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Thursday, October 27, 2016

Havana 1957

     The Cuban restaurant field in Miami is crowded, to say the least, and competition is fierce. To stand out in this contest, you can either go forward and innovate, or you can capitalize on the element of nostalgia. Havana 1957 impresses with its striking nightclub environment, a traditional Cuban menu, and a spirited live music show that is quickly becoming a favorite among the great Cuban population. That said, this native Cuban always looks for a certain flavor that will conjure memories of that special seasoning in my mother's and my numerous aunts' cooking. I have found it before, but not here.

     We ordered two cocktails we believed would be executed to perfection considering the context, an orange Mojito, or Orangito, and a mango Daiquiri. John said the Mojito had a hint of orange in the rum, and it was sweet, as expected. My $11 Daiquiri, however, was no more than a glorified mango pulp slushie. I've had better and cheaper.
     I live for gastronomic experimentation, but when it comes to Cuban food, there's a standard that must be met for me to consider it good. It's a generational benchmark set a long time ago by a group of masterful women who ruled in the kitchen. For that reason, when I visit a Cuban eatery, I have to go for the staples. John ordered the 'vaca frita', refried shredded beef and sauteed onions, with rice and black beans for sides. I ordered pork chunks, also with sauteed onions, in the company of black beans and 'tostones', or plantain fritters.
John's vaca frita was arguably one of the best I've had. It was well seasoned and tender, a quality not easy to achieve with refried beef. My pork chunks were average. The flavor was forgettable, and they were just a bit overcooked. The tostones were perfectly suited for the pork chunks- toasted right, but not accompanied by any 'mojo', the traditional garlic oil marinade for your dipping pleasure.
     The dessert menu offered the expected flans, guava cheesecake, and Tres Leches (Three Milks), a moist yellow cake that has been soaked in a mixture of whole, evaporated, and condensed milks. We skipped the course for two reasons. First, we weren't thrilled with the meal, and second, we were on the hunt for a concoction we'd heard about in a different restaurant called Nutella Overdose. I will leave the details on that for a forthcoming post, but the name says it all.
     Havana 1957 came highly recommended, and I do believe their live music and performances offer entertainment with a unique Cuban flavor. That and the nostalgic feel of the space are the elements that would entice me back, but sadly, not the food.
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Saturday, October 1, 2016


     Take an old riverfront warehouse, refit it with an industrial air duct system painted a delicate ivory, and treat the dock roll up doors with royal blue velvet drapes. Fill the space with furniture mixing shabby chic and nautical styles, and add a well-executed global cuisine menu with emphasis on fresh seafood, and the result is a sophisticated hot spot with views of the Miami skyline. All types of vessels, some enormous, parade so close to the outdoor seating, you might feel a gentle spray in their wake.
     Even before I took the first bite, Seaspice earned my respect. When we were seated, I placed my purse and my camera bag on the floor careful to keep it out of the way. The shape of the chairs did not facilitate hanging anything from them. Almost immediately a server appeared with an elegant wrought iron floor stand for hanging shopping bags, purses, briefcases and such. While practical for everyone, I think whoever came up with this idea, is a friend to the female of the species. Already delighted with this little detail, I was psychologically predisposed to like this place. There was an instant of panic when I remembered that the food, ultimately the main factor, might not live up to expectations. Perish the thought!
     Lately we've been on a roll where cocktails are concerned. Today was a good day for me again. A very good day. I had the Kiwi Elyx, a simple mixture of vodka, fresh kiwi, ginger, and lychee, of course lychee being the selling point. This made the end of summer even brighter. Fresh, sweet, and spicy in a perfect balance. John tried the blueberry sangria made with Sauvignon blanc, blueberry, and strawberry orange. I found it light and ideal for brunch, though not quite bold enough for a full meal. It would be hard for any sangria to follow our recent discovery of Chef Adrianne's masterpiece version. It was too soon.
     We began with a yellow tomato gazpacho and a cheese souffle for appetizers. Every time I think of that gazpacho, I get a strong craving for it. It was light and full of flavor, and every spoonful felt like a fresh breeze to my palate. This is the perfect summer soup, and it was smartly garnished with tiny pieces of chilled cucumber and red onion. A perfect combination of flavors.
     The souffle was intriguing. The texture was redolent of panna cotta and the flavor so muted, it bordered on indistinct. The panic returned until I coupled the souffle with the Parmesan cream that dressed it. Suddenly, the dish came to life. I took a moment to take some pictures, and when I came back for a second taste, John had inhaled it. I didn't even get a chance to mix it with the curious tomato jam that shared space on the plate.
     Then came the prime rib sandwich au jus with horseradish cream. The beef slices were tender and generous, the horseradish cream was an aioli with a pleasant little kick, but the au jus part sent me into rapture. The rich, savory oil stained the bread a bright, delicious orange, and infused it with buttery flavor.
    I ordered the fish and chips, crispy, glistening Atlantic cod, potato ribbons, and classic tartar sauce. And by the way, I suppose 'classic' means the predictable mayonnaise, sweet pickle relish, and minced onion, but the Seaspice version is thick and seasoned to stand out. Not a drop was left in the serving cup.
     I consider myself pretty savvy when it comes to food. I still have a lot to learn, but I can hold my own in a sophisticated conversation about the topic. On this day, dessert blew my mind. Simply mic-dropping sensational. Both the Mango Shortcake and the Guanajo Chocolate Cremoso brought a complexity to the table that garnered special props to the pastry chef, Jill Montiola. There were elements of molecular gastronomy in these confections which showed careful planning and a drive toward experimentation and innovation. The shortcake bites came in the company of cardamom Chantilly cream dots and mango lassi ice cream. The Cremoso was surrounded by cocoa nib crumble and seaweed snow that vanished as soon as it touched my lips leaving only a playful pop of flavor.
     I had fun today. The surroundings were bright and stylish, my drink was refreshing and titillating, the food solid and flavorful, and dessert was a stimulating sensory and intellectual experience. I like to learn while I play, and I LOVE to play with my food!

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