Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Check out...

The Bohemian Gastropub, 571 Queen Street West. They opened about a month ago and have a great selection of beers on tap and a German inspired menu. Picture a nice Weiss beer with a few pretzels and maybe a pork knuckle or schnitzel. I fell in love with Eastern European fare when I visited Germany and the Czech Republic a few years back and with the colder weather sadly upon us, this is what we need to be eating; warm and heavy comfort food.

Ask to be served by Nola, she is a bundle of joy.

Friday, September 2, 2011

A Trip to Miami Beach Featuring Myself and Nine Friends

A very recent trip to Miami had me researching restaurants for hours on end to insure that part of my vacation would be a success. See when I travel, I’m as excited about the food as I am the sights, the weather, the night life, the shopping, etc.

South Beach has hundreds, yes hundreds of places to nosh making the decision process downright discouraging. Restaurants range from take away Cuban counters and greasy late night pizza slices, to touristy Ocean Drive mediocrity to five star plus, star studded dining.

Here’s where we ended up and how it went down...

Our stay at The Congress Hotel, 1052 Ocean Drive, included a breakfast credit of $5.75 at Kitchen; the restaurant in front. Choices were the basic bacon and eggs, pancakes, French toast, etc. but the coffee was good and hey what do you expect for six bucks? I made the mistake of asking for a mimosa and got suckered into the “two for one” happy hour (at 10:00 am?!). This was two twenty ounce cocktails for $25.00

Toni’s Sushi Bar, 1208 Washington Avenue, was a pleasant surprise. A hamachi ($18) and a spicy tuna tartare ($12) were extremely fresh and finely chopped. The usual suspects of pickled white ginger and scallion made an appearance. The tuna playfully included a few tortilla chips.

I will admit that I can appreciate the beauty of sashimi but I am a sucker for the rolls. Now having said that, rolls are rolls and there is really only one thing to note; Toni’s hit the mark with their colourful and imaginative creations ($4.50 - $19.00). The rolls were perfectly assembled (no falling to pieces as you try not to shove the whole thing in your mouth), the rice was the right temperature (not too cold, not too warm) and curried mayo, lettuce and kimchi are all examples of ingredients you don’t often see in sushi in Toronto.

Sunken booths and a nice wine list rounded out our experience.

BLT Steak at The Betsy Hotel, 1440 Ocean Drive, was recommended to me as being the best steak in the state of Florida. This could be true.

The room is big and airy with cool light fixtures and palms. The attention is on high quality beef but with a bit of whimsy. The back of the menu is an Angus beef chart that explains where your meat comes from. Your steak comes with a little plastic flag in the shape of the cow that states how you ordered it – rare, med rare, etc.

To start, they bring over a chicken liver pate in a mason jar. It looks like sautéed Spam but tastes like fancy. Its’ wetness makes it luscious. I played around with the cute pickled veg and the grilled country style bread creating my own little appetizer.

Next massive gourgeres with gruyere cheese arrive. Gourgeres are mini popovers. These were twice the size of a Yorkshire pudding. They came with little recipe cards in case you’d like make them at home, big shakers of sea salt and whipped butter.

And that was just the complimentary part.

A too tiny crab cake is not worth the $17 dollar price tag. It was as pretty as a picture but lacked any sort of wow. The shrimp cocktail was also a steep $17 but was much more satisfying. Three huge shrimp were perfectly cooked. They had bite. Nothing is worse than mushy, soggy shrimp.

A 22 ounce Prime Cut Rib Eye ($49) could have been shared between three people but two of us attempted it and failed. Ok not a failure really as this steak could easily be the best piece of beef I have ever put in mouth. It was a two inch thick, bone in, piece of medium rare flesh that glistened with fat from its’ extensive marbling. They broiled it at 1700 degrees and brushed it with herb butter. As if all that wasn’t enough, they serve it with some bone marrow on the side.

Mmmm fat on fat.

We unnecessarily added a side of under seasoned mushrooms ($11) and over cooked asparagus ($10).

Towards the end, I literally started to sweat.

Eight out of ten of us went back to the hotel to succumb to meat comas.

I went for an hour walk.

Cafe Medi, 1052 Ocean Drive, was a drag you off the street tourist trap with a $10 lunch special that was worth about $5. This was typical of most places ``on the strip``. My nachos were nothing more than tri coloured chips with salsa, sour cream and pureed guacamole. I avoided the super size cocktails and went for a bucket o beer for $15 instead.

Cecconi`s Miami Beach is located in the private Soho Beach House hotel at 4385 Collins Avenue. It`s where the stars go so naturally we had to check it out. It`s upscale Venetian and an extremely romantic setting. The dining room is outside but party covered by a white shade that at night looks like a pale grey sky. The space is filled with trees and foliage that are decorated in thousands of tiny white lights. The ten of us were seated at a long rectangular table that looked like a huge cutting board.

The app special was veal Provimi carpaccio ($18) with a lemony tuna sauce and caper berries.

The meat was not raw but rather gently brought up to a med rare and sliced paper thin. The tuna and capers lend the burst of salt and tang that the delicate white meat needed. I have to say, choosing a glass of prosecco as a complementing beverage was genius.

Spaghetti with Maine lobster ($32) was simple done right. El dente spaghetti lightly tossed in an heirloom tomato sauce with a whole lobster claw and moist chunks of lobster meat throughout.

It was a big bowl of happiness and the perfect last supper.

*side notes, advice, tips and final statements:
Make reservations in advance for high end places, don`t expect great service as there are 18% auto grats on every bill at every restaurant, be prepared to go to dinner earlier than you would in other cities because most close at or around 11:00 (we basically kept getting kicked out before we could order dessert), don`t be afraid of the colossal cocktails – they will put the rest in a plastic cup and you can bring it to the beach, do be afraid of the huge portion sizes and don`t over order.