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Michy’s, Yardbird, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, Hakkasan, The Dutch—I tried them all and more when I was in Miami.

I adored everything about Michelle Bernstein’s Michy’s. I found great service, fun decor, and a phenomenal Baked Alaska that will forever rank highly in the annals of my desserts memory.

I also loved Yardbird, where Jeff McInnis is offering thoughtful twists on southern classics. The space is beautiful, the food high quality and delicious; it came as no surprise that this charming spot was in the national running for Best New Restaurant of 2012 (Grant Achatz’s Next won).

Michael’s was a bit of a letdown after all the hype, but I only went for lunch.  I’d like to go back to try it again for dinner.

Hakkasan, an outpost of the high-end London Chinese food chain, was notable for its sexy lacquered harem-meets-forbidden-city atmosphere as well as for a few interesting cocktails—but it failed on food. In fact, the food’s bad enough at screechingly high prices that the New York branch was put on death watch by nearly every major dining critic the moment it opened there.

Of course, it might thrive in Miami Beach’s “Like, who eats?” hotel food scene.

Out of all of the meals I had in Miami, however, the one that stands out was at Pubbelly, an “Asian-inspired gastropub.” That description scared me away at first, but after I’d struggled all week to find a restaurant where I felt truly comfortable—a spot at which I might actually want to hang out often—I hopped in a cab and went for a visit.

Turns out, it was love at first sight: corner spot, great signage, raw space with a high ceiling, a bookshelf with some of my favorite restaurant cookbooks, good energy, and a gregarious tattooed bartender. I probably would have been happy even if the food wasn’t great. But it was—some of the best of the year.

In particular, I was dutifully impressed by the butterscotch miso pork belly. Pork belly is so over-exposed now that it’s become almost shamefully uninteresting, but Pubbelly’s version is a stunner. Just imagine a layer of caramelized butterscotch on the outer surface of expertly cooked belly. There’s notes of brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and a little sour ferment flavor from the miso. Then, on top, there’s crunchy corn powder. It’s a textural and taste bud delight. It was easily some of the more interesting pork belly I’ve had.

The rest of the menu was full of little novelties and delectable flavor combinations.  Pubbelly was one of the most memorable meals of the year: great service and creative food in a low key atmosphere.

Stone Crab Claws

Pubbelly Dumplings

Paolo Scavino – Osteria Papavero Wine Dinner

Halfway through the Paolo Scavino wine dinner, Casey Squire, who works for importer Banville & Jones, mosied nonchalantly over to our table and plunked down a bottle of 2007 Bric Del Fiasc.

It’s the producer’s flagship bottle, and we eagerly quaffed what was already in our glasses (probably Scavino’s Nebbiolo) and poured ourselves a taste.

Notes of tar and roses were present, but also herbs and spices reminiscent of Christmas in the most iconic and nostalgic way.  Black, rich, and bold, this wine is perfect for that long holiday dinner with family.

Scavino wines are a nice compliment to Papavero’s rustic food, and the kitchen was in fine form for the five course pairing.

We started with a glass of Scavino Blanco, 70% sauvignon blanc 30% Chardonnay.

The opening dish was a beautiful autumnal salad.  A bit bitter, but also a tinge sweet with just a hint of vinegar, it was a quintessential fall starter and set the tone nicely for what was to come next.

Insalata autunnale: grilled and cold endives, walnuts, Medjool dates, toasted pomegranate seeds, and goat gorgonzola.  It was paired with the 2010 Barbera D’Alba.

Course two brought Scavino Vino Rosso, the entry blend of Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto and  Cabernet Sauvignon grapes from younger vines.  It has strong tannins but is also bright and well balanced.  This was accompanied by a stew, Zuppa di pane e cozze: Tuscan kale, octopus (although there wasn’t any in mine), black mussels, country-style bread, and cranberry beans.  The soup was delicious, but sadly I didn’t get a picture of it.

Course three was Tortelli aretini: sausage and potato-filled tortelli, brown butter, and Pecorino.  It was accompanied by the 2008 Nebbiolo.  This was also served in a bowl, and brought the classic flavors of brown butter and tart cheese to the table.

