Azul – Mandarin Oriental – Miami, Florida

vichisoisseAfter an extensive renovation in 2013, Azul has re-emerged as a sophisticated and undeniably interesting restaurant that serves an innovative fusion of French and Asian cuisine. With Executive chef William R. Crandall at the helm, eating at Azul has become a truly exciting experience, leaving any of the old hype about pretentious hotel restaurants behind.

When I first visited Azul back in 2004, the only memory I took with me was that of a great cocktail and an astronomical bill. I honestly cannot remember what I ate, and I can assure you, I only had one drink. The meal just wasn’t anything to write home about.

This time the experience was rather different. Not just because I opted for the Miami Spice menu for $39, offered every year in August and September to promote local restaurants, but because what I ate was truly delicious and different. And I honestly wouldn’t mind paying more!

I often stay away from special menus because I don’t like to be told what to eat….got enough of that while growing up. But, I was pleasantly surprised by the great options on this particular one with beginners such as vichyssoise, steak tartare and tomato salad. A great variety of entrees like salmon, risotto or pork belly were very tempting and so were desserts like the passion fruit crème brûlée, the Meyer lemon sable and the chocolate pecan financier.

On this balmy September night, the vichyssoise was in order. This one, was made with beetroot dotted with bits of lobster meat, a creative touch that added a salty contrast to the sweet creamy chilled soup garnished with thin tangy green apple sticks.azulrisotto

For the main course, I opted for the celeriac and pink shrimp risotto made with tiny bits of diced celeriac that gave it a nice bite. Velvety and light, a perfect alternative to the sometimes heavy arborio rice! azuldessert

This time, I must say that dessert was welcome. I don’t usually order any but who could turn down a passion fruit creme brûlée garnished with white chocolate sorbet and fresh chunks of pineapple? An ever so light custard combined with just the right amount of creamy sorbet to take you to heaven for a moment. Maybe, that’s why it’s called Azul – blue – like the sky, because you could say that the food has been elevated to new heights. What can I say? I really enjoyed this meal and can’t wait to go back!

azulrestaurantAzul

Mandarin Oriental Hotel

500 Brickell Key Drive 33131

Tel: (305) 913-8358

 

Advertisements

Tasquinha do Oliveira – Évora, Portugal

coentrosX

The Alentejo region is known for its beautiful scenery but more importantly for its wonderful food.  It’s no coincidence that many of its famous dishes have become mainstream across the country.  Robust flavors of land and sea combined in marvelous choices like the carne de porco a alentejana, an aromatic  braised pork dish served  with fresh clams,  and hearty soups like the   açorda alentejana made with bread, garlic and cilantro to name a few.

So when in Alentejo, one must eat like the Alentejans and that’s exactly what I did.  I searched for one of  the most authentic  restaurants I could find  and was lucky enough to get a table at  the Tasquinha do Oliveira, a highly regarded landmark in the town of Evora.

This tiny space on rua Candido Reis, not far from the castle walls, is run by husband and wife Manuel andwineX Carolina.  A family business holding only five  tables and an infinite number  of handcrafted ceramic plates that hang from its walls, turns this dimly lit “tasquinha” into a  quaint and cozy place to eat. Manuel, who was very friendly but also very to the point, suggested I try  the cação com molho de coentros, tender dogfish cooked in a delicious garlic and coriander sauce that compelled me to soak it all up with endless pieces of crusty Alentejan bread. Not a drop  was left!

arrozpatoxI also had to try some of the famous duck rice dish known as arroz de pato that, although  claimed to have originated elsewhere in Portugal,  is rumored to be outstanding in the Alentejo.  This one was an absolutely delicious baked version  with a crusty top garnished with slices of  Portuguese sausage known as chouriço. Crunchy on top, fluffy and meaty in the middle and incredibly flavorful all over!  To drink,  I had to try some local wine so I chose the Joaquim Madeira , a full bodied yet smooth red  with a hint of blackberries that paired nicely with my amazing Alentejan feast.

 IMG_1091Tasquinha do Oliveira

Rua Cándido dos Reis 45-A,

Évora, 7000-582

Alentejo

Phone: 266/744841