Wednesday, May 23, 2012

My Top 10 Restaurants in Miami.. In my not so humble, yet honest opinion

May I just say, this was a very hard task... I have friends that are chefs, there are a lot of good places out there, I tend to differ on views between friends about what is considered good food (I went to culinary school, I have cooked for a living, I have been very cultured in the culinary world, traveled abroad, so sorry, I’m not sorry, I’m right J) I also struggle thinking, how can you put a 5 star restaurant next to a burger joint down the street? Service, quality and price can only skew results, but I tried to be as reasonable as possible.   So I wove my way in and out of most of the restaurants in Miami and compiled a list of places that I would recommend to friends, family or anyone that need a quick dinner recommendation.

So here we go, I will give you a few rules that I gave for myself:

#1 cannot be a chain (More than 1 of the same restaurant) 
#2 I would have had to eat at least 3 items from their regular menu
#3 I would be true to my rules for a great restaurant (Killer Food, Great Service, Cool Concept, the "Need to go back for" item)
#4 I cannot be working there currently (Sorry Tudor House! and yes it would have definitely been included otherwise)

BTW these are in no particular order...

1.       Edge Steak + Bar: Since arriving on the scene only a couple months ago Edge has taken the Miami culinary community by storm. Chef Aaron Brooks is wickedly good with Steak and in my personal opinion better with seafood, that guy can make a killer tartare ( Tuna, Corvina, Scallop, Steak you name it) and I still think back to some of the dishes he has made me, like the razor clam tasting, the most wicked Bahn Mi I've ever come across and a lobstah roll that has been approved by even the Boston boys...  Edge has become my go to suggestion for almost anyone going out for a night in the Brickell area and every single one have come back overjoyed. Did I mention best Happy Hour I've come across??

2.       River Oyster Bar: Ahh River Oyster, you are so awesome yet you are never put on any of the greats list, why is that? I personally don't understand because your Oyster selection is worth a trip alone, although some of your servers are douchey (my only qualm, sorry I’m not sorry). When I know I am going, I prepare myself to always try one of each or at least the ones I’ve never had. The beer list is ever changing and you won’t find a bar stool past 4pm, it must mean they are doing something right. I literally crave the Seafood Cioppino (extra spicy!) and the Blue Crab & Gnocchi, if you want to dedicate yourself to full use of my suggestions spill a little Cioppino into the Crab dish, its possibly orgasmic. Their daily menu changes keep the sparks flying and the consistency of food is worth its weight in gold.

3.       Federal Drinks and Provisions: Another spot that has almost a cult classic feel to it was an immediately well received restaurant with a quirky name. The master minds behind Miami’s 1st Pop up Phuc Yea, Aniece and Cesar are the King and Queen of real food, no frills, no bullshit. The couple are some of the coolest people you can get to know and their space reflects it. The Bizkits n gravy as well as the short rib pot pie wellington are both some serious eats. It’s a true neighborhood joint.

4.       Mandolin Aegean Bistro: A hidden gem located on the outskirts of the Design District has to be one of the coolest spaces to hang out in. The outside dining room has been transformed to look like a little bistro in the countryside of Greece. The blue umbrellas with comfy chairs and the servers, mostly women with old world aprons, and a genuine smile makes you leave here saying Opa! The menu is simple with clean flavors and always consistently good; I could drink their Sangria all day and eat their pulled lamb sandwich all night

5.       Eating House: Is there really anything I need to say? Mostly everyone agrees with me that this pop up by Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli is a ridiculous success, people wait hours to eat here and the ever changing menu makes them come back wanting more. The chill vibe and the excellent food brought by two friends shows that Miami is ready for real chef driven food. Some of his mainstays like the Homestead Tomatoes with frozen coconut and the chicken and waffles are huge hits with me and many others. Catch it while you can.

6.       Pub Belly Empire: I could not possibly choose between just one, pub belly as a whole is greater than all of its parts. Pub belly was a hit on its own, but when sushi and Barceloneta opened the pub belly block was unstoppable. They might as well buy the liquor shop in between them and call it pub belly mixology (I want credit) Bloggers have notoriously done the Pub belly crawl; having a small meal at each location and I recommend you do the same.

