Archive for October, 2009
Michelle Bernstein looks great on paper. This half-Latina, half-Jewish ballerina-turned-chef has hosted a show on the Food Network, published a book, won the James Beard, appeared numerous times as judge on Top Chef, the list goes on. She has the distinguished honor of being the only native chef of Miami to really receive national notice. Her first lone venture, Michy’s, is located in an unassuming strip mall in the upcoming area of Biscayne. While most restaurants are thematic, Bernstein resists being categorized, and has been quoted as saying, “It’s just kind of a restaurant.” With Latin, Southern, French styles and a slew of others making an appearance on the menu, would she be presenting a watered-down version of all of them? I had to taste for myself, so I took my parents on the last night of our run in Fort Lauderdale.
We started by sharing an order of the delicious Jamon Serrano and Blue Cheese Croquetas. This upscale take on a Cuban snack that I’ve been eating for much of my life was a delightful balance of salty and sweet! My Dad had the Peruvian Ceviche with Snapper, Ginger, Lime, Chilies, Sweet Potatoes and Corn; but not just corn – corn three ways! Popped corn, fresh sweet corn, and corn nuts added textural interest to the dish. I had the White Gazpacho with Marcona Almonds, Grapes, and Cucumbers, and it was probably the highlight of the meal for me, because it was so surprisingly flavorful and still light. I could eat this daily – in smoothie form as a post-gym snack.
What’s wonderful about Michy’s is that most dishes can be ordered in half-sized portions, so you can try many things. This left plenty of room for our entrees. My mother had the Salmon with Farro, Baby Artichokes, Cippolinis and Lemony Saffron Nage- safe, but very delicious. And my father had the Steak Frites, a wonderfully flavorful Churrasco with house made Fries and Bearnaise and and Au Poivre dipping sauces. The fries appeared very well done, but were slightly soggy. The dipping sauces, however, were wonderful, especially the Au Poivre. I order the dish that grabbed my eye the second we sat down – the Crispy Fennel Dusted Sweetbreads with Fava Bean Pesto, Fresh Favas, Oranges, and Caraway Veal Jus. It was an utter disappointment. The heavily breaded sweetbreads were floury and soft, the Favas were bland, and the presentation was haphazard. I don’t quite know what to make of the dish, except that it’s not at all what you expect from a celebrity chef’s kitchen. Yes, the food at Craftbar in New York is horribly overrated, but at least it’s finely executed. I’ll excuse the misstep because what followed was a wonderfully satisfying Bread Pudding dessert, with Raisins, Congac, Chocolate Chunks, Orange Rind and Vanilla Ice Cream that tasted like creme brulee. It was a fine way to end the evening!
Bernstein herself made several trips to the dining room that evening, and that might explain the lull in between some of the courses, or the fact that the Crispy Sweetbreads and Frites were a little soft. She’s a great culinaire but she might need a great expediter in the kitchen with her. Still, the meal was memorable and sparked my curiosity. I would return to Michy’s but since her starters seemed her strongest suit, I’m more likely to scope out her newly opened tapas restaurant, Sra. Martinez, located in the nearby Design District.
Michy’s. 6927 Biscayne Blvd. Miami, FL 33138-5733. ph. (305) 759-2001
I know my updates have been sparce! I’ve done so much wonderful dining, I just haven’t had time to put pen to paper! Updates from Miami and Baltimore coming soon Anyway, today’s lunch was inspired by Mark Bittman’s recent Minimalist article. I haven’t toyed with the flavor profiles at all, but I’ve prepared the ingredients differently. I roasted the Brussels, used Pancetta (cooked on the same sheet as the sprouts) instead of Bacon, and used sliced, dried Calimyrna Figs (the local Safeway didn’t have fresh today). Drizzled with olive oil, and a splash of balsamic. The result is a smoky/sweet autumnal side… I served it with a link of sweet, Italian turkey sausage.
The dish I most often prepare in the kitchen is quite simple. I use whatever ravioli I have on hand, and while the water is boiling, I brown turkey sausage bits in olive oil. I scoot them to the side of the saute pan, and drop in a tablespoon or so of butter. When it’s melted, I add a few fresh sage leaves and let the heat work it’s magic until the sage is crispy and the milk solids in the butter have browned. Above is the dish I prepared today for lunch, and below is a variation of the dish that I prepared over three years ago while staying with a friend in Astoria. One of the first food photos I ever took, actually!
Until two weeks ago, I hadn’t had much Portuguese fare since performing in Macau, China with West Side Story in 2005. This might partly explain my attraction to Aldea, George Mendez’ debut Flatiron restaurant, which has garnered glowing notices since it’s opening in May. His understated riffs on tradition Portuguese meals combine rusticity and refinement to create seemingly simple food that you want to eat. The setting is a narrow, austere two-level dining room, with six coveted seats overlooking the open kitchen in the back.
The concise dinner menu lists twenty-two items, of which fourteen are petiscos (Portuguese amuse), charcuterie, or appetizers. We began with the Sea Urchin Toast with Cauliflower Cream, Sea Lettuce, and Lime. I could take or leave it, but I appreciated the homage to Portugal’s Asian outposts. I followed with the dish that initially caught my attention when reading the review in Time Out New York: Migliorelli Peas with Tennessee Bacon, Soft-Poached Egg, Green Garlic and Truffle. The dish was comforting and straight forward and the egg was a thing of beauty, poached to perfection at precicely 64 degrees. However, the Tenessee Bacon was oppressively smoky and robbed the shaved black truffle of its presence on the plate. Still, I found myself finishing every last pea. David’s Baby Cuttlefish with Carmelized Lychee, Mentaiko, and Squid Ink was clean and focused, but I longed for more delicious lychee to balance the bitterness of the ink. He loved it.
When ordering our entrees, we asked the waiter for suggestions. He described the Arroz de Pato as simple and classic — “something your grandmother would make.” Sure, if your grandmother could sous vide a duck breast! This dish took traditional Portuguese flavor profiles to new heights! Duck appearing in three incarnations (sous vide breast, confit, and mouth-watering cracklings), dehydrated olives packing quite a punch, dollops of apricot paste lining the plate, brightening the rich flavor of the duck and thinly sliced chorizo. It was strongest dish of the evening — one worth returning for. We also had the Sea-Salted Chatham Cod with market cranberry and fava beans with lemon-basil mussel broth, because I couldn’t conclude a Portuguese meal without tasting Mendez’ preparation of this signature ingredient. Satisfyingly seared on the outside and resting on a bed plump beans, this dish looked very promising. The fish was quite nice, and the mussels hiding among the beans were so tender that my fork could could slice them without a fight. However, the same smoke permeated the broth. When we asked, the waiter said that the chef uses lardon to flavor the mussel broth. This is a case where the phrase “everything’s better with bacon” might fail to be true.
It appears that Mendez creates his menu like a couture designer creates a collection. Just as a fabric would re-appear two looks later, Mendez echos certain ingredients throughout the meal. In the case of the bacon, it felt redundant, but we were happy when the apricot paste showed its face again as one of the dipping sauces for the delicious “sonhos ‘little dreams’” (small donuts, elegantly enveloped in a linen napkin).
We probably didn’t need to order dessert, as a selection of small confections come with the check. The meal was flecked with these fine dining touches, presented here in an unstuffy setting. The food was moderately priced and inventive without being challenging. It’s the sort of restaurant that is easy to enjoy, and I would spend my time and money here again.
Aldea. 64 W 10th St. New York, NY 10011-8702. ph. (212) 505-7777