2 July, 2012 § Leave a Comment
For my birthday dinner we all went to Havana Harry’s, a Cuban restaurant near our home in South Miami. I miss Cuban food terribly while in Seattle as there are no Cuban restaurants, so whenever I come home I try and make up for lost time. Now, there are many great Cuban restaurants in Miami, ranging from cheap as chips to sell a kidney expensive and I am proud to say that I have tried a great many of them. My favorite, hands down, is Havana Harry’s. It is a moderatly priced restaurant in what used to be the old Tony Romas building, in a non glamorous part of South Miami; but for me, it is a portal to Cuban heaven!
Mariquitas con mojo. My dad used to get these everytime we went to dinner at a restaurant called Lila’s as children so they have a nostalgic factor for me and had to be ordered. Sadly, Lila’s is gone but thankfully, Havana Harry’s makes mariquitas that are just as awesome! For the Cuban food rookie this dish consists of thinly sliced plantains, deep fried and served with a mojo, or lime and garlic sauce. Absolutely divine!!
Vaca Frita Sampler. This is my favorite dish in the restaurant. It is three different kinds of Vaca Frita; beef, chicken and pork. Tom also loves this and usually eats half of my plate regardless of whether or not we are sharing it. This time, when I ordered it, Tom asked “What does Vaca Frita mean?” I replied with “Fried cow.” Which got the most hilarious look from him followed by the most obvious question, ”Why do they call it fried cow of chicken if it doesn’t have cow?” The truth is that Vaca Frita, while meaning fried cow, is more of a proper noun than a descriptive name. This one is my favorite in Miami at the moment, if you don’t count my mom’s! The onions are fried till they are soft and slightly sweet but not caramalized and the lime and garlic is not too over powering. The flavors are perfectly balanced and the shredded meat is crispy on the outside and tender and juicy on the inside.
Morros con Cristianos y platanos maduros. Literal translation – Moores and Christians and ripe plantains. The Moors and Christians refers to the black beans and the white rice that are fried, together with pork fat to make one amazing dish!! The plantains were your average plantains but the Morros con Christians were the real stand out. This dish can often be too dry or too wet, getting it right is really hard and they get it right here! Only complaint I have is that I wish there were more pork in it.
Bistec Empanizado. A very thin beef steak pounded wafer thin, breaded and pan fried. I usually hate this dish at restaurants and only eat it at home, mainly because the breading is improperly applied and separates from the steak leaving the whole mess a dry leathery steak with greasy breadcrumbs. Here, however, it is a tender, well seasoned, skillfully coated and fried piece of meat. The coating sticks beautifully to the steak and the whole thing is tender and moist, even eaten out of the fridge the next morning.
Chicken with mushrooms and cheese. This was my least favorite dish. It was good, but there was entirely too much cheese, making it too heavy for my taste. However, if you are the kind of person who is into mushroom bacon cheeseburgers you will love this dish!
Churrasco Salad. This salad was completely unexpected. The blue cheese was a not so traditional addition but it worked and the churrasco was very well seasoned and well cooked. In a city of super models it’s important to have a great salad and they nailed it with this one!
Guava Cheesecake. I will start by saying that this was delicious. Guava and cheesecake go together very well. I will also add that this picture shows HALF of the serving they brought us. It is almost double what you would get at the cheesecake factory. Portions here are huge overall but this was just a bit rediculous! Order this one for a family of 4 and you might, maybe, be able to finish it.
The world famous Quatro Leches cake. Ok, maybe not world famous, but at least famous in our family. By the time I managed to get the camera out and fight the spoons away so I could take a picture the vultures had eaten almost all of it, but you get the idea.Quatro leches is a sponge cake that is soaked with a mixture of Sweetned condensed, evaporated and whole milk and allowed to soak for 24-48 hours. Then, it is topped with dulce de leche or milk caramel. Hence, 4 milks. This one is bested only by my mothers and mine.
Flan. This was everyones favorite. It was dense yet creamy and sweet yet slightly bitter and salty. All the things you want in a perfect flan. It was shocking really because we had never ordered this dessert, always going with the Quatro Leches instead. Big mistake! As amazing as the Quatro Leches was, we were all fighting over the last few pieces of the Flan and I barely managed to get the picture taken. The most perfect end to a highly anticipated meal!
1 July, 2012 § Leave a Comment
In an ideal world, every Sunday would begin with a Dim Sum brunch, and being an idealist I strive to live up to this ideal. So, when my sister mentioned we should do brunch for my birthday and I realized that my birthday, July 1st, fell on a Sunday, the choice was clear. What wasn’t clear however, was whether or not Miami could provide a Dim Sum restaurant worth going to… As it turns out, my aunt knew a place in Miami that she recommended highly and Yelp corroborated her enthusiastic review. So, we decided to try Tropical Chinese.
Tropical Chinese is named for Tropical Park, which is directly in front of it, not because there are girls in Hula skirts serving Mai Tais and egg rolls (as I had feared). The dim is great for Miami and decent from an international perspective. Scroll down to see the highlights of my ideal Sunday brunch.
They called these juice buns. They absolutely were not juice buns as in there was no soup to be seen. They were however tasty in their own right. If you eat them expecting a pork dumpling you will be happy.
Chicken and Mushroom steamed bun. This was a decent bun. The filling had good flavor but was VERY compact and tiny in proportion to the bun. The bun was perfectly steamed and the dough itself light and airy in texture, as I expected.
Shrimp Rice Noodle. These were excellent. The noodles were soft and the shrimp was tender and not overcooked. I can’t speak for the sauce that usually comes with these as we asked for it without the sauce. I don’t really like sweet sauce on my shrimp noodles.
Fried shrimp dumplings. These were ok, nothing special or exciting. Just a won ton wrapper stuffed with shrimp and fried.
