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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Saturday, August 25, 2012

Soyka (Miami, FL)

I had the pleasure last week of visiting some family in Miami for a (very) short time, arriving in Florida at about 9am on Thursday, and leaving at 9pm on Friday.  In that time, however, I had the opportunity to eat at four restaurants, ranging from good to great.  Two of these were with my grandparents and cousin, and two were with my cousin and uncle.  During July and August, many restaurants in Miami are offering a "Miami Spice" menu, which is a three course prix-fixe menu, with a few options for each course.

Soyka, which was our lunch choice on Thursday, features a mix of American and Italian influenced flavors, from the classic cobb salad to fiocchi alle pere, at fairly reasonable prices.  The atmosphere is friendly, a little "stuffy," maybe, but welcoming in general.  It's close enough to downtown that we were surrounded by bankers and lawyers when the restaurant started to fill up, but it never felt like we were underdressed for not being in business clothes.  The food itself was tasty, with my grandparents each getting a "California Omelette," featuring bacon, avocado (which was apparently lacking, since my grandmother asked me at one point "wasn't this supposed to have avocado?"), and monterey jack cheese.  Both enjoyed it, but my grandfather vastly preferred the salad that came with it, which was a simple, but exceptionally fresh looking, garden salad.  My grandmother had sweet potato fries as a side with her omelette, at my cousin's recommendation, but I was disappointed; while they were fairly crisp for sweet potato fries, they lacked salt, and thus flavor.  Well made, but not well seasoned.

That same description would work for the fried calamari that my cousin and I each got as appetizers; very well made, with the right texture and a nicely crisp, but not brittle crust, but lacking in salt and seasonings.  The marinara sauce it came with was fantastic though, and added a nice slightly sweet, slightly acidic flavor that was necessary.  My cousin and I also both ordered the fiocchi alle pere, a tortelloni like stuffed pasta with pear, ricotta, and mascarpone, in a thick, heavy parmesan cream sauce.  The sauce itself, while delicious, was a little too heavy for my taste, and by the end of the entree I was wiping as much sauce off each piece of pasta as I could.  The pasta itself was good, I suspect homemade, and soft but not mushy; I couldn't really taste the pasta itself because of the heaviness of the sauce, so I can't say if it had the right flavors or not.  The filling was incredible, sharp, tangy, sweet, and the little pieces of pear had just the right amount of crunch left to add a bit of "tooth" to the dish.  I would love to have it again, but with a sauce that doesn't overwhelm quite so much.

Despite the heaviness of the entree, and the fact that I was stuffed, I eagerly awaited my dessert, the "sticky date pudding" with a warm toffee sauce and vanilla ice cream.  This was remarkable; not too sweet, with a lovely, puffy, airy texture, tasting slightly of date, but not hugely so.  The toffee sauce was good, but a little oversweet for me (not that that's too hard), and the vanilla ice cream was delicious.  My cousin had the brownie dessert, which also came with ice cream.  She raved about it, as did my grandfather, who tried a bite (or two...he's diabetic and not supposed to eat much in the way of sweets, but we let him try it, and he managed to sneak a second bite before we could stop him; at 94 he's still all about the food!) and had a grin on his face that stretched ear to ear.

The food was good, but the service was really great.   As I said, my grandfather is 94, and my grandmother is 86, and neither are in the best shape.  The wait staff was very accomodating, holding doors for us on the way in and out as my cousin and I helped our grandparents in and out of the restaurant, and even providing a pair of reading glasses for my grandmother since she forgot hers.  In fact, they had a box of several pairs for her to choose from!  That kind of thing is very much appreciated, and was the sort of service that was repeated the next day for lunch as well.


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