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Dancing Flavors of Miami

February 4, 2015 14 comments

With some of the blog posts, you spend literally days trying to come up with the post title where you can say to yourself “yes, I like it”. And then some just jump into your head – your task is to remember it, or better yet – write it down right then and there.

This was my case with the title of this post. I was [pretty much] lucky to spend almost two weeks in Miami and Miami Beach. Yes, I escaped the cold weather of Connecticut, but it was not a vacation, it was work – yeah, okay, I got me – I was still in Miami as opposed to back in New York or a Calgary, for instance. For someone who is a foodie, most (not all) of the business trips still allow some room for the favorite form of entertainment and exploration – finding the great restaurant experiences. This trip, I managed to come across 4 restaurants which I would like to write about – just in case travel will take you to Miami, whether for business or pleasure – these restaurants well worth your attention. Here we go.

Bali Café

A small place, I would say just a bit bigger than a typical “hole in the wall”, Bali Café serves Indonesian cuisine, as you might expect from the name. The restaurant is decorated very appropriately, creating an authentic feeling despite rather a constrained space. To be honest, I think this was my first ever experience with Indonesian cuisine, and it was definitely a positive one. The dishes on the menu had general “Asian flair”, especially if you will look at the large sushi selection. At the same time, spices were a bit different for many of the dishes, let’s say, from a typical Chinese or Thai restaurant.

I liked the restaurant so much that I managed to visit it twice during the week for lunch. First time I had the dish called Bihun Bakso Kuah – Indonesian style rice noodles with spinach and fish and meatballs in beef broth soup – the dish essentially consisted of two separate plates – the noodles and the soup, both delicious on its own and together.

Ikan Pesmol at Bali Cafe

The second time I got Ikan Pesmol, a pan fried fish with stew in aromatic Indonesian spices, which was outstanding, a combination of curry and sweet chili pepper spices, delicious until the last morsel. You should definitely pay a visit to Bali Café if you are in the area. Keep in mind that the place is small, and accepts cash only (no credit cards).

Bali Café
109 NE 2nd Ave
Miami, FL 33131
Ph: (305) 358-5751

Bali Cafe on Urbanspoon

Cvi.Che 105

Cvi.Che 105The next restaurant I want to bring to your attention is called Cvi.Che 105, and it presents itself as a Peruvian restaurant. It is located very close to Bali Café, so it will be easy for you to visit both on the same day 🙂

As we had a dinner at Cvi.Che 105, let me start from the few words about the wines. The wine list is of a reasonable size, and it is very well composed, featuring good selection of wines evenly distributed over many regions, from New Zealand to Spain, Italy and France, to Napa and to Chile, all at a reasonable prices. We went with 2012 Sin Palabras Albariño Rias Biaxas (13% ABV, $34), which had a nice acidic profile with perfect limestone minerality, the one which makes Albariño such a great companion to any seafood dish.

We started with the grilled octopus as an appetizer. You know, it is very hard to describe the dishes in its perfection – I can’t be saying all the time “this was the best ever” dish, right? It is impossible that every new dish is “best ever”, so okay, this was not the best ever grilled octopus – but I’m not sure if I ever had a better grilled octopus. Perfect texture and outstanding flavor – if you like octopus, don’t waste your time, go and try it.

Next, very appropriately  to the restaurant’s name, we had a ceviche called Ceviche Seafood Orgy, which was outstanding, with perfect flavor and interesting textural contrast provided by white beans and roasted corn kernels.  Considering the successful experience with the main course, we simply had to go for the dessert. The Lucuma Cheesecake was good, but a bit lackluster in flavor. However, the Coconut Flan was exceptional, even considering the fact that I’m not a big fun of coconut – perfect flavor and texture.

I also want to mention an excellent service. You know, I like to conduct a “service level test” from time to time. Don’t get scared with the big words. All I do is ask the server for the wine recommendation and see if the most expensive wine will be the first recommended choice. In case of Cvi.Che 105, it was not – which in my book is a hallmark of an excellent service. All in all, the restaurant is highly recommended.

