June 29, 2008

Samurai - The Falls, Miami

Samauri is owned by Benihana, and is located near the entrance of The Falls, an upscale shopping mall in the Pinecrest area in Miami. We have had several meals there and it's always decent food as well as entertaining. The place is chock full of couples on dates and birthday celebrators--and it's always packed. It's a large restaurant and if you don't want to wait for 2 hours for a table, get there before 7:30 PM on a weekend night. I recommend this restaurant for consistently good, uncomplicated main courses and for the cooking theatrics of seeing a chef making the food on a hibatchi right in front of your eyes. All of the entrees include a number of courses- Japanese Onion Soup, Benihana salad (iceberg lettuce with ginger dressing), shrimp appetizer, teriyaki vegetables, plain or fried rice, hot green tea and ice cream for dessert. Let's discuss.

The soup is okay, the salad is super-chilled and it is obvious that not much thought went into it. Shrimp appetizer- depending on your chef du jour, it can be fine.

The shrimp goes on the grill with butter and lemon and is served immediately. Not much can go wrong there. I might even go so far as to say it's addictive because I always want more.

Next, the vegetables. Same thing- on the grill with butter and soy sauce. A combination of zucchini and onions. The chef starts to prepare the fried rice- eggs, a pre-chopped vegetable combination (which doesn't include peas, which is why TLMM will eat at Samurai), and chicken. The fried rice is also doused with sauces and seasonings and is served right off the grill and is simply delicious.

Finally the chef starts to cook the entrees. The seafood is first, then the chicken and finally the beef. JAM ordered the calamari, which is sliced cuttlefish with asparagus and sometimes fresh tomatoes. I say sometimes because the last time he had it, it included fresh tomatoes but this time it didn't, which could be a result of the tomato-related salmonella scare.

That's JAM's calamari. TLMM ordered the Land and Sea combination, which is filet mignon and scallops. I ordered just the filet- medium rare.

The chef got the temperature right and the meat simply melted in my mouth - along with some of the vegetables and the fried rice, the food was all tasty and plentiful- which is what you would expect.

So much of your dinner experience depends on the other diners at your table, unless you have a party of eight in which case you would have your own table. The other factor which figures into the meal is the wait staff. We haven't had problems communicating or getting consistent service except for one visit.

Samurai also has a sushi menu--we usually order a roll as an appetizer. The last time we ordered a roll, something new happened. A guy rolled out a cart with examples of the sushi along with a sushi menu and asked for our order. We ordered our roll and he delivered it, along with a check for just that roll. When we have ordered sushi in the past, the cost of the roll is automatically added on to our total dinner bill. We asked the waitress to add it on to our total bill, and she said that they couldn't do that since they had already printed out the bill for the roll. When the sushi guy came back to take the money, we again asked that it get added on to the bill, and he agreed to do it. A few minutes later he came back with great flourish to let us know it had been taken care of and would be transferred to our check. Clearly there is something going on behind the scenes with the sushi side of the restaurant. We got the idea that it had to do with tipping, so we made sure that we tipped the guy who brought the roll. Whatever the problem is, it's distracting and, well, just plain silly to have to pay in a chopped up manner (pun intended)- and I suggest that the restaurant figure it out so that the diners don't have to be pestered. 

The other problem we had was that since this restaurant is so popular and the lines for a table boggle the mind, they tend to try to bus your table before you finish eating. This happened to us on our last visit, and while we might not have been gobbling down our food, we weren't taking an inordinate amount of time- there is a lot of food, and we were eating at a normal pace. When you're paying nearly $200 to feed three people, being rushed just isn't necessary.

Samurai, and other Japanese-style hibachi steakhouses (originally called Teppanyaki), have been around for decades and have mastered the market of feeding hibachi-style food to the masses. It's nothing to write home about--so don't expect it to be and you won't be disappointed. Everything is fresh and simply made - it's a show and an experience. That's what makes it so popular. If you get a chef who can juggle knives and make the preparation seem magical, you've got a great evening in front of you. I must admit that I had fun, I mean, c'mon! He let me wear the hat and everything...and the eggs.

Samurai Japanese Steak on Urbanspoon

June 23, 2008

Brunch @ The Biltmore Hotel - Coral Gables

The Biltmore Hotel opened in January, 1926. They must have started cooking non stop after that in order to produce the type of spread they serve at brunch. They have all of the traditional brunch foods, and many, many extras. Let's start where I started!

Three types of caviar, along with all the fixin's. Can you call caviar garnishes fixin's?

Shrimp, crab legs, oysters, lox, whitefish salad, smoked whitefish...

At least two different types of ceviche.


A look at my first plate. I just had to throw in a few tater tots for a reality check.

Salads of every imaginable kind, marinated mushrooms, beets, quinoa, kasha, the variety was mind boggling.

More food.

Salmon stuffed with spinach and artichokes!

