Category Archives: Reviews

Who Knew – Cleveland Rocks!

We were home from our trip just long enough to do some laundry, put the clothes away, and give Bentley, our boxer, a bath before we were off again.  This time to Cleveland.  Not really a place that you think about when planning a vacation, but this was not a vacation.  My wife Amy is an intellectual property attorney (read: she helps individuals and businesses protect their trademarks and copyrights).  This year, her law firm planned a firm-wide retreat in Cleveland, the firm’s home base.  I have to say, it was a pretty impressive feat — invite all 175 lawyers and support staff, and their significant others, to Cleveland for a big party.  Although the itinerary was pretty booked (it is a convention of lawyers after all) there would be some time for us to explore the city.

I have to admit that I did not know much about Cleveland except that it is where the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is located and there is a bar on South Beach named after people from Cleveland — the Clevelander.  I was curious about the Cleveland food scene, and after some on-line searches and tweeting with some chef friends, I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised.  Armed with my winter coat, winter boots, a flask of rye and some foodie recommendations, we dropped Isabela off at her grandparents, boarded a plane and headed out to hang with the suits.

On a side note, I have to mention that this was the first time letting our little angel out of our sights for more than an hour or so.  We were both a bit of a wreck the entire trip, but the constant texts from Grandma, photos, FaceTime chats and bourbon made the separation a bit more bearable.

I figured Cleveland would be chilly, but I was not ready for the raw, rainy and windy weather that greeted us.  Amy went to college in upstate New York- Go ‘Cuse – and warned me about lake-effect weather (Cleveland is located on the banks of Lake Erie).  However, I did not expect this type of bone chilling cold.  Needless to say, I immediately wanted something to warm me up.  A chef friend suggested The Greenhouse Tavern.  As we were scheduled to attend a reception that night, a big meal was not in the cards.  Instead I just wanted a quick bite.  Realizing that Jonathon Sawyer’s other restaurant, Noodle Cat, was around the corner, a bowl of hot ramen, micro beer and a few pork buns sounded spectacular. Our shared dishes were —

The Butcher’s Bun w/ West Side Market Meats & Yum

BBQ Pulled Pork with Pickled Onions, Slaw & Scallions

Gyoza with Chickpeas and Root Vegetable Dumplings

Drunken Clams with Sapporo, Miso, Butter and Bonito, Takahachi Ramen with Garlic Pork Broth, Roasted Pork, Dashi, 6 Minute Egg

“Roscoe’s” Fried Chicken & Ramen with Butter, Hot Sauce, Maple Syrup                             and Fried Chicken Broth

Yes, I said Fried Chicken Broth! Fucking – Genius! 

We finished our ramen and headed over to the law firm reception. Due to the attorney/client privilege and work product doctrine, I cannot disclose the rest of our evening.  Let’s just say that after a night with 100 plus lawyers, an open bar, conversations about some poor guy’s litigation and inter office drama, the Horseshoe Casino around the corner was calling my name.

The next day, Amy had an early morning seminar. This gave me the chance to sleep in for the first time since the arrival of Isabela.  When she returned around noon, we headed out to explore the city.  We all know the burger king Michael Symon hails from Cleveland and we could not leave without sampling the burger that won best burger at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival for three consecutive years.  Chef Symon’s burger joint B Spot is located inside the Horseshoe Casino *(Bingo).  We found it on the second floor and ordered our lunch.  Amy had the cheeseburger with lettuce tomato, onion, and cheddar cheese.  I tried the “Old School” fried bologna with pickles, mustard and American cheese.  A friend had the “Chick Magnet,” a crispy chicken sandwich with avocado, arugula, tomato and mayo, and another ordered the chili cheese fries with scallions and cheddar.  We all shared some onion rings. One thing I learned was that lawyers are always lawyers and are prepared to argue their point at any given time.  On this particular occasion, the counselor wanted a refill of his fountain soda.  The “plaintiff” said, “no refills were a policy of B-Spot.”  Another 20 minutes later, hands are moving, body language is shaking and the “defendant” came back with an empty cup.  Fast food joint – 1, high paid attorney – 0.

After lunch we headed over to the Rock and Roll hall of fame. Anyone who knows me, knows that music plays a huge part of my life.  I like all types of music but have a particular affinity towards hip hop, classic rock and alternative music.  Seeing memorabilia such as hand written lyrics, stage costumes, vintage merchandise, and even cars driven by rock legends up close and personal gave me chills.  If you are a true music fan you must make a pilgrimage to this music landmark. Stones, Beatles, JayZ, Run DMC, Beasties, Jimi, Bowie, Miles, Coltrane – man you can spend all day in this place.  And don’t miss the Grateful Dead exhibit, it’s well worth the climb.

