Sunday, November 27, 2011

Cruising With Michael Schwartz

By now you've no doubt heard that Michael Schwartz and his team are heading up operations aboard Royal Caribbean's tasting-only restaurant 150 Central Park. Last month we were invited aboard to taste the goods at a six-course feast. Each dish showcased what the chef does well - straightforward presentations of simply prepared but well-executed food with great ingredient sourcing. The menu was also a Greatest Hits of Michael's since many of the dishes were delicate, tasting-portion sized version of the classics you'll find on his restaurant's regular menu. Herewith, the night in pictures.
Homemade ricotta with local beets.

Jumbo lump crab cake with carrot butter sauce.
Chef holding court with sommelier Eric Larkee on the right. 

Black cod with whipped parsnip and baby bok choy.

Harris Ranch short rib with romesco sauce.

Hedy's milk chocolate cremoso made it on board along with the espresso semifreddo.
The dining room where you'll partake of this bounty.

Fancy shmancy menus.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Chatting With Michael Schwartz

Demonstrating how to make ricotta cheese aboard Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas.

Michael Schwartz. The man. The chef. The empire (chefpire?). It seems like every other week we hear of something new going on with our guy in the Design District. A new pizza place, cheffing aboard cruise ships and pretty soon helming the kitchen at the Raleigh. How does he do it? Oh, and did you know he's got a TV pilot in the works? A few q's with the busy man, below:

APD: With all the recent developments how have you been able to focus and how do you divide your time now?

MS:It's not easy, especially since I like to be involved in all the details.There are definitely more meetings and sometimes I feel like a ping pong ball. But we keep a great calendar, which itself is its own monster, and things are divided up and scheduled to a t. But I guess the real answer to your question is my team. I have surrounded myself with great people that make it all possible, and we just try to keep up with it all.

APD: What are you most excited about for the coming year?
MS: Some great news is that after a year of making and trying to sell a TV pilot to cable, with all the ups and downs that go along with that, we found a home on public television. It's called The Local Table, it's a food/travel show that highlights slow food and the people behind the small, family businesses that produce the food that feeds our communities around the country. It's about sourcing what's seasonal and cooking with the freshest, local ingredients. PBS just gave us the green light, with WLRN onboard as our presenting station to national, and sponsors are showing interest. It goes to show how when you keep at something you believe in, things will work out. We wanted to make our show the way we want it to be without bending to please a certain demographic or get certain ratings, and PBS will make that possible. I'm really excited for the chance to work more on that. We'll shoot in the spring of 2012, for a first season airing in the fall.

APD: Any other projects in the pipeline or is this it for a while?
MS: We're always looking ahead and are open to new partnerships that can become new projects or business opportunities... It's always a challenge trying to balance it all and still participate in the great charity events and food festivals I get asked to do. Those are really great... While they are more one-time things, I get a chance to have fun and catch up with some of my friends in the industry. I've had to bow out of some of those lately which is a bummer, but I was able to give Hedy an opportunity to take some of those on, with is great fun and great exposure for her. So I guess it all works out. For me, for the coming year, I'd have to say the Raleigh is top of mind, as is the new relationship with Royal Caribbean, and making sure Harry's and MGFD stay on the ball and have longevity. I thought nothing could top 2010, but this year was unreal. I can only imagine what 2012 will bring!

Friday, November 04, 2011

Chasing the Dragon: Back in China Again

It's been four years since my last jaunt to the Orient. And that was after visiting the continent three times in a 16-month period. So, yes, this was a fun revisit. We hit Beijing and Shanghai, spending more time in the highly-styley Shanghai corridor. Major changes have occurred since I was last there - the Olympics came and went, leaving behind some impressive architecture and, it seemed, a more-relaxed approach to Westerners. Also, the financial crisis took its toll, although both cities seemed as bustling and busy as ever.
Whampoa Club restaurant at Three on the Bund.
But the rampant construction that cluttered the streets of both cities with cranes, cement trucks and bamboo scaffolding seems to have dissipated. There's a new big tower in Shanghai - the World Financial Center, with a Park Hyatt hotel occupying the 79th-93rd floors of its 101 stories. And the "new" section of Shanghai - Pudong - is now a sprawling space-age urban landscape with shiny skyscrapers and Boca Raton-style gated communities containing McMansions. Some random thoughts and observations:
- Spitting (and exuberant loogie hocking) is still a big thing here, so don't be surprised if you get a little phlegm on your shoes.
- Apparently they make soup dumplings as big as tennis balls and stick straws in them, coconut-style.
 - Pollution is still bad but seems to have gotten slightly more manageable. Either that, or we caught some uncharacteristically sunny autumn days.
- The Great Cyberwall of China is still in effect. Last time I was there I was unable to use blogger or access my blog. Same again this time, and also no access to Twitter of Facebook in Beijing. In Shanghai, things were better, with access to all of those sites, although when I mentioned this to a hotel exec she said that was because I was logging on via the hotel's Internet connection. Apparently, household Internet users in China don't have access.
- Bookmarked for next time: Dinner at 100 Century Avenue, the 91st-floor restaurant at the top of the WFC at the Park Hyatt. Place was jazzy, fun and reminded me of the Setai.
- Best fashion discovery: cool Chinese sneaker brand Feiyue (apparently coveted by French hipsters). For $17 you get these sensational high-tops. Found at tiny sneaker store located at 130 Nanchang Lu (at Sinan Rd).

First Bites of Barceloneta

Barceoneta, the third installment of the Pubbelly empire, opened a few weeks ago. I feasted at a friends and fam dinner the night before they opened and experienced some very good things. The atmosphere is great, although I found myself thinking the music was too loud. Which then depressed me because that means I'm getting old. (Side note: one day I'll write a blog post on the best spots in the city to actually have a conversation and where the music is great but unobtrusive.). But back to the food.
Dinner starts off with complimentary “pica pica,” house made marinated olives. Then it was on to plates of pan con tomate (tomato-rubbed baguette slices - fresh and tangy). The brandada de bacalao, a salted codfish spread, was a bit rich but the mini-loaf of bread imported from Spain was good for absorbing the salty fishy goodness. Plates of roasted padron peppers tossed with sea salt followed along with piquillo peppers are stuffed with garrotxa cheese. The “butifarra” is homemade pork sausage spiked with brandy and cream. Best dish of the night: the “coca” flatbread (below), a rich melange of foie gras, grilled eggplant and chives.
Didn't have high hopes for dessert - I see the PB crew as excelling more at savory dishes but the Torrejas were lovely and light - fluffy egg-soaked slices of bread pan-fried to a crisp. The chocolate souffle wasn't bad either. Overall, a fun new spot to go for drinks and delicious tapas.
1400 20th St
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(305) 538-9299