Pork rib roast. Leg of lamb. Roast beef. Some kind of rolled pork, rolled in itself with the most fantastic tasting pork skin I have ever tasted. Did I mention paella?

My second plate. OK it might have been my third. At some point, a food coma started setting in and I started losing count. Or perhaps it was the bottomless glass of champagne that was mysteriously filled whilst I was away from the table getting more food. Here is another one of my plates:

It was about this time that I figured out what my favorite combination of food was. Take the 1/2 avocado with the shrimp salad. Eat the shrimp salad. Take caviar and caviar fixin's and put inside the avocado. Use a spoon to scoop out little bites of heaven. Repeat.

I was now somewhere past food coma, quickly slipping into that category of not being able to look at another morsel just when I remembered that I hadn't eaten any dessert. I miraculously recovered and jumped back into action.

Lovely, overflowing chocolate fountain with fruit, marshmallows, chocolate brownies, cookies, whipped cream.

Perfect fruit tarts.

I managed to eat dessert just when I didn't think it was humanly possible to eat anything else. I thought I owed it to you to take one for the team. Yea, that's it. TLMM was with me- she just sat there and ate her food like a normal person should- she was happy to have the lamb, loved the little waffles with fruit topping and also enjoyed the champagne. The few times I looked up from my plate I thought I saw her looking at me as though she was watching some type of alien abduction. Horror, fear, sympathy, and (dare I say)even a small measure of disgust all mixed together. I made a mental note to ask her about it later- I'll get around to it.

The brunch at the Biltmore is by far the best restaurant brunch I have ever seen. The only thing that wasn't up to par were the crab legs- they were mushy and way too salty. The brunch is Sundays only. The cost of the brunch is $65.00 per person plus tax and gratuity, unless it's a holiday, when it costs $75.00 per person. Hours are 10:30 AM - 2:00 PM. It's on the pricey side, so save it for a special occasion- trust me, you will not be disappointed...and the eggs.

Palme D'Or on Urbanspoon

June 21, 2008

Congratulations, Ron!

My friend Ron (third from left) is a fellow food and wine enthusiast, has an impeccable sense of style- and is now an Emmy Winner. That's right, last night I witnessed seeing someone I know walk up to the podium at the Kodak Theater in L.A. and accept a Daytime Emmy on behalf of the writing team of One Life to Live, for which he is the head writer. What a feeling! I don't think I could have been any more excited if I had won one myself!! See all the winners here.  I'll forgive him for not mentioning me by name (I taught him everything he knows) if he sends me a couple of his Italian family recipes.

This photo is of David & Michelle Baldacci, Ron and me during our tour at the FBI sometime in 1995.   Many congratulations, Ron, and wishes of continued success.  I'll be waiting for my recipes, M.L. ...and the eggs.

June 18, 2008

Fabulous Cookbooks (Thank you, Sparki and The Dean)!

This has to be the most entertaining mini-cookbook collection possible, and TLMM and I got all three in one day- thanks to Sparki and the Dean, who remembered us on our 2nd anniversary. From the Liberace recipe collection, I'll be making Flamboyant Flambe of Sirloin!

When it comes to Elvis, the decision was not as simple. For my first recipe, should I go all "traditional Elvis" and attempt the Fried Peanut Butter and Banana Sandwich? Should I stick to southern basics and make Sausage Spoon Bread? The last recipe in the book is for The Royal Wedding Cake, which was served at the wedding of Priscilla Beaulieu and Elis Presley on May 1, 1967. The cake consists of 6 tiers and the recipe has not been modified in any way and is 9 pages long. It serves 500, so I think I'll be the most popular girl on my block.

Finally, Aunt Bee's Mayberry Cookbook. Look at Opie going to town on that pie! I'm thinking something simple like Thelma Lou's Finger Sandwiches or Snappy Lunch Pork Chop Sandwich. I think I'll have to sleep on it, all the choices I have are overwhelming.

The books are clever and funny, not to mention educational. I did not know that Liberace owned a restaurant in Vegas! The books are all so full of good food I don't know where to start. Sparki and the Dean- when you visit, I promise to let you choose a recipe from each and I'll cook for you...I can't wait...and the eggs.

June 17, 2008

Savory Polenta!

I love polenta any way you slice it (or not)! This recipe was a great accompaniment to the pork belly I made last week. It was easy, I only had to use the oven in our guest apartment since the main oven was being used for the pork (which is why some of the photos don't look like the ones that are taken in my regular kitchen). The recipe is Emeril's. As much as I hate to admit it, I have noticed over the years that some of the recipes on the Food Network's website work out better for me than others, and those that do are overwhelmingly Emeril's recipes. So here's to Emeril!

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus extra for grilling or sauteing if desired
3/4 cup finely chopped red onion
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
1 quart chicken stock or broth
1 cup coarse ground cornmeal
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 ounces Parmesan, grated

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a large, oven-safe saucepan heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the red onion and salt and sweat until the onions begin to turn translucent, approximately 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to low, add the garlic, and saute for 1 to 2 minutes, making sure the garlic does not burn.

