Eat a Duck in Singapore

I recently returned from a trip to Singapore, tagging along with my parents as they attended an aviation conference.  I’d researched the country ahead of my visit to gain at the very least, a basic understanding of the culture and history. It was a British trading post, separated from Malaysia making it it’s own city-state, and resulting in English becoming the official language.  There are four major cultures in Singapore: Malay, Japanese, Chinese and Indian.  As you’d imagine, as a result of this collision of culinary cultures, the food is remarkable.  I was told that Singapore is very much a city of commerce and cosmopolitan life, not the normal nitty-gritty, cheap and dirty Asian experience I have come to crave and love. In fact, Singapore has earned the nickname “Asia-Lite.”  Armed with this information, I sought out Anthony Bourdain per the advice of my dear Diana.  Surely he would find the food culture I was searching for, and boy, did he.

Maxwell Food Center spread

I was the first to touch down, arriving at 7 am. After a morning nap following my 20 hour trip, I set out in search of a meal.  Bourdain’s first stop was the Maxwell Food Centre, a bustling set of hawker stalls all under one roof. One of the famous dishes in Singapore is chicken rice, which is exactly what it sounds like.  Chicken on top of seasoned rice with various condiments. I chose the Hong Xiang chicken stall, which came highly recommended by Bourdain and did not disappoint. The chicken was beautifully moist laying on top of a bed of steaming rice.  The lady at the stall took out a spray bottle and sprayed my entire dish before handing it to me.  I don’t know what it was, but I assume it was a spray bottle of delish. Accompanying the chicken rice was an extremely thick hoisin sauce and chili sauce. It was heaven, a perfect glimpse into what Singaporean food would hold in store.

Our next adventure into Singaporean cuisine was recommended to us by our cab driver. We were headed to Long Beach restaurant on East Coast Park only knowing that we wanted the best chili crab Singapore had to offer.  Obviously picking up on our ineptitude, he recommended drunken prawns, boiled in a cognac stock, the fried rice and black pepper crab. Not all cab drivers are to be trusted, but in this case, our man knew his stuff.  The cognac stock was so smooth, and had us lapping it up long after the prawns had been devoured.

Long Beach spread

Chili crab was the star of this trip. Crab, steamed and smothered in a tomato, garlic, chili sauce. Equal parts sweet and savory, this sauce was everything you could ever want, worthy of being used on any food item throughout the day, we couldn’t get enough. The same driver recommended we order sweet buns with which to sop up the sauce after we were done with our crabs, like I said, he was a smart man. Next came black pepper crab. This is the same dish as chili crab but with a black pepper paste smeared liberally over the steaming crustaceans. This version was much spicier and in your face, and perfect counterpart to its sweet chili crab cousin. While you’re eating these two dishes, be prepared to get extremely dirty. Sauce all over your face, arms and hands, but gladly so.  It proves you’ve truly enjoyed your dish.

It seems inevitable that any tourist to Singapore will hang around Marina Bay for a little while. Within the Marina Bay Shoppes is a great food court featuring various cuisines from around the continent, but of course, I went for dim sum because, well, I am Jimmy’s sister. The siu mai and shrimp har gao were up to par. It was a perfect, close spot to beat the heat and grab some delicious food as well.

Iced coffee is definitely a must when exploring Singapore. It is HOT, crazy hot, and the combination of ice and caffeine kept me running. It’s available pretty much anywhere, but I preferred to grab it at the hawker centers.

Marina Bay dim sum

Since the shopping is near legendary in Singapore, my Mom and I hit up Robinson’s, the big department store, where we discovered delicious snacks like green tea kit kats and squid jerky.  On the basement level of Robinson’s we stumbled upon a gyoza restaurant called Gyoza-Ya. There was a hefty list of delicious things to try but we had to settle on a select few.  We started with chilled eggplant with miso paste. Give me anything with miso paste. The eggplant was delectable, tender, but almost too difficult to grab with chopsticks, as the thick, savory miso paste made for a slippery affair. Next was cucumber with miso paste. Those delicious Asian cucumbers. You can really tell the difference. The miso paste on this dish was presented in little pearls that broke apart in your mouth, spreading the heavenly miso all over your palate. I ordered what was described on the menu simply as “Ramen Egg.” I thought it was going to be some sort of egg drop ramen soup. I’m so glad I was wrong. The waiter sets down a chilled soft-boiled egg on a plate in front of me, and I look at Mom not knowing exactly what to do. What I can infer after taking a bite is, the egg was soft-boiled, and then marinated in some sort of ramen stock or soy sauce? I don’t know for sure but holy whoa it was delicious. The white of the egg flavored with sesame paired with a silky, runny yoke on the inside was perfection. I want it for breakfast daily. Of course we ended this lunch with both vegetable and pork gyoza. It was Gyoza-Ya after all.

