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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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

Mings Bistro: Restaurant or Sorcerer’s Den?

What do you do when you’re craving something you can’t have? For all you guys with their mind in the gutters, I’m talking about food of course. When you just can’t squeeze that extra $50 for a night free from the stove and the dishwasher, what do you do? What is the one dish that you just can’t cook as well as your favorite restaurant, no matter how hard you try? These are the kinds of things I think about constantly. When my mind wanders to the side of hunger and satiation, it consumes me like the third level of Inception. The only difference is my belly is my totem. Keep in mind the limits of this discussion don’t have to apply strictly to your favorites, but more on your own cooking limitations and the time it takes for preparation. For me the answer to these questions is this: The most logical conclusion as to why we all fail at some of the simplest of dishes is that, there must be some sort of spell or wizardry going on that only a few select beings know which allow them to make certain things taste so good, at least that’s how it seems to us normals.

My entries are as follows:

To make a long story short, I can’t make Peking duck. To explain why would take longer than your attention span will allow. It’s basically a 2-day process and I’m not really in the position to be able to spend that much time on a bird. That’s why I try and go to Ming’s Bistro (1212 Woodward St # 6 Orlando, FL) to get my fix. It’s some of the best duck I’ve ever had, but just speaking locally, it can’t be beat. Especially since I can’t do it any better myself.

When I crave sushi, I would not even fathom of making it at home. Here’s why:
1. I don’t trust any local fish market to have the same quality fish as any of the better sushi restaurants within a 50 mile radius.
2. If I could trust a fish monger, the cost of all the fish I’d want would be substantially higher than just buying pieces individually at a sushi bar.
3. If I could afford the fish and it was of excellent quality, I will never be able to make sushi rice anywhere near as good as the most untalented of sushi chefs.
4. I’ve tried all of the above and I stink at it. The best sushi in my area is at Shin Sushi 803 N. Orange Avenue, Orlando, FL. When I can afford sushi I go there. I will not settle for mediocre and I will do without until I can go.

For the sweet tooth:
I don’t know what else could be in this thing called an Ooey Gooey Butter from a place called Fresco’s Bakery & Bistro (132 S. Kentucky Ave Lakeland, FL 33801) but in any case it can’t be more than 5 ingredients. Why I won’t ever try to make it.
1. Making a tray might add up to 5000 calories and a couple hundred grams of fat. Butter is in the name so do the math.
2. I would eat the whole sheet at once.
3. I bar will do the trick for at least a couple months.
4. They’re only $1.50. Why make a mess?

What are your thoughts on this matter? What foods befuddle you when you try to replicate them at home, and what do the restaurants got that we don’t got?! Audience participation is strongly encouraged and lavishly rewarded (just kidding about that last part, but we will leave you a witty reply!)

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