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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Anise Global Gastrobar – Tampa, FL

It’s hard to imagine a logical person asking for anything better than those little puffy globular fatty pork filled clam shells known as bao. The Stinky Bunz food truck goes above and beyond when it comes to serving the wonderfully steamy, lovingly handcrafted pockets of goodness. With a sparkle in my eye glimmering brighter than the David Yurman summer collection, I tried my first bao at the aforementioned Stinky Bunz, at the first sanctioned monthly food truck rally in my sleepy city. The next time around I eagerly anticipated giving the bao my full attention. Sadly, they didn’t come back. I found out that the truck had taken an indefinite hiatus. It was then that sadness gnawed at my heart as my soul was swallowed up in a baoless void. My body violently seized function as a tempestuous sorrow knocked me down to my knees, much like Eu·ro·aq′ui·lo, the great storm of biblical proportions.

Stinky Bunz Truck

What more could I do than wait things out? I wrote down my vitals on my arm as one does in times of natural disaster. Name, address, favorite taqueria. You know, the essentials.

Flash forward to the near present. a good friend of mine kindly requested my help finding a venue for her brother and sister in-laws anniversary dinner.

The prerequisites were the following:

  • great menu both in the food and drink department
  • a place that adults could go for a night away from the kids, as well as a place that doesn’t make you want to leave after an hour
  • and the most challenging of all,  to find a place no one had ever been to, as the Central Florida area has been quiet in the new restaurant department.

I began doing the research and was coming up empty. The seemingly insurmountable task almost had me down for the count, until I saw it, “Coming soon, Anise Global Gastrobar”. I saw those words in a post online and had to check it out. I admit, the name is a mouthful but it appeared, based on name alone, that this place might meet my needs, wants and Bacchanalian desires.

Anise Logo & Interior

Scrolling. Menu. Click. Full Dining. Click. Scrolling. “Stinky Bunz”. That read with an eerie familiarity. Kind of like that one place I used to know. Was I in the food version of the epic blockbuster “The Number 23”? Through hungry, squinting eyes, I read “inspired by our food truck”. I picked up the phone, dialed up my friend, gave her the details and a grand party was had. (Editors Note: I wasn’t even invited to the party that I basically birthed.)

Then it was my turn. Little time had passed before my wife and I were once again looking for the perfect place for a dinner date. Anise was the first place that came to mind. My wife usually likes eating on the lighter side, but sometimes, when the planets align, she craves food of the deep-fried persuasion. As I read the entire menu with the grace and style of Eric Carmen, she began to swoon at some of the items. Truffled tater tots, duck confit lettuce wraps, baked goat cheese, and of course the trademarked Stinky Bunz.

We actually started the meal with the tots. There’s something about the molecular makeup of a tater tot that science cannot explain. Don’t you ever compare them with french fries, dont do it. When you pair the Picasso-like structure of perfectly crisp tots, combined with a liberal shower of truffle essence, then provide a lemony aioli as my paint for this canvas, the results are like art in a basket. The tots got the ol’ supershot basketball treatment. It was a race to see how many we could devour in 60 seconds. I scored a swisheroo for two while the wife earned a free play.

Truffled Tater Tots

I chose the duck confit lettuce wraps as my first true solo endeavor as she went with a steaming bowl of Korean Jap Chae. The lettuce wraps were a great way to start the Asian portion of the meal. The shredded duck cooked in its own fat and slathered with hoisin inside the lettuce wraps, included fresh herbs, pickled daikon and lots of sliced raw jalapeno. I welcome heat when it’s balanced, which this was. Mainly due in part to the bright citrus dressing that played as the sauce. It not only cut the heat but also served to cut the richness of from the confit de canard.

Duck Confit Lettuce Wraps & Korean Jap Chae

Shortly after pulling the curtain on the last wrap, my wife’s Jap Chae arrived. So, you can get this stuff completely vegetarian or with chicken or whatever and it will be just fine. But, my suggestion is to go for gold and get it with a couple hunky slices of grilled beef tenderloin cooked rare, like purple rare. The flavor profile for this somewhat simple dish is vast. I can’t accurately describe the fireworks display exploding in my wife’s brain as she devoured the noodle bowl. What I can say without pause that she has become a Jap Chae hound ever since, seeking and destroying all possible opposition in her path. I’ve never seen such dedication.

The bunz arrived. Three to an order and all with different fillings. I always eat in a way that rewards potential. Meaning, the dish that sounds the best to me, if I have the choice, will always be the last consumed. It was a fitting conclusion as the stinky bunz made it to the table far later than all the others. The first one grabbed was the Chinese BBQ pork shoulder with radish. I could tell right away this was the same style as I had many months ago at the food truck rally. Sweet, sticky and rich, similar to the flavors of the duck I enjoyed earlier. I’m glad I got that out of the way. More pork in the form of the belly was my second attempt in my Tour de Bao. Again, similar flavors with a few differing characteristics. The fatty pork did well to compliment all the freshness that surrounded it. With the addition of a slab of wonderful kimchi, it became clear how well the food was seasoned. I wanted no more than what was presented to me, but I had one Bun to go.

