This week I attended an event from the South Beach Food & Wine Festival, had the best pizza I’ve ever had in Miami at Lucali, and also found a new winner for the best braised beef short rib dish title at J&G Grill.
I get mixed feelings when the South Beach Wine and Food Festival approaches. 3 years ago, when I had just arrived to Miami, I was running around like a headless chicken from event to event, chasing TV star chefs and lamenting myself for not being able to attend the sold-out burger bash. Now, I carefully evaluate the full schedule when it is announced, and carefully pick one event to attend, making sure it includes perhaps chefs I’d like to meet, or a type of food I like.
When this year’s schedule came out, I noticed that Rich Torrisi and Mario Carbone, chefs and owners of Torrisi Italian Specialties, my favorite restaurant in New York and probably the world, were attending a “fried chicken and champagne” event hosted by Andrew Carmellini (chef of Locanda Verde and The Dutch). I jumped to it via the pre-sale, going through the hassle of having to borrow a Mastercard (it was a pre-requisite). As the event approached, I noticed Rich and Mario disappeared from the schedule. I guess it must be difficult to manage such a complex agenda and such a large number of personalities.
Despite my disappointment, I decided to attend the event instead of opting for trying to re-sell the tickets. I’m glad I did. There was enough champagne to get you as drunk as you would like and some of the chicken dishes were great; the crispy moist fried chicken from The Dutch was supberb, together with a rich and sweet biscuit. Local chef Giorgio Rapicavoli from Eating House wowed the attendees with a fine twist on chicken and waffle that included some hidden foie. But the highlight for me, both food and personality wise, was Vinny Dotolo and Jon Shook from Animal and Son of a Gun in L.A.
I became an instant fan of Jon and Vinny after being exposed to their food at their Harry’s Pizzeria pop-up last year. Their cookbook, Two Dudes and One Pan, is the cookbook I have used the most over the last year. I suggest everyone who cooks at home gets this book if you haven’t gotten it already. Their fried chicken sandwich with pickles and coleslaw was so good, I had three (3) of them. I also got to chat with Vinny for a while, about Miami, my recent visit to San Francisco, L.A., and food in general. What a great chef and guy. Their restaurants are my first stop if and when I get to Los Angeles.
At the event I also got to meet chef Thomas McNaughton, from my recently visited Central Kitchen in San Francisco. Nice guy.
Another festival is over and Miami should be happy it hosts it. It brings good business to the city, and if anything, gives us locals a chance to get up close and personal with chefs from around the country and, with a bit of luck, also have some great food.
The other great new thing I ate this week was a pizza, and probably the best pizza I’ve eaten in Miami.
Three years ago when I first got here the only decent pizza I could find was Andiamo’s Pizza in MiMo. Since the opening of Harry’s Pizzeria last year that has been my main stop for pies in town, with wonderful toppings such as pork belly and braised beef , but not quite up to the standards of the real napolitan style pizzas I have had in the past at places like Keste in NYC. A recent field trip to Oceano Pizzeria in Lantana, thanks to a tip from local food blogger The Chowfather, gave me light at the end of the pizza tunnel, but as I mentioned in my post about it, it can be a five hour affair for us living in Miami.
Lucali, from Brooklyn, New York has arrived to Miami Beach and I’m pretty sure will put the local pizza debate to rest once and for all. I was there recently and I can tell you it’s just not the best pizza I’ve had in Miami, it’s also one of the coolest places of the many that have opened over the last couple of years. The setting is cozy, chic, rustic, and a feast to all senses. Candle lights allow you to witness the making of the pies at their open pizza kitchen including the rolling out of the dough with wine bottles and the meticulous management of the wood fire brick oven.
Apparently chef/owner Mark Iacono isn’t happy with the dough just yet (something to do with humidity). Let me tell you, if this dough gets any better, this place would soon have people lining down the street. And even if it doesn’t it should and it probably will. Go there, you will absolutely love it; another great “import” to our town.
The last great new thing I ate this week was over dinner a couple of nights ago at J&G Grill, at the St. Regis Resort in Bal Harbour. Being a huge fan of Jean-Georges Vongerichten, when this place opened almost a year ago I was amazed at how quickly Miami’s dining scene was maturing. To have such an acclaimed chef open a place in town was definitely one of the most important signs of progress, together with other high level “imports” openings such as db Bistro Moderne and Bazaar. As with many of the super-star chefs behind these concepts though, the exposure to Vongerichten is close to zero. I haven’t heard of any events at J&G Grill with the chef. Daniel Boulud is probably the exception; he hosts regular events at his db Bistro. But as long as the food and service deliver, it doesn’t’ matter, and deliver it does at this majestic dining room located at the very end of the impressive ground floor of the St. Regis Resort in Bal Harbour.
The kitchen is led by Richard Gras and Antonio Bachour, and the food they are putting out is doing Jean-Georges proud. I had only been for brunch/lunch a few times and had had gorgeous pizza with black truffles and fontina, a great burger, and some creamy delicious soups and other sandwiches. Of course, the desserts, had all been impressive since Antonio is probably one of the best pastry chefs in the country, no doubt.
Dinner is a whole different ball game. Entrée choices include a wide variety of top quality proteins perfectly paired and beautifully plated. My table that night tried all the fishes, the miso black cod, the nutty crusted red snapper, the lemon crumb coated salmon, and there wasn’t a frown in sight. On the legged animal side, a generous milk fed veal chop looked succulent, but my co-diner devoured it too quickly for me to try it (let alone take a decent picture of it).
What really impressed me though, was the beef braised short rib. I have mentioned multiple times here how much I love this dish, and how (until now) I was such a slave of the one served at Michy’s. The one at J&G was not only softer, with more flavor, it was actually far more generous, actually twice the size as the one Michelle Bernstein offers, making it for me an instant winner. The best beef short rib dish baton has been passed on, and now J&G Grill is the place where I will go to satisfy my craving for such.
See you all next week,