Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Harry’s Pizzeria 
Design District

Sometimes it’s the simple things in life that can make a bad day good. On this occasion it was a slice of pizza from Harry’s Pizzeria [3918 N Miami Ave.]. For me pizza is attached to a memory, a memory featured on this blog previously, but that doesn’t mean that I am particular to any one style of pie. Although I’m partial to the New York style I can appreciate a good slice. During our trip to Italy we got to experience pizza in its source, Naples. The Neapolitan pizza is simply pure, tomatos, fresh mozzarella and basil. In Chicago we had the deep dish; true to its name, the deep dish is more a pie than a pizza, but the combination of chewy and crispy achieved in the cast iron pans, put the Chicago style pizza in a class of its own. At Harry’s Pizzeria they are producing more of the artisanal brand pizza. The pies are fired in a wood burning oven with a thin crust, lightly charred with extremely fresh ingredients; what you would come to expect from Chef Michael Schwartz.

The menu features an assortment of “snacks” including Marinate Olives, Homemade Organic Ricotta and Meatballs in Sauce. We went with the Polenta Fries presented Lincoln Log style and served with a tangy marinara sauce and the Caponata, both excellent choices. In addition to the “snacks” there are daily soups and salads, like the Peach & Frisee and the Escarole.

To accompany our food we went with a Cat 3 IPA from local brewery Due South. This IPA is heavy on the malt and hops, but it’s not too bitter. Harry’s has great selection of beers on tap as well as more in bottle.  But if you prefer a glass of wine or bottle with your meal, Harry’s can accommodate.

As for the pies, they all have one thing in common: the crust. I’m not usually a fan of the cracker like crust, but Harry’s has managed to give their crust the proper balance of textures with just the right amount of char from the wood oven. The dough is thin and crisp, but with a little bite. But what makes the pies at Harry’s stand out are the inspired mix of toppings. You can go traditional with a Margherita or you can go with one of the more creative options, like the Shortrib or Rock Shrimp pizzas. The Shortrib is topped with cave aged gruyere, caramelized onions, and arugula, an amazing combination of flavors. The Rock Shrimp is a light and refreshing with a blend of grilled lemon, manchego, scallions, and cilantro. Along with the regulars there is a daily lunch special based on seasonal ingredients. The pies, sized for one, range in price from eleven to fifteen dollars. If you are going to share, I would recommend more than one pie unless you’re going to have a salad or few snacks to accompany the pie. If you are not in the mood for pizza, Harry’s also features daily dinner specials like the Wood Oven Roasted ½ Poulet Rouge Chicken or the Crispy Cuban-Stlye Mojo Pork.

Harry’s calls itself a “casual neighborhood joint” and it is. The place has everything you would expect in a local spot, great people, good beer, and exceptional food. It’s the kind of place you can go unwind and let the troubles of your day slip away. The food and service at Harry’s is on point, but don’t take my word for it. Experience it for yourself. 

Monday, August 13, 2012

Michael’s Genuine 
Design Distric, Miami

Over the last few years there has been a definite shift to cook and eat local sustainable ingredients in Miami and Michael’sGenuine Food and Drink [130 NE 40th St] has been at the forefront of this movement. Since 2007, Chef and owner Michael Schwartz has been making sure the restaurant is putting out the freshest local ingredients possible. Around here, there is no need to introduce this man, but in case you’ve been living in a cave, here it goes; 2010 James Beard Award Winner, Best Chef South, writer of his own cookbook Michael's Genuine Food: Down-to-Earth Cooking for People Who Love to Eat, owner of the aforementioned Michaels Genuine and Harry’s Pizzeria, and hell why not, throw-in craft brewer. While the restaurant has a wide assortment of craft beers Michael decided it was his turn to give it a try. He has partnered with Back Forty Brewers to create an American Ale that uses local ingredients like sem-chi rice (a rotating crop that is used to replenish the soil after cane harvesting) and cane sugar. But I digress; beer can do that to me. In case one James Beard acclaimed chef wasn’t enough, executive pastry Chef Hedy Goldsmith with her inspired and playful treats was nominated for Outstanding Pastry Chef in 2012. Along with Chef de Cuisine Bradley Herron, Michael has surrounded himself with talented people that help him keep his menu as fresh as the food they produce. The restaurant is open seven days a week, serving lunch, dinner, and Sunday brunch. Considering the quality and freshness of the ingredients used, MGFD is very affordable. 