Gyoza-Ya spread

Still, the chili crab lingered in our mouths and brains.  So this time, we sought out Jumbo Seafood restaurant, recommended by multiple former Singapore residents. We ordered all the usual suspects, chili crab, black pepper crab, fried rice, shrimp in miso paste (I can’t quit the miso paste) and steamed Snapper with cilantro.  The crabs here were much larger than at Long Beach, but I’m at a loss as to which restaurant prepared them better. I just want access to chili crab at all times.

Jumbo spread

Our flights were extremely late at night, so our last dinner was back at Maxwell Food Centre, since the parentals hadn’t been. This time I had ban mian, a soup with pork and rice noodles and of course, plenty of condiments with which to customize your dish. I washed it all down with starfruit juice, something I’d never seen before but had to try. Our meal was accompanied by three old dudes drinking beer with their portable radio blaring, chilling at the table next to us, like I assume they do every night. True, Singapore doesn’t have an abundance of cultural sites, but it definitely makes up for it in an abundance of delicious foods.

 

Blackbrick – Miami, FL

I think it’s high time we got back to our roots here at Eat a Duck. I mean it’s been what, TWO posts since we featured dim sum around here! Well not to worry, we’d never let the dumplings disappear for long, and neither will Richard Hales, chef and owner of Blackbrick, Miami’s sorely needed dim sum mecca. Chef Hales, best known for the popular Korean joint, Sakaya Kitchen and its mobile counterpart, Dim Ssam a GoGo, clearly saw the gap in Miami’s dining landscape. Until now, finding truly great dim sum was a chore at best, and nearly impossible at worst.

Sure, you’ve got Mr. Chow on Miami Beach, but who wants to drop $13 on a plate of siu mai? Alternatively you could make the trek out to Tropical dim sum on Sundays for one of the only dim sum cart services I’m aware of, but neither of these options are ideal. What Miami needed was a centrally located spot, within a few minutes drive and preferably near other like-minded restaurants for obvious food crawl possibilities! Chef Hales found the perfect spot, nestled right in between the design district and Wynwood, two of the hottest neighborhoods in town.

Blackbrick spread 1

At first glance, the large Target shopping center where Blackbrick is located may seem like another bland, prefabricated Florida “village”. Clearly though, someone did their homework. Instead of bringing in the typical corporate restaurants like Brio, P.F. Changs and Cheesecake Factory, they opted for independent, local talent. Granted, there’s still a Five Guys and a World of Beer, but for the most part, the dining options in Midtown are something to be excited about.

Blackbrick is one of the places warranting the most excitement, not only for the crew of Eat a Duck, but for food lovers around the country, even being nominated for Bon Appetit’s 50 Best New Restaurants in America. The reason behind the buzz is no secret, as Blackbrick combines tradition and creativity seamlessly.

Blackbrick dim sum

Their dim sum selection, while not exhaustive, is of a quality you won’t find anywhere else. Each item is cooked to order, so while the wait may be more than some veteran dim sum-o-philes are used to, the resulting flavor makes it all worth it. The wrappers of the har gow and pork siu mai are perfectly cooked, tender and toothsome. The fillings are equally well executed. The shrimp and scallop dumplings are fresh, leaving none of the low-tide aftertaste some lesser establishments might offer.

A couple of instant favorites are the fried pork cheek dumplings (pictured in the first spread) with its succulent filling and drizzle of slightly sweet sauce, and the jade Peking duck dumpling, an idea which I’m upset I haven’t found until now. Both of these manage to find their way to my table during each visit. Do we have any bao fans? Blackbrick makes a mean steamed bbq pork char siu bao with that wonderfully sweet meat filling. A couple of these for breakfast would start any day off right.

