toast to crunchiness under the broiler. Add some ribboned greens with garlic, and some nice Riesling.

This is a crowd pleaser, and as most people don't even know what the hell a mirliton/chayote is, it's also a good conversation starter. And also a way to save some money and cook at home. Whole thing less than $10 for four. Don't forget to pass the hot sauce. And please feel free to add your own New Orleans food memories/recipes...

Finished meal, with PP looking on...

Making a roux...