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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Food Truck Roundup at Wynwood Art Walk

By now, the concept of a food truck rally is fairly common. These mobile food courts are held often in most large cities and even a few smaller ones. Every once in a while they’re combined with another event like a music festival or art show. In the Wynwood neighborhood of Miami, they hold an event on the second Saturday of every month called Art Walk. This normally seedy area of town opens up into a hip smattering of galleries, pop-up market stands, restaurants and of course, food trucks. I’m a big fan of art in all forms, but on this night, I was there for the food.

As with any respectable festival, whether it be music, comedy, whatever, there are always warm-up acts, memorable new discoveries and of course the headliners that usually brought everyone there in the first place. The Food Truck Roundup was no exception with a lineup so long it would take you three or four visits to eat at every truck. We got there just as the sun was going down, before the real crowds showed up so we could get the run of the place. However, with only about $23 between my sister and I, we had to choose wisely.

Dog Eat Dog Ms. Cheezious Gastropod

We passed up Dog Eat Dog and Ms. Cheezious, hot dogs and grilled cheeses, you all know I love ’em, and the food coming out of those joints looked delicious, but with a limited budget, you have to be picky. The fact that the folks at Gastropod retrofitted an Airstream into a rolling hipster eatery (I couldn’t tell if it was a ’64 or and ’81) definitely caught my attention, and as much as I wanted to sample their diabolically tasty sounding fare, I had to skip them as well as they were out of my budget (though I’d like to return and write-up a piece just for them, I mean just look at their menu?!).

At last we made our first stop at the BC Taco truck. I’m a sucker for tacos served out the side of an old UPS van. The main draw here was the simplicity. The menu hit all the right areas, steak, chicken, fish, shrimp, without getting cute with fancy ingredients. We ordered a Missing Link consisting of fried Mahi, green cabbage and shredded mozzarella, and a Gatherer, a veggie taco with fried avocado, lettuce, shredded mozzarella and chipotle mayo. Simple, tasty and well-done. At about $7, it was a great start.

BC Tacos"The Missing Link" taco "The Gatherer" taco

We walked a few yards past the Nacho Bizness despite their admirable enthusiasm, as well as the Waffle Gourmet truck, which, while tempting with its chocolate and strawberry smothered gaufre on the side, had to be resisted in favor of more savory options. We found our next target with Che Grill.

Waffle Gourmet Nacho Bizness Che Grill

My sister, ever the communist revolutionary sympathizer, spotted Che Grill from across the park. This truck may share the name and home country with everyone’s favorite commie, the folks at Che Grill are  more interested in serving up  fresh Argentinian cuisine instead of Coups d’Etat. The first thing to catch my eye was the Lomita Sandwich, fresh-baked bread with thin slices of churrasco  steak, topped with melted mozzarella, ham, a fried egg, bacon, lettuce and tomato! Unfortunately this feast on a bun was out of our budget, so we sprang for one of their tasty looking empanadas instead, spicy beef to be precise. As empanadas go, it wasn’t anything mind-blowing, but the dough was tender and flaky, and the filling had great flavor, so I call it a success and for only $3.

Spicy Beef Empanada

It was time for the main event, the whole reason we came to this food truck rally in the first place. Dim Ssam a G0-G0, Sakaya Kitchen’s mobile platform. For me, this was the headliner, the David Bowie or Pixies of the rally. I’m not alone in my love for this truck, Mr. Bourdain himself visited Dim Ssam a Go-Go recently on his Miami visit for The Layover. Anyway, their truck was situated right at the main entrance, obviously the most prized spot in the sandy lot. I expected nothing less from this hulking matte black truck than I would from the brick and mortar shop in downtown Miami, and I was not disappointed. Two Kurobota pork belly buns for $7 were the order of the day. Perfectly tender pork, a spicy jolt of sweet chili sauce and their awesome quick pickled cucumbers. They disappeared in a matter of seconds but oh how satisfying they were.

Dim Ssam A Go-Go

Spicy Pork Belly Buns

We were left with three dollars, which we had promised to a young lady in a van a while back. Giselle Pinto is the proprietor of the Sugar Yummy Mama cupcake truck and had in her tiny glass case, a cupcake that I had to have. The guava cupcake. It. Was. Awesome. No other words needed, I’ll leave you with this.