The finale of our trip was the law firm party at a local Cleveland establishment called Pickwick and Frolic.  I knew chefs could drink but lawyers can definitely give them a run for their money. It must be necessary to forget all of the cases lost at local fast food establishments when asking for a free refills…

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What a long strange trip it’s been …

We have been back in Miami for a little over a week.  In addition to trying to reduce my cholesterol level and triglycerides from our twelve-state food crawl, I have spent my time at home reflecting upon what has been one of the greatest experiences of my life.  If I had to sum up our eighteen-day excursion up and down the East Coast in one word it would be — extraordinary.

As fellow chefs know, this is not a profession where one gets copious amounts of vacation time.  More than a couple of days out of the kitchen is quite a rarity.  In fact, with the exception of my wedding, I can’t remember the last time I took more than one consecutive day off.  The time I do have to myself, usually falls on a Sunday or Monday following a hectic weekend of service.  If I can even motivate myself to get off the couch, these days are often spent attending to the chores that I neglected during my typical 80-hour workweek.

This year, a fortunate turn of events has left me with a bit more time on my hands.  Maybe it is my ever increasing age, or the fact that I am the father of a shiny new baby girl, but my priorities seem to be a changin’.  Rather than spending my time off planning a Vegas vacation or a snowboarding trip to Chile with the boys, all I wanted to do is spend time with my growing family, show Isabela Grace off to family and friends that have not been able to travel to Miami and do some research for my new venture.  And, thus, the plans for our excursion were born.

When I first sat down to write this blog post, my initial thought was to highlight a couple of the best moments of our trip.  Perhaps focus on the yummiest bite or a few special moments with family and friends.  However, when trying to narrow down these “best” moments, I realized that there were so many that I could not cut them down to a mere few.  Consequently, I have decided to summarize highlights of the trip in two categories — “The Most Memorable Dishes” and “The Most Memorable (Non-Food) Moments.”

Most Memorable Dishes

As an initial matter, I have to say that we were fortunate to experience some amazing food on this trip.   Every place we visited seemed to have at least one standout.  This has gotten my creative juices flowing and provided me with great inspiration for what I have in the works.  Magic City look out!  For that I am eternally thankful to the chefs whose food we have had the great fortune of sampling.  Without further adieu, the most memorable dishes of our trip (in no particular order) are as follows:

  • North Pacific Cod in an Asian Inspired Broth Perfumed with GingerThe Inn At Little Washington – This melt in your mouth cod in broth was nothing short of delectable.
  • Pan Seared Duck Breast with Wild Rice Pilaf, Seared Foie Gras and Caramelized Virginia FigsThe Inn At Little Washington – Such amazing flavors, so balanced in textures.
  • Buffalo Pig Ear Lettuce Wraps – Sean Brock’s Husk Restaurant – Charleston, South Carolina – The crispy pig ears and cool, smooth lettuce was such a great combination of textures, I could have made a meal out of them alone.
  • Cheddar Pimento Cheese On Crostinis With Pickled Ramps – Sean Brock’s Husk Restaurant – Charleston, South Carolina – The creamy pimento cheese, a southern favorite, on crispy bread was simply delicious.
  • Shrimp and Grits  – Sean Brock’s Husk Restaurant – Charleston, South Carolina – Hands down, the best shrimp and grits I have ever tasted.
  • Pumpkin PieNoah‘s Nor-Easter Diner – Stonington, Connecticut – A great combination of warmth and spices made this the perfect introduction to fall in New England.
  • Braised Chicken and Mushroom  *(a la Julia Child) – My Mother-In-Law’s Kitchen – Lincoln, Rhode Island – Simple home cooked dish that literally melted in your mouth.
  • Pumpkin Tortellini, Escargot and Tom Ka Gai – Sbraga Restaurant Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – Beautifully prepared thai soup, poured table side with tortellini and garlicky- escargot.
  • Braised Beef Tacos, Avocado and Guajillo – Richard Blaise’s The Spence – Atlanta, Georgia – A unique take on a traditional taco.
  • Buttermilk Corn Hushpuppies with Honey Butter –  The Optimist Fish Camp and Oyster Bar  – Atlanta, Georgia – Crispy, sweet and covered with powdered sugar. These little balls of heaven were perfectly seasoned and cooked.  Loved them!
  • Fried Pork Chop With Red Pepper JellyEarly Bird Diner – Charleston, South Carolina – The sheer size of this portion is memorable in and of it self.
  • Fried Clam Roll, Kimchi Vinegar, House Pickles  – The Optimist Fish Camp and Oyster Bar – Atlanta, Georgia – Crispy with just the right amount of kick from the peppers made this roll delectable.
  • Himachi and Avocado Tom Collichio’s Riverpark – NYC – So fresh, beautifully prepared and accompanied with avocado and squid ink.  A great welcoming of what New York dining is known for.
  • Steak and CheeseJim’s Steak – Philadelphia – The oozy, gooey cheese wiz and steak defined this Philly classic.

