KYU, Miami – review

IMG_9736With astonishing gentrification projects from Brickell and Edgewater to the Design district, and the artsy-fartsy concrete canvasses dotted around Wynwood, there is much more to Miami than the faded bling and gangster-glam of South Beach. But Miami’s recent renaissance isn’t limited to architecture and the arts. The city’s food scene has also exploded into a culinary destination for chefs and foodies alike.

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KYU, Miami

Cuisines range from Latin-Caribbean delights at Michael Schwartz’s Amara at Paraisa to his fresh upmarket flagship Michael’s Genuine, to the authentic Greek-Turkish hideaway at Mandolin, but the most staggeringly impressive entry is the brainchild of Zuma alums Michael Lewis and Steven Haigh who opened a wood-fired Asian-inspired grill called KYU (pronounced “cue”, as in Barbecue). In deference to the neighboring Wynwood walls’ rural murals, a 20-foot vertical garden of mosses and ivy’s aptly contrasts the raw industrial concrete and dark welded steel interior. As you pry open the doors you’ll notice two things – first, the smell of smoky Florida oak wafting over the wooden high-tops affording great views of the high-action open kitchen at one end, and the high-drama artisanal bar at other – both vying for attention. Second, you can’t help noticing the friendly, unpretentious and rather jocular vibe that builds on the concept of a neighborhood joint that doesn’t want to take itself too seriously. But there are no happenstances when you’ve been voted Florida’s best restaurant by Time Magazine, or nominated by the James Beard Foundation as Best New Restaurant. No, my friends, this is one very carefully curated and perfected experience from host to toast.

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KYU, Miami

The food and service are a fair fight for top billing, that by the end of the night we weren’t sure whether to wrap up and take home some of the leftovers, or a couple of the waiters instead.

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Whole roasted Cauliflower, KYU Miami

The menu is a lengthy tumble of Korean, Japanese and American flame-grilled treats of all sizes. Despite the pervasive veil of “simplicity” with “no more than a couple of ingredients per dish”, like the much-photographed and utterly scrumptious Whole Roasted Cauliflower with dollops of creamy goat cheese to add some funk to the already magnificent shishito herb vinaigrette, or the heavenly refreshing Avocado Salad with lemon, crispy ginger matchsticks and house-made feta, it is the abundance of intricate preparations that has earned chef Lewis his unique signature, which is everything but simple.

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Korean Fried Chicken, KYU, Miami

As the dishes grow in size, they seem to grow in flavor too, with the Korean Fried Chicken as one of many show-stoppers. Prior to frying, the chicken is first marinated and then smoked, before being dipped into a wonderfully hot and sour gochujang chili sauce. Even the Smoked Duck Burnt ends aren’t just cold-smoked for 30 minutes either, they are then flame-finished on the wood fire with a sprinkling of salt and Japanese shichimi peppers. And if you listen carefully, you can just hear the dish that still calls my name: Crispy Baby-back ribs Yakiniku. The Jenga arrangement of ribs are first smoked, then braised, and then finally fried before being tossed in a deliciously sticky sweet and savory sauce that very mysteriously relocated itself everywhere from chin to nose.

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Crispy Baby-back ribs Yakiniku, KYU, Miami

And to round things out, the chef’s mother’s simple dessert is a great final act. Four layers of delectable Coconut Cake interrupted with a tart cream cheese filling which offsets the sweetness, yet pairs flawlessly with a serving of house-made coconut ice-cream.

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Mom’s Coconut cake, KYU, Miami (and yes, it was my birthday!)

For decades, chefs have tried to demystify the notion of what “simple” or “approachable” food is. And when you peer under the hood of the kitchen, it’s not always as easy as A-B-C. That’s because it might have been K-Y-U all along.

https://www.kyurestaurants.com/

 

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Supper in Savannah

I fell in love last week. With Savannah.