Blackbrick spread 2

But Blackbrick isn’t simply a dumpling house. Looking for some comfort food, why not take a look at their selection of fantastic fried rice that will expand your opinion of what the dish can be. Not content to match your neighborhood Chinese take out joint, Chef Hales spikes his rice with things like rock shrimp, lobster tail and duck. Another exciting option pairs bacon with kim chi made by sister restaurant Sakaya Kitchen.

The Chinese brunch, once dominated by dim sum alone is now joined by a bevy of options including a breakfast fried rice of sausage, eggs and country potato, shrimp and grits made with cornmeal congee, bacon and a poached egg, and my personal favorite Chinese fried chicken and fortune cookie waffle with a scallion, ginger maple syrup. Don’t forget the salt and pepper tots! Here they’re prepared simply with peppers and onion, achieving a level of spice that gets your brow moist but keeps you coming back for more.

My favorite dish however, might be Blackbrick’s take on Dandan Mian, a Sichuan dish usually consisting of a spicy, chili oil tinged sauce, minced pork and scallions. Here it resembles a Chinese version of ragu alla bolognese. This is one of those dishes I could eat for the rest of my life and be a happy man. Chef Hales chose bucatini, a stout noodle that can stand up to the mountain of fiery pork and scallions.

Blackbrick spread

After a half-dozen visits to Blackbrick, it’s solidified itself in my pantheon of go-to Miami restaurants. Over the past few years, the food scene in there has grown by leaps and bounds, leaving behind the tired, stodgy cuisine of the late 1990s and early 2000’s in favor of a vibrant blend of traditional fare, executed well and bold new creations destined to become classics. Blackbrick is indicative of this trend and stands among the leaders of great dining establishments in South Florida.

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Szechuan Roasted Eggplant

Recently at the market, I spotted a large basket of eggplants in various shapes and colors. Their fate was not clear to me at the time, but something in the back of my mind was encouraging a Northern Chinese approach.

I’ve seen this dish many times in magazines and on cooking shows, yet never thought to do it myself. Hindsight being what it is, I realize now that it’s because of the remarkable ease of preparation, not to mention its natural photogenic quality. With so many angles, shadows and sauce filled crevices, I ended up with a gorgeous plate of food. It was mainly complimented by the wonderful quality of light on my mom’s porch as dusk hits.

Szechuan Roasted Eggplant

While this may seem like a lowly side dish, it’s far from a throwaway recipe, if for no other reason than its versatility. Use this sauce on beef, poultry or a firm white fish. Pretty much any vegetable with sturdy flesh could be substituted as well. Think about all the times you’ve thought to yourself, ” we have no food”, but you did. Don’t say that, because you did. You failed to notice the brown paper bag filled with zucchini and squash in the back of the crisper.

Beef & Broccoli

I made this along with a hunk of organic, grass-fed top sirloin cut into narrow strips and seared in a cast iron pan with a lot of brown butter. With that I scorched a half head of broccoli cut into florets and then sliced in half to create a flat surface needed for proper coloration. Make sure not to waste the stalks. If you cut them thin they will be tender and will look like miniature green versions of that 70’s style clock cut from a Cypress tree stump, your weird uncle has mounted in his house boats sleeping quarters. Be careful never to overcook broccoli. Use a very hot pan and flash sauté those guys with a big nob of butter at the beginning and end! The marriage of these two items resulted in a southerners rendition of Beef & Broccoli.

Szechuan Roasted Eggplant

  • About 1 1/2 lbs eggplant (Japanese preferably)
  • 1/2 cup prepared Hoisin sauce
  • 1 Tbsp. Tamari (or soy sauce)
  • 1 Tbsp. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 Tsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tsp. sesame oil
  • A couple shakes of Five Spice Powder
  • Canola Oil
  • Salt

Pre-Heat Oven to 400.

With a paring knife, slice the eggplant lengthwise into 1/3-1/2″ thick planks and score them on the flesh side to make a diamond pattern. Coat with a thin layer of canola oil, then lightly sprinkle with salt. Lay slices skin side down on a baking sheet. Combine Hoisin, Tamari, vinegar, sugar, sesame oil and five spice in a small bowl, then brush it evenly over the eggplant.

Roast for 15- 20 minutes, or until they have caramelized, building a dark Mahogany color around the edges.

