Monday, August 27, 2012

Sugarcane (Miami, FL)

On Saturday I reviewed my lunch at Soyka, the first restaurant I went to during my short trip to Miami.  Today, I'll review the second, where I had lunch two Fridays ago.  Again, this restaurant offered (and I took advantage of) the "Miami Spice" option.

Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill is a great concept, encompassing three distinct kitchens into one restaurant.  First and foremost there is the actual raw bar, which I did not get to try as my grandparents, in their rather advanced age, are not the most adventurous of eaters, and I figured simplicity would be the rule of the day.  They also have a sushi bar, making what appears to be a blend of traditional and non-traditional Japanese dishes.  Secondly, there is the fish kitchen, preparing a variety of fresh and mostly local fish.  Lastly, there is the standard kitchen, which produces...well, everything else.  That includes some bar-b-que dishes, such as the pulled pork and smoked brisket that were offered as the entree options for the Miami Spice menu when I was there.  This is a place that I would absolutely love to go back to, and it really seems like a fun place to go either on a date or with a group of friends; it's a fun place, a little funky but without crossing the boundary into weird, with really fantastic service and some damn fine food.

The service bears special note here; like at Soyka, my party included my cousin and my grandparents, which again presents an opportunity for a business to either shine or show that it cares less about customer service than the bottom line (things that, one would think, would be intertwined).  My waiter, DJ, was utterly fantastic.  Upon arrival I was distinctly concerned that my grandparents would not be able to find something to eat at this restaurant, only to find out from my cousin that they'd been there before, and enjoyed it immensely, but only on weekends for brunch.  As such, they're big fans of the eggs at Sugarcane, but didn't really see anything that appealed too much to them on the lunch or Miami Spice menus.  DJ almost immediately offered to ask the chef if it would be possible to whip up some eggs for them, which the chef was amenable to, and both ended up having a plate of (perfectly) scrambled eggs with a side salad and a side of french fries that were just ridiculously well made, and which my grandparents didn't want, so they were left for me and my cousin.  Throughout the meal, DJ was attentive, friendly, and helpful, and was great to have as a waiter.

Unlike the entrees, which were pretty straightforward, classic southern food, the Miami Spice menu offered some very different, and rather original, appetizers.  My cousin had a strawberry gazpacho, which, despite my general disdain for cold soups, I absolutely loved.  It was sweet but not cloying, very bright and a great summer offering (in a place that is perpetually in a state of summer, at least by my calculations), with great strawberry flavor.  I'd have been extremely happy with that as my appetizer ordinarily, but I had ordered a dish that is a true stroke of genius.  A toasted piece of bread, topped with a small amount of greens, a sauce of some variety that I can't recall well enough now to describe, these little fried things that looked like homemade funions, and a perfectly fried overeasy egg on top.  Those little funion things confused me at first, because what I had ordered didn't include them, and I was also confused by the fact that the pork liver pâté that was supposed to be there wasn't...until I realized that what I had mistaken for funions was the pâté!  What a genius concept!  Rolled into little strings, lightly battered, fried, and piled onto this piece of bread, this pâté was among the best and most creative things I have ever eaten, and a technique that astounded me once I figured it out.  I normally hate the idea of creativity just to be creative, but this method, which is really completely unnecessary, since the flavors could be accomplished more simply, is just brilliant; it's fun, it's exciting, it's sexy, and if I ever meet the chef who came up with it, he or she is going to have to beat me off with a stick to get me stop hectoring them about how they came up with it.  The best part of the meal, without a doubt.

This remarkable appetizer was followed by smoked brisket, which both my cousin and I ordered.  It was well made, tender, still reasonably moist, and flavorful; my only complaint is that it was also ridiculously fatty.  And I don't mean around the edges; I mean that half of some pieces of the brisket was fat.  That's not what brisket is supposed to be like; rather, the fat should have had enough time to simply melt away, basting the meat in a delectable wash of beef fat.  The beans on the side were a bigger hit, a not quite right (aka, they weren't Boston style) serving of baked beans that had a ton of meaty flavor and a nice texture, soft but not mushy, with just a hint of sweetness.  Alone or mixed with the slightly spicy side of corn (grilled?) the beans were my favorite on that plate, with the bar-b-que sauce coming in a close second, as it was spicy, sweet, sharp, and acidic all at the same time; in other words, exactly what I go for in a sauce that is not based on vinegar.

For dessert, my cousin again went with the sweetest thing she could find in southern Florida, a "s'more" that looked interesting, but not interesting enough to try, though the toasted marshmallows on top were tempting.  I had the trifle, which is among my favorite desserts of all time, and this was no exception.  Losing out only to a truly original appetizer, this would ordinarily have been the best part of the meal.  Homemade sponge cake, a perfect custard, little bits of crisp fruit (I think it was peach, but again my memory fails me) that provided the perfect contrast to the softness of everything else in the dish, and topped off with homemade whipped cream.  I was in heaven.  This was not my step-mom's trifle (which I'd take over any dessert ever made), a far more refined option, and fantastic for it.

Overall, this was a great restaurant, one I'd highly recommend to anyone finding themselves in Miami and in need of a good dinner; expect innovation and originality, and you will not be disappointed in the least.


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