Stinky Bunz

Finally, with a heave and a hurl I grabbed the last parcel, catapulting it toward my face. I closed my eyes and quietly began singing in my head “I’ve been meaning to tell you, I’ve got this feelin’ that won’t subside. I look at you and I fantasize. You’re mine tonight. Now I’ve got you in my sights…With these hungry eyes.” Crispy red curried chicken with a gargantuan cucumber slice, drenched in this bright white creamy coconut yogurt sauce was the last bite I would have. Fittingly it was the best. I could venture a guess at which 5-10 ethnic regions this one bite originated from, but I prefer to enjoy the mystery. The global part of Anise is the most telling. The food isn’t based on Chinese or Korean or Indian or even Taiwanese. They take a little piece of this and extract out a small sampling of that , making something tasty and worldly. You need to try this place. If for no other reason than to hear my voice serenading you with every bite you take.

Rebel House – Boca Raton, FL

For something to make an indelible impression on my mind, a truly impressive feat has to be achieved. I am speaking, quite cryptically, about my experience at Rebel House in Boca Raton. It was a momentous occasion indeed, and though it was over 3 months ago, it still resonates in my lobes, both cerebral and the fatty lobe my liver has been transformed into. A transformation that would cause a rag-tag gang of mutants to assemble to fight for the greater good of mankind.

Rebel House interior

So here goes an attempt to wax poetic about something that happened such a long time ago. An evening in which I have no historical, pictorial, electoral or maybe even pectoral data for that matter, to back up my braised and brazen proclamations of excellence. Luckily, James was there to document the occasion.

The beef essences that transferred from popped corn to lips, was an amazing introduction between two new acquaintances, myself being the lesser in the relationship of human and tallow. I had studied this menu online for months, to the point of obsession. Ever since Rebel House opened for business, I had eyed it as a potential food suitor. However the daunting three hour drive stymied our would-be affair. But if you want something bad enough, all you need is an opportunity. To get just one foot in the door. Who knows what could be if distance didn’t separate us?

The table ordered around 12 dishes. We were all drawn to the left side of the menu that harbored the smaller plates meant for sharing.

Rebel House spread

I will say that I wasn’t blown away by my first taste of voluntarily ordered food (the beef popcorn was a gift and a welcome amusement). Homemade tater tots filled with cheeses of varying viscosity. I feel in hindsight they were ordered more for the little man at the table. They weren’t completely ready to come out of their hot oil bath, but things drastically rocketed skyward when my Korean BBQ lamb ribs arrived. With each bite, the thick sweet soy heavy sauce struggled valiantly to remain on the bone with caramel-like tension. The meat had no problem. It was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice. As I often do, I was mindful of the techniques and time it took to achieve such complex flavors. Though lamb ribs are a protein usually forgotten, this dish bestowed it with a distinct personality. That, along with the rice vinegar quick pix (pickles) that served perfectly as a pairing to the ribs, I quickly forgot the miscues of the first course. I was then tapped on the shoulder due to excessive pondering. Next course, sweetbreads with citrus, frisee, and fennel. There hasn’t been an odder couple working so harmoniously since the powerhouse duo of Sylvester Stallone and Estelle Getty. I have to say, Rebel House is quite the flavor matchmaker. The tart citrus sliced scimitar-like through the rich, crispy morsels.

Then came the fried rice. In the back of my mind I was worrying. I worry that restaurants sometimes stretch themselves too thin. Giving me too many cuisines to choose from in one meal gets me nervous, as is my eyes will rebel against my better judgement resulting in a muddied dining experience.

Rebel House spread 2

The fried rice at rebel house is a complete meal all on its own. I may not have appreciated it as much as I should have, based on my fullness level at that point. The combination of the fresh springtime vegetables, with crispy bacon, a fried egg oozing a spellbinding golden yolk all over the plate, ribbons of spicy mayo intertwined with crispy fried red onions being the last bow atop this mound of mouth-watering magnificence. I mean, you can’t find it this in any modern Chinese establishment. Stop looking, it’s over Johnny. Some other items we sampled were a dish of grilled asparagus, drizzled with hollandaise and shaved cheese, pork potstickers in a sweet hoisin-like glaze and a dish of ravioli with snap peas, roasted mushroom ragu and shaved parm.

Ravioli with Shaved Parm and Roasted Mushrooms

The table enjoyed two amazing ice cream desserts for our last cattle call. It was just about time to go to slaughter. These marvels of modern science in sundae form were presented to us in gigantic goblets fit for King Ralph.

I can’t exactly remember what they were but one had chocolate, praline, pretzels and candied almond. While the other, had a cinnamon roll at the base with bacon bits, caramel, and walnuts swarming the perimeter.

Rebel House dessert

You have to try this place if you are ever within 50 miles of Boca Raton. It’s worth the drive. This place has gotten a lot of buzz as being stiff competition to its counterparts over in Miami, and for good reason. And when you do go, because you will, bring your story of rebellion back to your hometown and demand that a place like this find its way into your city streets.

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