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #7

Every so often, the boys of Eat a Duck are bestowed with incredible meals in rapid succession. Sadly we couldn’t share in any food-ventures over the last few days, but if the spread below is any indication, I’d say we still had a successful week in eating.

The wife and I snuck in a visit to Boca: Kitchen, Bar & Market in Tampa and Café Boulud in West Palm Beach before heading down to Miami to see my parents off for the summer. If I’m not eating with Logan, I’m probably eating with Jep, and we did some fine work this weekend. Dim sum at Blackbrick, incredible Japanese spiked Peruvian fare at La Mar and a long-awaited trip for pizza Napolitana at Stanzione 87 were all on the menu. A simple dinner at home with some home-made pesto over fusilli and antipasti of burrata, heirloom tomato and prosciutto from San Daniele.

Logan made his rounds to some of the best eats in Lakeland with Vietnamese from Pho Tan, and BBQ from Fat Maggie’s. Concord Coffee and their Poor Porker supplied pastries seems to be a weekly affair, and who can blame him? The food scene in his town is really starting to show some promise, so I’m sure you’ll be seeing a lot more Lakeland restaurants making their way into the recap in the weeks to come.

Look out for some full length pieces in the next few weeks featuring some of the new Miami joints we’ve teased here!

EAD Weekly #7

Polpo Pizza Co. – Sarasota, FL

It seems there’s a pizza renaissance brewing in Florida these days. Recently, Proof Pizza & Pasta reignited my excitement for the almighty pie in this state. Also in Miami, the as yet untested Stanzione 87 stands poised to join the hallowed pizza hall of fame with the likes of Antico. However the pizza revival in the sunshine state isn’t exclusive to the big cities. Heck it’s not even exclusive to having an actual restaurant. That’s because right here in Sarasota, two passionate people and their fire-breathing, mid-century Ford F5 are cranking out some of the best pizza in the south. 

Polpo spread 1

Polpo Pizza Co. was among the first names mentioned when I began asking for eats from my circle of gulf coast food friends. I quickly found that if you didn’t plan ahead, you’d end up on a Nick and Norah type excursion in pursuit of the fabled pies. Polpo doesn’t have a storefront, so there’s no calling in for takeout or delivery, and that’s fine, because Danni and Tom have crafted such an amazing product that you won’t mind driving 20-30 minutes to sink your teeth into that perfect dough.

The team at Polpo manage this feat by keeping things simple. Working with local growers to procure the freshest produce, staying away from the processed nonsense peddled by lesser pizzerias and paying a close attention to quality has made for a pizza that transcends the dish.

All of those steps are crucial to the creation of an amazing pie, but quality ingredients can only take you so far, especially since so many other restaurants are upping the bar in that respect. You have to be creative to really set yourself apart, a lesson that Polpo actively displays in their ever-changing menu.

Of course this includes the ubiquitous Margherita, both in a traditional and spicy variant, but from there, things get interesting. Their signature pie, The Bee Sting, is an eye-opening spicy/sweet concoction with Calabrese, shaved raw garlic, chili pepper infused olive oil and a liberal drizzle of hot pepper infused honey. The Pig & Goat on the other hand is a smooth and smokey affair with Niman Ranch bacon, rosemary infused olive oil, fresh thyme, peppadew peppers and a Pollack-like application of goat cheese cream

Polpo spread 2

Another unique pie hailed from the opposite side of the Mediterranean. The Smokin’ Moroccan involves a spiced chickpea purée, smoked baby eggplant, Scamorza cheese, feta-lemon cream and a pistachio gremolata.

During one of Logan’s visits, a couple of breakfast time pizzas were on offer. A savory option of tomato, green onion, provolone, house made mozzarella, bacon and a runny egg and a sweeter one with banana creme, Scamorza cheese, banana, bacon and more house made mozzarella.

Polpo spread 3

But not everything needs hunks of cheese to deliver a tasty slice. The Mother Earth (pictured at the top of the page) stays grounded with porcini cream, fresh sliced porcinis, fresh picked arugula, shaved parmesan and a lemon vinaigrette. I swear I detected a hint of truffle in there as well.

The flavors from all of Polpo’s pizzas are at once familiar and unique. They don’t try to get too cute with the combinations, as you can tell each pie is thoughtfully constructed from a taste, visual and even structural standpoint. The more I eat at this pizza truck, the more I understand why they haven’t built a brick and mortar shop yet, as they’d likely need eight arms to keep up with the demand. The temporal nature of mobile eatery, especially one that achieves this level of quality, adds an unquantifiable characteristic the experience.

