Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Santo Restaurant

Santo opened last year amidst a slew of new upscale restaurants on Lincoln Road including Quattro and O Asian Grill. The latter two have hogged much of the spotlight and little has been said of Santo and its sophisticated decor, thoughtful waitstaff and fine food. Now that Cory Smith, the former sous chef at Pacific Time, is in the kitchen there is much to talk about. And Santo is part of Miami Spice, a great opportunity to try the restaurant at a fraction of the price (the entrees hover around $30 so it's quite a deal). We stopped by for dinner last week and, despite a few kinks, had a thoroughly enjoyable experience.
We started with the Tuna Duo and were presented with a generous portion of fresh fish both seared and in a sashimi tower.

The Asian spring rolls, filled with crunchy napa cabbage, shitake mushrooms, and scallions, managed to straddle the sensitive line of being fried yet tasting light. The ginger chili dipping sauce added adequate fire to the rolls.

The menu veers to Asian, Italian and Mexican influences. The food is well-executed though perhaps now that Smith is in the kitchen, the cuisine will assume a more defined direction. Our waiter warned us that the mahi-mahi was very spicy, but we loved the jerk-like seasoning on the meaty fish. The rest of the dish had a sweetness overkill with sweet potato puree and a mango-heavy tropical salsa. Luckily the red snapper was nicely balanced with a roasted poblano pepper, black bean corn salsa and a rich tomato fondue. There's a lot going on in the dish (it comes topped with onion rings), but sometimes it is that cacophony of flavors wherein dining sublimity is found.
I am a fiend for side dishes, maybe it has to do with my mezze/tapas-loving side, but ordering smaller dishes always seems more exciting. The one side dish we ordered, buttery gnocchi, was absolutely lovely. The little dumplings were pan-seared to crispiness and came topped with an oregano pesto. The molten chocolate souffle won't win any awards for creativity but is nicely presented oozing with chocolatey goodness and vanilla ice cream.
Throughout the meal the chef sends out little tastes of things not listed on the menu like a sumptuous sweet pea soup with toasted baguette and a lobster tartare. Santo's servers are a magical bunch; virtually attitude-free and incredibly efficient, we never had to ask for an extra fork or wait 30 seconds before a plate was cleared. The dining room is stylish and cavernous, with 25-foot tall ceilings and space for 100 diners, yet each table feels private. There is also a massive lounge whose entrance is at the rear of the restaurant. By 11pm the space was crowded with pretty young things.
Santo Restaurant is located at 430 Lincoln Road, South Beach.

Rock the Bells this Saturday!

Miami International Wine Fair

It's coming soon. Lots of good events on the schedule. Compared with some of the ticket prices for the South Beach Wine and Food Fest, these events are actually affordable. There are some tastings for $15 or $25. Highlights of the program include the 2nd Annual South Florida Wine and Food Pairing Competition, a one-of-a-kind epicurean challenge that will bring together the top chef-sommelier teams in South Florida for an opportunity to earn over $5,000 in prizes and the recognition of the region’s top wine & food critics happening on Sunday September 9th , from 3PM to 5PM.

Battle of the Chefs: Ortanique vs. Chispa

Last week's Battle of the Chef's was the culmination of the culinary competition that has been rocking Coral Gables all summer. A crowd of 200 packed the La Cuisine Gourmet showroom and everyone was whooping it up during the competition (thanks to beer from Peroni and a wine from Cavia). The teams were Cindy Hutson of Ortanique on the Mile (below) and Jesse Souza of Chispa.

Both teams had to create 4 dishes from a mystery bag of ingredients which included: oysters, rack of lamb, rabbit, yuca, marshmallow cream, blueberries, duck fat, truffle oil and shredded coconut. The pressure was quite palpable but the the two teams chopped, boiled, braised, fried and spun sugar like champs. Hutson's team won, but it all looked good. Too bad only the judges got to taste the winnings. The winning dishes below included applewood smoked bacon wrapped oysters with yuca fries and citrus cheesecake with spun sugar and marshmellow cream.

Delectable dishes from the Chispa team included rack of lamb with roasted peaches, Greek yogurt sauce and crumbled feta and a trio of tarts.