Most Memorable Moments

Although food played an important part of our trip, it was not the sole focus.  Amy and I bonding with Isabela and introducing her to family and friends and taking in sights that neither of us have experienced before was top-priority.  We were again fortunate to have had many, many special moments.  Some of these are described below.

  • Giants Game in Giants Stadium – This was easily one of the best days of the trip. I finally fulfilled my lifelong dream of attending a Giants game in Giants Stadium.  And the fact the Giants killed it that day was the cherry on top!
  • Heirloom Bookstore – Charlestown, South Carolina – Spending a couple of hours browsing the shelves of this vintage cookbook store and taking my time to flip through some of the stores wares made my day in Charleston.
  • Grandparents – The look on my grandmothers face the first time she met and held Isablea – Priceless!
  • Hanging Out In The Kitchen @ The Inn At Little Washington – Having the opportunity to tour the kitchen, speak with Chef Steven Lyons and watch the preparation of some of the best food in the country is something that I will cherish for a long time.
  • The Rolling Hills Of Virginia – Such a beautiful and different landscape from South Florida.  Leaf peeping was in full effect.
  •  The Ferry Ride From Orient Point to New London – Memorable only for the fact that I now know that I hate ferry rides.
  • Stonington, Connecticut – Spending time in this  quintessential sea-side New England town let us know that we had arrived smack in the middle of the fall season.
  • Isabela and Sophia – Watching family sit on the floor, all eyes and attention on Isabela and her cousin Sophia, defined what this trip was all about — Spending time and making memories that will last a lifetime.

Although this trip was an amazing experience, we are happy to be back home in Miami, if it is only for a couple of days until we are off again. This time to Cleveland … stay tuned.

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Homeward Bound

We left Washington, Virginia on Monday morning, bellies and minds still full from the previous night’s amazing meal, and headed to Charlotte, North Carolina.  From the initial planning stages of this trip, we reserved Charlotte as our stop to sample some southern barbecue.  In particular we were curious to try the  “whole hog” mix of pork seasoned with the thin, vinegary sauce that East Carolina is known for.  However, the seven plus hour drive, and our increasing awareness that Isabela has had enough of our journey up and down the east coast, threw a wrench in this plan.  Our chance to try some BBQ was stymied.  Perhaps the theme of our next road trip will be “Barbecue in the United States.”  We could travel through Memphis, the Carolinas, St. Louis, Texas, Virginia, stopping at various BBQ pits, restaurants, and festivals to sample each establishment’s wares … but I digress.  After a restful night in Charlotte and an Ali-like return to the ring by Obama, we awoke energized, hungry and excited to move on to our next, and what would be our last, food related stop on our journey — Hot Atlanta.

We rolled into the ATL on Tuesday afternoon.  That night we had reservations at Top Chef All-Star winner Richard Blaise’s newest eatery The Spence.  I decided even before we arrived that I would love everything about this place.  The design, concept, and menu intrigued me.  The Spence is located in the “Midtown” section of Atlanta near Georgia Tech.  The modern and funky interior has a bit of a NYC feel with an open kitchen, high ceilings, communal tables, modern lighting and floor to ceiling curtains.  I fell in love with the open-air wood topped bar.  A refreshing departure from the usual stainless steel eye soar you see in most restaurants. The reclaimed wood element is carried through to the kitchen line.  Another far cry from the “Continental” or “Beverage Air” commercial equipment counter tops that grace most restaurant kitchens.  As I watched the “symphony” of chefs work their stations, retrieve their mis en place and plate their food, it was obvious that this open kitchen was put together to achieve a certain look and feel rather than for practicality.

The vibe of the restaurant was like a bustling NYC restaurant with great energy and a hip play list pumping in the background.  Cleverly noted on the menu as to what was the inspirations that day, the small plates and reasonable price point allowed us to sample much of what The Spence has to offer.  We feasted on:

Bone Marrow, Tuna Tartare and Fried Quail Eggs

Soup of Kabocha Squash

Shredded Kale Caesar Salad

Pork Trotter Empanadas with Kimchee

Veal Sweatbread Schnitzel with Lemon and Onions

Braised Beef Tacos, Avocado and Guajillo

Lobster Knuckle Sandwich and Chicharron

Pecan Treacle Tart, Milk Jam Ice Cream

Mint Sponge Cake, Sweet Tea Ice Cream and Lemon

The Spence is a little outside the box and a definite must if you happen to find yourself in Atlanta.