Chicken and thousand year old egg congee. This was a super surprising dish. It was delicious!! The texture was spot on and the thousand year old egg gave the porridge the perfect hum without over powering it. One of their best dishes. I would come back just for a bowl of this.
Custard buns. These were a favorite of the whole table, not because they were stellar buns but because, well, I mean it’s a custard bun who doesn’t like custard?! That said, these had an interesting coating that was as if someone had mixed powdered sugar and egg whites and coated the top with it. It was very pleasant. The custard however was a bit on the over done/scrambled eggs side. Still, decent flavor on these.
Bean Curd wrapped around pork. These were excellent. The flavors were bang on with what I was expecting and was very similar to what I get in San Francisco or Seattle.
Pan Fried Shrimp Dumplings. These were also excellent. We had the steamed dumplings as well, but they all lacked flavor and the texture was off. These on the other hand were AMAZING!! The flavor and the texture were spot on. My favorite dish of the meal. I wish they had them in my neighborhood Chinese place in Seattle!
Overall, this was a great Dim Sum experience in Miami and I would return. I am however curious about Kon Chau, another Chinese restaurant that is right across the street from this one. Might have to try that one next and compare!
PS Please forgive my less than stellar photo skills, I am still learning how to use the iPhone camera in a restaurant situation.
7 February, 2012 § Leave a Comment
This little french cafe is tucked away in a suburban shopping mall and is the last place on earth you would expect to find such magnificent french pastries and sandwiches. Looks can be deceiving and in a city obsessed with coffee, where you can find a coffee shop on every street corner, this cafe stands out in many ways; it makes great coffee, has excellent pastries, wonderful sandwiches, all organic ingredients and above all a charming owner who is very involved in the business and seems to take great pride in what she does.
The coffee at Le Rendez-Vous is that wonderful, bitter coffee that you get when the beans are roasted well but not burnt. When I spoke with the owner about her coffee she said she was trying to replicate what she loves about drinking coffee in Italy and I think she has done a fair job of accomplishing this. They have decided to go with coffee from Cafe Vivace, a local roaster, which seems to go along well with the organic nature of her business and who does indeed roast a great bean. The coffee is treated with respect at Le Rendez-Vous and they make excellent cappuccinos and cafe cremes. You are actually able to taste the coffee through the milk which to me is always the sign of a well roasted, pulled and mixed coffee.
One of the nicest things about Le Rendez-Vous is that while the coffee is great, the food is better. For me, this means that if I am at the cafe to study or read I am able to have lunch and coffee in the same place without having to compromise the quality of either. The sandwiches are made on some of the best french bread I have had outside of Paris and the pastries are to die for. The Soleil Sandwich and Parisien are two of my favorites. The proportion of filling to bread is perfectly in balance and what one would expect from a french cafe sandwich and the ingredients are top notch. My favorite however, are her patries, amongst the best are the Almond Croisant, Pain au Chocolate and my absolute favorite, the Chouquettes. The latter are little hollow pastries made of Choux dough that are like our cream puffs but unfilled, then sprinkled with pearl sugar; they are light, not too sweet and incredibly addictive. These are sold in little bags of 10 just as you would find them in Paris.
Finally one can not write of this place without commenting on the owners. They are a brother and sister team who came from a line of bakers in Paris and decided to move Redmond and open a french cafe. The sister seems to be incredibly proud of her cafe and is often seen working the front of the house, handing out free chouquettes and chatting up the customers. While she will remember you when you return, she is gracious and warm to all her customers making you feel instantly welcome.
All these things, partnered with what seems to be the entire French expat community lunching there and speaking in rapid french, almost makes you forget you are in a strip mall in Redmond and transports you, if only for a moment, to an idealized Parisian Cafe. I am so grateful they decided to come to Redmond and open this wonderful cafe and I plan on becoming a frequent customer, if for nothing more than the chouquettes and a mini vacation.
29 June, 2011 § Leave a Comment
In the last two weeks I have made Sole or Tilapia in a Meuniere sauce at least 6 times and it has never come out like I want. I have great success with this recipe from a flavor standpoint but my biggest problem comes when I try to cook the fish without its floured dredge and lots of oil to fry in. In the original format it comes out beautifully. It fries to a golden brown and does not stick. However, I don’t want to fry my fish every time I eat it. Part of the reason I eat fish is that it is a light meal and all this butter, oil and frying does not make the dish light. Unfortunately, every time I try to cook the fish simply in a skillet with very little fat I get a delicious sauce on top of flaked fish that has fallen apart in the pan.
In one of my attempts I decided to use an all natural olive oil spray to coat the pan. This oil spray is just olive oil with no additives. I was trying to stay away from chemicals and Pam along with its copy cat sprays all have additives. I like using olive oil in my cooking as it’s good for you and delicious so this seemed like a wonderful way to go. Unfortunately I was wrong, oh so very, very wrong. It started out wonderfully, the olive oil sprays beautifully and coats the pan perfectly. Sadly that’s where the positive ends. I added the fish and it stuck immediately. I let it cook for a bit in the hopes that as it cooked it would unstick itself, no such luck. In the end I had to scrape it up off the bottom of the nonstick pan. Thinking maybe it was just the fish and that the spray was not to blame, I decided to try it while making eggs in place of the Pam I usually use. It failed miserably. It was worse than the olive oil I use on occasion when frying my eggs. I figured maybe it was not meant as a nonstick cooking spray but as a salad spray for after cooking (can you tell I am trying to give this thing a fair shake?) but, alas, it lacks and real flavor. At the end of the day, I would buy regular olive oil, extra virgin, and not waste my money on this again.
I will keep experimenting and will post the Meuniere recipe as soon as I get it right, that is, if I EVER get it right!