Monday, May 31, 2010

Beemer Me Up

Road trips. The great Amerian pastime. I am one of those who appreciates road trips in theory. The freedom of the open road, the thrill of exploration…the joy of dining at roadside diners. But once I get behind the wheel I always find long car trips boring. And no amount of Bob Dylan sing-alongs or pancake-induced food comas will conquer the auto ennui. So when the folks at BMW suggested I take their swanky new Five Series Gran Turismo for a weekend-long test-drive, I wasn’t all that excited. In fact, when they delivered the car to my house, it sat in my driveway for a full day before I got around to actually starting it up.

But once I did, well, it was like buttah.

When you get right down it, a car is essentially a wagon for transportation. Sure, it’s also a status symbol, a vehicle for luxury and, in some cases an extension of one's home. But I’m one of those “it gets me from point A to point B” kind of gals. Yet I’m open to the idea that a set of wheels can be more than just a buggy with a motor. I’m a beemer newbie, and had never experienced the smooth-yet-sturdy German engineering. (I won't get into my car history but let's just say it involves a lot of QT spent with a Ford Focus. The glories of buying a car on a writer's salary.)

I test-drove the impressive vehicle over a weekend, weathering a six-hour drive north to Amelia Island (in pounding thunderstorms) and experimenting with the car’s numerous high-tech features and powerful engine. It’s also one of the more handsome cars I’ve seen. It combines the all the elements of a station wagon, SUV and hatchback without caving to the boxiness or soul-crushing nerdiness of those shapes.

Things I loved about the car:
- how safe the car felt. We drove through pounding rains at 80mph - something I would never attempt in my usual SUV, but the car felt so smooth and solid (and quiet!) that it was easy to coast through the downpour at high speeds.
- the highly-adjustable driver’s seat with snug “wings” that hug your lower back
- the incredibly roomy cabin. This is a touring vehicle, ideal for a group of 4-5 people on a trip, and there's enough space for everyone to sit comfortably.
- the dashboard speedometer projects onto the windshield, so you don’t have to take your eyes off the road when checking your speed.
- the backseat has “stadium” seating, so it’s a bit higher than the front seat, giving the second row passengers a view of the action ahead.
- the hatchback-like trunk which allowed us to jam a weekend’s worth of luggage, baby gear, a stroller and a folding bike (we’re not into light packing) into the car.
- the speedometer alarm that you can manually set to alert you when you’ve gone over your limit. I set mine to 90. It was binging a lot.

What I didn't love:
- the sun roof mechanism. Sure, it's a panoramic sun roof which is fabulous but it took me no less than 25 minutes to figure out how to get the whole thing open all the way. I'm no gearhead, and I'm sure if I had bought the car from a dealer the person would have walked me through all the functions, but on first encounter, the switch is non user-friendly.
- the joystick gearshift. Call me old-fashioned but I like to feel some mechanical heft when I'm pulling into Drive.

But other than that, no real complaints. It's a big spaceship of a car, with an interior like a cockpit. If I owned the car I probably wouldn't end up using nearly half the electronic features available on the car's hard drive, but it was cool to experience for a weekend.

Monday, May 24, 2010

There is no Zima at Zuma

Zuma opened to the public today after a week of friends and family and media dinners.
We test-drove the menu on Saturday night and my first impressions are mixed. The mega-restaurant with high prices thing feels like a concept from another era. And hasn't Mr. Chow already cornered that market? Sure, Zuma's food is better but is that enough to draw people to the Epic hotel downtown?
The interior is striking but ultimately unexciting - soaring ceilings, blonde wood, a shiny demo kitchen. It lacks the noir elegance of Hakkasan or the meticulously scuffed post-colonial vibe of Sugarcane - two restaurants that immediately came to mind both for their similarities to Zuma and for their different approaches to Asian cooking. Like Sugarcane there are three kitchen here - a sushi bar, a robabta grill and a hidden "hot" kitchen ("where they do most of the tempura and fried stuff" explained our helpful server). Like Hakkasan it is a British import and you'll hear accents from Scotland, Ireland and all parts of the UK from many be-suited managers. But the focus here is on Japanese, not Chinese cuisine.
That said, I'll sum up my observations as follows:
Prices: high. Portions: small. Food: good.
They have 250 wines available in glass-enclosed wine towners. On the reccomendation of Trevor the sommelier we went with a $50 Chateau St. Michelle Eroica Riesling. It stood up to the spicy Asian sauces and our meager journalist wallets (yes, we paid for our alchy).
Cocktails are $12.
Best in show:
-tuna tataki with sauteed red onions and minced daikon radish
- edamame stir-fried with minced chilis - fiery, authentic-tasting
- prawn and cod dumplings - pan fried and greaseless, delicate sweet wrapper, flavorful filling
- miso black cod with yuzu butter - amazing buttery fish, amazing tangy buttery sauce (but $30 for just the piece of fish seems a bit luxe)
- spicy beef tenderloin - tender, falovrful, thoughtfully cut up into bit-size pieces (it's a chopsticks-only table setting) but again, $35.
- Japanese eggplant with miso - good
- wild mushroom salad - a celebration of fungi
- dessert: green tea banana cake and a futuristic-looking coconut ball. Both weirdly good.

Less impressive:
the sushi
sweet potatoes - 3 slices on a plate drizzled with teriyaki reduction.
corn on the cob. Even though they're slathered with miso butter, still don't want to be gnawing on an ear of corn unless I'm at a picnic.

270 Biscayne Boulevard Way, (305) 577-0277.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

The Urbanite Bistro Closes

After almost nine months the Urbanite Bistro calls it quits. Always sad to see an indie restaurant go. Today I recieved an email from chef Frank Imabarlina saying that tonight, Saturday May 8 is the last night the Urbanite will be open. "I have been working tirelessly for the past week trying to do whatever I could to keep the Urbanite operating, right down to last night and this afternoon trying to alter this outcome," writes Barlina.
Shame. I liked how the restaurant took a chance on downtown and stocked great craft brews. Hopefully we'll see the Urbanite team again soon.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Free Rum Tasting @ Ritz Key Biscayne

The Rum Renaissance fest kicks off this weekend but you'll have to pay to attend most the events. Except for this one. Head to Rumbar at the Ritz and have your fill of vintage rums from the Rhum Clement Portfolio including their Premiere Canne, VSOPCreole Shrubb, Homere snd XO. You can also swill the the 'Ti Punch, the national cocktail of Martinique and a close relative to the Daiquiri and Caipirinha. It is made with Rhum Agricole, lime and sugarcane syrup or raw sugar.