Tuesday, August 28, 2007


Miracle Mile in Coral Gables is not known for budget dining, yet tucked between the bridal boutiques, jewelry stores, and fine salons even a hungry student can find a tasty meal for a few beans. Bonsai, formerly Thai Orchid, now serves both Japanese and Thai dishes. A crisp green salad topped with one of the better ginger dressings I've tasted comes in at $2. Appetizers run from $4-$10 dollars and main courses are in the teens. There are a few extravagant dishes (lobster roll for $35), but most come under $20. The tuna tatatki, thinly sliced pairs nicely with the ponzu sauce and the carrot and cabbage garnish add a crunch. Each roll arrived beautifully plated and sliced in over ten pieces. The award for the best roll of the night goes to the salmon tempura roll; Sushi chefs roll fresh salmon, cream cheese, and cucumbers in nori and rice then dip the entire roll into a light tempura batter and deep fry the entire thing before slicing and plating. Bonsai offers low prices because it doubles as a lounge upstairs. The modern Asian decor creates a casual, yet refined atmosphere that accents and enhances the cuisine.

Extras: Excellent service

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Miami Spice: Michael's Genuine Food and Drink

Ah, Miami Spice, my favorite time of year in Miami. The restaurants open their doors and lower their prices, making the most delicious, most elegant, and most unaffordable restaurants available for even a financially strapped graduate student like myself. This Sunday's back- to- school treat came from Chef Michael Schwartz at Michael's Genuine Food and Drink.

It was a sleepy Sunday night in the Design District. We met up with Lauren and Agu, our fellow foodies and sat down to enjoy a dynamic meal with many different flavors. To start we had the panzanella salad with heirloom tomatos and the hominy with chile and lime. The hominy makes a better bar snack than an appetizer, but was perfect for sharing. Pieces of corn are soaked in water, then spiced with chile and fried up in a pan and served with a wedge of lime. Deliciously crispy, I had everyone eating off of my plate.

The main course did not disappoint and everyone tried something different. The roasted pork shoulder won the prize for best tasting protein. Vince didn't even need a knife to slice through it. The half poulet rouge, lightly breaded and pan fried came a close second and tied with the locally caught black grouper. The wilted escarole that came with the poulet rouge was my favorite side dish, so buttery and salty I felt like I wasn't even eating a vegetable. The eggplant and chick pea curry accompanying the grouper provided a good balance to the mild flavor of the grouper. The cheesy grits filled out the pork plate.

Now on to dessert! Again I was the odd ball, ordering the lemon polenta cake instead of the decadent chocolate espresso combination. This road less traveled turned out to be a delight. The crumbly corn meal made for a dense flavorful cake that soaked up the fruity flavors of the macerated tomatoes and plums around it. A bit of creme fraiche gave the dish just enough creaminess to offset the drier polenta. The chocolate did not disappoint either. With just a bit of sea salt on a dollop of truffle filling, tasted like the very best chocolate dipped pretzel with out the pretzel dough getting in the way and the espresso ice cream provided lightness to the decadent chocolate.

Excellent service accentuated the casual and cozy ambiance. The sleek decor is homey and modern and the bar looks like the kind of place you can sidle up for a drink or three with a close friend.

Special Note: Miami Spice tastes best with friends, who let you taste from their plates.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Wedding Extravaganza

Last night, I went to a wedding reception (Congratulations Claudia and Brett!) at the Mandarin Oriental. The hotel itself is a modern marvel, but the real star of the show, besides the bride of course, was the cuisine. A generous cocktail hour tantalized guests with tiny plates to delight the palate but not over fill the stomach. Chefs elegantly plated-- or spooned, I should -- a thin slice of perfectly seasoned rare lamb on a small dollop of mashed potatoes topped with daikon radish sprouts on a Chinese soup spoon. The meat melted in your mouth and the mashed potatoes were a surprising and pleasant finish. Waiters also passes around trays of chicken satay with a curry sauce and thick tortilla chips with a slice of lobster and tomato. I missed a cream cheese filled date, but that couldn't be more elegant-looking.

Excellent wine accompanied our dinner in the ballroom and the waiters made sure the glasses were never less than half full. Served in a martini glass, a lobster cocktail/ceviche with heirloom tomatoes and avocado provided a seasonal touch to the dinner. An heirloom tomato salad with asparagus and fancy sprouts and balsamic vinaigrette followed, and finally the main course: a perfectly seasoned breast and leg of chicken, garlic scented potatoes, steamed carrots and crispy fries to garnish. The sauce flavoring the chicken hearkens back to the Mandarin's oriental roots and was so tasty, a guest at our table asked for more on the side.

The only low note in the dinner came from the cake. A trio of mango, raspberry, and kiwi sauces couldn't save the bland and floury texture, but the Romanico chocolate favors more than made up for it with their decadence.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Lan Pan-Asian Cafe

Put this unpretentious little bistro in the category of restaurants that you always see, but never seem to actually visit. Yesterday, I broke the pattern of arriving too late at this Asian fusion eatery located on the first floor of the Dadeland Center. Their lunch special is worth braving the crowds hurrying to Best Buy, Target, and Bed Bath and Beyond, even during college move in season. For 7.95-10.95, lunch customers enjoy miso soup, mesclun salad with a very nice lemony vinaigrette, wakame sunomo salad, AND a deliciously generous 8 piece California roll. The word and in the last sentence is in caps because this is not one of those either/or lunch specials; it is a fill-you-up-before-you-get-your-entree lunch special. After all this food, you couldn't be blamed for expecting an anemic portion of basil-chicken or teriyaki salmon, but you would be wrong. After the soup and salads and California roll were cleared, the waitress brought in a plate heaped with savory basil chicken. While not the best basil chicken I have ever eaten, it was flavorful and satisfying. Stay away from the chicken dumplings. They were doughy and under seasoned. I didn't try other sushi rolls, but if the California rolls are any indication they are probably quite good.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Sweet and Savory Memories