After traveling like fugitives for the past two and a half weeks, the next day our initial thought was to get on the road and put this trip to bed.  However, there was one more place in Atlanta that I wanted to check out — The Optimist Fish Camp and Oyster Bar.  Who could forego a place with the name The Optimist?  The experience was true to its name – – very favorable indeed.  The Optimist is located in an old ham factory. Yes, a ham factory.  Not sure what goes on in a ham factory but what goes on in The Optimist is nothing short of brilliant.

Again we sampled much of what was on the menu:

CALGARY COCKTAIL:
Boyd & Blair potato vodka, clam juice, tomato, spices, “oystershire” sauce, up with celery salt

Smoked White Fish Chowder

Peel and Eat GA Shrimp, Come Back Sauce and Lemon

Crispy Long Beans, Sea Salt,  Buttermilk-Dill Mignonette

Fried Clam Roll, Kimchi Vinegar, House Pickles  (as my wife pointed out was reminiscent of Rhode Island-style fried calamari with vinegar peppers)

Fish and Chips, Ale Battered Haddock, Malt Vinegar Aioli

Corn Milk Hushpuppies, “beignet style,” Honey-Butter

Everything was subpurb!  This place was the perfect match between food and design.  And who would of thunk that there is an amazing seafood restaurant in land-locked Atlanta.

Until next time ATL…

To the City of Brotherly Love

Its cold, very cold.  The last few days in Rhode Island have been quite chilly by this Floridians standards.  In the low fifties and rainy for most of the time with a couple of days of brisk sunshine was about all I could take from a weather standpoint.  Although the weather sucked, it was sad to leave.  We packed so much in to this short stay my head is still spinning.  Introducing Isabela to family and friends, playing with Isabela’s cousin and future partner-in-crime, Sophia, visiting pumpkin patches and farm stands, family dinners, walks in the park, and something called the Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo, were all great fun and concluded the Northern leg of the trip.  On Saturday morning, we packed the car and began the trip back down south to some warmer weather.

Initially, we thought we could make it from Rhode Island to Washington, Virginia in one day but after looking at a map we decided that this nine hour drive was not such a good idea, especially if it was to conclude with a two and a half hour dinner at the Inn at Little Washington.  A quick search on Apple Maps revealed that Philadelphia was roughly half way to Virginia.  Some juggling of reservations, tweeting with chef and owner Kevin Sbraga and a few spirited phone calls with Hotels.com later and we were booked.  Off to Philly we went with a reservation at Sbraga one of Esquire Magazines top 20 Best New Restaurants in 2012.

Philadelphia

As we all know, Philly is known for cheesesteaks *(As a NY Giants fan I will not comment on the EAGLES).  This oozy, cheesy, steak and cheese creation was on my mind as we left Rhode Island.  I began to think of the last time I was in Philly and what local place had the best cheesesteak.  Were we going to stop at Jim’s Steaks on South Street or Campo’s Deli on Market.  I had a few hours drive to decide.  I was also itching to try a more refined restaurant in Philly — Sbraga. Opened exactly on year ago (congratulations on your one year anniversary) Spraga is the namesake of Kevin Sbraga the winner of Top Chef Season 7.  I could not wait to sample this Modern American Restaurant.

Hotel Monaco

After checking in to the Hotel Monaco, we made our way to the restaurant for our 6:15 reservation.  Yes, we eat early these days to ensure that the little one doesn’t throw a fit while papa is devouring his goose liver. The table was ready upon our arrival and the staff accommodated our stroller.  A quick glance at the cocktail menu and I ordered the Knob Creek Rye, Doulin Rouge, Maple- Bacon.  This cocktail sounded, tasted and finished as expected — smoky, sweet and the perfect note to begin our dinner.   Mama had her nerve calming, traditional stroller pushing vodka and soda as we began our meal.

Octopus Deliciousness

First Course:

Venison- foie gras terrine with sweet and sour eggplant
Shrimp bisque, butternut, tapioca, popcorn

Second Course:
Pumpkin tortellini, escargot, tom ka gai
Octopus, pri pri, green beans, tapanade

Third Course:
Meatloaf, carrots hazelnut, crust mushrooms
Lamb, brussels sprouts, peanuts, corn porridge

After the third course, Isabela showed us who was boss and we made a quick exit taking our dessert to go.  Our server suggested which desserts would travel well and boxed them up for our departure.  Back to the hotel for the second half of the Gator game, Yankee Game and South Carolina and LSU SEC barnburner.  We put Isabela in her bassinet and finished our dessert.

We are now off to Virginia to cross one more thing off my bucket list — dinner at the Inn at Little Washington. But not before a quick stop at  Jim’s Philly Cheesesteak on the way out of town. Shhhhh, As I’m writing this neither Amy or Isabela are aware of this impromptu stop…