Mignonette

mignonett4Mignonette, named after the famous oyster sauce, this raw bar and seafood eatery is full of creative surprises. A genuinely good place to eat fresh fish in Miami.

A cool combination of a diner and a European café, this charming, yet understated, restaurant caught my eye as I drove down quiet and mostly deserted 2nd avenue. I loved the sound of it – Mignonette, and I’m always in the mood for seafood so I stopped in to give it a try.

As I took a look at the menu, I wondered why would they offer croissants as an appetizer? Well, because they’re homemade and served warm with a chunky lobster butter and a scrumptious serving of mango jam for $ 8. These are real buttery and flaky croissants that melt in your mouth with nothing on them, imagine adding bits of lobster? Delicious! I could’ve had ten of them but I wanted to save room for some other interesting items on the menu. There was a long list of fish choices like red fish, grouper, snapper as well as shrimp, scallops, oysters and clams. They’re sandwich selection includes the traditional Louisiana Po Boy made with chicken, conch or shrimp, as well as other old time favorites like the lobster roll. A nice assortment of salads and veggies make for great sides .mignonoett5

Chowing down the croissant got me in the mood for more lobster, and nothing could satisfy my craving as much as their soup of the day – lobster bisque served with a garnish of Spain’s famous Pata Negra ham which added a light touch of saltiness to this silky bowl of seafood goodness.

I then ordered some fantastic crispy skin snapper served with sweet potato fries seasoned with ancho chile for $23, a rather large fillet crispy on the outside and tender and flaky on the inside. I also tried the fried clam Po’ Boy on a Portuguese roll that came with a nice portion of sautéed rainbow chard, a healthy and delicious side. The clams were juicy and tender, just like the ones I use to have back in Rhode Island. So glad to find another great place for seafood in Miami! You’d think we’d have plenty, but not really.

Mignonettemignonette6

210 NE 18th Street

Miami, FL

305 374-4635

Miami, FL 33132

http://www.mignonettemiami.com

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Proof – Midtown-Miami

proofsalad

A tiny little spot tucked away behind the corner of 34th street and North Miami avenue would be hard to find if not for the colorful creature painted on the wall.  A tiny space, maybe, but huge as far as quality and service! What else matters?

This place was recommended by a friend who has a good eye for restaurants. So, following her advice, one sunday afternoon I dragged my husband, daughter and two dogs out of the house to sample Proof for a late lunch.

As soon as we walked into the lovely patio, we were greeted and so were our dogs.  As we sat down at a table, both Fiji and Sarah were served  a huge bowl of fresh water without even asking. Thoughtful to say the least.

Although the menu was small, which can sometimes be a good thing, it had some tempting items  like the shaved Brussels sprout salad with apple cider,  Gorgonzola, pecans and dried cranberries for $11. Deliciously crunchy, sweet, savory and mildly tangy with just the right amount of Gorgonzola that gives it a kick without overpowering the dish, something that often happens in the  US.  No need for that. In this case, less is more!

The grilled octopus was another winner, tender and generously served with celery root and a squid ink sauce that was perfectly seasoned for $15. proofpulpo

And although I am not a big fan of pizza, when it’s done right I cannot resist a bite. My daughter’s Margherita  for $12 was baked in a 900 degree wood burning oven. I could see on her face that she had no intention of sharing it with anyone, but I was hoping to get a taste of the edges she usually leaves on her plate. This time, this was not going to happen so I begged for a piece until she begrudgingly obliged. Both homemade sauce and mozzarella were divine, and the dough was uniquely soft and airy. It’s no wonder she ate it all. proofpizza

I can’t wait to come back to try their oxtail pizza, their chestnut agnolotti or their snickerdoodle cookie dough macaron sandwich made with toasted cinnamon ice-cream.  How more creative can you get? This place is certainly Proof that good food and great service are still  standing in Miami.