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Lafayette Square, Savannah

Just the name of Georgia’s oldest city has always conjured up so much mystery and intrigue for me. Is she a girl with golden curls who ran away from home? Or the last place a unicorn was ever seen? Actually, the word savanna refers to a grassy wooded area where the tree canopy doesn’t close out the light – which is most peculiar because my favorite feature of the “southern host city” are the abundant live oak and magnolia trees whose limbs are draped in silvery moss that hang like Christmas tinsel forming an almost endless umbrella along the grid of smart avenues, interrupted by 22 green squares. Some of the locals refer to her affectionately as Slow-vannah on account of the unhurried pace of life which unavoidably permeates the culinary scene as well. Many of the must-try spots like Mrs. Wilkes, Atlantic or Cotton and Rye refuse to offer reservations, and instead feature long lines of hungry (yet patient) diners who don’t seem to mind wasting an hour or more along the leafy sidewalks as they wait and wait and wait. My inner New Yorker (just the one) prefers to rely on a table waiting for me rather than the other way around.

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Elizabeth’s on 37th

One of the stalwart establishments, Elizabeth’s on 37th occupies a magnificently illuminated colonial house built in 1900. This proud recipient of a James Beard Foundation award has been serving low-country classics for 37 years. The dozen menu items range from soup to steak (with nowhere to hide if you happen to be a local shrimp or a half-moon clam).

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Corn and Parmesan Basket of Shrimp, Elizabeth’s on 37th

I got stuck into a Corn and Parmesan Basket of Shrimp with bits of crab, green tomatoes and shiitake mushrooms resting on a puddle of green goddess dressing. Everything was there: sweet, sour, salty, crunchy and sensational.

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Fresh Scallops, Elizabeth’s on 37th

The Fresh Scallops were seared to perfection and then layered over a soft bed of split peas and tart chives with the odd nugget of bacon for a whiff of southern smoke. But the heat from the Spicy Savannah Red Rice sure done popped my hood ‘some.

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Spicy Savannah Red Rice, Elizabeth’s on 37th

This utterly delicious southern-styled paella of Carolina rice, grouper, shrimp, clams, sausage and okra was as fresh and bright as a sweet tomato bisque, before diving into the depths of a dark and dirty gumbo.

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Shrimp and Grits, The Public Kitchen and Bar

I know one shouldn’t compare the two, but Charleston and Savannah are often thought of as sister cities that some say despite their geographic proximity haven’t spoken to one another for years! And so, it’s not surprising to discover that a great many dishes are shared and borrowed across the state line. I know I might have mentioned in a previous blog that Sean Brock’s Shrimp and Grits at Husk had sent me home starry eyed, but that was before I was ruined by Brian Gonet’s version at The Public Kitchen and Bar. (Please indulge me as I borrow a little inspiration from “Gone with the Wind” here), I do declare, that as God is my witness, I shall never order Shrimp and Grits anywhere else again! Chef Gonet spikes his grits with cheddar and bacon and then he sears chorizo sausage to extract all those piquant and peppery flavors before adding tomatoes with local shrimp before finishing everything off with sweet sherry and heavy cream. Suuuhth’n heaven!

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Leopold’s Ice Cream

 

You’ve probably been wondering why I haven’t mentioned the plethora of pecan-inspired pies, cookies, cheesecakes, bruléés and puddin’s that are as plentiful as horse-drawn carriages. That’s because I was saving room (daily) for a southern mainstay known as Leopold’s Ice-cream, where you’ll find yet another ubiquitous line of congenial Southerners snaking out into the street. My fave’s? Caramel swirl, Tutti Frutti and, of course, Butter Pecan! The 23 flavors were perfected by the original 3 Leopold brothers, and have remained unchanged since 1919.

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Leopold’s Ice Cream

 

But don’t presume for a slow, southern second that this old city can’t do anything new. The abundance of artisanal bakeries like James Beard nominee Back in the Day or hip trinket-eries that serve coffee, cookies, candles and soap like The Paris Market, Australian salad-aries like Collins Quarter or even a counter-style South African sausage-erie called Zunzi know how to harness flawless quality and authenticity with a unique and distinctive charm.

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The Grey

But the proverbial cake has well and truly been taken by former Prune (NYC) toque Mashama Bailey. At The Grey, a meticulously renovated art deco Greyhound bus terminal from 1934, Bailey will forever be remembered as the chef who vaulted Savannah into a new era of destination dining.