I think I speak for all of us here at Eat a Duck headquarters when I urge you to check the calendar and get yourself one of Polpo’s gorgeous pizza’s while you can.

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #6

It’s shaping up to be quite the epic contest of Noodle Wars 2015 between James and myself. While I have gotten more strict with my eating habits, there’s no chance I will ever deny myself the joy of eating great Vietnamese food. I may have temporarily dislocated pork shoulder from my daily intake, but that isn’t stopping me from enjoying the extensive menu over at Pho Cali in Sarasota. I opted for a bowl of lemongrass beef bun, with spicy chile and onions. It almost made me forget my fatty pork patties. Jimmy more than made up for my pork omissions. We both have a deep yearning to find that next great menu item that’s possibly hiding on the back page. In this case, it was Ha Noi noodles with pickled green papaya, grilled pork and pork meatballs. What a refreshing feeling it is for each of us to have a place in our respective towns with such high flavor and quality. It’s been a long time coming.

Speaking of a long time coming, a wood fired pizza insurgence is under way. Have you joined the republic? We are feverishly composing our thoughts on Polpo Pizza Co. to express our love for what they are producing. I know there are a lot of pizza people out there. You owe it to yourself to plan a nice beach day in the Sarasota area, with special attention paid to procuring a pizza pie produced particularly by Polpo at the precise period and place Polpo pre-determines to park.

Moving on, we found that going back to our well of old favorites resulted in great rewards. I haven’t been back to Beewon Korean restaurant in almost five years until last week. I found an old picture of my son noshing at the table back then. Poor guy didn’t even have a hair on his head. But he sure was happy taking on their bulgogi beef. While the sure things (Mahans & Oxford Exchange) triumphed, the new stumbled. Deciding after many contemplative passing glances at their storefront on Colonial Dr. in Orlando, I gave Mamak Asian Street Food a shot. While their rendition of Char Kway Teow (a wide rice noodle dish similar to chow fun) impressed, the beef curry meatballs left me wincing with confusion. The curry sauce itself tasted fine, yet the meatballs seemed like they were purchased at IKEA. Truthfully, I guess I should say that I quite enjoy their meatballs. But I expect them to stay at IKEA, in a pool of brown gravy, garnished with Lingonberry compote and not curiously found in an Asian hawker style restaurant. I cant say for a fact they bought them elsewhere or made them by hand, shaped to extremely perfect proportions. They were just very, very familiar to me.  I say maybe give Mamak a shot, but not before going to every single other jaw dropping place in a two block radius. With big guns like Ming’s Bistro, Anh Hong, Little Saigon, and Chuan Lu Garden, Mamak has a lot of competition. It’s by far the prettiest space on the block. So if they can get the entire menu hitting on all fronts, look out!

Finally, we finish at home. We try to eat what’s in season and tastes best, wherever we live. In Florida, we’re seeing a burst of peaches on the scene. They’re mainly smaller and thinner skinned than their relatives that hail from Georgia in my opinion, which results in a more concentrated flavor. We found some gems at Sweetwater Farms yet again. Large heads of broccoli, Japanese eggplant, and a slab of grass-fed sirloin from Providence Cattle proved to make a wonderful version of a New York style Chinese take out favorite; Beef and Broccoli. Another Stone Crab season has come to an end. I got my last chance to enjoy my favorite claw based foods. For one day last week, Whole Foods had them on special at their beer bar for 2$ a claw, so I took advantage of the situation. When you see that kind of deal, never pass it up! We’ll see you next week!

EAD Weekly #6

Pho Tan – Lakeland, FL

A Rooster and the Till outpost could have arrived in town and it would have taken second fiddle to the new Vietnamese place, Pho Tan, that just opened over in no man’s land USA, aka the Combee settlement in Southeast Lakeland, Florida. You have to understand my plight, my yearning, and my overall displeasure pho my local food scene be-pho you understand why a legitimate Vietnamese restaurant means so much more to me.

Here’s a little back story to prove my love.