Top Chef 3 Miami

Here's a clip from Wednesday night's episode. The gang goes shopping and Howie criticizes tricolore pasta. C'mon, Howie, everybody likes a good multi-colored pasta every now and then.
PS - Rocco Dispirito as guest judge!

Monday, July 30, 2007

Miami Restaurant Chatter

  • Funkshion is closed, closed, closed.
  • A North Miami Beach branch of Two Chefs will be opening in the former Blue Oyster Grill space on 123rd west of the bridge.
  • Greek resto Ouzo in the old Madiba space in South Beach.
  • Por Fin opening in the Gables.
  • Rosa Mexicano opening mid-August.

Plum TV Cooks Up Some Features

Plum TV has launched their Miami Beach site and it's worth checking out. They have great photography and nice short video pieces. In particular I am loving the "Compliments of the Chef" feature. In this episode Chef Clay Conley of Azul at the Mandarin Oriental prepares ricotta gnocchi with sausage bolognese sauce. Of course I watched this on an empty and will be fiending gnocchi for the rest of the day. It looks heavenly. Clay Conley is ADORABLE. I had no idea he was smokin hot. It's a toss up now between him and Govind Armstrong for cutest chef in Miami.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Tzfat: Yemenite Bread and Mysticism

This dude is not an actor playing a guy who makes Yemenite yeast bread all day along. He really is that guy, and that really is the way he dresses. Tzfat is just that kind of a place. I was impressed with this fellow's entrepreneurial sensibilities. It's not often you find people working in the mystical city. Mostly they're studying, playing musical instruments, or you know, mysticizing. This was my first encounter with Lachuch, a spongy Yemenite bread that is cooked in a cast-iron frying pan. It was delicious. I shall be back for more, my bearded friend! He tops each order with a variety of fresh ingredients including basil, tomatoes, red onions and olive oil. The texture reminded me of Ethiopian injera bread but the crispy bottom is what sold me. For 10 shekels ($2.50) it's a great snack.

Jerusalem: Avichail Bakery

In Jerusalem's ultra-Orthodox neighborhood sits a no-frills straightforward bakery. Their mini-croissants are airy and dense with sweet cheese, their borekas crisp and covered with toasted sesame seeds. Sheets of chocolate cake and mounds of almond cookies are constantly being refreshed. Everything we chose was straight out of the oven.
I only visit Avichail Bakery (est. 1932) in the wee hours of the morning. They are open 24 hours (except for Friday and Saturday) and for those of you who have never been to the Meah Shearim neighborhood in Jerusalem, there is a surprising nightlife in the religious 'hoods. At 2 am people are out stocking up on challah rolls, rugelah and cinnamon buns. Stopping at the bakery is a nice cap to an evening visit to the Western Wall (a place which is also bumping all hours of the night).

Miami Spice Homework

Been doing my homework. Most menus are up on the site. Observations thus far:
  • Social Miami's menu wins the most points for variety and selection - you get to choose any 3 plates in any combination from a LONG list of options.
  • The Setai offers the best value, only because the regular menu is incredibly expensive. For all the plebians out there, this a chance to taste the nectar. Ditto for Karu & Y.
  • Devito's menu looks BORING. House salad, salmon or pasta and panna cotta? Please.
  • Escopazzo looks good, lots to choose from and they went organic this year!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Jerusalem Pictures

Taken from a balcony at the Jerusalem Municipality.

A model of the Second Temple at the Israel Museum. Herod was the original mega-developer.

Wedding preparations outside the Great Synagogue on King George St. The summer in Israel is non-stop wedding season.

A Persian carpet-covered cross-walk.

Tel Aviv: Maganda Restaurant

Maganda is located the Yemenite section of town, near the Carmel Market. The fare is standard Yemenite home cooking. No less than five salads and fresh pita greet when you sit down. The green techina was superb. Vegetables stuffed with rice and beef, Morocan cigars and crunchy falafel rounded out the gut-busting meal.
Address: 26 Rechov Rabbi Meir, Keren Hataymanim

Rem Designs an Airport

My new favorite Design blog is dezeen, mostly because it is run by a gaggle of saucy Brits. And because they get all the interesting design updates. The photo above is from their post on Rem Koolhaas's new design for the airport at Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It features two terminals - one for the 2 million people traveling to Mecca on pilgrimage and the other for the Saudi Royal Family. Mmmkay....