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The Grey

Every inlaid wood and brushed chrome detail, every bronze and white glass lamp sconce, every section of custom curved windows and a religiously seasonal menu that changes daily, makes this the scarcest table in town. Showered with acclaim as Eater’s “Restaurant of the Year”, one of Time Magazine’s “100’s greatest Places” and a James Beard nominee, Bailey and her energetic team work hard to deliver big city dishes that would easily become house favorites – in any big city. The menu is categorized by the location of the ingredients (pantry, water, dirt and pasture) and the constant blur of the gingham-shirted wait staff creates a lively, expeditious and electric atmosphere in direct contrast to Slow-vannah.

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Steak Tartare, The Grey

The earth-shatteringly wonderful Steak Tartare is butchered from an entire hind quarter, aged for about a month before being chopped and dressed with lemon, a spectacular home-made Worcestershire sauce and pickled quail egg. The house-made buttery Buccatini with Clams was inspired in its simplicity, as was the addition of salty Halumi cheese into an amazingly caramelized tumble of roasted delicate Squash and Spring onions.

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Chicken Country Captain, The Grey

And the only menu item that will hopefully remain a fixture into the next decade is the triumphant Chicken Country Captain, drenched in a sublime and memory-making curry sauce with slivers of crunchy almonds and pocks of sweet currants. I must have blacked out, as I don’t remember lifting the plate to my lips and licking it clean.

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The Diner at The Grey

I’ll go out on a limb and predict that within the next five to seven years Savannah will compete handsomely in the nation’s food scene, luring the next generation of celebra-chefs to crack open a brand-new cuisine called sophista-soul. But before anyone gets too far down the line, no more walk-in’s without reservations y’all!

http://mrswilkes.com/

https://atlanticsavannah.com/

http://www.cottonandrye.com/#intro

http://www.elizabethon37th.net/

http://www.thepublickitchen.com/

https://backinthedaybakery.com/index.html

https://theparismarket.com/

https://www.zunzis.com/

http://thegreyrestaurant.com/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Does Philadelphia food ring a bell?

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Termini Bros. Bakery

You’re probably not alone thinking that Philadelphia and food have about as much in common as a rattlesnake and a baby. And if you asked anyone to name a famous dish that hails from the site of the declaration of Independence, you’ll probably hear about Goldenberg’s Peanut Chews – famously used as a World War I ration, or more likely the Philly Cheesesteak.

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Legend has it that South Philadelphia street food vendor Pat Olivieri got bored with selling hot dogs from his Italian market stall in the 1930’s, and started serving sliced beefsteak a and grilled onions with melted cheese in a soft roll instead. Instant success. And Pat’s is still around today, dolling out those ever-popular, clumsy, drippy, chewy, salty soberizers right around the clock, but more about them later.

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Pat’s Philly Cheesesteak

It wasn’t until the late 1800’s that the resident Irish made way for the influx of Italian immigrants clutching their culture, Catholicism and cooking skills. So, to really understand the largest chunk of Philadelphia’s longest surviving food influences, you really have to venture into the root neighborhood where it all began – Soufilly (South Philly). The local tribe has a uniquely extraordinary way of pronouncing things, like galamad (calamari), managad (manicotti) or prozhood (prosciutto), so I will throw in a few phonetics here and there for an extra helping of authenticity.

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Daily specials – Mr. Joe’s Cafe

Right in the midst of a sunny street of typical row houses – boasting highly competitive window decorations that include bent candles, ornate vases, faded plastic flowers, vintage tinsel, motionless cats, photographic dishware or gaudy crucifixes – is a lunch-only, mom and pop shop called Mr. Joe’s Cafe. The laminated menu might read like everyone else’s, but the daily special show-stoppers are worth swimming across the Delaware river for.

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Scripelle Soup – Mr. Joe’s Cafe

Hailing from the town of Teramo, Scrippelle soup is a clear and delicious hen’s broth with parmesan-filled, wafer-thin crepes rolled into short cigars, which release delightful little bubbles as you munch your way through them.

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Braciole with Gnocchi – Mr. Joe’s Cafe

While the house-made gnocchi are a mandatory staple, you are empowered and encouraged to swap and change pastas, sauces and meats to your heart’s content. I added them to a dish of Bra-zhôl (Baciole), which arrives with an ice-cream dish of fluffy, grated parmesan cheese – just begging to be scattered all over the world. The tender roulade of veal, flavored with garlic, basil and (more) parmesan is weighted down by a more-than-generous ladleful of what the locals call “gravy”. We medagones (non-Italians) would refer to it as “sauce”, but who gives a damn what anyone calls it, this masterpiece marinara is worth bottling, as are many of the other options including the crab and the meatballs.