Proof  Pizza & Pasta

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3328 North Miami Avenue 

Miami, FL 33127

Tel (786) 536 9562

http://www.proofpizza.com

 

 

Porfirio’s – Miami Beach

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Seabass al Pastor

I love Mexican food and  was very excited to hear about a very popular restaurant in Mexico city that had just opened  in South Beach. So, I gathered a group of friends and dashed over to explore what all the fuss was about!

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Shrimp Guajillo

Outside, a lovely lit sign that reads Porfirio’s Mexican Non Cliché caught me by surprise. Hmmm…what are they trying to say? That they don’t serve tacos or tamales?  No Tex-Mex here?

Intrigued, I walked into this modern eatery not knowing quite what to find.  It looked a lot more like a hip Asian restaurant than your typical colorful  south of the border joint.  Wide spaces surrounded by beaufiful wood paneled walls keeping up with the trendy feel so common in South Beach.

Our server, a young friendly Basque named Enrique, poured the perfect Gin Tonic that was mixed right in front of me, something unusual in the US.  No, I did not have any tequila but I did try the Pierde Almas Mezcal, made from the Maguey plant, that has a slightly smokey  and sweeter taste.

Yet, as  I looked through the menu, I could barely recognize any of the dishes as Mexican: Burger?  Black Alaskan cod in squid ink? Where are the tortas, the sopes, the enchiladas shown on the original menu??

Fortunately, I found some pretty good guacamole with chips as well as some deliciously grilled octopus tacos  and  a very Mexican appetizer called  esquites made with corn, cheese, lemon, Piquin chile and a little too much mayo for my  taste

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Alaskan cod
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Baked bananas

The best dish of all was  the tender and moist sea bass  al Pastor( marinated with anatto and chargrilled).  As far as the cod in squid ink for $39, very dry! And the ink sauce was so salty it was almost impossible to eat as opposed to the huge shrimp Guajillo  which was rather bland.

Fortunately,  desert was actually very nice. The baked  bananas served with vanilla ice cream were quite the treat in a foster kind of way.  The strawberries with meringue were light and tasty also. Whether non cliché or not, all in all, Porfirio’s was somewhat of a disappointment.  Instead of trying to be like most of the other stuffy and overpriced Miami Beach restaurants, perhaps it should offer more of the authentic fare  it serves back home. After all, everyone knows that   Mexican  cuisine is one of the best in the world! 

Porfirio’s

850 Commerce Street

Miami Beach, FL 33139

786 216 7675

http://www.porfirios.com.mx

Southern Succulence – The Federal, Miami

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Buffalo Style Pig Wing

My first impression when I came for brunch was great. Everything about it: food, service and ambience. But when I came back for dinner, I was even more impressed. What makes a great restaurant? Ask the guys at the Federal!

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Jumbo Buttermilk Biscuit
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Heirloom Florida Tomato Salad

Nothing more inviting than good lighting and I don’t mean bright lighting.  It’s an essential element in the ambience of a restaurant and while you don’t want to be squinting to read the menu by a tiny candle light, you don’t want to feel like your dining in a dental office either. Lovely outdoor string lights and indoor soft table ones invite you to explore one of the most exciting menus in Miami.

This time, I had some friends visiting from Spain whom I did not want to disappoint.  I didn’t want them to badmouth American cuisine as Europeans usually do ” oh you guys eat mostly burgers and fries! Blah, blah, blah….I had to prove them wrong  which is exactly why I chose Southern.

We started with the Federal classics: a Jumbo Buttermilk Biscuit  glazed with apple honey  and sea salt for $6.00, the amazing Jar O’duck made with duck confit rillette( a variation of pâté), charred marshmallow fluff and candied sweet potato for $12.00. This one was a real treat served with  delicious homemade bread. The Buffalo Style Pig Wing for $7.00 was interesting: made of pork instead of chicken in a tangy sauce accompanied by a creamy blue cheese dressing…a little spicy for some but delicious nonetheless. That was just the beginning!

