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Monday, January 27, 2014

El Rinconcito Latino

     Who knew?! Rinconcito is literally around the corner from my house and I never thought anything of it until a few days ago when I heard some friends and colleagues commenting on the food, the portions and the price.  All the rhapsodizing made me take notice.
     John and I went with high hopes of finding a Cuban restaurant worthy of our discerning palates and with convenient access.  We were not disappointed.  We left with enough leftovers for two more meals at a delightfully reasonable price. And it was good!
     John ordered the "Vaca Frita".  It was slightly on the dry side, but seasoned beautifully.  He frolicked happily in the mountain of white rice and the mini bucket of black beans that flanked his beef.
     I had my standard pork chunks, the benchmark by which I measure all Cuban food.  The robust pieces of meat were probably the most tender I've ever had, and they rested on a succulent bed of glistening sauteed onions.  Every juicy morsel offered my taste buds the perfect combination of garlic and lime marinade.
     Once again, I leave the best for last.  As I walked into the establishment, I saw a picture on the window of a Cuban dish I haven't seen in many years.  Could it be?  Could this place make a decent "Fufu de Plátano" (plantain mash)?  Not just decent - splendid!  Melt-in-your-mouth texture and just the perfect hint of garlic sprinkled with pork rind crisps.
     As I've said before, a satisfying dining experience is predicated on several components, and good service is key.  Not only was the service efficient, professional and prompt, but they exceeded any expectations I could have.  I happened to leave my debit card at the restaurant and didn't realize it until the next morning.  When I made the frantic call, it took no more than thirty seconds for the hostess to check and assure me that my card was safely stored and waiting for me to pick it up.  That alone wins them a spot on my very selective "Keepers" list.  The delectable food doesn't hurt either.

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Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Bottega Grill

     To blog or not to blog... I guess I'll blog. Bottega Grill is one of those places that I want to love but it just falls short. This was my second time there, and because so many of my friends like it, I found myself searching for details that would romance me into liking it more, but once again I left feeling like you do after a first date that you know will be the last.
    It's a lovely place in a lovely neighborhood with lovely service. The red wine sangria was quite good. I didn't feel the need to sweeten it with a Diet Coke like I often have to do when I get a bitter after-taste from a beverage that is intended to be fruity. That was lovely.
     I was in the company of two friends, Jackie and Liz, and we ordered the All in One appetizer platter to share. The platter included some outstanding avocado egg rolls with a tamarind dipping sauce that gave me goosebumps (the good kind). It also featured some Caprese salad elements with meaty slices of divine mozzarella.The fried calamari were crisp and abundant. That's where the loveliness ended. The rest of the platter consisted of some super-sized slices of soggy bread with chopped tomatoes that Liz said were supposed to be Bruschetta... hmm... I missed that one. Finally, there were two large slabs of something breaded that turned out to be fried mozzarella.
     See, this is exactly my point: I find some delicate, well-executed components presented side by side with some sloppy, mediocre numbers. It's like two different people prepared the dish.
     For entrees, Liz ordered the Panini Di Parma, and she said it was "ok". Not exactly a rave review. I ordered the Bottega Cobb Salad. That was also just "ok", and the balsamic vinaigrette was not only unremarkable, it wasn't sufficient for the forest of lettuce on my plate.
     I ordered the meatloaf to take home for John. It came with sauteed vegetables and mashed potatoes. I took a bite when he ate it later that evening, and the meat reminded me of a TV dinner loaf swimming in the obligatory gravy. Completely forgettable.
     At the end of our lunch, the girls and I shared the Dulce de Leche Crepes. There was some redemption in this dessert. They were perfect little envelopes bursting with creamy ecstasy. Finally, back to lovely...

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Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Bobby's Burger Palace

     I've done it again! I have a rule: Do not try a new restaurant until it's been in business for at least three months. I confess that I have broken that rule from time to time with disappointing consequences, and today I succumbed to weakness again. I convinced myself that it wouldn't be too bad if Bobby Flay's name was behind it. It made no difference.
     Bobby's Burger Palace opened in December in my neighborhood after much anticipation. The look of the place is clever. The overhead lighting and the seating match in their ribbon-like shape, and the fact that customers sit at one long, uninterrupted curving counter gives the space the appearance of a futuristic soda shop.
   It was 3:00 pm on a Friday, not a particularly busy time, but there was still a 20-minute wait in line (I heard it was 45 minutes during the Christmas rush). There are only two cash registers and only one was manned. In general, the place was understaffed, and the employees that were there, seemed confused and clumsy. One girl dropped an entire tray of dirty dishes on a customer's feet.
     The weather was cool and comfortable so we decided to sit outside. There were no utensils anywhere on the terrace tables nor did any of the employees provide or even offer utensils. After another 15-minute wait for my burger, and after my friend Jackie had been forced to eat her grilled cheese sandwich before it went completely cold, she kindly walked into the restaurant and grabbed some for me straight from the counter.
     When you place your order at the register, you are issued a number to display on your table.  My number was 20.  Orders 21 (Jackie's) through 26 were delivered before mine. My burger arrived after we inquired about it.
     Despite the inconveniences, these are small issues that I expect to encounter even in the fanciest of eateries in the early days. Management can easily make these tweaks as the place finds its rhythm.
     But let's talk about the food. The menu promised that Jackie's sandwich would be a rich blend of four cheeses: American, Swiss, Cheddar and Monterey Jack. I took a taste and found it bland. She said it was the best grilled cheese sandwich she'd ever had. Different palates- it's what makes the culinary world go round.