Passing under the neon sign and through the covered courtyard, you enter a space that is cozy and inviting. The restaurant, much like the food, is unpretentious unlike most places in Miami. The clean and modern décor includes large hanging red lanterns, artwork, and in large letters on the wall, Campbell McGrath’s poem, Ode to the Mother Tongue: “Praise the tongue that shapes and savors words and flavors, that sings and stubles, drunkenly, upon the wine of poetry.”  A small bar at the entrance, private dining room, and exposed kitchen complete the space.  

With reservations for four, we arrive and are promptly seated. Our waiter, Himatuya was fantastic, very attentive and knowledgeable on the food. First up were drinks. I was in the mood for a beer and on tap that night was a Penn Brewery Kaiser Pilsner that was crisp and refreshing with lots of flavor.  Leslie had bourbon on her mind, so she went with a Bulleit Proof Manhattan; Bulleit Bourbon, rosemary infused cherries and a splash of lemon. This drink is downright dangerous; sweet and tangy while maintaining the bold flavors of the bourbon.  Our friends chose to go the non-alcoholic route and order a few of the house made sodas. The menu is organized by portion size, including, Snacks and Medium to Extra Large plates. Along with our drinks we ordered a few “Snacks;” the Crispy Hominy, Marinated Olives, and Kimchi. The perfectly crisp chili lime kernels were addictive and a bowl of the hominy and a few cold beers alone would have made for a perfect night, but at this point, there was a lot more food on the way. Next to the table were the Chili Chicken Wings with creamy cucumbers. These were crunchy on the outside and soft and juicy on the inside with a hint of spice from the chili and tang from the lime; while the creamy cucumbers made for the perfect addition to balance out the dish. 

Next were the “Medium” plates. The Duck Confit with peach marmalade, frisée, and spiced pumpkin seeds was rich and flavorful with a good balance of textures. The Crispy Sweet and Spicy Pork Belly with kimchi, crushed peanuts and pea shoots was delicious. The acidity from the kimchi balanced out the fat of the pork belly, but the skin could have been a bit crispier. The Crispy Rice Cake with chorizo and Florida rock shrimp topped with manchego, chili aioli and a fried egg was tasty. The Grilled Shrimp, one of the night’s specials, was light and savory with lychee (seasonal ingredient), avocado, cilantro, and lime. 

Our order of “Large” plates included the Grilled Pork Loin and the Pan Roasted “Poulet Rouge” Chicken with parsley and capers. The chicken which is not usually my first choice as an entrée, but in this case, it was highly recommended and unbelievably tender. 

We couldn’t leave without trying a dessert (or two), so we ordered: the Chocolate Oreo Bourbon Jar Pie with a chocolate custard crème fraiche ice cream; outstanding. Followed by an array of sorbets; Watermelon Lime, Peach Cobbler, Chocolate Dulce de Leche, and Buttered Popcorn. All delicious, but I found myself going back for more of the clean and refreshing watermelon lime and the strangely satisfying buttered popcorn that could easily replace a freshly popped bag at the movies. 

This was a fantastic meal and a great time with friends. The food was fresh and flavorful and service was on point. The menu at Michael’s Genuine is constantly changing and improving; no matter when you go, you are sure to find an array of delicious dishes highlighting fresh local ingredients. 

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Pollos y Jarras, REVISITED 
Downtown Miami

It’s been three months since we experienced Pollos y Jarras soft opening. The restaurant has a great casual environment and good service, but there were definite flaws in the food. We decided to stop in for lunch and see if they’ve worked out the kinks.

We ordered a round of Pisco Sours and the Anticuchos de Pollo to start; let me say, these were a major step up from the Anticuchos de Res. The chicken hearts were tender and flavorful unlike their beef counterparts. For the main course we ordered the Parrillada Castigame Negra, a combination of grilled chicken, skirt steak, and filet mignon. The assorted grilled meats were tender and juicy displaying a much better flavor profile, an overall improvement from the soft opening.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Federal
Upper East Side, Miami

The Upper East Side has seen an influx of great new restaurants from established chefs to up-and-comers.  One notable restaurant producing their own take on modern American cuisine is The Federal [5132 Biscayne Blvd]. The team behind the downtown pop-up Phuc Yea is no stranger to producing good food; with Aniece Meinhold, Alejandro Ortiz, and Chef Cesar Zapata at the helm in the kitchen redefining American classics while keeping the comfort in comfort food. The Federal’s menu is seasonal; currently featuring the Summer Crush menu along with a Sunday Brunch menu including items like Johnny Cakes, Wahbit and Waffles, and Bottomless Mimosas. June 10th marked the start of the Federal’s Sunday Night Q menu, but you didn’t need anyone to tell you that if you were anywhere near the Upper East Side once that smoker was fired up. In the mood for some good barbeque, we decided to meet up with a couple friends and give the Q menu a try. The restaurant is tucked inside a small strip mall on Biscayne Boulevard, but stepping through the door that’s the last place you’d think you are. Inside the décor is rustic and homey with things like a mounted deer head over a faux fireplace, wood tables, and plaid fabric benches.

