Friday, February 11, 2011

New restaurant review, an exciting offer with a contest!

 Hello Chickens!  I'm back from a brief holiday southerly and I am inspired to do something I have not done in a a restaurant.

Sra. Martinez - Fresh Tapas - Design District

I'll start with full disclosure, I was predisposed to like Michy's.  Chef Michelle Bernstein has intrigued me ever since I first saw her judging onTop Chef.  She never seems to be there for the publicity but really for the food, Tony Bourdain loves her (and we know how I feel about Tony) and she isn't shy about her opinions, demanding the best from the cheftestants.  (Hmmm...strong, intelligent, curly-haired Jewish girl who happens to be a chef, wonder why I felt kinship?)  And when I watched her kick the almost unbeatable Bobby Flay's butt on Iron Chef?  Team Michelle all the way.

I recently had a girlfriend ask me which five women cooks/chefs I would want to have over for a potluck girls night.  Julia, 'natch, because she was unapologetic about eating with gusto for pleasure, and always wanted her guests happy.  Nigella, because she could call her toothpaste "unctuous" and I would probably want to eat it.  MFK Fisher, who made me first want to write about food and who still inspires me to eat thoughtfully.  Stephanie Izard, who I've met a couple of times and is sweet and sassy and hilarious, not to mention badass and fearless in the kitchen, and who I would desperately hope would bring her smoked goat pizza.  And Michelle, because she and I share  a cooking philosophy of taking the ultimate comfort food and elevating it without making it pretentious or fussy.  I realized I had only ever actually eaten anything cooked directly by one of these ladies, but I also realized that if you spend enough time cooking and eating and reading, you can tell by the cut of someone's recipes how good they are in the kitchen. 

Plus I think the six of us would have a hell of a good time, bolstered by some excellent quaffs rom Charming Suitor's cellar, despite two of us being all, you know, dead.

So when my Mom and Dad returned from a recent trip to Miami with a copy of Michelle's cookbook Cuisine A Latina, inscribed to me and Charming Suitor in honor of our engagement, nothing could have been more exciting. 

Until they described the meal. 

My parents have had the great good fortune of eating in incredible restaurants all over the world.  We live in CHICAGO, for the love of deliciousness.  So when they can't stop talking about a meal, they mean bizness.

You'd have thought her White Gazpacho bought my dad a car, that is how much he loved it.  My mom couldn't even find adjectives to describe how much they enjoyed the meal.  But she could find an adjective to describe the chef, whom they had the pleasure to meet.

"Darling.  Just darling."

So when my sister and I knew we were headed to Miami to visit my grandmother for a few days, we knew we wanted to go there for a special night out.  My grandmother, based on the descriptions from my parents, couldn't wait, so before we got there, she took my aunt and uncle there for dinner and they too had a very extraordinary meal. 

Michy's is on a very nondescript stretch of Biscayne Boulevard, the last place you'd expect to find a restaurant of this caliber.  The room is warm and welcoming, small but not close, and evokes both funky Floridian and a contemporary Latino flair.  When we arrived, Michelle was there, and was just as my parents had described, genuine, generous, wide honest smile, and a lively spirit.  It is always so gratifying for me when someone I have liked and respected from afar (and secretly thought I could be pals with) turns out to exceed who you would want them to be.  In fact, it has only really happened three times before... Carol Burnett, Arthur Miller, and Nigella.  And has often been the opposite. (not dishing on those, but sad and disappointing to lose admiration for an idol or icon)
My grandmother took the opportunity to tell the chef that she would rather cook for herself six nights a week just so she could go to Michy's on the seventh night.   Michelle was very gracious, heading out the door to check in on her other restaurant, but hugged my grandmother like family.  And frankly, I'm bound and determined to figure out that we are fourth cousins or something.

Personal gushing aside, you know that at the end of the day I can love you as a person and still not want to eat what you serve me, and you also know that I take the recommendations I make here very seriously, since I know I have to steer you right to keep you reading. 

The food? 


Everything on the menu can be ordered in half or full portions, so that you can sample and share and create a tasting menu if you want.  We ordered the White Gazpacho that had so entranced my dad, the beet salad, the fettucine carbonara, seared halibut, whole yellowtail snapper, and short ribs.  The gazpacho is quite simply one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth.  EVER.  Full stop.  Creamy, clean, fresh, tart, with the buttery crunch of Marcona almonds, I am going to make it tonight for Charming Suitor, who very well may propose to me all over again, that is how good it is!  (The only thing lacking about the meal was not having him with me to share the experience,and I don't care if that makes me all schmoopy, I really missed him.) 

