Hakkasan – Miami Beach, FL

I don’t know what’s going on at the Fontainebleau hotel, but I like it. Whoever is in charge of food, drink and hospitality deserves a raise, if they aren’t already being paid handsomely. First Scarpetta delivers an eye-opening Italian spread, and now Hakkasan, their in-house purveyor of traditional Chinese cuisine, knocks it out of the park. Two for two ain’t bad folks.

hakkasan-logo1

When comparing high-end Chinese eateries, I use Mr. Chow as a measuring stick. Both New York locations, as well as the one in the W on Miami Beach, are outstanding. The Hakkasan brand has long been known as a heavy hitter in the Chinese ring, both London outposts have earned Michelin stars. Naturally my expectations for Florida’s own Hakkasan were high. I’ll spare you the suspense, my expectations were met and then exceeded, not only by the food, which was outstanding, but the decor, ambiance and especially the impeccable service. I felt like Don Draper in my favorite New York hangout minus the smoke and infidelity.

But this is Eat a Duck, and unlike my esteemed colleague who is unmatched when it comes to spinning an intriguing pre-review yarn, I’m an anti-Lorax, I’ll let the food speak for itself. At first glance, the menu looks to be in lock step with tradition, until you notice some luxurious interlopers. Sure the typical standbys are here, Peking and roast duck, dumplings etc., only at Hakkasan they pair these items with Petrossian caviar, foie gras and black truffles. Some might say those ingredients are cliché, a simple gimmick to lure dummies with too many greenbacks. I assure you, there are no gimmicks here, the crew at Hakkasan wields their flavors with care and respect. Not once did the gourmet additions take away from the traditional soul of the dish, on the contrary, they only served to enhance it.

We began with an order of duck rolls and foie gras Shanghai dumplings. Neither looked particularly fancy, which was a good sign, the chefs didn’t feel the need to impress with flash, they let the flavors do all the work. The duck rolls were moist and tender, with flecks of green onion interspersed among the fowl. Fried to a crunchy perfection, the wrappers picked up globs of tangy hoisin, delivering a satisfying crunch before your teeth hit the meat. It was basically fried Peking duck to go. Somebody open a drive-thru where I can pick these up after a night of heavy drinking!

Foie gras dumplings & duck rollsAs I said before, the foie gras only enhanced the already silky flavor of the dumplings. There was just enough foie to feel it on the tongue and detect its buttery flavor. It added a whole other dimension to an otherwise ordinary, though incredibly delicious dumpling.

Scintillating conversation made the time between courses fly by, and soon our entrées had arrived. Spicy assam prawns in a baby coconut had almost a Polynesian look to it. The broth was savory with a glowing heat that lingered on your lips. Little doughy puffs allowed the ever satisfying dunk, soak and slurp ritual that begged to be performed. The stir-fried Chilean sea bass was out of control. We’ve never really discussed the black cod miso from Nobu in any detail, (which must mean it’s time to visit again) but this dish was like having a bowl filled with it. Each slab of fish flaked away to reveal pearly flesh, sweet as could be. They were lightly tossed in a sanpei sauce, a mixture of soy, rice wine and black sesame oil that gave the fish an attractive sheen without crossing the line to gloppy syrup you find at most Chinese joints.

Hakkasan Miami spread

A handsome plate of hand pulled noodles tossed with wild mushrooms and a whole other side order of mushrooms arrived to the exclamation, “mushroom party!”. I’m a sucker for a good plate of noodles, and this was a great plate of noodles. The medley of mushrooms made this a most comforting dish, something I’d love to eat when it’s cold outside and I’m feeling a little sniffly. The main event for me though, was the black truffle roasted duck. Have you ever heard of a more appetizing dish? I can just hear the chefs who thought this up, “roast duck, how can we make it better?…”, a rookie line cook raises his hand and mumbles “…truffles?”. Yeah that’s how it happened. It was genius. The broth gave off an aroma so full of truffle essence that they could charge for that alone. Thankfully they actually include the food as well. As with each dish before, the duck was cooked perfectly, crispy skin glazed with five spice and truffle, tender meat luxuriating in the broth, and if that wasn’t enough, large slices of fresh black truffle on top.