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Jar O’duc
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Country Corn Cake

We followed with the  Surf and Turf Jambalaya  for $22.00. According to the Paella connoisseurs at the table, it was outstanding! Chock full of gulf seafood, smoked chicken and Andouille sausage, this dish was an impressive southern treat for this group of Valencianos. For a light touch, we added the Heirloom Florida Tomato Salad for $12.00. A lovely bowl of garden goodness: avocado, shallots, hearts of palm, puff amaranth and Harpke family farm sprouts sprinkled with a good dose of queso fresco. Along came some Country Corn Cakes dotted with plenty of salmon caviar, herb crème fraiche and lemon zest for $14.00.

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Pannacotta Shortcake

To top off this southern feast, we had to have desert.  The Bourbon Bread Pudding made with Krispy cream doughnuts were pretty good. In spite of its rich ingredients,  it turned out to be quite light and the Panacotta Shortcake was a cloud of  fluffy deliciousness topped with fresh strawberries  and a good sprinkle of crunchy biscuit crumbs.

No complaints here, not one! I was sure my mission to impress my friends was successful as I heard my  friend Pilar say : “They’ve got to  open one of these in Madrid!”

The Federal

5132 Biscayne Blvd.

Miami, FL 33137 -Tel. 305 758 9559

http://www.thefederalmiami.com

 

Red Chile Linguine with Mussels and Saffron Crema Il Piatto – Santa Fe, New Mexico

SFpiatto1Ok, I know you’re probably wondering what on earth is she doing blogging about an Italian restaurant in a  town like Santa Fe. Well, you would be as surprised as I was when I found some interesting dishes at this charming eatery where  Italian and New SFpiatto5Mexican cuisine are married and rather happily!

This is not just any restaurant, it’s a farm to table one. Food comes from  organic farms to ensure the freshest and most wholesome experience, a  dining luxury at a very reasonable price…a true gem in the Santa Fe dining scene.

The atmosphere was perfect, low lighting and tables busy with happy patrons who filled the quaint dining room with lively chatter. Lovely waitress Zina was eager to recommend some very tempting choices but I must say that the star on the menu was the homemade red chile linguine with Prince Edward Island mussels in a light yet velvety saffron cream sauce for $13.79….unbelievable!  Spicy and creamy,  plump meaty musles and perfectly cooked spicy pasta…what else do you want? Of course, a nice bottle of Domaine Brunel Côte du Rhône 2011 for $35!

Also, on this creative menu was the grilled duck breast with mushrooms, marsala and creamy polenta for $27.79… pricey? Yes, maybe! But well worth it, it is duck after all.  Also delicious was the spicy homemade Keyser pork meatballs and spaghetti for $12.79. For desert, the Anjou pear over phyllo dough drizzled with caramel and fresh whipped cream was the perfect way to end our New Mexican-Italian meal! New Mexican Italian, what a concept!

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*You have the option of ordering appetizer or entree portions on some of the menu items.

 

SFpiatto6Il Piatto

95 W Marcy Street
Santa Fé, New Mexico
(505) 984 1091
http://www.ilpiattosantafe.com

Atchafalaya – New Orleans, Louisiana

 

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I’ve always been a  big fan of Anthony Bourdain, I just love the guy! So, of course, before I got to New Orleans, I did some research on some of his local favorites and found Atchafalaya.The name, long river in choctaw, sounded interesting and his comments were quite favorable. So, I left the French Quarter behind and took a ten minute cab drive to the charming Garden district neighborhood.atchafalayafish

In 2005, right after hurricane Katrina, owners Tony Tocco and Rachel Jaffe Tocco turned this historic locale into a chic neighborhood eatery refurbishing it inside with reclaimed materials left from the storm. It seemed like the perfect place to go for an authentic New Orleans meal, away from tourists and crowds.

On the corner of   beautiful tree-lined Louisiana avenue and Laurel street, stands this lovely wooden structure that, from the outside, looked more like a small cafe. Little did we know that inside, a charming and intimate space of dim lights and comfortable seating would welcome us into what would be one of the best dining experiences we ever had.