I preface this by apologizing pho bashing the only other Vietnamese place in town, but it helps tell the story. When the other “Viet” restaurant in town opened about two or three years ago, how excited I was! The cuisine of Vietnam has gradually caused to become one of my favorites. From bánh mi to com dia, and all the delicious bánh bao. At long last I wouldn’t have to drive over an hour to sample these delicious dishes. Oh how wrong I was. The food was as sad as a fatherless child, yet disreputable sources continue to bestow either 4 ½ stars or a 95% approval rating, which means people are still giving them their business.

Pho Tan spread 3

It’s my hypothesis that the general population in town doesn’t know what authentic Vietnamese food tastes like if this place does it pho them. To be fair, I’ve never been anywhere close to the Mekong River, so my comparative knowledge spans from the ethnic crossroads found in neighborhoods I’m very familiar with in Manhattan, Orlando and Tampa. All of which are offer much greater quality than this terrible incarnation we had.

About two months ago, I drove into an old dingy parking lot by accident after needing to make a U-turn to get out of Combee as fast as humanly possible, and noticed the sign pho Pho Tan. At first I thought I was mistakenly seeing a sign pho a salon, the letters spelling ‘Phoenix Tan’, having long fallen off. I imagined a glowing bird ascending through the flames, sporting a pair of Wayfarers pho retinal protection. It couldn’t possibly be a restaurant could it? Fast forward to this past Sunday, my phone starts blowing up around 11:30 am with close friends who know my hatred pho the Viet restaurant that shall not be named, telling me that I have to check out Pho Tan! All day I was bombarded with pho-tos of pho, bun, bánh mi and rice paper rolls. So I went, that very night with ZERO expectations.

My wife wants to hate Pho Tan. She doesn’t think it’s possible to have even a handful of decent places to eat in town. I don’t disagree with her based on what’s around, yet my hope never dies. It’s a general theme between us lately; the impression of pre-conceived hatred. I just want it to be good. Good enough to where I can say “ Hey, I don’t want to drive out-of-town pho dinner tonight, you want Pho Tan?” That’s all I ask. Sadly, that’s how bad it is here sometimes. The bargaining chip pho me were the gushing reviews from my friends. I think pho the most part, I surround myself with people who have great taste and true discernment. If they like it, I should too.

Pho Tan spread 2

We ordered a plate of steamed chicken dumplings; a rare starter at most Vietnamese places. They came with an out of character dipping broth. Pho the most part we got them pho the kid; he likes stabbing them and making dim sum lollipops. It was mildly pleasing, yet I considered it somewhat a precarious start as they were highly fragile. I like the flavor but wasn’t ready to give up on Anh Hong. The brothy sauce was so noteworthy, we held on to it pho the duration of our meal, no matter how many times our sweet waitress tried to pull it from the booth.

We loved the Com dia, with grilled beef & shrimp, a perfect fried egg and the best stuffed shrimp paste in fried bean curd I’ve honestly ever had. It was light and crispy with a mousseline of herbaceous shrimp paste stuffed inside. I can’t imagine finding a better version anywhere else. It was a shame that my wife’s lemongrass chicken and spring roll bun, didn’t hit a ground rule double with her. She didn’t like the cold noodles intertwined with the hot chicken. Whatever they do to the lemongrass chicken is impressive, yet the dish itself was let biggest let down. They also need to give us a holy trinity of herbs (cilantro, Thai basil and mint), as only a few are co-mingled, with only sprouts and nước chấm on the side. If they could tweak that slightly, I think it would be passable in her eyes.

We also ordered a grilled chicken bánh mi, not realizing it would come with the same lemongrass marinade. I may have opted pho the grilled pork had I known, as I was suffering from lemongrass overload. Nevertheless, there were wonderful flavors on the inside from the jalapeño, cilantro, mint, pickled vegetables and lemony mayo. However they used a large segment from a whole baguette which caused an uneven bread to filling ratio, unfortunately favoring the bread. This could easily be fixed by buying mini baguettes over whole loaves. Get them at Publix! That’s how Saigon Deli does it!

Pho Tan spread 1

I knew Lakeland had a small Vietnamese community somewhere out there, as a large group showed up as we were just finishing our meal. By the time we left, the place was packed full of happy eaters. I wonder how those who migrated from Vietnam feel about a place that undoubtedly reminds them of home? Imagine moving to the opposite side of the world without access to your favorite Cuban joint, and then one day, Arco Iris opens down the street. I would cry. We need to support this place so it sticks around.