The piece de resistance was Cinghiale in due modi: wild boar chop, wild boar terrine, and parmesan gratin.  Essentially, it was boar two ways— a succulent little chop as well as a rich terrine.  Sadly, I did not get a picture of this either as I was still distracted by the arrival of the Bric Del Fiasc.  This nicely executed and gamey dish was paired with the Barolo.

Dessert was Budino di zucca: kabocha squash-caramel custard and a shortbread cookie.  The soft squash with caramel played against the salty, toothy, shortbread wonderfully.

Master Sushi Chef Masa Miyake

The coast of Maine is one of those places where chefs from the big city decamp. Successful chefs.

Melissa Kelly gave up a bright career in NYC to open the farm-to-table restaurant Primo in Rockport. Likewise, Masa Miyake departed NYC to open a hole-in-the-wall sushi spot in Portland in 2007.

The original, tiny, Miyake restaurant recently moved and revamped; it is now larger and comfortably chic. Locals seem torn between bemoaning the loss of the old space and bursting with pride that their beloved chef is thriving and gaining in reputation.

And word is spreading fast that Masa Mikaye—who cooked alongside Daniel Boulud at the original Michelin starred Oceana in New York—is the great sushi master of New England.

I had the distinct pleasure of sitting down at the counter in front of the genial Masa Miyake for his 5 course omakase tasting menu. We talked briefly about his farm as well as his new ramen shop, Pai Men Miyake.

The first taste was white asparagus with dashi, truffle, sesame oil, and pickled daikon. It was a brilliant opening course, not overly salty. It immediately set the palate for what was to arrive next.

Second course was a sashimi plate with a memorable lobster tail that had been diced with yuzu and then returned to the shell. It was cold and perfect. There is a lot of lobster to be had in Maine, and this was my favorite presentation during my time there. While not as mannered as the version served at Le Bernardin, it was fresh and simple. I immediately wanted to attempt recreating it at home.

The next course was monkfish liver terrine, which, if memory serves, was a special that night. I ordered it in addition to the tasting menu. Buttery and divine, it had a consistency similar to foie gras.

Following this was a snapper head in a rich soy broth. While it looks a little gruesome (that’s the eyeball pictured, and to the right are some fang-like top teeth), it was a sweet and savory umami bomb. So good we almost ordered another. I popped the eyeball in my mouth— it had a slightly rubbery texture and not much flavor. The bits of flesh on the head, however, were delectable.

Next was a bowl of clams in a light broth. This might also have been off the tasting menu.

This was followed by a vertical masterpiece topped with fiddleheads. The height on this dish seemed like a throwback to early 90s NYC, but it was well composed with all the elements working together flavorwise.

Then a tiny seared quail, expertly cooked. The flesh was still pink inside and it had a nice soy glaze.

Excellent quality nigiri. After all, the ocean is mere blocks away from the restaurant.

For dessert we had goat cheese cheesecake. The milk for the cake was from the goats at Miyake’s farm; I had to try it. Topped with cherries and pickle plum, it was cooling and earthy with a vinegar-y snap. It was a nice finish to an outstanding meal.

Rare Wine Co. Madeira Flight at Rootstock

Rootstock in Chicago’s Humboldt Park is an approachable wine bar that stakes out an atmospheric claim somewhere between understated elegance and DIY.  It is both unpretentious and a tinge sexy.  My kind of place.

On a recent visit,  I tried their flight of four Rare Wine Co. Madeiras (offered for $12).  I’d been running into these fortified wines one at a time, but had never had the chance to compare them side by side before.

Madeira was once the drink of the American colonies.  The Portuguese island on which it was produced was a convenient stop for ships on the way to the New World, and exemption from British tariffs further ensured its popularity.

Such was this wine’s prevalence that it was the libation the Founding Fathers used to toast the Declaration of Independence.

Over the last few years, Rare Wine Co. has been collaborating with Vinhos Barbeito to create new Madeiras named after American seaports where the wine was originally popular in the 18th and 19th Centuries: Boston, New York, Savannah, New Orleans, and Charleston.  There is also a Philadelphian version, which happened to be the variety I tried first.