The beet salad was perfectly balanced, the carbonara with crispy proscuitto was rich without being cloying or mouth-coating.  The halibut was extraordinary, great crunchy sear giving way to moist delicate flaky fish, on top of a salsify (way underutilzed veg, and one of my faves) and wild mushroom ragout with a bright parsley sauce.  Hints of curry warmed the snapper, and the short ribs were like a hug, gorgeous meat candy topped with caramelized root veggies,  sitting on top of a parsnip potato puree that frankly I wanted to stick my face in and blow bubbles.  You'd not be shocked to know that we managed to find room for the Deep Fried Apple Pie, sanded with sugar, swimming in caramel sauce, and topped with toffee chip ice cream. 

My grandmother made a reservation for next week as we were leaving.

If you are going to be in Miami, don't miss it, you can snag reservations on Open Table  And while you are there, check out Michelle's other place, Sra. Martinez, which is the first place I'm going next time I'm in Miami.  Or maybe second, after I hit Michy's again. 

This particular experience reminded me that as much as I love cooking and developing new recipes for you, sometimes we don't want to cook, and often we find ourselves visiting new cities and wanting to know where to have the best time.  So I thought I would ask you all to share your fave places to eat out, either in your hometown or on vaca, and to encourage you with a contest!

Remember when I told you all about the cool new stuff from Bon Home?  The amazing heat and dry dishrack that Charming Suitor loves so much

and the heat lamp for your buffet table that actually keeps your food hot without drying it out? 

Well guess what?  I've got one of each to give away to you! 

That's right, Chickens, the Bon Home folks agreed to help me tempt you, so post your best mini restaurant review in the comments by 11:59 PM on Sunday Feb. 13, and I will let the random number generator pick two of you to win these fab prizes, and tell you on Monday, a little Valentine from me and Bon Home!

Even better, for the rest of you, Bon Home is currently running a special where you can get a free Electric Wine opener (a $40 value) if you order either the dishrack or the heatlamp before Feb. 20.  Click Here to check it out.

Share with the class, where will we find the meals that we won't be able to stop talking about?

Yours in Good Taste,
The Polymath


  1. I could go on about resturants for hours, so I will keep it short and sweet.

    Ann Arbor, Michigan:

    Cafe Felix, Eve, The Earle, The Gandy Dancer.

    And for slightly less pricey options: Casey's, Frita Batidos, Arbor Brewing Company.

    Come visit us in A2 soon!

  2. My current new obession is Barbuzzo in Philadelphia. The food was simply fantastic, the service lovely and there was a dessert that was so incredible it should be illegal. You must get the salted caramel bubino if you go - a mix of salted caramel, vanilla pudding and chocolate crunch that is just out of this world. Doesn't sound like much but I promise its amazing. I just found out they sell it to go - this is not good for me to know!

  3. Located in one of Boston's largest Irish American working class neighborhoods, is Salsas, the best mexican restaurant north of Mexico City. This small spot is tucked just outside off the Souhie crossroads of Dorchester Street and East/West Broadway intersection.

    The brightly colored walls and furniture make you feel like you stepped into a warm Mexican street cafe. It is cozy and friendly and even though the space is on the smaller side, you don't mind because the food is amazing. Ah-maze-ing.

    Tinga (Spicy pork) tacos, Mole, Burritos that melt away any trace of a bad day. This place offers accessible.mexican comfort food at its best and in an authentic and unfussied style.
    I love walkkng over on a snowy day and meeting my.friends for sangria and dinner. No better way to end a hectic day.

    Salsas is just amazing.