Cvi.Che 105
105 NE 3rd Ave
Miami, FL 33132
Ph: (305) 577-3454
http://www.ceviche105.com/

Cvi.Che 105 on Urbanspoon

Cleo Restaurant

Spices at CleoNow we are moving a few miles east, from Miami to Miami Beach. The first restaurant I want to bring to your attention goes under a simple name Cleo, and this was the restaurant which made me to come up with the title of this blog post, as “dancing flavors” was the best way to describe my feeling after visiting the restaurant.

When we asked our waitress Molly to explain the wide variety of dishes and flavors on the menu, she said that the restaurant is best characterized as “Eastern Mediterranean” in its cuisine. Chef, who is of Moroccan descent, traveled quite a bit, and his cooking brings together flavors of Italy, Israel, Lebanon and other Mediterranean cultures. Combine that with an impeccable precision of execution, and you get into the foodie heaven (yep, it’s worth mentioning in bold).

First things first. The wine list at Cleo features a number of interesting selections from US, Italy, France, Israel and even Lebanon, and when I saw a Chateau Musar (the most famous producer in the Lebanon) wine on the list for $51, that was really an easy decision. 2011 Chateau Musar Jeune Red Bekaa Valley, Lebanon (13% ABV, $51, 50% Cinsault/35% Syrah/15% Cabernet Sauvignon) had an open nose of fresh red berries, medium to full body with good amount of spices, soft tannins and sweet oak, overall perfectly balanced and well supporting the wide range of flavors of our dinner.

The menu at Cleo is built somewhat in the tapas style, with lots and lots of “small plates”, delivering the fiery of flavors from the different regions. The job of selecting is not easy, as menu lists more than 30 selections of Mezzes dishes.  Also keep in mind that while the small plates are small, they are quite filling so you really need to control yourself. We started with Lebaneh with Feta, which was served with probably the best pita bread I ever had (yeah, here I go again – “best ever”… but it was very tasty!). We continued with Dolmades, and then two sausages – Boudin Blanc with Truffle and Venison. Each and every dish was simply perfect, keep adding to that dazzling, fascinating dance of flavors.

Our main dish was Lamb Tagine (Apricots, Silan, Couscous, Sesame Seeds), very flavorful and delicious. And then, of course the dessert, and doesn’t matter that we were full already. Greek Yogurt (Greek Yogurt Gelato, Blood Orange Granite, Pine Nut and Rosemary Tuile, Local Honey) and Apple Almond Tarte (Roasted Apples, Almond Cream, Vanilla Gelato) were devoured in no time. Do you know that you can actually convince yourself that the dessert is very light and has no calories in it – if you really like it? Yep, we did it successfully.

Before we finish talking about Cleo, I have to also commend the service for the perfect attention – the dishes were showing up just on time, allowing us to fully enjoy one dish without worrying that another dish is already here and getting cold (out experience at another Miami Beach restaurant was quite opposite).

All in all, one of the best ever restaurant experiences – yes, it is a serious claim for a foodie, but I will stand by it, period.

Cleo
1776 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Ph: (305) 534-2536
http://sbe.com/restaurants/brands/cleo/

Cleo on Urbanspoon

Chalán on the Beach

And I still have one more restaurant for you. To compare it with Cvi.Che 105 (never mind Cleo), this is definitely much, much simpler restaurant – however, it delivered a very pleasant dining experience, hence I feel compelled to share this experience with you. This restaurant is called Chalán on the Beach, and it is a Peruvian restaurant in its roots. Similar to Cvi.Che 105, ceviche is a staple here as well, coming in many varieties. We had fish and octopus ceviche, which was delicious, very refreshing. After the ceviche, which we shared, we made a mistake – we ordered each a separate dish. Yes, super tasty, but if I will tell you it ain’t the French restaurant portions, you better believe me.

