Bienvenidos a Miami

welcome-to-miami-oSo, I’m back on the road again (as usual)…
Full disclosure, my trip to Florida was not as food focused as many of my others, as there were bloody Marys to be had, champagne corks to be popped, and outfits to be ogled. I did, however, particularly enjoy two meals in the city where the heat is on.

1. BodegaInterior-Bodega-1800-x-1200-1800x1200Although this funky, casual Miami beach eatery markets itself as a “taqueria y tequila” joint, we found no evidence of the latter. Luckily, the tacos more than made up for this deceit. There were inspired flavor combinations such as the “Camaron BLT” with shrimp, bacon, lettuce, tomato, and a chipotle-cotija dressing. The chicken taco with garlicky kale and avocado salsa verde was also a winner. We didn’t try their “tortas” (Mexican-style sandwiches), but the housemade popsicles, in both tropical and classic flavors, were super tasty, especially a mango-chile one. Basket-of-Tacos-1800-x-1200-1800x1200 1220 16th St
Miami Beach, FL
(305) 704-2145
http://www.bodegasouthbeach.com/

2. 27 at the Freehand
27 is a restaurant at a hostel. But don’t start envisioning greasy haired backpackers and dingy digs–Miami’s Freehand hostel is a chic, young spot, with options for both individual and shared hipster-decorated rooms (think colorful artwork and yoga class-style blankets.) Their bar, The Broken Shaker specializes in handcrafted cocktails and some of the best wallpaper I’ve ever seen. 1297_Freehand3_72-960x630Bar patrons spill outside to the many outdoor areas, around the pool and in old school lawn furniture. 27, the Freehand’s restaurant, serves really standout food–so good that I came back twice in one weekend (no joke, Friday and then Sunday.] 27The menu is comprised of small plates — shocker — but they really deliver, from their arepa platter served with gloriously umami ropa vieja to an ever-changing selection of roasted and pickled vegetables largely grown on the property’s garden. As much as it pains me to say it, the kale salad with miso and tahini is particularly off the chain:Screen Shot 2015-03-12 at 3.07.05 PMDon’t miss the cocktails–particularly the Smoky Calabaza (Charred Calabaza with Garam Masala Spices, Fresh Citrus with Del Maguey Mezcal and egg whites with “27” emblazoned on it) and the Miso Old Fashioned with miso-honey reduction and mushroom (!) bitters.IMG_8869

2727 Indian Creek Drive, Miami Beach, Florida 33140
(305) 531-2727
http://thefreehand.com/miami/

*photos courtesy of Bodega and The Freehand, respectively.

L.A. Eats!

LA picstichMy visit to L.A. was, as expected, full of culinary delights. What follows is a list of some staples and favorites we went to. Due to my oft’ aggressive appetite, some are represented in photograph and some not.

Mother Dough—This casual joint serves tasty thin crust pizzas with a heavenly tomato sauce, go for the Margherita if nothing else. The beer selection is great and the vibe is relaxed and friendly.

Marisco’s Jalisco For a life-changing bite, eat the shrimp taco from Marisco’s Jalisco: IMG_4091 [An excerpt from a column I wrote:] This deep fried wondertaco (yes, I said it) brimmed with sweet, fresh crescents of rosy shrimp while its exterior was draped with epaulettes of ripe California avocado and anointed with two salsas: one a piquant onion-flecked salsa fresca and the second a spicy reduced chile-based concoction. With their contrasting effects, the various elements seduced and entranced the palate: succulent shrimp contrasted the salty, grainy corn tortilla; buttery avocado tempered acidic spicy salsa (making my mouth home to the most simple yet artful guacamole.) I arrived in Los Angeles with a taco craving, and Jalisco Marisco satisfied it immediately and eternally.

Loteria – The location nestled in the sprawling Grove Farmers market makes terrific carne deshabrada and chicken mole tacos. Here’s the tasty shrimp taco (not transcendental like Marisco’s, but good nonetheless):TacoFinish it off with a chocolate covered banana from nearby Bennett’s Ice Cream.

 Chun Ki Wa IMG_4092For excellent and well-priced Korean barbecue, this place is a go-to. While the traditional Galbi was very tasty, the satandouts for me were the Bulgogi on the barbecue, thin slivers of superbly seasoned meat caramelized to perfection and the decadent crispy fat ends from each short rib. Also, the very thin anchovy banchan which look like little sparkly snakes, are excellent. Make sure to order extra rice cakes for wrapping the crispy barbecued meat in!IMG_4093 Nem Nuong Ninh HoaIMG_4113Located off the beaten track in Rosemead, this Vietnamese restaurant serves a delicacy known as “banh beo”, small saucers filled with gelatinous rice cake and topped with ground shrimp, scallions, a crisp crouton, and a light but pungent sauce. These are unlike anything I’ve ever had. Due to their similarities in texture, flavor and appearance, we likened them to oysters and proceeded to eat at least a dozen each!IMG_4116They also serve these terrific rolls “nem nuong” with special sausage and a crispy shrimp stick: IMG_4112inside:

IMG_4115Our visit began inauspiciously: after a long car ride with empty bellies we were informed that the restaurant had endured a power outage and couldn’t serve us. Soon, though, we were let back in for a completely mind bending meal. Kudos to famed L.A. food critic Jonathan Gold for popularizing this place (and many others).

Chang’s Garden – Two words: beef roll. IMG_4122Tender beef, vegetables and Hoisin sauce wrapped in a crispy fried pancake make this Arcadia-based Shanghainese restaurant worth the trip. Everything else we ate at this simply decorated spot was really delicious too, especially the smoked and fresh pork warm pot which also had an adorable little bean curd twist:IMG_4123 Long Jin shrimp: IMG_4121Birdseye: (note the cute little red hot pot!)IMG_4125Eveleigh – The gorgeous dining room and breathtaking view make this a must-see L.A. stop. We had a nice brunch (the food doesn’t make you re-think your existence), but it’s a delightful experience especially if you order the avocado toast and a cocktail while you breathe in the Pacific air.

Mixto – This taco joint doesn’t scream authentic L.A. (you can order soy chorizo), but it’s satisfying, tasty and quite cheap.

Broome St. General Store – My brother very accurately  described Broome St as “if Brooklyn was cooked in a pan into the ultimate Hipster reduction”. Artisanal coffees, snacks and cutesy gifts are the order of the day at this Silverlake coffeeshop. The coffee is very good and the outdoor seating is quite lovely.

Intelligentsia – This Chicago-originated coffee chain has a beautiful outpost in L.A’s Silverlake neighborhood on a very cute stretch of Sunset. The mesa-style building has great outdoor seating, good coffee, and sweet and savory pastries.

Cheese Store of Silverlake – Right next to Intelligentsia, this cheese shop sells a bounty of the stinky stuff, in addition to meats, breads, cookbooks and condiments. They also make sandwiches, and the one I had with ham and cheese on a pretzel roll made for a (slightly) improved cross-country flight.

Forage – I’ve mentioned (raved about) this place before.  Gorgeous mounds of prepared salads and proteins entrance you from behind the counter the minute you walk in. You can put together plates with proteins and sides or order from a small-ish menu. The food is foraged and high quality and the desserts are also very good. If you get there just a bit before noon you’ll miss the onslaught of the lunch rush. Some snaps from a fab lunch there last week:DSC_0068German Chocolate Cake: DSC_0074Now, if only I could make this bi-coastal thing work…DSC_0051 DSC_0065