Starting with the driest, the Charleston Sercial is rich and delicious and has been compared to salt caramel.   This bottle gained quick fame when it was released because Mario Batali and Grant Achatz used it in pairings.

Savannah Verdelho is a hint sweeter and little smoky.  It has notes of almonds and butter.

Boston Bual is even sweeter yet, with a nose of dried figs.  I also tasted spice like cinnamon, cloves and cardamom.

I found the very sweet New York Malmsey a little wild compared to the others because of its layered, date-like, flavor profile.  I thought immediately that it would be the best of the four for making cocktails, although I haven’t experimented yet.  This Madeira would also pair brilliantly with desserts.

Because each of these wines has defining characteristics that make it compelling, I didn’t have a favorite.  It was educational to sample them together and appreciate their diversity.

If you’re a sherry or port fan—or a history buff—Madeira is for you.  If you’re not a fan, you might want to try a flight such as the one Rootstock offers; it will expand your palate and likely turn you into an afficionado.

Kohler Food & Wine Experience

Later this month I’m heading to the Kohler Food and Wine Experience, held at the American Club Resort in Kohler, Wisconsin.  If you’re free from Oct 18-21, you should too.

Normally, I don’t get too excited by TV personalities—I ditched my television a few years ago and don’t follow the Food Network.  But I’m thrilled to have been invited up this year because the headliners are some of my favorite food people, including the beloved Lidia Bastianich (Lidia’s Italy) as well as Christopher Kimball (the bow tied host of America’s Test Kitchen).

Lidia Bastianich

I have watched both these high quality PBS shows, and am something of a fan.  Also presenting are Anne Burrell from Secrets of a Restaurant Chef and Tony Mantuano from the Chicago restaurant (and Obama haunt) Spiaggia.  If I get the chance, I’ll tell Mantuano that one of his former understudies, Dan Bonanno, is killing it in Madison at A Pig in a Fur Coat.

Andrew Zimmerman will be there too.  His restaurant Sepia should be on everyone’s must eat at list.

Christopher Kimball

I’ve visited Kohler a couple of times— the bathroom showroom is a sight to behold— and have wandered around the American Club scouting their brunch for a possible Mother’s Day excursion (haven’t made it yet, sorry mom).  However, I’ve never stayed overnight or explored the many restaurants and activities available on the grounds.

Of course there’s a chance I won’t be able to tour much this time either as the event lineup over the KFWE weekend is intense.  There promises to be a lot of incredible food, wine, and cheese!  

In my dreams I’ll be gnawing on a hunk of Fontina and chatting with Lidia about her favorite wines, asking Christopher Kimball who makes the best toaster oven, and getting the wildest Batali stories out of Anne Burrell.  But we’ll see what the visit brings.

“All Hands on the Cheese Deck”

For more information: Kohler Food and Wine Experience, October 18-22


Huckleberry caught my attention when it appeared in a ‘best of 2011’ Food & Wine Magazine article.  Editors Dana Cowin and Kat Krader claimed that the Green Eggs & Ham at this Santa Monica bakery & cafe was one of the eleven best meals of the year.

I appreciate when an individual dish is singled-out for praise by big food magazine people.  The specificity means readers can compare tastes with a professional nosher.  By trying the same dish, you can triangulate their taste, your taste, and the national taste of the moment.  Or at least that’s the hope.

Huckleberry often has a line that snakes past the counter and out the door.  Luckily, the view while waiting is jaw-dropping.

Huckleberry has one of the more impressive bakery cases anywhere.

The Green Eggs and Ham plate is two eggs on an English muffin with basil pesto and ham.  But the ham in question is La Quercia, producer of arguably the best cured pork products available.

Visually, the dish isn’t much.  There’s a disappointing cover of arugula.  However, flavorwise, good things are happening.  The expertly cooked eggs are slathered in a rich and fragrant pesto.  The Ham is glorious, with full-throttle flavor.  As far as benedicts go, this is well composed with high quality ingredients.

While the dish isn’t life changing, I love that it is reproducible:  ham, pesto, soft fried eggs.  Serve the greens on the side, and you’ve even got an improvement on the original.