Pescado Con Mariscos (seafood combination of fish, mussels, squid, octopus, and shrimp in a special mushroom seafood sauce) had a great flavor, perfectly prepared. While I would prefer seafood over meat 9 times out of 10 in a restaurant, I have to admit that the second entreé, Lomo Saltado (sauteed flap meat mixed with onions, tomatoes, and french fries with a side of white rice) was so succulent, with meat been perfectly seasoned and having a hint of smoke, that I would honestly say that it would be my entreé of choice when I will visit Chalán next time.

Restaurant features a very small wine list, but our drink of choice that night was red Sangria, which to my delight was not overly sweet. Also in case you wonder, we had to skip dessert, as to say that we were full would be an understatement.

Lastly, the service was once again excellent  – friendly and timely. If you are looking for a great meal at an extremely reasonable price, don’t be dismayed by the simple looks of Chalán on the Beach – this is the place to eat.

Chalán on the Beach
1580 Washington Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Ph: (305) 532-8880

Chalan on the Beach on Urbanspoon

And we are done here. If your travel will take you to Miami, I hope you will find my recommendations useful, and if you ever been to any of these restaurants, I would love to know what do you think. Cheers!

Fiesta Gastronomique

February 17, 2011 1 comment

Some blog titles come in easy and naturally. Some require the painstaking effort to come up. Right after I had an idea for this post, I knew that the word “Gastronomique” will be a part of the title. The first word took some time – but based on the meaning of the word “Fiesta“, I think it fits here perfectly – please read on and tell me if you’re agree.

This post essentially continues previous one about Miami Restaurants – but this time I want to talk about only one, called Sra. Martinez, which is one of the restaurants of the famed chef Michelle Bernstein. Why I think this restaurant deserves a special post? It doesn’t provide food – it provides experience, something which will stay in one’s memory for the long time, and will be relived again and again.

To deliver “experience” in such place as a restaurant, you need all the elements to be just right, almost perfect (yes, can be the other way around – but that doesn’t belong to this post). Service, ambiance, atmosphere, food, wine – all should play together. Even price – but price is a subjective category when you pay for experience, probably QPR (using popular wine terminology) is a better term. Sra. Martinez got it all – the service, the food, the wine, the ambiance (and even QPR).

Our waiter, Oscar, or OD as he called himself, was amazing – always there when you need him, always with the right explanations, always with the right advice. Sorry, I understand, I sound now a bit “overly excited” – but service of this level is truly rare experience – unfortunately.

Next, of course, is wine. Wine list is very reasonable in size, with great selection of spanish wines – I didn’t mention yet that Sra. Martinez is  tapas restaurant – therefore having good selection of Spanish wines is quite appropriate. We’ve chosen Rioja Cincel Gran Reserva 1995 (doesn’t seem to be even available in US through wine-searcher). The wine was food friendly, smooth, with good acidity and tamed fruit expression – and I don’t think it was even ready, probably need another 10-15 years to shine. It did work quite well with many dishes we had.

For the food – and this is where Fiesta comes to mind – we failed to choose what tapas do we want. Therefore, we had no choice but to subject ourselves to the hands of chef, in the form of the tasting menu. Boy, was that the right choice! It was true fiesta of flavors, textures and tastes, a true food experience. From this point on, I really need to let pictures tell the story – I only regret I was unable to capture all the dishes we had. It is also very interesting to note that if you look in the menu, you will see sea salt listed as one of the ingredients in the number of dishes – and it is truly a distinguishing ingredient which makes dishes unique. This was probably best use of the salt I was ever able to experience. And now, almost in the order of appearance, here is what we had in our tasting menu:

Arugula Salad with thinly sliced pear, parmesan cheese and sea salt (wow!) – no picture, but this was one of the best combinations of simplicity and amazing taste.