I'm finally home from New York and if I tried to write a blog about every place I ate and everything I loved, I'd have to live on ramen noodles for the next six months. Since that would be a shame (It is Miami Spice time after all), I'm just going to give a quick run down of a few dishes that shine out from the bunch:

Green papaya salad and crispy tofu at Kin Khao

Pan-seared artichoke hearts and Parmesan cheese at Westville

Fancy whiskey drinks at the Algonquin

Lemony-peppery arugula salad at Bread

Bacon-wrapped scallops and sweet potato puree at Les Enfants Terribles

Health Sandwich at Cafe Continental

Frozen Hot Chocolate and Texas Chili at Serendipity 3

Giant pastrami reuben at Katz's Delicatessen

Warm Passion Fruit Souffle at the French Culinary Institute

Mango on a stick from a vendor off of Union Square

Vegan Lemon poppy seed cupcake at Babycakes Bakery (amazing!)

Linguine with clams and pesto at Caffe Falai

MMMMmmmmmMMMMMmmmmm... I love New York!

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Mmmmm... Mooncake Foods

Serendipity had a little help from New York Magazine's dining guide in finding this hidden gem of a restaurant. Hungry for Asian food and reasonable prices, my significant other and I decided not to leave our date-night dinner to the questionable judgement of a hungry belly and tired feet, so we checked out NY mag's extensive (and incredibly helpful) restaurant guide for a destination. After a few minutes of searching, I came across the unanimously recommended Mooncake Foods, an diner-style Asian fusion restaurant with reasonable prices ($4.25-$8.25).

After a twenty minute walk from the Union Square area, we were seated at the cozy table with a good view of the open kitchen, where the cooks expertly managed saute pans and seasonings. We ordered wine and sipped, as we perused the menu and planned our attack: crayfish and mushroom wonton soup and edamame to start, braised beef short ribs with white rice for Vince and a spicy Vietnamese steak salad for me with a side of sesame cucumbers to share. Every dish was perfectly cooked and bursting with flavor. The steak salad is a perfect blend of savory meat and crispy lettuce with pieces of raw jalapeno for spice. The short ribs were just sweet enough for Asian barbecue and came with plenty of sauce to spoon over the perfectly cooked white rice. The desserts looked delicious, but we were too stuffed with goodness to even think about it. The reviews did not exaggerate, each dish satisfied and burst with flavor.

Extra's: The wait staff is incredibly friendly and knowledgeable about the food, and the casual relaxed atmosphere gets a boost from the unexpected music selection of Springsteen, U2, the Rolling Stones, R.E.M., and other classic rock favorites.

Hampton Chutney Co.: Sidetrack Sensation

My adventures in New York continue as I had back to MCR for another PB and B before heading out for a night on the town with Catherine and Jorge, or so I thought. As I walked down Prince Street in SoHo, a funky-lettered sign announcing "Hampton Chutney Co." temporarily distracted me. Chutney from the Hamptons? While I pondered this conundrum a patron nearly walked into me as he stepped out the glass door. Noting my indecision, he smiled the smile of a man with a happy stomach and said, "It's really good." With that reccomendation, I made my decision, Hampton Chutney for dinner.

While offering a substantial menu of sandwiches, fresh juices, teas and desserts, Hampton Chutney specializes in South Indian fusion cuisine, particularly dosas and uttapams, which are pancakes made of rice and lentil flour and stuffed with a variety of vegan and omnivorous fillings. The helpful waitress explained the difference between a dosa and an uttapam: a dosa is a thin pancake rolled around a meat or veggie filling and an uttapam is a thicker pancake with the filling on top.

I ordered a chicken curry dosa with arugula and caramelized onions with a side of cilantro chutney, then sat down at one of the bar height copper tables to wait. My dosa arrived on a paper lined cafeteria tray, crispy and delicious, and about 12-14 inches long. The crunchy pancake paired perfectly with poached chicken curry and the cilantro chutney added just the right amount of heat. This may have been my first dosa, but it certainly won't be my last.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Trendy Mexican? Yes, please!

When I hear the words trendy and Mexican used together to describe a restaurant, I usually run in the other direction. Trendy usually means fancy and overpriced, and Mexican food, which can be served elegantly, shouldn't be fooled with for the sake of hipness. La Esquina/ The Corner (106 Kenmare, NY, NY 10012) puts trendy and Mexican together in a surprisingly affordable way--if you know what to order.

For lunch, stay away from the ceviche acapulco (too much avocado and not enough fish, though well seasoned) and satisfy your hunger and palate with a torta, described on the menu as a Mexican street sandwich. To make the torta, cooks at La Esquina butterfly a generous piece of a crunchy french baguette and spread cilantro-lime mayo on both sides before packing the bread full of savory chicken rostizado, avocado and queso fresco, or roasted pork. Lettuce and tomato round out the flavors by adding a crisp coolness to the warm meats or creamy avocado. These hearty sandwiches are accompanied by a mesclun salad with balsamic vinaigrette and a pile of salty homemade potato chips. At under $10.00 each , La Esquina will leave you wanting more trendy Mexican food and the plata to do it.

The restaurant has two faces: the diner-lunch cart look of the ground level and the Gothic-underground lounge of the dining room/ bar in the basement. Make sure you have a reservation as you step through the bouncer-guarded-employees-only door to step through the pristine kitchen into the hopping bar below.

Important Info: Phone Number: 646-613-7100

Hours: Taqueria: 24 hours Cafe: 12pm-12am Brasserie: 6pm-2am