7.       NAOE: This is my guilty pleasure, a special occasion restaurant, but that is exactly how you should approach Chef Kevin Cory’s cuisine. Considered one of the Top Japanese restaurants in the country, NAOE is at the top of its game and no one can tell me different. Each of the nigiri that he serves for the Omakase portion is heavenly and the secret ingredient ice cream is a truly delicious end to an over the top meal that is never forgotten

8.       Nemesis Urban Bistro: Chef Micah Edelstein is in a league of her own, she does things her way, and her unconventional ways personify what her restaurant is all about. I can say there is no other restaurant like hers, the food is different, the feel is different, hey even the bathroom is a world of its own, if you have been you would know.  Her South African background and her gypsy like ways have culminated to a totally different cuisine than anyone else has in Miami at this time. The Veal Bobotie and Tuscan sushi are just plain awesome!

9.       The Dining Room: Although I have only been here once it does not stop me from craving the sweet potato gnocchi I had when I was there. The service was excellent, the food came out within an acceptable time and I have nothing but good memories that make me want to go back every time I drive by. It also helps that everyone I talk to loves what they do.

10.   Haven Gastro Lounge: Haven has to be one of the coolest places on the beach; not only do they have some award winning mixologists that get to play with Liquid Nitrogen every day, they have one of the most influential people in Miami as their Executive Chef. Todd Erickson has probably the most eclectic and visually appealing menu on this list. His use of color, textures and flavors are far beyond a lot of other Miami Chefs. Mixed with the $$$$$ (that’s a dollar figure) A/V system as their back drop there is nothing artistically they can’t do. My favorites are the Day Boat slider (when its Mahi Mahi) the Waldorf Salad, the Duck Duck Quail Slider, the Maki Peru roll and the tater tots. Although I’ve never come across an item I haven’t liked on the menu.

PS I would have totally included Bourbon Steak had they only had one location, John the GM is the master of the FOH and my meal is exceptional every time. It is the one true place I struggled with not including so I had to make a side note.

PSS I also would have loved to include Sushi Deli, but frankly people cant appreciate what they are doing there... if you are a serious sushi fan, check it out.

Hope you agree with my decisions, and even try out some that you haven't tried before. 

To Great Food & Great Company
~Lady of the Knife~

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

ChatChow TV... Behind the Scenes

Giovanny & Lauren

If you are a die hard food lover, are in the industry or just a roaming tech-ie, you have probably heard of or seen ChatChow TV; the online TV series dedicated to show the food world from the Back Of House view. Debuted less than a year ago, Chat Chow has already had some big name South Florida industry folk including Michael Schwartz, Jonathan Lazar and Jeff McInnis, not to mention a nationally recognized Iron Chef Geoffrey Zakarian on their 6-8 minute clips. The power team behind this rapidly growing series is none other than Lauren Bernat & Giovanny Gutierrez. While she gets in front of the camera he watches behind it producing this great little snippet into South Florida's blossoming culinary industry. After meeting Gio and Lauren (who are both great BTW) I wanted to really get to know them and I’m sure you would like to get to know them too, so here's the deal. I gave them the same questions, told them to sit as far apart from each other as possible and answer away and then we would compare/contrast. This is what I got...

1. Favorite Genre of Food (Mexican, Italian, etc…):
LB: Italian
GG: I know this is a lame answer but I don't really prefer one over another. Although I will tell you that I always stop at La Carreta on my way home after flying from wherever for some rice and beans. I always crave that the minute I land in Miami.

2. Favorite Protein to Eat:
LB: Fish
GG: Definitely seafood. Love a fresh caught, well seasoned filet of mahi, grouper or black cod.

3. Most loathed ingredient (ingredient you can’t stand):
LB: Anise
GG: Nothing's worse than something fried in dirty, old oil. 

4. Favorite Restaurants (Miami and World)
LB: Tudor House / Yardbird / Pubbelly and French Laundry (just for the orchestrated experience)
GG: So hard to pick a favorite but I still reminisce on our French Laundry dinner ever so often. Just a truly unique experience.