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Garden Party!

Friday B-b-que @ Grass

Lincoln Road Resto Shake-ups

Two bits of info regarding the now-shuttered spaces of Pacific Time and Cafeteria:
  • Touch Restaurant owner David Tornek has signed the lease for the former Pacific Time space with plans to become a steakhouse.
  • A Guess store has signed the lease for the space that was formerly Cafeteria South Beach. They plan to open in October.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Supermarket Frustrations

Food shopping in South Florida can be a maddening enterprise. Publix has a virtual monoploy over supermarket chains, farmer's markets are rare and hard to come by, and the general attitude of shoppers down here can make for a Darwinian exercise in who can snag the last bag of basil in a survival-of-the-fittest kind of way. Paula from Mango & Lime has a great post about this very topic. She nails it, right down to the cart "traffic" and line-cutting riots.

And Now We're Back...

Back to good ole Flori-DYE-a. It's pretty frickin hot here people. How do you do it? At least in Jerusalem there is temperature relief at night with cold desert winds. Just because I'm back in humidity-ville doesn't mean an end to Holy Land posts - I still have plenty of things to write about our time in Israel including a fabulous Zionist-restoring weekend spent with our good friends in the North. Plus, dinners at Masryk, Limonim and Cafe Diana in Nazareth. So stay tuned....

Bauhaus Center Tel Aviv

Bauhaus Center
99 Dizengoff St.
It may have Bauhaus in its name but the focus of this store is contemporary Israel design. The store is crammed with all sorts of housewares, furniture, posters, artwork and gift items for design buffs like these collectible Bauhaus buildings puzzles ($12).

All the items in the store are by Israeli designers including the Oprah-endorsed “Don’t Forget” door handle satchel ($11) by Monkey Business as well as the design group’s adorable plastic sheep Q-tip holders ($7) in a variety of pastel colors. You can also find plastic light bulb covers ($9) by Tel Aviv design gurus Plastics Plus. There are pricier pieces like vintage Bauhaus children’s toys and reproductions of Bauhaus classics like a Gropius tea kettle ($240) and teach cups ($70 each).

Monday, July 23, 2007

Design Dominates in Tel Aviv

From my article in InsideOut:

In a country brimming with ancient history Tel Aviv is far from antiquated. Established in 1909, the city has always been flush with the optimism and expectancy of its relative youth. Unencumbered by holy sites and the burdens of history, the city possesses a levity not shared by its older neighbors.

From the start Tel Aviv, which translates as “Spring Hill,” has been a destination for artists and designers. This reputation culminated in the 1930’s when many of the forerunners of the International Style emigrated from Europe and quickly set about molding an architectural mecca for the modernist set. Dubbed the White City, Tel Aviv boasts the largest concentration of Bauhaus buildings in the world. Four years ago UNESCO declared Tel Aviv a World Heritage site prompting the city to restore many of its neglected structures. Architects are still drawn to the Mediterranean beach city for its continued embrace of progressive design. Philippe Starck and Richard Meier have residential projects in the works and Santiago Calatrava just finished a pedestrian footbridge in Petach Tikva. The city has also revived other landmark areas such as the old city of Jaffa (which is now home to upscale restaurants in addition to it famous antique bazaars) and the northern port area filled with cavernous lounges and fashion outlets. All this urban renewal has buttressed the city’s vibrant art and design community, with many designers opening showrooms and mass-producing their coveted designs.

Tel Aviv’s status as the commercial and cultural capitol of Israel has encouraged its worldliness. The country’s newspapers are published in Tel Aviv and dance, theater and film festivals jostle for public attention. Skyscrapers and Ottoman-style structures share the skyline along with coastal bungalows.