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Termini Bros. Bakery

Conveniently located right across the street sits the Termini Bros. Bakery – still family-run and still baking Italian treats for 96 years. As you peruse the buffet of Biscotti’s, Canoli’s, Terroni’s, cakes and cookies, you are escorted by servers who compile your order on steel trays before packaging them up into little white boxes with string.

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Chocolate and Ricotta Cream Canoli’s – Termini Bros. Bakery

The Pignoli’s are legendarily soft with a marzipan-like Amaretto rush that underscores the thorny forest of toasted pine nuts on top. After taking a fascinating behind-the-scenes tour by one of the Termini granddaughters, I had to try a Canoli shell filled with rigûd (ricotta), and of course a bite of the rigûd-filled Sfoya-deel (Sfogliatelle), which is a ruffled pastry bundle of joy that crunches and crumbles into a million toasty flakes.

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Sfogliatelle – Termini Bros. Bakery

But the real heart of the immigrant neighborhood comprises a handful of blocks along 9th Street, designated as the Italian market. Here competing butchers, bakers, grocers, cheese & fishmongers offer local and imported produce from Sarasota to Sicily.

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Italian Market

And deep in the heart of all the action, the Rim Café, serves the most decadent cream-based Hot Chocolate ever poured. Using a litany of freshly shaved artisanal bars of varying cacao concentration and origin on a revolving platform, the process is as much a delight as the taste.

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Hot Chocolate – Rim Cafe

The neighborhood comes to a head-on collision at a cross-roads where the two competing Philly Cheesesteak vendors face one another: Pat’s and Gino’s Steaks. Both have equally impressive lines. Both have the identical menu. Both are open 24/7, and somehow both seem to survive. Regardless of which you choose, the most traditional cheesesteak to try is referred to as: “Whiz wit’-out”, which means you’ll have a cheesesteak with Cheez Whiz® (an artificial, yellow epoxy goo dispensed from a spray can), without the grilled onions. Grab a large handful of napkins as you dive headfirst into a speechlessly sloppy adventure of ridiculous yumminess.

You’ve probably never used the expression Water Ice in the same way most Philadelphians do. It refers to a very popular summertime treat, and a close second cousin to the Slushy. But many local vendor’s like Pop’s Ice go one step further by adding a dollop of soft-serve or hard-scooped ice-cream right into the middle of it, creating Gelati. The real adventure is the bombardment of combining different flavors of water-ice and ice-cream together. Ginger Ale & Butter Pecan, vs. Cherry & Mint-Chocolate Chip. (When the humidity rises above 80%, I doubt it really matters.)

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Cherry Water Ice with Vanilla Soft-serve – Pop’s Ice

And finally, one of the last remaining stalwarts of the city’s culinary history is Dante and Luigi’s. Founded in 1899, the multi-roomed converted townhouse originally welcomed immigrants who couldn’t speak English, and arrived with the restaurant’s name pinned to their clothing. They were offered lodging and employment until they were able to support themselves.

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Dante & Luigi’s

The menu is a lexicon of ultra-classic Italian fare starting with Antipastos, Pastas and traditional Flesh and Fowl. Standouts are the incredibly tender and flavorful Chicken Cacciatore deluged in “gravy”, the simple Pork Milanese topped with a crisp salad, and a special drum-roll for the signature Perciatelli Genovese – hollow pasta tubes you can whistle through, smothered in the most scrumptiously, creamy, white veal bolognaise – that will most certainly put a massive crack in anyone’s bell.

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Chicken Cacciatore – Dante & Luigi’s

http://www.termini.com/

https://www.tripadvisor.com/Restaurant_Review-g60795-d2365817-Reviews-Mr_Joe_s_Cafe-Philadelphia_Pennsylvania.html

http://rimcafe.com/

http://www.genosteaks.com/

http://patskingofsteaks.com/

www.popsice.com

http://danteandluigis.com/