5. Favorite Interview (of Chat Chow and why)
LB: Geoffrey Zakarian (we brought him lotions from Sephora per an inside tip)
GG: That's a tough one... Jouvens Jean had amazing chemistry with Lauren, the flirting was quite funny, very sharp and quite charming. Albert Cabrera of The Local was great off camera because he was so nervous, it was so early in the day and we just kept drinking beer after beer – a lot of silly laughing indeed.  And of course, surprising Geoffrey Zakarian with a lotion kit was a highlight. 

6. Gio: Which interview made you flat out just shake your head…
Lauren was interviewing Bond (with the 10 inch hairdo) of 2B Asian Bistro and she's just trashed from taking Sake Bombs. So Lauren is outside doing the intro for the episode and all these tourists in Little Havana think she's famous and she's so tipsy she rolls with it and ends up on a Double Decker Bus. Ha!

7. Foodie activity you want to get into (cooking classes, secret society dinners etc…)
LB: Secret Society Dinners
GG: We did social dinners and we've done cooking classes in the past but my personal favorite is hosting live foodie events which we've been doing. Just hanging out with people that enjoy food, glossy eyes smiling back at ya, interacting with chefs and doing live Chat Chow with people asking questionnaires is a great way to bringing our show to a live audience. 

8. How did you come to ChatChow TV?
LB: All started with a love of food and an initial idea Gio had. The team just fit perfectly.
GG: I attended a Michael Schwartz Q&A at Books and Books and the room was packed with people listening to what he had to say. From recipe techniques to where to get some local produce and I'm sitting there the whole time thinking "Why can't this be online.... with different personalities... like a series". And just like that, Chat Chow TV was born.

9. Something mainstream people don’t know about you:
LB: I get really silly sometimes. Really, really silly. I'll sing a response to a question, speak with accents...Oh, and I just had LASIK, but I guess that's now been written as my Facebook status and doesn't count. LOL. Maybe the biggest secret of all was that up until not too long ago I didn't eat meat ;) ChatChow clearly changed that.
GG: I've been a vegetarian since 1995 and now I pretty much eat everything and anything.  
10. Single/Taken/Married:
LB: Engaged
GG: Lauren and I are actually engaged :P

11. If you could travel anywhere where would it be and what would you do?
LB: Right now, I'd love to take a month or two to travel Asia. Hong Kong, Japan, China, Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam)…I could go on and on. Of course this is just a dream. A girl has to make a living.
GG: I would go back in time and visit El Bulli. I feel like I missed out on a lifetime experience. 

12. What are you looking forward to right now?
LB: Making ChatChow bigger and better.
GG: I can't disclose that yet but we are doing something new and interesting this year for Chat Chow TV which I'm sure fans are going to love. And it doesn't involve a camera... hint hint. 

13. What is one thing you want people to know about ChatChow TV?
LB: That it's made with love and focuses on the perspective of the industry people; a side most people don't get to hear. In this day and age (with the YELP's and Urbanspoon's) most of the information we receive is from the perspective of the consumer. It's refreshing to hear the industry's take on things.
GG: We really appreciate all the feedback we're getting from both foodies and industry people. Means a lot to us and validates what we do so keep spreading the love!

14. Where will you be in 5 years?
LB: Hopefully just enjoying life ;)
GG: Would love to see Chat Chow TV go national! We launched a few months ago with a great team in the West Coast so we'll see

15. Who would you love to interview? 
LB: The only local person we've been trying to get since day one has been Michelle Bernstein. We haven't been able to coordinate an episode because she's such a busy bee.
GG: I would love to have a couple of cocktails and talk shit with Anthony Bourdain. Just love his raw attitude.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

I swear I didnt forget about you!!