Creativity and style burst from every corner of the city. Known for edgy street wear, Tel Avivans are fastidiously fashionable, addicted to café culture and manage to balance a fast-paced lifestyle with the laid back cool of a beach city. What holds true for the rest of the country is also the case with Israel’s cosmopolitan center: everyone knows everyone and they all love to talk.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Tel Aviv: Beit HaShanti

We visited Beit HaShanti in Tel Aviv last week. It's an organization for runaway Israeli teenagers based in a beautiful house in Neve Tzedek. In the 22 years that the house has been in existence they have helped 16,000 youth. The place is incredible and we hung out with some of the kids that live there, played the bongo drums and had a bar-b-q lunch. These NGO's are inspiring and they do amazing work.
These organizations also speak to a growing issue in Israel - the fact that the government ignores these social issues and leaves it to the work of these non-profits, many of which look for funding from the American Jewish foundations and private donors. The JPost has a good editorial on this issue titled, "Don't Abuse Philanthropy."

Urban Planning in the Holy City

Jerusalem is experiencing a building boom of its own these days. Luxury apartment buildings with names like "King David's Crown" are slowly crowding the skyline of British mandate-era limestone facades. At the Jerusalem Municipality offices is an impressive model of the city (above) with every building in Jerusalem accounted for. The clear plexiglass structures are projects that have to be built. Notice the Santiago Calatrava-designed suspension bridge planned for the entrance to the city. Once it is complete, Jerusalem will have its own "starchitect" project to compete with other cities.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Eatin' and Film makin'

An update about what we've been doing here. We have been in a video-making vortex where all we do is film people, edit and eat large meals. Last night was a homecoming of sorts as one of our videos was screened at the massive Mega Event in Jerusalem. We also facilitated a video workshop which was lots of fun, especially when we taught newbies to edit on the last day in a 90-minute speed-editing sprint. In the meantime, we'll be filming some more, editing and of course, eating. Thanks to handy coupons from eluna, I am now a fat camera man. Just call me Gus.
Jerusalem Restaurants:
  • Ima's - pretty good Sephardic home cooking. The kubeh soup there is too doughy - I prefer lighter dumplings.
  • Focaccia Bar - crowded, lively and frenetic service. But the focaccia stone oven never disappoints.
  • Shmil (above) - located in the same complex as the uber-cool "Ma'bada", or "The Lab" bar. Nice dainty French food. Expensive quiches and fish and amazing squash soup.
  • Joy Grill - this place is popular with American tourists, for good reason. We had the kebobs with techina and a steak sandwich. Plus 2 tall glasses of German beer. All of it good.
  • Anna Ticho House - they've renovated the garden so it's less rustic but still romantic. Great pastas with rich, creamy sauces. Their live musicians are straight out of a Yiddish folktale.
  • Taverna - located on the Haas Promenade, great views of the Judean Hills...and the separation wall.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

Jerusalem and Pools

Jerusalem needs a better municipal pool. Or, better yet, another public pool in addition to the exactly one pool available for mass use. And,boy oh boy, do the masses use it. This photo was taken on the weekend, one of the most crowded days at the pool. And to top it off, they charge a $12 admission fee. Now, if you are a family of 4 and you have to drop close to fifty bucks to enjoy a day at the pool, something has gone terribly wrong with the public planning of your city. The day we stopped by this pool the doorman was actually kind enough not to sell us admission tickets because he knew we would not be able to find chairs or a spot to stash our bags. Instead, we've opted for hotel pools but that has been more expensive (around $20 to get in) and only a bit less crowded. My advice to the Jerusalem mayor's office: give the people their lap space; the city will be a lot happier and thankful for it.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Jerusalem Film Festival

The Jerusalem International Film Festival kicked off last week with an outdoor screening of Ratatouille next to the Old City. The movie is a nice expression of the passion of a foodie (albeit a rat foodie) and though the film was outdoors on a chilly Jerusalem night, I fell asleep courtesy of the cozy fleece blankets provided by the festival's sponsor, Orange cellphone service.
We've caught some great films throughout the week including Persepolis, the animated version of the graphic novel about a young girl's experience growing up in Iran in the 80's and Wristcutters: A Love Story, the adaptation of Etgar Keret's novella Kneller's Happy Campers featuring a wonky Tom Waits and a pleasant cameo by Will Arnett of Arrested Development genius.