Comparing Pho Tan to the other place is like comparing Tartine Bakery to Dunkin’ Donuts. It’s really a great spot pho Lakeland, with better ingredients and way more authenticity than any other spot in the area. Just look in the kitchen. You’ll likely see a sweet looking old man painstakingly stirring a 20 gallon pot of pho with what appears to be a canoe oar. While It doesn’t beat my favorite places in every category, as you know, I wasn’t really expecting it to. Even the best Vietnamese I’ve eaten in other parts of the country have their particular strengths and weaknesses. Pho the price and overall experience, I think I speak pho everyone who desires good Vietnamese food; “Welcome to Lakeland, please stay!”

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #5

This week we kept things fresh starting with our friends at Clementine Café serving up some seriously delicious tacos to rival the best Mexican street fare. Pho Tan, Lakeland’s own Vietnamese hangout makes an appearance showing that even little towns in the heart of Central Florida have international tastes. Logan has a nice write up coming out later this week, so stay tuned. The Poor Porker wowed us with their insane ‘crack cookie’, while Miss Rose at the Sweetwater Organic Farm in Tampa offered her own interesting sweet treat, sesame seed mung bean balls. Old standby Yummy House delivered its biweekly dim sum feast with style, impressing each time with piping hot dumplings made to order. Fresh off the boat from the UK is Yo Sushi. The UTC mall in Sarasota has been bestowed with the well-known conveyor belt sushi restaurant, the first of four US locations slated to open in the next few months. From the insane line, it looks like mainstream America may finally be ready to embrace ‘kaiten’ sushi. Look out for a full post after we’ve had a chance to run them through their paces.

Eat a Duck Weekly #5

Eat a Duck Weekly Recap #4

Eat a Duck took a break from editing and arranging our weekly recap to concentrate on spending some quality time with family. That doesn’t mean we stopped eating great food! Actually, we probably eat way better when we gather in familial packs, as Jimmy’s dinner at Indigenous in Sarasota will show. He dined there with his pop last week, who, in all honesty is the patriarchal figurehead of the Eat a Duck empire. He sort of introduced both Jimmy and me to fine dining togetherness with our trip to Joël Robuchon all those years back. What a treat it was to have James Beard award nominee Steve Phelps come visit the table to say hello.

In a post that needs, and will have, a spotlight all its own, Jimmy and I both ate at Polpo Pizza Co. on the same day, but at different times. I’ve touted it as the best pizza I’ve had in Florida since I had my first bite. That statement held true after taking the spicy Moroccan with me on my way to Ft. Myers. Wood fired at around 900°, (as all pizzas should be) then topped with smoked eggplant, lemon goat feta crème, spiced chickpea purée, rosemary oil, scamorza cheese and pistachio gremolata. I know it’s a lot of stuff to process, but it all worked beautifully.

Of course there was a grand assortment of dim sum had by all. Cumulatively, we ate at 3 different spots; Yummy House, China Yuan and Ming Court. Not to mention yet another trip to regular hang outs Poppo’s Tacos, Fat Maggies and Pho Cali

I seemed to be imbibing quite heavily on tasty pastry dependence, making my way from Lakeland across the state to Southwest Florida. Hitting up Born + Bread Bake house, Concord Coffee, The Poor Porker, Locale Market, Sarasota Tea Co, Perq Coffee Bar, and Sweetberries frozen custard along the route.

We can not forget to self promote. During the last 2 weeks, our alter egos The Root Frites had two great services in downtown Lakeland, with three amazing flavor combinations; The Cuban Missile Frysis, The Californian, and The Turkish Delight.

The last night of our weekly recap eligibility ended with a family dinner, as my uncle Greg came down for his semi-annual visit. I had the privilege to cook for him as well as my immediate family. We enjoyed a succulent brined, slow roasted chicken, sautéed garlicky collard greens, mashed potatoes, and an all too complex version of Greek salad. Hope you had a great couple of weeks in food just as we did!

EAD Weekly recap 4

Proof Pizza & Pasta – Miami, FL

I’d been in this situation before. It’s a Friday night, I’d just arrived at MIA for a weekend visit with my parents, and we needed to find a place for dinner. A quick check on OpenTable is worrying, as many of the choice spots are jam-packed. After some hurried discussion, we make a bee line for the design district, an area that, in the last two years, has experienced a flood of great restaurants moving in. They can’t all be full right? Right?! These types of frenzied searches usually end in disappointment, but in an area so well stocked with top-notch restaurants, for once, the odds were in our favor.