Sugar Yummy Mama Wow-Guava Cupcake

Well that was a little long-winded, but the Food Truck Invasion has a lot to offer. These guys move around a lot, so they can be tough to pin down sometimes. If you’re looking to visit a food truck rally here in South Florida, I find that Roaming Hunger is a good website to track down your favorite truck. Of course you could always follow them on Twitter to get up the up to the minute scoop on their next location. It’s all about doing the research!

Sakaya Kitchen – Miami, FL

If you know me, you know my food habits. One of those being my obsessive need to sniff out the best eateries in town, particularly when I’ve just moved to a new one. Part of this quirk is innate, it’s something I’ve done for years, and part of it was encouraged by Logan,  a legendary food detective in his own right. When the two of us get together, very few restaurants worth visiting elude our noses, and this past visit was no exception.

The gang was all together, Logan, Lobe (my sister, a.k.a. Sara) and myself. We embarked on a late night wander around downtown Miami with the intention of finding some tasty, yet-to-be-discovered places to get a great plate of food.

After hitting up a sleepy conveyor belt sushi joint, we turned a corner and there it was, Sakaya Kitchen, an Asian brasserie/gastropub of sorts, just the thing we were searching for. The enormous neon pig in the window was enough to motivate a brisk walk across the street. Upon entering, we were faced with a gargantuan floor to ceiling menu containing countless dishes, all of which seemed to involve pork, duck, beef, shrimp or some combination of those.

Now for those of you who have had the pleasure of eating out with Mr. Crumpton, you know that there are times when everyone orders for themselves, and there are times when you put yourself in his capable hands to take care of the ordering. Even a knowledgeable food-lover such as myself knows the proper time to cede control of the meal, and I can honestly say that I have never been disappointed when Logan takes the helm. This was one of those times, so my sister and I took our places at the table and let the man go to work, not quite knowing what we’d be enjoying.

He joined us moments later with a smile on his face as if to say, “mission accomplished”. Moments later our number was called and it was chow time. Logan plopped the tray in front of us as we got our first glimpse of the feast. A cracklin’ duck herb sandwich with black plum, quick pickles and scallions was first to catch my attention. The succulent duck had an awesome char on the tips but was moist and tender at the center. Pair that with the crisp quick pickles, scallions and savory plum sauce, I could’ve told you this would be a winner without even tasting it.

Bahn Mi Buns. Nothing more really needs to be said, but I can’t help myself. The boys and girls at Sakaya Kitchen did these right and stuffed them full of pork belly, paté de tete, kimchi carrots, spicy mayo and cilantro. If I were a big wig executive putting on a presentation for my investors, a platter of these is all I’d need to impress. The flavors were spot on, sumptuous pork belly, refreshing veg, and an electric mayo to tie it all together. I’m no prognosticator, but I see more Bahn Mi Buns in my future.

Next was the Bo Ssam bowl with grilled shrimp, spicy sticky rice banchan. Bo Ssam for those who don’t know, is slow-roasted Korean pork wrapped with a leaf vegetable. This was more of a deconstructed presentation as the verdant leaf was stuffed next to the pork like a garnish. This was definitely the main event. I wish this shot showed the scale better, because this was a monstrous bowl of pork. So monstrous in fact that I could’ve worn it like a Stormtrooper helmet, and I have an enormous head. I digress. The pork was fork tender, it fell apart faster than the New York Jets playoff bid, and it was smothered with a spicy herbed sauce. The shrimp on the other hand were perfectly cooked and fresh as can be. In my experience, shrimp can be a very problematic protein. So many times I’ve received tough, nearly inedible, fishy pieces of crap. Sakaya Kitchen did not dishonor this animal in the slightest. It was a fantastic take on surf n’ turf. The stash of quick pickles under the mound of rice was a nice surprise, and that coming from a known pickle hater.

We ended things with what sounded like a sure-fire star, a bacon Nutella shake. While it was delicious, we noted a distinct lack of bacon flavor. That may just be because we’re hog hounds, but I think next time we’ll order it with extra bacon, and maybe a side of pork belly for good measure.

I have to say I was very impressed with Sakaya Kitchen overall. In a town like Miami that can leave you wanting when it comes to certain food cultures, Sakaya Kitchen fills a void with an eatery not unlike something you’d find in downtown Manhattan. It’s a welcome addition to the South Florida food scene and I sincerely hope to see more like it. My next goal is to check out their wandering food truck Dim Ssam A Go-Go. Supposedly they use all-natural proteins, organic dairy and even support local farmers! You look me in the eye and tell me that doesn’t have Eat a Duck written all over it! Look out for the review soon!

Sakaya Kitchen on Urbanspoon