This week I had the privilege of being invited to contribute with a burger as part of Blue Collar’s National Burger Month “blogger burger a week” initiative, and went back to two of the most exciting restaurants in Miami, Pubbelly and Nemesis Urban Bistro.
I have written extensively about Blue Collar, here, here and here. The small yet consistently good diner on Biscayne and 68th street shows no sign of stopping and continues to grow its fan base. Not a week goes by without someone tweeting, instagramming or blogging about something great they had to eat there. The place is rock solid when it comes to consistency, and every single menu on the item is a pleasure to indulge in. Specially and as i witnessed again this week, the vegetable section. Who knew? Most people would categorize Blue Collar as a place where you should only go if you want to gain weight, given their huge portions and strong emphasis on burgers, cheese based sandwiches and high glycemic index carbs. Well, the vegetable section includes just about every vegetable you can think of and they are elaborated flawlessly with great favor. You can find sunchokes, roast beets and carrots, sweet potato and plantain mash, kale, brussel sprouts, bok choy, fennel, you name it they got it.
When I was asked to come up with a burger, I couldn’t help go back to a combination I have always loved: goat cheese, pesto and tomatoes. How could we create a burger with these elements? I thought changing the pesto to kale based one, just for the sake of giving kale a chance since it’s not getting much popularity lately !!!!. We thought using chicken rather than beef for the patty to add something different to the already amazing display of burgers by Miami Rankings, ChatChowTV and ERGagit. The rest was all Daniel’s magic!. That boy is a genius so the credit is all his. Make sure you thank him when you eat the GourmandJ burger this weekend at Blue Collar. Only available this week and this week only.
After my recent trip to NYC, I tweeted out what I think is the “fab four” of restaurants from recent travels. Pearl & Ash from the Big Apple, Septime from Paris, Longman & Eagle from Chicago and Rich Table from San Francisco. These restaurants personify what is rapidly becoming a preferred trend in my favorite places to eat: laid back, casual atmosphere with very high levels of taste and presentation on the plate. And in all fairness, I have been giving some thought recently as to which restaurant from Miami I would add to that list as if I where to add a second rhythmic guitar player. The places that I believe could join such rank are Eating House, Pubbelly or Nemesis Urban Bistro. There places have young talented chefs that are taking big risks in the kitchen in order to provide us with something new and exciting, and it’s paying off. These are the three places I would first take an out of town food critic if I wanted o showcase where Miami stands culinary wise.
I managed to go back to two of these places this week, so it goes without saying it has been a good one for eating.
Pubbelly has been on a tear since day one. I still remember the excitement when it opened; a Gastropub? In Miami? With Spanish and Asian influence? And yes they had me at pork belly. Had I started the blog back in 2011 and had I issued a list of dishes of the year, that pork belly with sweet potato puree dish I had would have easily made the cut. I hadn’t been in a while, so I was really looking forward to my long overdue meal there. It started off with some delicious chorizo croquetas, dipped in a creamy greenish aioli made from roasted apples. The combinations, although strange looking on paper, work tremendously well in your palate and given their small dish approach, allows for a decent display of their best offerings. The beef tartare is made from short rib, and is perfectly chilled reminding you they do know where the dish comes from and how it needs to be served. It’s incredibly soft, creamy and even crunchy at times thanks to some crumbled pine nuts sitting on top of the quail egg. “Salt n’ Pepper squid”, perfect on its own, is served with a helping of soy sauce that has been smoked and includes bonito flakes. There’s your spanish and asian blend right there, something they continue to excel at and also push the boundaries on. The dishes that followed did exactly the same thing, and the risk taking pays off. “Gambas a la Plantxa”, another spanish staple is left rather mediterranean with a perfectly executed smear of romesco sauce, and are elevated with hazelnuts and hazelnut butter. Duck breast slices are predictably paired with a sweet cherry reduction of some sort but hey, creativity has its boundaries specially when it comes to the untouchable match that duck and sweet make. Sweet, soft braised pork cheeks are joined by gnuddi, cream and fava beans. Hints of wasabe butter remind you though you are at Pubbelly and not at your local french bistro.
Digging deep into his roots, chef Jose Mendin steps somewhat out of the Gastropub’s remit and offers his personal take on Mofongo, a plantain and pork dish from his native Puerto Rico. It pays homage to the typical one, presented beautifully by molding it in the shape of a half ball, each bite getting better and better as the mixture moists from the liquid below. The pork rind bits are barely moticeable, but are clearly the secret punch to a great dish.
As I mentioned above, Pubbelly continues to be one of the most exciting places to eat in Miami. Their menu includes a seasonal section aimed at making the most of whatever little change in season Florida ingredients can benefit from. In any case, it helps the regulars always find something new and unique. I, for one, will make sure I get there at least on a seasonal basis, if not more frequently. Long live the Pubbelly.
My other favorite place in town to win the title amongst the “fab four” mentioned above is Nemesis Urban Bistro, the cute little eatery in Downtown Miami led by Micah Edelstein. Micah is another example of a chef willing to take risks on the somewhat emerging Miami palate , which are also paying off. She has developed a strong following from locals, and hopefully visitors from out of town are paying attention. Her creations are intriguing and explosive in flavor, making you want to order same dishes twice at times (as happened to me on my first visit with the famous Tuscan Sushi). The vegetable samosas seem to have been prepared by an army of well trained Indian cooks, succulent on the inside with just the perfect amount of spicy filling. A Veal Bobotie, originated in her native South Africa y delicately minced veal meat that is perfectly plated, square shaped, with bitter greens dressed in a sweet emulsion and candied pecans. Other sweet reductions painted around the square make for a delicious experience aimed at licking empty every corner of the plate. Micah’s salmon dish, one of her key main courses is grilled to perfection but does not taste like your ordinary salmon. Something has been done to it prior to cooking it that makes it taste like no other salmon you’ve had before. Reminescences of dill seem to appear, but perhaps it is blended in the cold quinoa pressed on a ring mold beneath the filet.
A dish from the specials was the highlight of the recent visit for me. Crispy, juicy, fatty, succulent slices of lamb belly, on top of a “Korean”‘pancake, which had of course a strong scallion presence in the batter. One can only hope it ends up in the regular menu.
Micah is one of the few chefs in town that truly makes you feel as though you were invited to her house for dinner. Were it not for her responsibility at the front of the kitchen for the often packed albeit small dining room, she would probably sit down and have dinner with you. If you stay until the end I can promise you at least a sip of wine you’ll be able to share with her, and get to hear first hand how she dreams up her creations.
That’s it for this week, see you next in Mexico City!