First up were drink orders. Instantly the Bucket-O-Brews caught my attention, but with a great selection of microbrews and the ability to mix-and-match your bucket we figured we’d start off with a Magic Hat #9 and some appetizers while we decided. We ordered a few Fed Classics: the Jar-O-Duck and the Cheese Biskits. The Jar-O-Duck is insane, a slow-cooked Hudson Valley duck prepared rillette style and stored in tiny mason jars accompanied with candied sweet potato and charred fluff on a toasted crostini. The combination of flavors in this dish conjures up images of thanksgiving dinner. The candied sweet potato and toasted marshmallow fluff, seemingly a twist on the classic sweet potato pie, is combined with a tender and flavorful duck making for the perfect marriage in a bite. The Cheese Biskits, called out as a must-have by a few of our friends, were soft, flaky, and didn’t disappoint. Ready for another beer, or five, we ordered a bucket including; Old Chub Scotch Ale, Mama’s Little Yella Pils, Stoudts American Pale Ale, Dogfish Head Saison du Buff, and Victory Golden Monkey. We sampled each one with the standouts being the Saison du Buff with its hints of rosemary, thyme, sage, and parsley, and the refreshing and crisp Belgian ale Golden Monkey.

From the pit, we ordered a full rack of the St Louis Style Pork Ribs. With this you have your choice of Union Mops, homemade sauces including Ancho Chile Mop, Caramelized Onion Vinaigrette, and Yellow Lexington Dip; but we decided to try them au natural. They were fall off the bone juicy with a great balance of smoke and sweet from the glaze. Along with the ribs we ordered a few Fixins, the Grilled Corn and the Federal Potato Salad. The Grilled Corn is slightly charred and topped with a kumquat butter that was very tasty. The Federal Potato Salad was delicious, served warm with bacon, pickles, and scallions. Leslie is still checking her records (not quite sure if these are official), but she touted this potato salad as one of the best she’s ever eaten.

The Federal has a great vibe and fantastic service while the food is creative yet familiar. Pop-up or permanent the food and experience you’re getting from this trio is legit. From the moment you arrive you feel welcomed, as if stepping into a friend’s home and as soon as you leave, you’re thinking of your next visit.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Sra Martinez
Design District, Miami

Just north of Downtown Miami is the Design District, a low-rise commercial neighborhood made up of old warehouse building that have been converted to galleries, showrooms, boutique retail, restaurants, and bars. In the center of the district, constructed in the 1920s is one of the Design District’s more recognizable structures, the Buena Vista Post Office. The neo-classical building has been repurposed multiple times, but each time designers have achieved a good balance between modern accents and the classic details that make the structure unique. Most recently the post office was transformed from a private residence and office in 2004 to the short-lived restaurant Domo Japones in 2007.

Since then, the post office has been home to Sra Martinez [4000 NE 2nd Ave.], a Spanish tapas bar with a modern twist created by Miami native Chef Michelle Bernstein.  For years we’ve been hearing great things about both Michy’s and Sra Martinez; but I have to admit, our first experience with Chef Bernstein’s food came recently at Cochon 555 [highlighted here]. Michelle took top honors that night with her porky creations and is set to compete this weekend against nine other national winners, including Marc Forgione and Jamie Bissonnette at the Grand Cochon in Aspen as part of the Food & Wine Festival. We didn’t know what we were missing until that night, but it was clear that we couldn’t deprive ourselves any longer.

Inside the old post office, the space is amazing; twenty foot high ceiling, hard wood floors, large windows with wood shutters, a cold tapas prep area with bar, and brown leather lined booths hugging the walls; while Almodovar movie posters add to the Spanish flair. We arrived early, decided to have a few drinks and head upstairs to the loft which houses the bar. The tiny yet cozy space was packed so we grabbed our drinks and made our way out to the adjacent balcony.