So.... my life has been so hectic and so busy, running around seeing friends trying to conquer the kitchen, working on new projects that are very interesting to me; I will be the first to tell you I get distracted very easily (Squirrel) but the blog has stayed with me in the back of my mind. Ive been wanting to come back with a smashing review, a post on the last cobaya or some fascinating story that will captivate audience members into giving me some prestigious award for my writing abilities (yeah right). But after every event and every place I eat I turn up exhausted with a writers block and after time wanes I feel like everything that I would talk about would be old news. So, I'm starting small, writing an apology letter almost to myself because lets face it I've got great friends and supporters who I care for dearly and all they wanted was for me to get back in there; and this little hiatus was a breath of fresh air. so sorry I'm not sorry but I'm back! I have worked for some great people out there Geoffrey Zakarian, Jamie DeRosa, Micah Edelstein, Aniece Meinhold, Caesar Zapata-Diaz, and Daniel Treiman in the past couple months. These people are extraordinary in each their own rights.

Geoffrey.. well do I even need to go there? I feel like I'm seeing someone like Tim Tebow (yes i used him get over it) right before he got that spotlight role of 1st string quarterback. Geoffrey has been so well respected for his food, but now that he has won next iron chef and is a staple in the food network line up he made that touchdown and is now in the big leagues being whisked off to all these fancy events and loved by thousands, its cool to think this guy is gonna be really famous.

Jamie... Jamie... Jamie, he has a special place in my heart, he beat me down in the kitchen, absolutely the way a young chef should be treated in order to make them realize what it takes to have perfection. He does not accept anything less in his kitchen and I respect him so much for that. I can say he has been a true mentor to me and from the looks of it the entire kitchen. His hipster like attitude and style makes him fun to be around yet when he gets in the kitchen he means business. I see him getting James Beard Awards and the spotlight that a great chef should receive. He comes up with so many ideas for new dishes that my head spins thinking about it. If only I could be so creative.

Now when creativity is needed Chef Micah is the person to go to. When you walk into her restaurant you just know you are in for a completely different dining experience. She has traveled all over the world and seen so many things that it would be a waste if she made food any other way. Her unique style has caught wind in Miami and by the looks of last night they are on their way. Helping her in her kitchen gives another complete experience to what food can be, quality over quantity, extreme detail and a light hearted whimsical feeling that I haven't seen in Miami.

The Phuc Yea team of Ani, Caesar and Daniel have become good friends of mine and after seeing their comradery and customer appeal no wonder these guys are respected in their own right. I love Ani and I's talks after service and the pep talk she always gives me. That is one strong woman right there! Caesar's unwavering loyalty to the kitchen and his food is brilliant to watch and Daniel is my partner in crime for wacky adventures and food related activities (random trips to homestead for tacos and such) All of these people have a cool little special place in my heart and my life has been changed working with them. So now that you have been caught up I can tell you I've got some cool ideas for blogs coming up.. Enjoy!

To Great Food and Great Friends,
~Lady of the Knife~

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Executive Chef leaves Market 17

Through a friend of a friend, I found out that over the weekend, Chef Ramos has left Market 17 in Ft. Lauderdale due to a family emergency. He has stepped down to care for his family member and from what I saw tonight they may need to get someone in there pronto. They are currently looking for a new Executive Chef.

Lady of the Knife

Friday, September 16, 2011

5 Things I learned from working at Phuc Yea

After helping out in the Phuc Yea kitchen for a night I decided to make a list of things one would learn while helping out in a dank Vietnamese Pop Up Restaurant.

1. Sharpie bleeds through Parchment Paper. We learned this after Melissa (our awesome waitress) drew Phuc Yea on Parchment Paper to make a sign for the front door and accidentally left a carbon copy on some pretty obscure places. Lets just say she learned a lesson and Phuc Yea officially has left a mark in downtown Miami.

2. Daniel is a silly goose & a really cool guy. Dan, one of the partners was teaching me how to cook some of the items but all awhile he was making jokes and telling me all about his stint at Momofuku and all the other cool places in New York. He also tried to leave me in a haunted stairwell. Ill forgive him this time. Also his street name comes from the popular dish Veal Bobotie from Nemesis Urban Bistro (my other spot)  from his love of the name and the dish.