Black Truffle Roasted Duck

Dessert is not a course usually enjoyed at many Chinese restaurants I’ve visited. But I just couldn’t pass it up, seeing how fantastic the meal had been up to this point. Lately I’ve been distancing myself from chocolate options as more refreshing and tropical items lure me with their siren song. Tonight it was a mango custard with grapefruit, calamansi and coconut sorbet. It was bright and tangy and hit you right in the back of your jaw. The tiny globs of concentrated mango added shiny bursts of flavor that were gently mellowed by the sorbet. I believe the calamansi was nitro frozen and sprinkled like bacon bits. The grapefruit slices added a welcome bitter note, without overpowering the natural sweetness of the mango.

Mango Custard with Grapefruit Calamansi and Coconut Sorbet

Meals like this are rare, where every dish is a winner and no complaints. I may sound like a brown noser (it’s only hoisin don’t worry) but sometimes restaurants just get it right. The Miami branch of Hakkasan may not have a Michelin star of its own, but that doesn’t take away from the amazing cuisine they’re producing nightly. I’m looking forward to returning soon to sample their dim sum service that they offer at lunchtime on the weekends. Lord knows Miami is in dire need of it. Until next time!

Hakkasan on Urbanspoon

Another Evening with Chef Gary Moran: Spanish Tapas

After the last event from Chef Moran, highlighted in our recent piece “On the Backs of Giants”, it was clear to me that these planned, special engagement, “pop-up” extravaganzas were truly special. My friendship with the family (both Gary and Amy) has developed since the opening of their last restaurant. I get to know them better with every bite of food. They graciously gifted me a pair of tickets to the last dinner as a giveaway to one of our fortunate readers. Well, a hearty congratulations to Moriah Maddux, the lucky winner to the Spanish tapas showcase. What follows is a special guest post, with accompanying photos, written by Moriah.

Last night I was invited to eat a five course meal at the Ybor City Wine Bar, prepared by the revered local chef, Gary Moran and his wife. I was very excited to have the opportunity to go, and the event was unforgettable.

Chef Gary Moran  Exterior

Sadly I missed out on the first course, which I’d been told was a delicious soup paired with a glass of Grand Passion wine; I was however, able to start with a very unique appetizer. We were all served a calamari salad with watermelon, olives, and feta. It all went surprisingly well together, a combination of sweetness and a slight crunch from the watermelon, the fresh and tender calamari. The dressing is what brought everything together though. It was an oil and vinegar dressing which tasted minty and was also made with dandelions, which gave the salad a pleasant and slightly bitter taste. This was paired with a glass of Lobetia Chardonnay.

Grilled Calamari & Watermelon Salad Grilled Calamari & Watermelon Salad 2 The Matador

After a delicious start to our meal, we were served what to me was the highlight of the night a braised Spanish onion. It didn’t sound to be particularly fancy, and that’s because it wasn’t meant to be. Gary explained to us that this particular meal is considered poor man’s food. It was even stuffed with the belly of tuna, a part that is often thrown away. But Gary Moran did his best to transform a simple meal into a gourmet one, and I believe he did. When I took my first bite it melted in mouth. The onion was sweet and extremely tender, while the top of the onion was braised and slightly crunchy. The sauce was a creamy artichoke vinaigrette. In addition to the tuna, which was tender and full of flavor, the onion was also stuffed with capers to give the meal the perfect amount of tartness. This meal was served with a glass of Lobetia Tempranillo. This wine a juicy, slightly bitter and tart wine that I thought went great with the meal. I was also impressed when Paul Clear told us that this wine was voted the world’s best organic wine. I couldn’t have been more impressed and was ready to see what else was in store for us.

Pork with Braised Milk Sauce 1 Parsnip Flan Campo Marin Garnacha

The next entrée was a pork with a braised milk sauce. The sauce had lemon zest and juice in it which caused the milk to curdle. I never thought that was a good thing but it gave the sauce an incredible texture and flavor that was mild and very complex. It went very well with the pork, which fell apart even when I lightly pressed it with my fork. This was also served with some crispy potato squares and a room temperature salad made with cooked spinach, almond slices, and white raisins. The course was paired with a glass of Campo Marin Garnacha. This wine was more tart and less sweet than the last, and was also very impressive. Finally, we were served dessert! This was a pickle cherry and parsnip flan. The flan was of course cooked to perfection, but it was the sauce that really impressed. It tasted sweet, tart and had a vinegary bite from the pickled cherries, and the parsnip gave it a smoky, earthy flavor. The pairing was a glass of Italy’s Wine Batti Cuore. This (champagne?) was sweet and crisp, cleansing my palette in between bites. I can’t imagine a better end to the meal.Gary’s food was incredible. He now does catering and I’m sure he will continue to impress others in the future. I can’t wait until the next time I get to try his food again