With our drinks running low and the smell from the kitchen making our mouths water, we went downstairs to grab a table. We sit down and before we have a chance to look over the menu, we order our drinks and take a moment to hear the day’s specials. Immediately we know we can’t pass one of them up: the Braised Short Rib Empanadas. The menu has a wide array of both cold and warm tapas to choose from. Most portions are typically larger than what you find in a traditional tapas bar. Prices range from $8 to just over $20 for the tapas with some larger plate like the Paella coming in slightly higher than that. If you can’t decide what to eat let the chef choose for you with a tasting menu ranging from $65 to $85. Three to four plates per person is typically suggested as a good way of sampling what the menu has to offer.

We decided to order three dishes at a time; first to arrive were the aforementioned Braised Short Rib Empanadas. The empanada was crispy on the outside, the meat was tender and packed full of flavor, and the accompanying chili de arbol sauce was delicious. This was shortly followed by the Croquetas, filled with jamon serrano and manchego over a fig marmalade; a perfect balance of the salty and sweet. Next were the Crispy Artichokes and the Bacon Wrapped Dates. The long stem artichokes were fried to perfection in a very light batter with a lemon-coriander sauce on the side. The medjool dates were wrapped in crispy bacon and stuffed with a blue cheese and almonds, once again a great balance between the salty and sweet.

Our next order was in, Octopus Carpaccio, Choclo con Chiles, and the Butifarra. The Octopus Carpaccio had to be one of our favorites. The thinly sliced octopus seemed to melt in your mouth was prepared with preserved lemons, cured black olives, and micro herbs, delicious on all levels. Since one of the members of our party thought that it was one of the best things she had ever eaten, we ordered seconds. The Choclo con Chiles; sweet corn with chiles and lime topped with cheese was tasty, but it felt more like an accompaniment to something else as opposed to a standalone dish. The Butifarra, a duck and foie gras sausage with large white beans in a slightly sweet port wine sauce was divine.

Next, we ordered the Squid Ink Risotto topped with crispy calamari; another one of the night’s highlights. The risotto was light and creamy well balanced by the crispy calamari, while the chimichurri and aioli added a salty undertone. This was followed by the Garbanzo Stew; a very rich stew with chorizo, wilted greens, melted tetilla, and finished off with an egg yolk and garlic chips that were amazing, for me, a trip through Spain in one bite. Last, but not least, were the Scallops, beautifully seared over a chorizo scented fennel puree, grapefruit brown butter, and capers; a very light and flavorful dish.

As I contemplate how I was going to get up from my chair, the dessert menu arrived and two just looked too good to pass up, so we ordered, the Torrejas and the Churros. The Torrejas were delightful; the crispy bread absorbed the juices from the warm rum sautéed bananas and figs, complimented nicely by vanilla ice cream. The Churros were tasty, crispy on the outside, soft on the inside and served with a bitter-sweet chocolate sauce.

With our night coming to an end, it was obvious that we had been missing out all these years. Sra Martinez has managed to produce high quality food with a menu as flexible as the building it’s in. The overall experience was amazing and the service was fantastic. The only question in my mind is: When to try Michy’s?

Thursday, May 31, 2012

Little Lotus
Downtown Miami

In Downtown Miami—hidden behind layers of cheap watch stores, over-priced electronics, and obscure shops that sell everything from knock-off designer jeans to Hello Kitty lunch boxes—there is a network of shopping malls and courtyards unfamiliar to most. In a tiny unassuming space, tucked inside the Intercontinental Jewelry Center and specializing in Asian and Japanese tapas is Little Lotus [25 N. Miami Ave]; home to two talented chefs creating incredible dishes. Chef Inyoman Atmaja handles the hot dishes, while Chef Michael Asalie oversees the sushi bar. Chef Asalie spent time working at Morimoto’s NYC, making him all too familiar with good food and technique.  His expertise is evident from the minute your first roll arrives at the table. The restaurant is small and fills up quick so if you’re in the mood for a quick bite to eat at a peak hour, this is probably not your best bet. Little Lotus is meant to be an experience from start to finish.
When browsing through the menu it was obvious that sushi would be our focus. We finally came to a decision on an assortment of rolls and waited with anticipation for the first to arrive.  The Angel Heart started us off, a delicious combination of eel tempura, spicy tuna, avocado and mixed greens wrapped in soy paper. The roll displayed an amazing mix of textures from the crispiness of the tempura batter to the freshness of the tuna.  This was followed by a few basic rolls, a Spicy Crunchy Tuna Roll and a Snow Krab Avocado Roll; bright flavors which should not be overshadowed by the signature rolls. Next, was the Rock and Crunchy: shrimp tempura, avocado, snow krab, and masago, wrapped in soy paper and served with the chef’s special sauce; similar in texture to the Angel Heart, but with the addition of the masago and chef’s special sauce that added a touch of salty and sweet.