ArtCenter Reception July 13

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Top Chef 3 Miami Mia

Top Chef 3 is putting Miami on the culinary map. But maybe Miami was already there...in any case, it's still an entertaining jaunt in the world of foodie competition. Here's a clip from tonight's new episode. In this episode the chefs must tackle a palate challenge - combining food and cocktails.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Recent Articles

It's nice to be away and to know that somewhere in the ether articles I have written are finally being published. This weekend marks my Miami Herald debut. The 4 articles were a treat to write. I got to chat with Chad and Ilona Oppenheim, Gene Meyer and Charles Allem. Fantastically creative people, all of them.
Here's a piece I wrote on Cafe Emunah in HOME Fort Lauderdale. The layout is quite gorgeous which has nothing to do with me, but makes me a happy writer nonetheless.
And if you happen to see a copy of this month's InsideOut, I've got an article on design shopping in Tel Aviv. It's fast becoming one of the coolest cities in the design universe, and so similar to Miami.
And here's a review of Sushi Samba Dromo, a fine place to enjoy a fine fusion-y meal.

Books & Books Lunch Club

Tea time and book discussions are a nice way to spend these lazy summer days. Cheers to Book and Books for putting together this thoughtful book series. An afternoon at the Bal Harbour Shops just got a bit more lofty.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

It's China, Man

Film making is non-stop problem solving. There is constantly an issue to attend to, whether it be logistical (umm, have we confirmed our locations tomorrow?), conceptual (should that actor be looking quite so tired right now?) or practical (where's a good place to get lunch for 7 people, and cheaply, please?). In order to emerge relatively sane from the whirlwind of maddening details one must roll with the punches. Be open to change. Be willing to compromise. Resist the urge to run in the opposite direction.

On Day 11 of filming we embarked on another restaurant shoot. This time it was in a restaurant that is actually open for business and would be open during the lunch hours when we would be filming. It was not ideal but it was the best we could get. The place is a charming Buddhist vegetarian spot in a Hutong. It has tinkling fountains, lots of plants and ancient Chinese decor. Plus, they were letting us film there for free, provided we bought food for cast and crew which was infinitely cool of them. When we had scouted the spot days before we decided on the airy outdoor courtyard for the business lunch scene, it had the most detail and lighting in the middle of the day would be less of a challenge. But when we arrived at the location on the day of the shoot they informed us that, sorry, can't let you film in the courtyard, it will disturb customers, maybe the backroom will be more to your liking. Well of course, no problem. Why? Because as Team Foreign Devils we forge ahead, we get the job done, we don't make details too precious. The room we used in the end looked great; very red and Chinese, very typical for a lunch with Chinese business partners. We managed to get extras by driving up to the Beijing Film Studios in the north of the city (where Kill Bill was filmed) where tons of actors just hang out waiting to get picked up for work. Kind of like migrant farm workers, except these dudes can play anything from a street beggar to a businessman. There are literally actors of all shapes and sizes there, had we gone there sooner, we could have cast the whole movie from the crop on the sidewalk. We agreed on their price for the day - 40 RMB, roughly $5, plus lunch - and transported them to the restaurant. After a quick jaunt to the Silk Market (really, the counterfeit market) I emerged with Paul Smith shirts and Armani ties, instant wardrobe for a total of $20.

The shoot went well, the actor playing the business boss is Chris Verill, the director of the Beijing Actor's Playhouse and very funny. He was game for our next scene with him, dressing him up in touristy-emperor garb for a phone call.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Miami Restaurant Buzz

Just heard about these great summer specials.
  • Lunch at The Dynamo (at the Wolfsonian) for $10 pp, plus tax and tip. Lunch special menu varies each day and includes a main entrée, salad, dessert and drink.
  • Jaguar Ceviche Spoon and Latam Grill happy hour Monday-Friday from 4pm to 7pm. Enjoy the Spiced Passion Fruit Caipirinha and other Latin American traditional specialty cocktails for only $5.45. (Regular $7.95)
  • Cory Smith -formerly sous chef at Pacific Time has been appointed new executive chef
    at SANTO Restaurant & Lounge effective immediately.