A Culinary Insiders Tour to Miami and Key West (Part II)
This is a continuation blog post, Part II, from a series of posts describing the itinerary and experiences on a recent Travel with Doc Culinary Insiders Tour to Miami and Key West. Part I can be found here: A Culinary Insiders Tour to Miami and Key West (Part I)
A quick recap of Part I: Our group has just finished two initial days of gastro-tourism by spending time in the Little Havana and Wynwood districts in Miami. Our guest chefs for the weekend were chef Norman Van Aken and chef Jeremiah Bullfrog. We ate at many incredible establishments including La Camaronera, El Palacio de los Jugos, Alter, El Brazo Fuerte, Garcia’s, the Vagabond BBQ party and finally at gastroPod. It was quite the weekend and we were ready to start the week!
DAY 3, Monday, April 18, 2016
It’s Monday morning and Miami is going to work. Our job for the next two days was to sample and taste our way through the rest of Miami. It was a difficult job, but with a lot of dedication, the mission was accomplished. We began bright and early at 9am at El Mago de las Fritas where we met both Javier Ramirez, a local restaurant guru and backer, and Steve Plotnicki, author and founder of the Opinionated About Dining blog. El Mago de las Fritas has been around for 31 years and is a staple in Little Havana that serves a specialty called “fritas” which are a Cuban interpretation of a hamburger. The “frita” is made with cooked and raw onion, a mix of ground beef and chorizo, and is topped with potato sticks. It is a hangover cure and definitely a way to get the blood moving (or not) in the morning. We each ordered a “frita” and sat below the photo on the wall of President Obama meeting the chef from El Mago de las Fritas. It was a fun and filling way to start the morning and the week.
But the morning was only halfway over! And it was time to have our second lunch or taste of the morning at El Latin American Cafeteria. It was here that Javier sent us to try their Cubano, or Cuban sandwich, which is comprised of Cuban bread, mustard, sliced pork roast, glazed ham, Swiss cheese and thinly sliced dill pickles added in layers. The sandwich is generally pressed. What we found is that you need to specify that you want mustard on your Cuban sandwich. If you don’t, it doesn’t taste like a true Cuban sandwich. So we ordered a second one, even though we were getting full, and added the mustard this time. Now it worked as all of the tastes came together.
Time to walk. And walk. It was only 11:30am and we needed movement and exercise. So we took a stroll near our next destination, Eating House Miami, in the Coral Gables area of Miami. It was great to stretch our legs and get the blood flowing before one of the highlights of our trip.
Eating House was our “real” lunch destination and it was a most memorable experience. Chef Giorgio Rapicavoli prepared a wonderful lunch and cocktail workshop that lasted well into the mid-afternoon. What was so great about this tasting lunch and cocktail workshop was that we got to talk and hang out with chef Rapicavoli and learn about his experiences of learning to cook in his house making pomodoro sauce with his mother, his time in Italy with the Slow Food group and his time working on his new restaurant, Glass & Vine. The meal itself was fantastic as well. Some dishes that stood out included his classic Heirloom Tomato dish which includes nuoc cham, peanuts, frozen coconut milk and herbs. We were needing a lighter meal and this fit the mood! We also had some innovative tacos using roasted avocados in place of tortillas. Yum. And the cocktails he created were extremely tasty and refreshing. The first included some sugar cane rhum that was fermented in house. The second cocktail was a form of michelada that included some mezcal and toasted grasshoppers that lined the rim… A huge thanks to chef Giorgio Rapicavoli for his great experience at Eating House!
After a break in the late afternoon, it was time for the next experience. We headed back to The Freehand Miami for a special cocktail workshop at the bar above their restaurant 27. We met first with cocktail guru Elad Zvi from The Broken Shaker. He took us on a tour of the garden within The Freehand Miami and showed us some of the herbs and plantings that they used for their cocktails and food. Everything was so compact, yet uniquely organized. We then headed upstairs to join bartender Randy Perez who walked us through the making of three very tasty and well-crafted cocktails. The restaurant at The Freehand, 27, also provided some sumptuous bites to eat while enjoying our cocktail workshop. Randy took us through all of the steps with each cocktail and it was impressive to see how The Broken Shaker is really trying out new renditions of classic cocktails as well as using local ingredients to add that “Miami” touch to their offerings. They were all very gracious hosts!
It was a nice evening so the plan was to walk from The Freehand to Taquiza, our last eating stop for the day. South Beach is always so busy, even on a Monday, and it was great to see people out and about at the beginning of the work week. Taquiza is a traditional Mexican taqueria using blue masa for their tortillas. The owner, Steve Santana, has a background working with The Broken Shaker, Eating House and some stints with chef Jeremiah Bullfrog, so it only made sense that we finish this whirlwind of a day tasting some of their tacos. We tried a variety of everything that was still available. This included the Rajas, Carnitas, Barbacoa, and Huitlacoche tacos as well as some sides. Other tacos were already sold out! Too bad because I had the Al Pastor on my mind. It was a full day, but extremely fun and tasty.
DAY 4, Tuesday, April 19, 2016
No super rush this morning after our busy day on Monday, so it was time for some beach time and to enjoy the sun and sand in South Beach.
Our morning did eventually start at 11:00am with a brunch/lunch/pastry workshop at the newly opened Bachour Bakery & Bistro located in Downtown Miami at Brickell World Plaza. It recently opened on March 25th, 2016. The bakery and bistro is run by both Antonio Bachour, the world-renowned St. Regis Bal Harbour pastry chef and chef Henry Hane, a former Eating House chef and partner. What an experience! Not only is Antonio an incredible pastry maker, but his whole staff is so well-organized and filled with experts, that we felt like we were at the top pastry house in the world. And to top it off, chef Henry Hane is preparing some masterful savory dishes as well.
Our meal started out with the “brunch” portion which consisted of an assortment of various pastries including croissants and other baked goods. So well done. This was then followed by a savory “lunch” tasting menu of most of their best dishes. And they kept coming to the table with more when we thought we were done… a theme for the week. There was no way we were able to taste any of their desserts at this point, so we started the pastry workshop which consisted of making from scratch macarons with pastry chef Karina Rivera. She was awesome! Not only did she explain how to make the perfect macaron, she let us try our piping skills and we all did pretty good. It was quite an experience to learn how intricate and involved the whole macaron process is. Very fun. So after making sweets, we were ready to sample a variety of Antonio’s treats. Three more plates came out with samples of some of his best. It was a four-hour experience of great food, people and sights. Definitely a highlight of the trip.
The dinner plan for the evening was to dine at La Mar by Gaston Acurio at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Prior to arriving for dinner, we stopped at the home of one of Miami’s great cocktail and food enthusiasts, David Sprintis. It was here that David made us a great lulo margarita cocktail. Lulo is a citrus fruit native to the northwest region of South America. It was a very nice quick visit with David and we are grateful for his hospitality and delicious cocktail.
La Mar by Gaston Acurio is a Peruvian restaurant that is run by Executive Chef Diego Oka. He was born and raised in Lima, Peru, and some of his influences come from his grandmother’s cooking and his Japanese-Peruvian heritage. He has worked at other La Mar locations as well, including Lima, Bogota and San Francisco. We were joined by chef and author Norman Van Aken and his wife Janet. Chef Oka brought out a variety of different fusion Peruvian items and it made for a special way to end our Miami portion of the Travel with Doc Culinary Insiders Tour of Miami and Key West.
Day 4 ended our Miami portion of the trip. On Wednesday, April 20th, Day 5, we started our trek to Key West for two nights. Stay tuned for Part III.
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