3. Cesar knows his SHIT! I'm sure I annoyed the crap out of him because I asked so many questions... whats this? whats that? how do you do that? How do you cook Jellyfish? but he was kind enough to tell me exactly how everything was made and even let me help him with the more intricate dishes.

4. Aniece is Bad Ass! If you've met her... you know and if you haven't you should. This woman is known throughout the foodie world as a FOH extraordinaire, She is calm and cool under pressure and can handle pretty much anything. Our after hours talk was real and was almost like talking with an old friend about the biz. That's my kinda peoples right there.

5. Phuc Yea is blowing up! While there I had a camera right on my mandoline and knife techniques and all around the kitchen... because of all nights... when I was there, Deco Drive came in with Belkys Nerey to do a shoot on the newest restaurant in town. Watch out for it going on da tube soon.

Thank you again to Lulu, Ceeroks and Bo-Bo T for having me in your home and thanks for everyone who came out to say hi to me. Go check out the place if you haven't!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Miami Chef Series: Juliana Gonzales- Barceloneta

Chef Juliana

 Young, Beautiful, Talented, Successful are some of the adjectives that describe what Miami puts on a pedestal. For my very first Chef Interview Series I chose someone who personifies all of these qualities. Meet Juliana, some might have seen her around the hugely popular Pubbelly on South Beach, her husband Sergio is one of the partners of the restaurant. With all of the success of Pubbelly, the group of friends have decided to expand with two new restaurants. A Sushi joint that is set to open in October and Chef Juliana's baby, Barceloneta a Spanish inspired restaurant catered to Catalonyan fare with a tapas twist. The Puerto Rican native sat down with me in her beautiful new restaurant to tell me all about her new restaurant and her impressive resume.
When I first walked in to Pubbelly to meet Juliana she immediatly radiated a beautiful pearly white smile, welcomed me with open arms and dragged me over to Barceloneta. As we walked in I felt as if I had won the culinary jackpot. How many times do you get to see a restaurant and the chef before it opens? I felt so lucky as she was showing me the cute little pots and pans they will be using for service and all of the behind the scenes looks that not too many people get to see. We then sit down to discuss what is really going on in her hectic life.

Entrance right around the corner from Pubbelly

May I just say as we sit down to talk it is almost as if we have known each other for years. These interviews take no more than 15 minutes but we spent about an hour just going back and forth about Spain, Spanish lifestyle and culture and just all the fun things in life. My first question is what brought her to Pubbelly, she told me that she had done her Johnson and Wales internship overseas in Spain working for a Michelin Star Restaurant La Broche, when they brought the restaurant to Miami they wanted to take her with them, which she did. There she met her friend Jose who would come in to eat, the friendship eventuallybrought him in to become the head chef of Pubbelly. The strong ties to Hispanic upbringing and Spanish training bonded them which was never forgotten. When asked what her favorite stlye of cooking for her it should have been to obvious, she responded with Spanish. She then explained that one of her mentors Chef Jordi formerly of Mosaico played a crucial part for her love of Catalonian cuisine. The Barcelonian native gave her the tools she needed to explore her love of this amazing culture whom she credits to this day for her success. When I came in to eat at Pubbelly a couple days ago, Chef Jordi was there and you could tell that he was very important to her, something I understand very much, my mentor means the world to me and there isnt a time that I dont want to appreciate and show gratitude for all that he has taught me. When I asked what the menu was going to look like she gave it to me short and simple. Fresh, clean flavors; nothing over complicated, food the way its supposed to be. Of course you wouldnt think the Pubbelly crew would ever make it that simple, Juliana will bring in a French flair to the dishes. There will be terrines, pates and influences of French all througout her menu, fitting due to France being so close to Spain to begin with. The blackboard will feature the "Mercat" menu with a daily selection of raw bar ingredients as well as beautiful seafood and meats cooked a la plancha. There will also be a bistro style menu of some of the more steadfast menu items that will sure to please all with a full bar boasting Spanish infuences. When asked her experience about being a girl in the industry she smiled and laughed. She loves being a girl in the kitchen, just like myself she enjoys being on the line with all guys and having a good time with them. "Most people never thought I was a Chef, they immediatly dismissed me as a FOH manager or something else but I am a Chef! I can cook and I can hang with the boys" She told me she never had a problem with the boys teasing her or anything if you can just stick it out and show them that you can hang and be tough then they respect you and that is what she got. When asked her favorite food memory she told me that walking into the kitchen in Spain for the first time she knew it was going to be something special. The dedication and talent in that kitchen left her wanting more. The passion of the cooks and all of the products gave her the drive and motivation to be in that world and to make it the best experience possible. Chef Juliana then went on to tell me Barceloneta will be opening as soon as the permits come in, from what she thinks its looking like mid to late September 2011 for Dinner and will eventually offer Brunch. After talking to this woman I know she has what it takes to make this restaurant amazing. I dont get to meet too many people who have as much drive, determination and passion as she does and if that is any indication of this restaurants success than it will prove to be a powerhouse in Miami for years to come.

