This week I had a great staple of cuban cuisine at the largest juice shop in town, ate at the new Michael Schwartz restaurant at the Raleigh Hotel and discovered a magnificent hidden Thai food neighborhood gem.
About two months ago I wrote about cuban sandwiches and their available variations. As I said back then, Miami is as Cuban as Hollywood is Jewish, so you can’t live here and hide from Latin delicacies such as a frita or a cuban sandwich. In my piece back then, I said I wanted to try next the “pan con lechon”, or pulled pork sandwich and so this week I did. It was at none other that at El Palacio de Los Jugos. This local chain (there are 6 of them in Miami) is named after fruit juices since they offer the widest variety and most freshest of offerings. Any fruit you can think of, mango, passion fruit, guava, guanabana and even coconut are available in juice for and are made on the spot. Although juices are what this 40 year old classic is known for, the latin food available is a broad as you can think of, available in displayed trays for you to pick from. Pork, rice n’ beans, fish, plantains, crackling, potatoes in various forms and even paella? Which I would probably never have there but the regulars line up to pick and choose and I’m sure they go through more than a few paella trays a day. El Palacio also has a decent cuban sandwich selection, and this is where I found my prey. The pan con lechon is exactly that: bread with pulled pork. Nothing else, nothing more. Cuban bread is white and soft, crunchy on the outside from a quick visit to the press. The pulled pork is magnificent, perfectly seasoned and pulled to the max, yielding thin threads and no unpleasant rubbery chunks.
A great meal on it’s own, pan con lechon and your preferred fruit in juice form. The one on Flagler Street you can’t miss given the huge yellow sign, so next time you drive by pull over and dive into pulled pork heaven.
Here we go again. Less than a few weeks ago we were eating and writing about Michael Schwartz’s new restaurant The Cypress Room, and now we find ourselves at yet another new MS place, this one invading the lobby and terrace of the small yet iconic Raleigh hotel in Miami Beach. I’m pretty sure the proximity of these openings is a coincidence, consequence of timing issues that aligned themselves and gave birth to what seems the equivalent of that Smashing Pumpkins or Guns n ‘ Roses double albums (what, there’s two?) for the local restaurant industry. Or maybe MS does want to prove he can open two great restaurants at the same time successfully. If this is the case he’s winning because our first visit to RMS left everyone satisfied and wanting to return soon.
The menu seems like a hybrid between Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink and The Cypress Room, it almost feels like the gateway between those. This actually makes for a slight but clear enough distinction between the restaurants which allows for a more diverse selection of MS cuisine for locals and tourists. Of course being on Miami Beach RMS suffers from the longer drive required to get to, the 25$ valet parking and the inevitable mark-up in prices for being on the beach, but the dishes available make up for any relative flaws Miami Beach haters will whine about.
There are, in typical MS fashion, various “sizes” to segregate menu items. Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large with a few snacks and sides.
I had the crab cake to start, which had large chunks of soft crab meat inside, and comes on top of a puddle of slightly spicy carrot butter sauce; it was a great start. My fellow diners had the octopus, the tomato soup and the crab salad, all of which made everyone happy, specially the crab salad selector.
During starters we shared a grilled pizza. Maybe it’s meant to be that way but the crust was actually tough at parts, perhaps consequence of the grilling. Not sure if grilling pizza is such a good idea, the toppings were not particularly good either.
From the large section two diners were in seafood heaven with their pan roasted swordfish and tuna. Praises flew not just for the proteins but for the pairings on each dish, the yogurt based sauce with lentils for the swordfish and the fregola, fennel and tomato marmalade from the tuna.
I dipped my fork into the mango chutney that comes with the pork loin and I had to be fought off to stop trying to steal more of it. Amazing stuff, and it could not have found a better friend than the Indian spiced pork loin. Superb dish. My large selection, the grilled rib eye cap steak was moist and juicy and tasted great when joined by the brussel sprout leafs and parsley sauce, but I never understood why that dish has four raw tomato squares on top of it. They didn’t add anything to the dish and as a matter of fact they felt like last minute additions that somehow missed their trip to the salon.
On the sweet side , if I had complained on my Cypress Room post about the apparent invisibility from Hedy’s magical touch, here I have to to the exact opposite. The Pie a La Mode wasn’t just presented beautifully on a large round wooden table for all to share, it had the most amazing crust I have ever tasted in Miami. The pie filling makes the crust proud, and a large pint of coffee ice cream comes along for the table’s indulgence. A crunchy milk chocolate & gooey salted caramel bar lasted less than 30 seconds on the plate and demonstrated delicacy and technique. Gorgeous presentation.
Clearly Schwartz, as he has mentioned himself is now more in the delegation and managing side of things when it comes to his restaurants and judging by the first visit, the team assembled there lead by Danny Ganem is doing a great job and making sure the brand stays strong. It’s great to continue seeing Miami Beach hotels add great restaurants, specially by such a lauded local chef as MS.
When I first wrote about Blue Collar more than a year ago, I called it a “true neighborhood gem” thinking it would remain a bright spot in the culinary lethargic area of Biscayne Blvd . Little did I know that it was going to become to city wide sensation it now is, featured in everyone local food blogger’s lists of places go eat in Miami and praised by critics both local and foreign.
Why do some places make the transition to “under the radar” local ‘hood gems to city wide sensations? I believe it’s one cup consistency, two cups quality, and a tablespoon of social media, two tablespoons of mainstream media exposure, and you have the prefect recipe.
But there is something quite magical and unique about finding small, almost hidden, semi-unknown food spots in town that day after day make their local residents happy but still haven’t shined outside their neighborhood’s borders. Local food blogger The Chowfather wrote about some of these places with his UTR post back in January, and “hole in a wall” expert Fatgirlhedonist loves discovering these and writing about them. Perhaps at the risk of locals not being able to eat quitely and comfortably at their hidden gems anymore if and when popularity strikes a homerun, I can’t deny the pleaure of discovering these myself. Actually If I had the time, I would dedicate a weekly task to find such gems, and would post a list of 2-3 per Miami area. Maybe in the future, who knows.
Enter Sawaddee, near North Bay Village. You almost need a GPS to get to it since it is hidden around a corner bend as you drive along Normandy Drive towards the beach. The place is tiny, and we went to it since a friend of a friend has been going on about it ever since met, and mentions it every time we meet.
The place is strictly BYOB since there is no liquor license. Who needs a liquor license when you are putting out such great curries? And let’s face it, BYOB is great. Who said Dom Perignon with green chicken curry? Try that at your high end thai restaurant and prepare for a heart attack once the check arrives.
I’ve always said a Thai place is judged by it’s Pad Thai. The one at Rock Bangkok is too dry, the one at Panya Thai has too much fish sauce, the one at Oishi Thai is just about right. This one was close to perfect, with a great balance between sweet, tangy, nuttyness and heat.
The curries are also spot on. Creamy, made as spicy as you wish and with fresh protein. We tried the green, the red, the panang, the mossoman with a combination of chicken, beef and shrimp. Nice small bowls of white rice are added so you can scoop your preferred remaining curry sauce and dredge your rice in it for a fantastic ending.
The menu also has sushi and other japanese items, but since Michio is down the road, there’s no point really. Stick to the Thai and you will be rewarded. I understand the local popularity of Sawaddee is quite strong, so I advice you either call and make a reservation or show up late during the week. Enjoy.