Bacon wrapped dates and croquettes with fig marmalade:

Eggplant chips with molasses and sea salt:

Crispy artichokes (wow!):

Catch of the day with israeli couscous:

Squid ink risotto ( incredible richness):

sautéed Kale with garlic:

Short Ribs ( incredible – thinly sliced and stacked, with sweet and salty sauce):

Lamb chops ( one of the best I ever had):

Garbanzo stew:

Brussels sprouts with bacon and fried egg:

Sweet corn with smoked paprika, smoked chile and lime – incredible again, you just can’t stop eating it:

And finally… desert! Never had chocolate flan before – wow!

The End (a.k.a. Bottom Line) – if you are in Miami, do it for yourself – visit Sra. Martinez. And if you will not think this is a fiesta, please tell me what Fiesta is…

Sra. Martinez on Urbanspoon

Of Course You Know Miami Beaches, Let’s Talk About Miami Restaurants

February 16, 2011 1 comment

One of the virtues of the business travel is opportunity to try new foods. We’ve got to eat every day, don’t we – but we can go into many ways about it. One option is to stay only within familiar territory, eat at few places you already know and don’t take any risks. Another option is to explore and experience. Depending on the place I’m traveling to, I might go different routes myself – of course, when you are in Miami Beach, the “explore and experience” model sounds (and looks) very appealing.

I don’t think Miami’s food scene requires any introductions. As Miami itself if a tight blend of many different cultures, so are the restaurants in Miami. I’m not trying turn into a restaurant critic by all means, so this here is short (mostly in pictures) report on a few places I had an opportunity to visit recently – except one place, Sra. Martinez, which stood out of the crowd immensely, so it will be a subject of separate blog post.

Without further ado, here we go.

Maya Tapas and Grille restaurant, located on Lincoln Road (Lincoln Road is one of the main tourist attractions in South Miami Beach).  First, we had a very good bottle of Malbec.  As restaurants compete for attention on Lincoln Road, we took the advantage of “all wines half price”, so this Luigi Bosca Gala 1 (actually, Malbec blend) at $35 was definitely a bargain. Still a young wine, it had initial layer of sweetness, which freed the way to spiciness and balance as wine had time to breathe.

In the tapas restaurants, my favorite dish is of course … tapas – the best way to experience wide variety of flavors.

We ordered a number of tapas, both cold and hot, and all the food tasted very good (grouper seviche, charcuterie and chorizo are highly recommended). Below is a picture of grouper seviche:

 

Aura restaurant, also on Lincoln Road, is more of an Italian flare with simple menu. We mostly went there for cocktails and pizza, and both were good. Here is Long Island Iced Tea and Mojito:

 

Thin crust pizza (European style) with goat cheese and vegetables was very tasty (no picture though).

PAUL. You got to eat breakfast too, right? Paul is a French bakery, part of an international chain. It is fully French, starting from the menu and appetizing baguettes all over the place, to the “french style” service. Service is an interesting part of the place – it is purposefully disrespectful to the customers, kind of “I’m not here to serve you”. In my honest opinion, though, they got this “French” concept upside down – 9 times out of 10, I had an outstanding service in France, despite any language barriers. I also think it costs PAUL in terms of lost clientele, and it shows up in the reviews on Yelp. But the food is good. Baguette with butter and jam is pure pleasure, so is Eggs Benedict ( I had both smoked salmon and Canadian bacon versions) – probably the best Eggs Benedict ever, definitely the best sauce. And pressed Focaccia sandwiches were not too shabby as well.

 

Last place to discuss in this post is Marker 88, located in a middle of Florida Keys (on island called Islamorada). This place was recommended – and it disappointed, unfortunately. The food was interesting in concept – but completely lacked soul in execution, or had simply technical mistakes, like lobster and mango guacamole having no mango – and of course guacamole completely overpowered the lobster. But the dish does look good on picture, doesn’t it:

 

And here is crab cake sandwich:

 

Again, looks good – but crab cake was missing any flavor… Well, may be we were out of luck with substitute chef?

To sum it up – if you are just looking for a byte to eat, I would definitely recommend all of the places we talked about here (even Marker 88 deserves second chance). However, if you are looking also for experience, please wait for the next blog post…

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