So Miami was fun. I don't know that I needed to be there for three days to see the IFE Americas show, which I walked in about an hour, but I had a good chat with a top tropical fruit grower who gets $12 a pound for his dragon fruit (and the Mandarin-Oriental slices them in half, serves them chilled and charges $36 for them). I also sampled three of the six (6) aloe beverages at the show, all flavored with grape juice. So apparently aloe's something to watch from a food fad perspective.
And I sampled the food of chefs whose food I hadn't eaten before. I started by taking a taxi from the airport to Michy's, chef Michelle Bernstein's latest venture with her husband David. Michelle was out of town, but I did meet David, and one of the servers told me that in a hospitality class at Florida International University Nation's Restaurant News is required reading. Since the server's from Columbus, Ohio, he liked our coverage of Cameron Mitchell restaurants, and he also liked John Barone's discussion of orange prices. So I guess he has made a good transition to Florida.
Dinner that night was at Talula, in South Beach, which is owned by husband and wife chef couple Andrea Curto-Randazzo and Frank Randazzo (Michelle Bernstein catered their wedding, incidentally). Their publicist had told me to check in with Frank, who it turns out was at home looking after the kids, but Andrea was there and graciously came out to chat once or twice, she also sent out a five-course tasting menu. I was glad for the five courses, because the restaurant's normal tasting menu is seven courses, and I didn't really need seven courses. Five -- each one paired with wine, of course -- was just right.
I was supposed to eat at Wish instead of Talula, but someone bought the entire restaurant for the evening, so I had lunch at Wish instead. I was staying at The Hotel, formerly the Tiffany Hotel, until Tiffany's sued them. A vertical marquee with the word "Tiffany" on it still rises from the hotel's roof, but now it's just a random sign, with no relation to the hotel's name. Wish is located in The Hotel, so that was easy.
Wish's chefs historically have built serious names for themselves. Its first chef, Gary Robbins, now is at the recently reopened Russian Tea Room in New York. It's second chef, E. Michael Reidt, was a Food & Wine Best New Chef and now runs Sevilla restaurant in Santa Barbara. He's one of the nicest chefs I know, and his food's yummy.
Andrea Curto, who, as we know, would later marry Frank Randazzo, was Wish's next chef. She, too, was a Food & Wine Best New Chef. Her food also is yummy.
The current chef is Michael Bloise, who started at Wish under E. Michael and then went on to do other things before being hired back as the restauran't head honcho. The Hotel's owner, I learned during lunch with its publicists wil Michael sent out multiple courses, has warmed to the idea of letting the restaurant participate in some CBS reality show in which various members of the restaurant's staff sing on camera and the best ones perform in some final competition.
I think it was CBS. I'm fuzzy on the details.
I walked to the Miami Beach Convention Center in an attempt to exercise some of the past three meals out of my system, learned more about tropical fruit and aloe, and then walked back to The Hotel before hopping into a taxi to Azul at the Mandarin-Oriental (the one with the $36 chilled dragon fruit). Incidentally, Michelle Bernstein used to be the chef there, too, but now Clay Conley's running the show.
I'm working on a theory that the Mandarin-Oriental only hires good-looking chefs.
In Miami, the lovely, vivacious Ms. Bernstein was followed by Clay, who has perhaps the bluest eyes in foodservice. Silks, the restaurant at the Mandarin-Oriental in San Francisco once had as its chef Ken Oringer, now one of Boston's top chefs and still in possession of one of the best smiles in foodservice. He was followed at Silks by blues-guitar-playing, soul-patch sporting Dante Bocuzzi (now at Aureole in New York). Now the chef at Silks is the dashing surfer boy Joel Huff. At Asiate at the Mandarin-Oriental in New York, Nori Sugi looks like a hot young Japanese surfer, and at CityZen, at DC's Mandarin-Oriental, Eric Ziebold has the sort of serious, Type-A good looks you'd expect from a veteran of Thomas Keller's kitchens.
But what did I eat at these Miami restaurants you ask?