This was followed by a trio of “Incredible Rolls” that would live up to their name: the Flagler Roll, Big Mac, and MJ Roll. Paying homage to one of Miami’s most influential figures and its location namesake is the Flagler Roll: crunchy spicy white tuna and avocado topped with tuna, salmon, white fish, yellow tail, lemon, cilantro and yuzu miso. The lemon and cilantro give the roll a freshness that served as a palate cleanser for the rest of the meal. Chef Asalie’s version of the Big Mac replaces thoughts of stacked patties and secret sauce with layers of spicy crunchy tuna, avocado, snow krab, tobiko, and a sweet sauce. Don’t let the picture fool you; this sandwich size roll requires a fork and knife, as what you’re seeing are two pieces cut into eight manageable bite-sized portions; absolutely delicious. Last but not least, was the delectable MJ Roll: Cajun rock shrimp and avocado topped with spicy tuna, Japanese seasoning and a honey wasabi sauce.

The presentation of the meal was impeccable, the flavors flawless, and the experience memorable; all this at a very reasonable price. Venture and explore Downtown Miami; you might be surprised at what you find hidden around the corner.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Sparky’s Roadside BBQ
Downtown Miami

It’s lunch time and the usual is just not going to cut it. You jump into your ’66 GTO, crank the radio, and hit the open road. Thoughts of returning to work quickly fade as the wind cuts through your hair. The freedom of the road, the scenery, and the music overwhelm you, you’ve lost yourself in the drive and now have no idea where you are. There hasn’t been another car on the narrow dirt road for miles now. Your running low on gas, hunger is setting in, and in the distance you see smoke billowing out of a shack; at this point you’re just happy to see signs of life. You pull up and notice a hand written sign on a board: “BBQ.” What are the chances? Perfectly smoked ribs, brisket, and ice cold beers await inside. With a full stomach and a full tank of gas [did I mention this is the kind of place that doubles as a gas station? …yeah] you make your way back to the city.
If you rather avoid this overly dramatic movie sequence, make your way to Downtown Miami and stop in at Sparky’s Roadside BBQ [204 NE 1st Street] instead. From the picnic tables and bull skull, to the hand painted birdhouses covering the walls; the minute you step inside you feel like you’ve left the city.  Two chalkboards flank either end of the restaurant displaying the day’s specials and beer of the week. Here, two New York transplants are doing BBQ their way; with a good selection of all the tasty smoked meats you would expect: brisket, pulled pork, ribs, chicken, and duck, with all the usual accompaniments. To wash it down they stock an assortment of microbrews like Dogfish, Magic Hat, and Shipyard.
As we work in Downtown, we are no strangers to Sparky’s menu. We typically order our favorites: the Tyler’s Pressed Sandwich and the Grilled Fish Sandwich. The Tyler’s Pressed is a combination of beef brisket and pulled pork topped with sautéed onions, American cheese, and BBQ sauce, that is pressed to crispy perfection. The smoked meat is tender and flavorful with a slightly sweet BBQ sauce. The sandwich can stand on its own, but with house-made sauces like Sparky’s, Apple-cidar, Hoisin, and Guava-Habanero on the table, it’s tough to resist. If you like a little extra kick to your sauce ask for the Lava Sauce, it’s usually not on the table, but well worth it, just have a beer handy to cool you off. The Grilled Fish Sandwich is a tender mahi fillet, well seasoned, with a hint of lime on a toasted bun with a delicious kicked up tartar sauce on the side. The sandwiches are usually paired with coleslaw and fries. But, these could be substituted for any of their other flavorful sides, such as, spicy macaroni and cheese, corn on the cob, and stewed collard greens.
Now I couldn’t write this post without mentioning the fries, since it has been a source of pain for us and all other Sparky’s regulars we know. Sparky’s used to have seasoned waffle fries that were absolutely delicious. It didn’t matter what you got, as long as it came with a side of fries. However, for some reason they are no longer available. I’m sure there is a rational explanation for this, but we just needed them to know we miss those fries.
If you’re in the need to escape the norm—but don’t have a GTO to hit the road in—think about hitting Sparky’s Roadside BBQ. You won’t be disappointed in what you find; good food, cold microbrews, and a great environment.