Bar area at Barceloneta

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Phuc Yea! ....More than just an awesome name

 First DB Moderne Bistro, then Geoffrey Zakarian comes back to open Tudor House,and Jose Andres is bringing his big guns with the Bazaar. Miami is really getting its footing in the culinary scene. You have heard of Chef Ludo taking an already established restaurant space and turning into a one-night, one week or 3 month stint doing whatever food is at his whim. this concept is called a "pop-up" restaurant. So popular in Europe and on the West Coast and New York of the US Miami is lucky enough to get the taste of the good stuff. Aniece Meinhold and Cesar Zapata formerly of the Blue Piano in the Design District were considered the power team behind the locally accepted hangout. Now they have moved on to their new concept with Daniel Treiman, here is some more information about the already buzzing Phuc Yea!

What: Phuc Yea! pronounced [fook-yey']
Miami's First Vietnamese "Pop-Up" Restaurant

Where: 19 SE 2nd Avenue housed in the current Crown Bistro

Operation Hours:
Opening Sept. 8th 2011 til November 2011

Price Range: $5-$28

Influences: Aniece Meinhold (Partner) is of Vietnamese decent, with her mothers original recipes from which the menu flourishes and the trios globetrotting backgrounds gives the style of which the concept derives. Menu will contain influences from Vietnamese cuisine as well as modern techniques

Menu: Menu will work as followed: a weekly changing menu consisting of 3 parts. “1 – một,” “2 – hai” and “3 – ba”, representing the size of the plates in that section.

The “1 – một” section includes a selection of fresh and fried “rolls” wrapped in moistened rice paper with various fillings, such as “Cha Gio” (imperial rolls, pork, crab, shrimp, glass noodles, $6) and “Bo Bia” (pork sausage, dried shrimp, jicama, herbs, $6) as well as other street food inspirations and various versions of the ubiquitous “Banh Mi” sandwich.
“2 – hai” will focus on appetizers meant for sharing such as “Ca Com Chien Don” (“fish ‘n chips,” crispy smelts, jalapenos, lemon aioli, $12), “Heo Xao Chua Ngot” (sweet ‘n sour chicharrones, crispy pork belly, pineapples, pickled onions, red bell peppers, $9), “Suon Heo Rim” (Vietnamese caramelized riblets, $8.5), “Goi Du Du” (green papaya salad, roasted pork, cherry tomatoes, roasted peanuts, shrimp chips, $10) and “So Hap Xa” (spicy steamed mussels, lemon grass, beer, herb butter, chiles, crusty bread, $10.5) Daily specials will also make their rounds including items such as “Indochine Pork Rillettes,” “Salt ‘n Pepper Squid,” and “Crispy Fish Salad.”
“3 – ba” section offers larger dishes inspired by the lettuce wrap. Expertly roasted proteins like “5 Spice Pork Belly,” “Crispy Duck Confit,” and “BBQ Brisket” star all wrapped up in vibrantly fresh herbs, homemade pickles and crisp greens.

I cant wait to try out this new concept, the mix of quality ingredients & high end technique should spark a lot of interest in the area. See you Sept. 8th!
tạm biệt
~Lady of the Knife~