Turn the heat up to high, add the chicken stock, bring to a boil.

Gradually add the cornmeal while continually whisking. Once you have added all of the cornmeal, cover the pot and place it in the oven. Cook for 35 to 40 minutes, stirring every
10 minutes to prevent lumps.

Once the mixture is creamy, remove from the oven and add the butter, salt, and pepper. Once they are incorporated, gradually add the Parmesan.

Serve as is, or pour the polenta into 9 by 13-inch cake pan lined with parchment paper. Place in the refrigerator to cool completely.

Once set, turn the polenta out onto a cutting board and cut into squares, rounds, or triangles. Brush each side with olive oil and saute in a nonstick skillet over medium heat, or grill.

You can add herbs and spices more or less to your liking. I would add a little less garlic next time. I have plenty of coarse ground corn meal left and will be making polenta again soon. This was different for us, we've had polenta at restaurants but never at home. After reading Bill Buford's book, Heat, I have been thinking about polenta a lot. I'm glad Emeril had this simple recipe, it sure beats what Mr. Buford went through...and the eggs.

June 14, 2008

Spaghetti Carbonara!

My Italian childhood friend, Amelia, sent me this recipe almost a year ago, and I have been too intimidated by the inclusion of the eggs to give it a whirl. Finally, I came to my senses and thought I'd try. I'm glad I did!

Make bacon. Chop into small pieces.

Boil water in pasta pot and throw in some coarse salt- I used kosher salt. Cook 1/2 box of spaghetti according to directions on box.

Mix together three eggs with a pinch of fine grained salt. Add to that 1 cup of grated pecorino (parmesan will do) with a pinch of black pepper in it.

Drain the pasta and put in cooled pan. I used the same pan that I had cooked the bacon in- just wipe out bacon grease first. Add bacon and the egg/cheese mixture and mix. Turn on heat until the eggs JUST begin to cook. You will see small clumps begin to form, they shouldn't be more than about 3mm. It's ready to serve!

Add more cheese at the table, if desired. This pasta is rich, creamy and really warms the cockles of your heart. It's divine, if I do say so myself. It was the best Spaghetti Carbonara I have ever tasted-- okay, it was the only Spaghetti Carbonara I have ever tasted, but it was very good. I have heard much advice about this dish over the years, warnings about how impossible it is to get the eggs to cook just so. I shouldn't have listened. Eggs and I get along just fine...and the eggs.

June 12, 2008

Meet Monk!

Our new addition. She's adorable, spunky, cuddly and knows how to do her business outside- what more could you ask for...and the eggs.

June 10, 2008

Speaking of Indulgence...Citrus Glazed Pork Belly!

I never had anything like this before and it might be years before I eat it again, but man, oh man, this dish is a pork lover's ambrosia.

4 lbs pork belly, cut into pieces 2"x4"
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Roasting Liquid:

1 large onion, coarsely chopped
2 carrots, coarsley chopped
1 celery ribs, coarsley chopped
4 1/2 cups chicken stock
2 cups orange juice
1/4 cup light brown sugar
4 springs fresh thyme
4 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon whole allspice


2 cups orange juice
3/4 cup sugar

Set oven to broil. Score fat side of belly, diagonally, and rub salt and pepper into all sides. Place onion, carrots and celery in a large roasting pan and put the pork belly (scored side up) on top.

Broil until golden brown, about 10-12 minutes.

Turn pork flesh side up and broil for 5-8 more minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 300 degrees and turn pork back to scored side up. Add chicken stock, orange juice, light brown sugar, thyme, cloves and allspice to roasting pan.

Cover with foil and bake for 2 hours. After two hours, loosen the foil to make a little steam vent and bake for another two hours or until the meat is very tender. Here it is after the first two hours, I peeked when I made the steam vent:

During the last hour, prepare the glaze.

Strain any pulp out of remaining 2 cups orange juice. Combine juice and 3/4 cup sugar in medium saucepan and bring mixture to boil. Reduce heat to gentle boil and cook until glaze is thick and syrupy, about 30-40 minutes.

Remove pan from the oven and let pork cool slightly in the braising liquid.

Adjust oven setting to broil. Remove pieces of pork belly from braising liquid and pat dry. Place pork on baking sheet lined with foil. Using a pastry brush, baste the pork belly on all sides with the glaze.

Broil for 4-6 minutes, until crispy around the edges and golden brown. Drizzle generously with remaining glaze and serve immediately!!

I hardly have another word to say about this pork belly, I think the pictures speak for themselves. If the fat content of this dish takes a couple of years off my life, I can live with that. Trust me, it's worth the fat grams. I also made savory polenta, which turned out wonderfully. I will post that recipe soon. Until then, my dreams will be filled with visions of braised pork belly...and the eggs.