We were happy to see a menu full of great seafood choices like the amazing Maine diver seared scallops served with sweet corn, mushrooms and roasted cherry tomatoes with a drizzle of sherry caramel for $16.  For the main course, I ordered some of the local fish  know as Drum: two fillets of a tender and flaky white fish sautéed with smoked turnips, Brussels sprouts, sweet potatoes, totsoi (Asian spinach), grapes and an orange basil gastrique (caramelized vinegar sauce) for $30.

The pecan smoked New York strip steak was quite interesting: perfectly grilled Louisiana grass fed beef, french fry “poutine” ( gravy) and a delectable foie gras-red wine sauce served with sautéed baby spinach  for $36. Dessert was a nice surprise: a trio  of homemade sorbets of strawberry, peach and  the delicious satsuma, a  mild  citric fruit native to the area that offered the perfect balance of sweet and sour for $8.

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atchafalayasorbet

Don’t ever be intimidated by a long name like Atchafalaya, you’ll be pleasantly surprised with what hides behind it! Definitely the best food I had in New Orleans.

 

 

 

atchafalaya1Atchafalaya

92 Louisiana Avenue

New Orleans, LA 70115

505 891 9626

http://www.atchafalayarestaurant.com

Nola Restaurant – New Orleans, Louisiana

nola6I couldn’t leave New Orleans without trying one of celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse’s popular restaurants so I  gave Nola a try for lunch. Located in the heart of the French district, this rustic eatery which is named as the acronym for the big easy,  offered an interesting menu of mostly creole  cuisine.  Brick walls, high ceilings and an ample open kitchen give it a lofty appeal straying  from some of  the rococo joints  in the area.

To start, I ordered the bacon cauliflower soup for $8 that although lovely in texture and flavor, could’ve used less salt. Along came some  delicious homemade brioche and some  jalapeño corn bread from Nola’s in-house bakery, giving the place a fine Portuguese touch of Lagasse’s  roots!  nola1

After walking around for days and seeing po’boys advertised in every corner, I made it a mission to try Lagasse’s. A French bread sandwich made with whatever is in offer. Here it was the braised pork cheek po’boy with Provolone cheese and a side of house cut  fries for $15. All served along  some creole mustard aioli and giardiniera ( pickled peppers). Although very tasty, I must say that the cheese was unnecessary. The cheeks are flavorful and  fatty enough, no need to add anything!

nola4One of my  creole favorites has always been the shrimp and grits so I had to give Emeril’s a try; sautéed gulf shrimp, grilled green onions, smoked cheddar grits, applewood  smoked bacon, cremini mushrooms in a red chili abita butter sauce for $19. Perfectly cooked shrimp over tender and  smooth ground corn in an absolutely delicious sauce that gave it a nice little  kick, heavenly! All in all, it was a really enjoyable experience to try a menu created by Emeril  Lagasse, a Portuguese -French-Canadian who’s become the quintessential New Orleanian!

 

Nola Restaurantnola5

534 Saint Louis Street

New Orleans, LA 70130

504 522 6652

http://www.emerilsrestaurants.com

 

* You can find the recipe for the shrimp and grits at www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/emeril-lagasse/nolas-shrimp-and-smoked-cheddar-grits-recipe

Cindi’s New York Style Delicatessen – Dallas, Texas

cindieggsWhat do you get when you mix a little bit of New York with a little bit of Texas? You get Cindi’s New York Style Delicatessen! A sensational diner owned by renowned Vietnamese restauranteur Anh Vo who’s been serving hungry Dallasites for well over twenty years.cindibagel

We were off to a good start  when the lovely hostess asked us to wait for twenty minutes but really meant ten. As we were seated in a comfy booth, a friendly waitress handed us a huge menu that required a couple of minutes to go through. There’s no denying the Mexican influence in the local cuisine wherever you go in Texas and Dallas is no different. Even though there is some Yankee influence here with the grand assortment of bagels , huge pastrami sandwiches and the fine lox, the breakfast menu offers a nice selection of Tex-Mex.cindisteak

I chose the scrambled eggs with chorizo for $ 9.99. Three large eggs scrambled with the insides of what Mexicans call chorizo, a similar blend to its Spanish counterpart  but with a little more kick. As a side came a scrumptious, crunchy on the outside and moist in the inside, order of hashbrowns that I couldn’t finish, three warm corn tortillas, and some mild salsa. I also ordered a side of sour cream to tame the devilish spice in the sausage. It was just a little too early for so much heat!