Proof spread 1

Proof Pizza & Pasta had been on my radar for a while. Seeing those double zeros while driving up and down Miami Avenue was enough to make my list. They were speaking food code, and I was listening. Just to give you some context, Proof is right in the middle of a mealtime maelstrom with heavy hitters like Blackbrick, Sakaya Kitchen, Sugarcane and Salumeria 104 within a stones throw. That means there’s no room to slack when it comes to the food, if you’re not on your game, you’ll be out within a year. The brisk, but informative introduction we received from our server piqued my interest. All of their pizza and pasta dough is made fresh, in-house every morning and is cooked to order. They also support local produce whenever possible. OK great, but I’ve been burned before by restaurants that think they can fool their patrons with clearly store-bought ingredients, so the “prØØf” as they say, is in the pudding, or in this case the gemelli beef bolognese.

But before this pasta hound could get his mitts on his favorite food, mom insisted we get some vegetables. Fine. I spied a tasty looking duck confit gnudi, and hey, it comes with a porcini pureé and fresh herbs, that counts right? Or what about the burrata with sorrel pesto and pea shoots? While both would have been automatic for me, my mother had other ideas, the dreaded sprouts. At Proof they serve their Brussels sprouts raw, shaved and dressed with apple cider, gorgonzola, pecans and dried cranberry. I was devastated by how delicious this salad was. My entire childhood had been a lie, and to find out at 30 that this tiny cabbage, which had caused me so much angst, had the potential to be so tasty, absolutely crushed me. Why doesn’t every mother make the sprouts this way?! Well they’re on my personal menu now, better late than never I suppose.

Proof Pastas

Chefs Justin Flit and Matt DePante, both Miami natives, gained valuable experience in big league Manhattan kitchens DBGB and Gramercy Tavern, which they brought back to their hometown when they decided to open Proof. The attention to detail and quality control that is expected of any top shelf New York restaurants, is clearly seen in this menu. The aforementioned gemelli beef bolognese pairs the deep meat sauce with delicate whipped ricotta and shreds of fresh basil, and was just as good if not better than the version I tried at Beauty & Essex. An equally impressive angel hair with succulent chunks of fresh crab, spiked with Calabrian chili and lemony breadcrumbs displayed the seaward side of the pasta spectrum. Each dish showcased the incredibly fresh noodles which held an elasticity that you only get from a homemade product.

Proof Pizza

The pizza at Proof delivers (excuse the pun) on all fronts. Slightly charred crust, fresh toppings and solid structural stability are three basic traits every great pizza should embody. At Proof, they’re doing their bags of double zero flour justice. We chose two pies, the Salumi and the Oxtail, which like the pastas we selected, highlighted two very different sides of the pizza game. The former could be thought of as simply a vulgar “meat lover’s”, but it has so much more to offer. Joining the pepperoni and sausage are paper-thin slices of prosciutto, added after it’s been fired so as not to ruin the delicate meat by crisping it up. All this protein manages to coexist with Proof’s fantastic red sauce, here spiked with chili oil and a hint of cumin which added an interesting twist on an otherwise familiar flavor profile.

The latter satisfies with a generous spread of braised oxtail infused with thyme, dollops of mozzarella, copious amounts of black garlic and gelatinous caramelized onions. I suggest eating your fill of one pizza and then moving to the other to fully appreciate the depth of flavor achieved by each. As I sit here thinking about them both, it’s difficult to recall a better pizza in Florida.

Proof Jep

When you happen to land in a place like Proof on the spur of the moment, with little planning and double zero expectations, you kind of have to order dessert. That night there was a chocolate sponge-type cake, filled and topped with chocolate hazelnut mousse and crispy chopped hazelnuts. It was a nocciola kind of night, and for this Nutella fiend, the perfect ending to the meal. Chef’s Flit and DePante have crafted a real gem in the design district, a worthy addition to the pantheon of great restaurants that have recently sprung up there. I’m feeling less and less inclined to make the trek to the beach for meals when I’m in Miami. With restaurants like Proof on the mainland, it’s no wonder.

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