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Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Yardbird Southern Table & Bar

     Swine Southern Table & Bar, Yardbird's sister restaurant, is arguably the brightest star in the pork specialty firmament. It stands to reason that the chicken version of this southern table and bar would be just as resplendent. It didn't disappoint. Reservations are a must because waiting is considerable if you don't have one. Not one table is empty for more than five minutes. As soon as one party leaves a table, another swoops in to take it.
     It's an attractive place full of attractive people. Both staff and patrons have that cosmopolitan look about them, and they contrast well against the rustic yet polished farm decor. Our server, Lisa, was the perfect combination of polite, efficient and knowledgeable. A quick survey of the tables puts me in that Miami Beach mood- very European, lively and sophisticated, a tourist's heaven.
     I ordered a Southern Peach from their cocktail menu, and John picked the Sam (Adams) Seasonal, a pale ale he characterized as "brunch appropriate". That's the most eloquence I've ever gotten out of Hubby on any beer. Compared to his usual "It's good. I like it" grunt, this was almost lyrical.
     My libation came in that most delightful of vessels, the mason jar, and contained Wild Turkey, fresh lemon and thyme, white peach puree and sweet tea. I'm not a member of the Church of Tea, a fact that shocks most people I know, but when the substance is presented like this, I could easily convert.
     If you only order one thing at either of these sister restaurants, it has to be their biscuits. You can stop looking for heaven. It's right here in these fresh buttermilk biscuits and their friends, maple butter and homemade spiced apple jam. Not only are these biscuits without equal, but the seasonal jams at these two establishments are pure spreadable love.
     In the interest of widening our experience, John ordered the most popular item on the menu, the Chicken N' Watermelon N' Waffles, and I chose the shrimp and grits. The names of these dishes belie what they represent. John's pick was a platter of delicately fried chicken, blocks of chilled watermelon, and a stout, Vermont sharp cheddar waffle in the company of some bourbon maple syrup. I've now been spoiled for any other waffle.
     My pearly grits were creamy, savory and lumpy in all the right places. The colossal shrimp were cooked to a perfect crunch and everything waded in a Pabst Blue Ribbon jus that promoted this popular southern dish to a high-ranking culinary delicacy.
     At this point, the belly was full, and I was on a high that only an exceptional meal can produce for me. I was just as fired up about dessert as I was at the beginning of the meal. We ordered the Hickory Smoked Chocolate Coffee Cake served with house-made coffee ice cream. The cake was a compact pound cake with large chocolate chunks and drizzled with chocolate sauce. The ice cream is a smart addition for a couple of reasons. The cake is very dense and screams for something soft or liquid as company. The coffee ice cream has a solid, definitive flavor redolent of good gelato. What's not to like?
     Southern food in a most sophisticated interpretation, all elements used to their highest potential- that is the gift offered to patrons by this restaurant and its relative in Coral Gables. Down home cooking with class.

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Monday, April 4, 2016

Osteria Vecchio Piemonte

     I came here once before, but I was in such a hurry to get somewhere else, I didn't allow myself to go into my blogging state of mind. I could've dismissed it, but there was something about the seafood lasagna I inhaled that kept urging me to come back. So glad I did.
     The minuscule Osteria in Miami hides between a barber shop and a small nail salon in a short strip mall you wouldn't notice unless you were looking for it. This little package is wrapped in butcher paper, you could say, but when you remove the plain brown cover, an unexpected and lovely gift appears.
     The servers speak Italian, which is always delightful for me, and you are greeted with Italian effusion, like friends that wouldn't start a party until your arrival. The seating area is unassuming but immaculate. As soon as you're settled, a small plate with amuse-bouche bruschetta and a basket of Italian bread squares descend on the table as the server offers wine. Daylin's Rocca Bella Negroamaro Puglia was an unlikely pairing for her fish entree, but she relished it, so it's all good. I abstained this evening.
     Of all my gastronomy sidekicks, I have to say DJ is the most enthusiastic. All I have to say is "I'm working tonight" (meaning I'll be blogging about this meal), and her already healthy curiosity for food becomes deliciously scientific. I knew I could count on an appetizer and at least one dessert, but when the server informed us about the evening's app special, the Tavola di Formaggio, we were both giddy. DJ made an executive decision and ordered that and her beloved Rollatini di Melanzane, mozzarella-stuffed eggplant rolls.
     By the way, you should know that I wouldn't want to live in a world without cheese. That said, the little table of cheese that arrived represents for me a microcosm of all that is good and noble in food. Thin wedges of Gorgonzola, rosemary Pecorino and Ricotta Salata sat daintily on this block courted by orange marmalade, apple slices and caramelized walnuts. I could've played in that sandbox all night. The flavor combinations seemed endless, and every one delectable. The eggplant rolls were subtle and silky, but they couldn't distract me for too long from my cheesy adventure.
     Then we got serious. I don't often indulge in a restaurant's specials because I like to sample their regular fare, and perhaps find something in their menu so consistently good that it comes to define the place for me. This time, however, the specials appeared to be deliberately complex and intriguing, so I caved. DJ ordered the Pacific Corvina with the champagne Parmesan risotto. The fish was pan-seared in a lemon and wine herb sauce, and while it had body, it was flaky and light, like a kinder, gentler Chilean sea bass.
      My entree was the Brasato (braised beef) in a rosemary and red wine reduction with fresh polenta. The red wine reduction was everything in this dish. It gave the tender beef a rich and piquant flavor, and bathed the already sweet polenta in provocative saltiness.
     DJ and I like to think we are the creators of the game "Musical Desserts". We order as many as we think we can handle and we rotate them after a couple of bites. Tonight, we had only enough left in us to share the Lemon Mascarpone Cake. We studied our options carefully, and I think we made the right choice. Sweet and tart balanced each other perfectly, and the mascarpone made the moist cake almost as creamy as mousse.
     I can sleep easy now. My hurried first visit left me unsatisfied, the same way I feel with an unfinished crossword puzzle. Although a little pricey, this is as close to my ideal Italian dining experience as I've found anywhere but in Italy. I expected nothing less from a DJ recommendation. Tutto magnifico!

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