On the Backs of Giants: An evening with Chef Gary Moran

Truth be told, I’m a fan of the Moran brand. As day turns to night, a crowd of hungry diners are welcomed with an explanation of why we’ve been gathered. I’ve yet to see a chef with more passion for showing respect to tradition in the culinary craft, while at the same time, pushing his profession. Well, maybe if you include the time I saw master Joël Robuchon, who was mentioned in the initial welcoming words as a pioneer of invention. One of the “giants” to be revered.

Chef Gary Moran

Amuse. When you think of bacon and tomato you probably think B.L.T. or some other equally humble dish. I like to think of crispy and firm textures that can refresh and exhilarate my senses. Bacon is always going to be a gimmick due to the breadth of enjoyment by such a broad audience. It’s a crutch for many cooks who do not feel compelled to show restraint. When paired with the time-consuming Robuchon influenced tomato water and chiffonade of lettuce, I found myself eager for more. This bacon grease coated my lips. A wonderful consequence of consuming pork products. I guess I should expect to be refreshed by lettuce and tomato water. It’s almost completely made of water for goodness sakes. Picture a savory agua fresca.

BLT Soup Grilled Cheese & Tomato Basil Soup

For a soup course, we were treated to a grilled cheese, tomato and basil soup, presented by our interpreter and chef Gary. It was restrained until the moment you dig your fork into spongy focaccia laced with sharp Asiago and Parmesan. I enjoyed being in the ring with fresh, lively tomato dishes for two rounds, anxious to see what kind of hay-makers were coming my way.

Just about the most disrespectful thing you can do is throw away a classic. You don’t just stop listening to Sgt. Pepper because he’s 40 years old. Beef Wellington fits that description. The components of this English stalwart include all the things cool kids love to hate. Rich beef, duxelle, puff pastry, roots and bordelaise. Add truffle and you have a whole room of people wondering if they had accidentally found a portal to  Le Cirque circa 1987.

Beef Wellington Mille feuille of sousvide beef

Meat cake a.k.a. mille feuille of beef sous-vide paired with two sauces came next. Horseradish stroganoff and Burgundy cocoa were the ultimate contrast. Crispy sweet roots, parsnip and sweet potato used in the previous dish were reformed into chips to go along with the fork tender, slow water bathed beef. I finally started to understand what the chef was doing! It took four courses to get it through my cranium kadoo. One dish contained two concepts. We can, if we choose to do so, use the same ingredients in a myriad of ways. We can choose to give a gentlemanly nod, or we can push food into the Newmanium!

Dessert prequel:
Peachy, figgy, bready pudding spiked with bourbon and cinnamon, topped with a rich creamy Chantilly. The base had a custard-like appearance despite the topping of crusty crouton. I wish I had been cozied up on a chaise watching Million Dollar Listing on a cold winter snow day.

Fig & Peach Bread Pudding Almond tart with peach gel

As the evening wound down, the last plate arrived, although many of us were confounded, much like a raptor curiously kicking a can of Barbasol. It looked sweet and architecturally intriguing. A gorgeous example of edible minimalism. I took a bite to give it some old Colombo detective work. The top was made into a cubist gel of peach puree underneath a variant bread pudding tinged with rosemary and almond slivers. The night was about taking a straight path to a classic, followed by a lower leg drop in the center of the ring by the future Champion of Tampa cuisine. If you have the means to do so I would strongly suggest giving some attention to the new avenue Chef Gary and his incredible team have paved.

B&B Junction – Winter Park, FL

Hamburgers… or “burgers” as many vulgarians call it, are by all accounts, this countries most famous, and easily our finest, export. The begetting is a little hazy with stories circulating throughout many of the major cities of the northeast, about the literal birthplace of worlds most bodacious sandwich. Many will attempt to fight you, much like Guile vs M. Bison when you bring up what characteristics make a burger “perfect”, only to come to an impasse.

Sonic Shroom!