My sidekick had the perfectly grilled ribeye steak and fried eggs, a true protein packed Texan breakfast that seemed to satisfy. I justcindigerman wished I had come here with more appetite so I could try many other tempting items on the menu like one of their great sandwiches or lovely looking German chocolate cake. Oh and that lemon meringue pie! Next time I return to Dallas, I will starve myself for three or four days before I come back to Cindi’s to devour everything in sight.

Cindi’s New York Style Delicatessen

11111 North Central Expressway suite G

Dallas, TX 75243 214 739 0918

http://www.cindisnydeli.com

Dim Sum at Hakkasan, Miami Beach

hakvegThe last time I dined at Hakkasan was in 2009, the year it first opened at the ritzy Fountainebleu Hotel in Miami Beach. I remember the wonderful ambience and the courteous service, and yes the food was a delicious cornucopia of Cantonese cuisine.

This time, Dim Sum brought me in on a cool sunday afternoon. I couldn’t resist a tempting price fix menu of $28 that included a sample of three steamed dumplings, three pan fried dumplings, one entrée, a choice of  vegetables and a choice of *char sui cheung fun (bbq pork rice noodle roll), wild mushroom *cheung fung (rice noodle roll), spring onion egg fried rice, steamed jasmine rice or wonton noodle soup.

Pork *shui mai (dumpling), a snap pea and shrimp dumpling and a Chinese chive prawn dumpling were the steamed offerings.While the chive and prawn dumpling was tender and flavorful, the pork one was chewy and tasteless.  As a matter of fact, none of the meat dumplings were worth biting into, neither steamed nor pan fried, not even the deep fried  chicken puff.hakdumplings

For the main course you could choose from the BBQ platter, the smoked ribs and char sui (bbq pork) and the stir fried chicken.  We all had to choose the same entrée so we picked the stir fry which was absolutely delicious; tender morsels of breast meat with mushrooms, crispy snap peas,  and crunchy bits of Chinese yam.

hakchickenThe only problem with this dish was its size. It was  too small, more like an appetizer for three people. When asked if it was the right portion, the waitress replied ” that’s what the chef consider’s the right amount to be”. Ok, jut don’t call it an entrée!

The scallion fried rice was light and fluffy. The vegetable side was a lovely medley of perfectly cooked asparagus and thin strips of fried tofu in a sweet Szechuan sauce, the best dish on this Dim Sum menu. Aside from the steep prices and the somewhat snooty staff, Hakassan’s ambience and decor are worth peeking into. Just make sure you order from the regular menu and hope the entrées will really be what they claim to be!

 

hakbarHakkasan

4441 Collins Avenue

Miami Beach, FL 33149

(786)276 1388

http://www.hakkasan.com

 

Chestnut stuffing

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1 lb of chopped roasted chestnuts

2tbsp of butter

3 slices of bacon

2 cups chopped celery

2 chopped leeks

2 chopped apples

1/4 chopped parsley

4 cups of day old crusty Italian bread cut in 1/2 inch pieces

1 teaspoon of fresh thyme or 1/2 of dry thyme

salt and pepper to taste

1 1/2 cups of cream

Place the bread in a 350° oven to dry for 15 minutes. Cook bacon until crispy and set aside. Add two tablespoons of butter to remaining fat to cook leeks with  the celery until soft, about 10 minutes. Add apples, chestnuts, parsley and thyme to  cook for an extra 5 minutes.  Toss in bread,  chopped bacon and cream. Add salt and pepper and mix well to make sure bread soaks in the cream.  Place on a shallow baking dish and bake for 30 minutes at 350°.