Ceviche of the day, made with shrimp, calamari, grouper and lime juice
Arctic char with ragu of fava beans and chanterelles, cauliflower puree and turbot demiglace
A glass of Naia Verdejo, 2004 from Rueda Spain
Michy's bread pudding with raisins, cognac, chcolate and orange zest
Kampachi ceviche with lime-soy and ginger marinade, sliced chiles, avocado, Asian greens on crispy malanga
Conundrum white table wine
Grilled Sonoma foie gras with caramelized fig, blue corn cakes, chile syrup and candied walnuts
Preserved lemon and thyme baked local grouper with roasted garlic-black peppercorn gnocchi, baby spinach, and pancetta-tomato jus
Matanzas Creek Sauvignon Blanc
Hanger steak with deep-fried shallots (like onion rings), aged cheddar-chroizo smashed potatoes, and red wine demiglace
Heller Estate organic Cabernet Sauvignon, Carmel Valley, 2002
Pistachio parfait with concord grape sorbet and a caramel tuile
with a glass of Champagne
At Wish (each course featured three dishes, which I shared with two publicists, so it's not as much food as it sounds like:
pan-seared foie gras with black pepper marshmallow, cascabel roasted banana and arugula on honey wheat
Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Austria
Crab Salad with pickled jicama, wasabi-cilandro creme fraiche, sesame flat bread and mache
Chateau D'Orshwuhr Gewurztraminer, Alsace
Sesame battered shrimp with watermelon-tomato "kimchee" and cilantro
Lucien Crochet Sancerre
black-trumpet dusted scallops with "pumpkin pie" risotto, lemon and thyme
Again with the Lucien Crochet Sancerre
Cinnamon-brased oxtail with sugar snap peas, baby carrots, gaichoi and idaho potatoes
Frogs Leap Zinfandel
Crispy-skinned snapper with grilled shrimp, Chinese sausage, jasmine rice and Vietnamese tea foam
to be eaten with either the Zinfandel or the Sancerre
PB & Jay (Jay's the name of the pastry chef): a peanut butter chocolate tart with raspberry marshmallow, peanut butter ice cream and raspberry jam
Strawberry soup with mascarpone in a sugar tuile, and 25-year balsamic ice cream
Warm apple tarte tatin with olive oil ice cream and carrot sauce
Chocolate cake with a molten white chocolate-pistachio center, and pistachio ice cream.
And at Azul:
Kumamoto oyster on cucumber carpaccio and horseradish cream, topped with osetra caviar (the single oyster was served in a soup bowl atop finely crushed ice sprinkled with chopped chives)
Trio of crab: cake, claw and ceviche
Arietta on the White Keys Sauvignon Blanc-Semillon blend, Napa
Red miso-marinated kobe beef on a butternut sqush puree with butternut-vegetable kimchee with toasted garlic on butter lettuce
Hollerin Prager Reisling Smarade, 2004, Austria
White truffle risotto with shaved parmigiano, white truffle and brown butter
Domaine Tempier Bandol La Tartine, Provence
Miso-marinated hamachi with sake butter
Stir-fried rice with shellfish stock and edamame dashi with shrimp dumplings
Domaine Raumier 2002 Chambolle-Musigny 1er Cru Les Cras, Burgundy
Lamp chop with eggplant puree, harissa and mint, and loin with b'steeya topped with raita and red pepper
2000 Chateau Bouscasse Tanat
And Gaia Merlot-Cabernet blend 2003, Tuscany
Great Hill Blue Cheese (Massachusetts) with caramelized peanuts
Cypress Grove Midnight Move goat cheese (California)
Pont L'Eveque (France)
All with apple puree and
Dow's 1985 vintage Port
Choclate orange caramel tower, praline ice cream, hazelnut brittle
Apple mouuse on hazelnut sable with apple pearls and caramel sauce
2004 Inniskillin Eiswein (using Vidal grapes),Canada
Now this is interesting: Azul offers a choice of five different types of espresso -- Blue Mountain, Pico Colombia, Ethiopian Yrgacheffe, Blue Tawar (from Java) and Lago Azul (from Guatamela), as well as two French press options, a dark Italian and a milder Monsoon Malaber from India.
I got the Yrgacheffe