The truth of the matter is that there is no such thing as the perfect anything, there are so many stellar qualities of a great hamburger, that preferences have to be culled at some point. Otherwise we would live in a dystopian society in outer space in which humans are obese to the point of losing the ability to walk. Meanwhile back on earth the survival of our planet is reliant on a cute garbage collecting robot. But I digress…

So we all know the characteristics of a great burger. But do you know the single item that will ruin even the most pristine hamburger specimen? American cheese. The contagion of all things pure and true. There are too many burger flipperias that insist on blanketing their wonderful creations with this plastic wrap painted marigold. It’s like if the de-lovely madame Marianne Cottilard had a football shaped goiter jutting out from her neck. Oh, its distinctive, but you never wish you had one yourself. I’ve heard the perfect description of what American cheese does to a burger and its counterparts. I won’t quote this but one expert said it was the glue that held everything together.

“Glue”

Couldn’t have found a better description if I had a book of synonyms before me. Except maybe “High gloss polyurethane deck coating.”

B&B Junction Logo

B&B Junction has taken over the space that once housed the great 4 rivers smokehouse. A Titan of Florida BBQ has since grazed down the road to a bigger pasture.

Their menu is designed to showcase local food purveyors and their wares, “using only the highest quality ingredients and sustainable, hormone free meats.” A quote that is religiously displayed throughout the spot.

I love that approach, as does my wife. It even persuaded her to take a blind shot at this new joint. The idea that a restaurant has the same mindset as her vaulting standards, the food doesn’t even have to taste great. But let me tell you, B&B is by far the best in Orlando bar none. Probably the most wholesome as well. Guess what? You won’t find any Kraft singles on these bodacious Brahman beef cakes.

Unfortunately, I hate being pressured to order before the time is right. Fortunately, when every single menu item would make a competent selection, you really can’t go wrong. Unfortunately, I don’t share any DNA with our bovine buddies, as I lack the three extra stomachs that might allow me to eat all eight of their signature burgers. Fortunately, they are reasonably priced, so making multiple visits isn’t out of the question.

No. 1 Burger

My wife had a traditionalist hamburger with the basic lineup of condiments. Mustard, lettuce, tomato, house made pickles. (a union of dill and bread & butter flavor) If you call yourself a hamburger aficionado you have to respect my wife for her purity. For me, this is the best way to get the most complete understanding of how good beef makes the burger. You can almost taste the grassy iron enriched earth where the cows roamed with a sense of purpose. Speaking of my wife, she made the wisest of decisions by marrying me. She made an equally smart choice by selecting beer battered onion rings. Onion rings which had not been made better in an establishment. The only time I can say the onions had some semblance of a toothsome bite. Almost exclusively, onion rings are just hollowed smush filled circles of disappointment. They also came with an elevated blooming onion dipping sauce with a super macho man uppercut of horseradish. My order was the antithesis to my wife’s. If hers was a classic, mine paid tribute to Back to the Future 2 with a look into what normal burger toppings will be in the time of hover skateboards and crazy geometric shaped sunglasses.

No. 8 BurgerB&B Fries Mac + Cheese #2

The No. 8 came with sweet smokey chipotle ketchup, smashed avocado, fresh arugula, aged cheddar and a nice over easy fried egg. Man, if I had to order this nod to torta anywhere else I would swear that they’d get it all wrong. Due to the sheer amount of ingredients and flavor combinations that are tucked between this bun, this could have been a train wreck of disappointment. Usually something gets lost, and never found when you got so much going on. Amazing grace this had it all!! Oh and you can get some non traditional sides to go with your burgers if you aren’t a fry guy. I don’t know…does duck confit mac n’ chee sound like something you might like? This stuff is so rich and luxurious, if you schmear it on your forehead your tongue will beat your brains out trying to get to it (#dadjoke). You’re full already I know, but try, if not for yourself than for the children, to salvage some room sharing of one their freshly made desserts. We sampled the maple bacon pancake cupcake with cream cheese frosting. Never before had I discovered breakfast for dessert in such way. Well there was that one time I poured creme caramel over a stack of flapjacks one shameful early morning jaunt in Manhattan.

Maple Bacon Pancake Cupcake

All in all, I couldn’t have guessed how far my expectations would be exceeded. If you don’t believe that the better the beef is for you, (meaning grass-fed and humanely sourced) the better the taste, you haven’t tried B&B Junction. Can’t wait to make my way down the list of options to see which one will razzle dazzle me next.

B&B Junction on Urbanspoon