     The sweet potato fries were fresh and crisp and salted just right. They came with a Honey Mustard Horseradish sauce, but neither one of us likes spicy food, and frankly, the fries alone were delicious. The pistachio milkshake tasted more like vanilla infused with pistachio. It wasn't bad, but the pistachio flavor didn't jump up to greet your taste buds as it should. I did love the super-wide straw. Perfect tool to enjoy a thick shake.
     I ordered the Bobby Blue Burger. The name had me at the mere hint of blue cheese, only there was no real blue cheese. It was a blue cheese dressing- a good dressing, but there were no small crumbles to bite into for the taste explosion that blue cheese is intended to provide. I wanted the meat cooked medium and I got a stunning, healthy-sized patty, glistening brown on the outside and gloriously pink on the inside. This burger had great potential, but also a fatal flaw: For some reason, they felt showering it in salty potato chips would be a beneficial addition to the already salt-heavy flavor of the dressing. The crunch in every bite was more than well accomplished with the superbly crispy bacon strips. It was overkill.
     If there weren't other places around of comparable price and menu, I would probably like BBP more, but Shula Burger has an amazing variety of burgers and to-die-for sides for about the same price. And for a few more dollars, Fuddruckers is always a sure thing.
     I think I probably will give BBP another chance sometime down the road, but first I'll give them time to get their act together.

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Thursday, January 2, 2014

George's South Miami

     Happy New Year and Welcome to 2014! What better time to launch this blog than the beginning of a fresh new year?
     I want to begin with a disclaimer: I am not a chef, or a critic, or work in the food industry in any way. In fact, I don't think I'm even a great cook, although I love to play in the kitchen. What I am is a lover of the dining experience... all of it. For me and for my partner in mischief and adventure, my hubby John, the food must be tasty, but presentation, service and surroundings are important factors that influence our emotional responses to the meal.
     Also, I promise that my intention is to chronicle, not review, our experiences as we visit different eateries, from the diners and dives to the frou-frou establishments, and hopefully you will read something that sparks your curiosity for the place or a dish. Having said that, please remember that observation leads easily to opinion, and opinion is laced with judgment. Thus, a critique is born, so I expect that my observations will sound as critiques. For that, I apologize in advance.
     That business out of the way, I can tell you about our New Year's Day lunch at George's. It's one of several trendy places in the South Miami area that fill up with night-lifers to enjoy the various evening entertainment events, but on that early afternoon, the glass doors were wide open which made the entire place feel like an outdoor restaurant, and the patrons were mostly young families. The temperature was in the mid-70s so it felt quite pleasant. The décor consists of a carefully balanced blend of Buddhist iconography and dance club ornamentation (love the huge disco ball!). It works.

     After we were seated and greeted with complimentary Mimosas, John ordered the Fish and Chips and I chose the Croque Monsieur. The table bread, toasted French baguette strips, John's fish and both our sides of fries came in cute tin buckets. His fish was a bit bland, but it came with a homemade tartar sauce that had a rich subtlety to it. John's not into tartar sauce, so he had to salt the fish.
     I once had a recipe for Croque Monsieur that I attempted with little success, but the idea of grilled ham and cheese with bechamel sauce on brioche bread is so tantalizing to me, I decided to try one made by professionals. It wasn't bad, but the bechamel was so unassuming, I had to peak under the bread to make sure they hadn't forgotten to include it. The greens on the side were dressed with a surprisingly delicate mustard vinaigrette.

     Now, I'm leaving the best for last, as dessert often is. We shared a Chocolate and Hazelnut "Kit-Kat" Bar. Simply put, this was nothing but layers of heavenly deliciousness- a moist yet textured cake bottom, topped with hazelnut truffle brownie, topped with chocolate mousse, and crowned with a hard chocolate sheet drizzled with caramel and powdered sugar. This dessert made the somewhat presumptuous price of the meal almost worth it, not to mention the nice detail of having the waiter consistently visit our table to refill our Mimosa glasses with more champagne. Like John says, "They keep bringing it to me, I keep drinking it."

     Would I go back?  If someone else really wanted to go, I wouldn't mind tagging along, but if I'm the one choosing, George's would not immediately come to mind.


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