  4. Last year my boyfriend and I went to Monterey Bay during spring break. We found this amazing seafood place called, simply, the Monterey Fish House. We called ahead because we heard that it gets packed on a weekend and I'm glad we did! They either had a 4:30 or an 8:00 reservation! We decided to eat early. The restaurant is rather tiny (which explains why they fill up so fast), but their food is magnificent. We both ordered the cioppino and were so impressed. It was one of the best cioppinos we had ever had. And my boyfriend's Portuguese so he knows a little something about cioppino. It was tomatoe-y and rich with just a little kick. The seafood was all fresh from the wharf and, really, you can't get any better than that. It was filled with mussels and clams and squid and even octopus! Along with whitefish and crab as well. DELISH!!! We want to go back this year :)

  5. I recently went to Aruba where the best thing to do besides drink cocktails poolside is EAT. They have AMAZING restaurants and my boyfriend's father went on and on about how we HAVE to eat at the Flying Fishbone, where your table is set in the sand right next to the ocean. The view was incredible, the bugs biting my ankles? Less so. The Aruban restaurant that really stuck out on my mind in terms of taste was Madamme Jeannette's. WOW. If you're ever in Aruba and don't go there, we can't be friends. We had read reviews on the restaurant and heard good things from friends, and despite being told it was "stuffy," boytoy and I ventured there anyway. Far from stuffy, the restaurant opens into a beautiful patio strung with lights. Tables are nestled on the wooden floor under the hangover or on rocks outside under the sky. It was literally like dining in a garden. My boyfriend got a version of fajitas that were beyond amazing. I'm probably the pickiest eater you will ever meet, and opted for a bacon wrapped filet mignon. The two meals have basic ingredients, but the sauces the restaurant used were to die for. I am so not a foodie, but one meal at this place could make me change my mind.

    For a lower priced option in Aruba, try Pam Pam, located near Madamme Jeannette's. It had a full-price menu as well as lower-priced, more everyday meals. The best part was the decor and ambiance. You truly felt like you were in a swanky Island restaurant. So beautiful and amazing. I took a lot of pictures!

  6. Reflections in Lake Villa. Opened in 1999....this Polish American experience has been described as the best in Lake County. The dining ambiance is pleasantly casual and intimate, with seating available in a charming interior setting or outside with a beautiful view of Deep Lake on the patio.

    Really Stacey you ought to get in you car & adventure into lake county pick up Jen on the way!

  7. Victoia's Bistro in Columbia MD...the big fat fries! The atmosphere is casual elegance and the service was superb!
    Everything we ate was wonderful, served at the correct temperature. They make their own mustard and bread and butter pickles.
    Completely wonderful!

  8. You meal sounds awesome! Mine is a family owned place located on the pier in Folly Beach, SC. My finance and I adore the Pasta Locklear, not to mention the view!

  9. That sounds delicious!

    There are so many great restaurants to review here. But I guess this is the last memorable one that I went to...and I'll keep it simple, although I've written a full review before.

    Graham Elliot. Down to earth, friendly chef. Out of this world food. Fantastic music. No dress code. (LOVE!) Truffle popcorn. Yum!

  10. OK, I live in a town outside Atlanta and e have a fab and funky place called Two Dog Cafe. It is yummy and charmingly southern with out all the traidtional hooey. The Shrimp and Grits, is to die for and I am transplant from Mass. so this isn't a person who normally goes for grits.
    Trsut me I am a big girl who knows her food!
    Mia Faulkner
    Gainesville , Ga.

  11. I spent grad school in Chapel Hill, NC. The confluence of hundreds of small farms, a high median income and multiple college towns makes for an amazing food scene. My own Charming Husband and I are always planning a return trip to just eat at all of our favorite places (which could easily take 2 weeks). Even with all of the choices, the hands-down winner is Sushi Thai in Cary, NC. Tucked away in a strip mall behind a Taco Bell, it's the kind of place you'd pass a million times and never notice. But once you step inside you'll be ruined for all other sushi. It's definitely a place frequented by locals, because every time you sit down at the boat-shaped sushi bar the chefs are joking with the crowd and exchanging warm hellos. While I'm sure the extensive Thai menu is wonderful, we never made it past the spectacular sushi offerings. Huge portions, ridiculously fresh ingredients and reasonable prices make it the best place I've ever eaten. Our favorite is the Neptune roll, cool eel and cream cheese inside, topped with a warm seafood-shitaki mushroom salad. And if you still have room for dessert, head over to Henry's Gelato for the most amazing Blood Orange or Grapefruit sorbets you will ever have.

  12. A big favorite is called the Mustard Seed in Davis, CA. It's small (maybe 12 tables) but everything is fresh, homemade, California cuisine [in the good sense]. whenever I look at the menu I think hmmm... sounds OK but not fabulous. Then the food comes and it's just great!

  13. I live just outside of Long Beach, CA, and one of my favorite local places is Japanese Castle. It's a family-owned place that has some of the best sushi I've ever had. The staff are all excellent, and they make an effort to remember names, faces, and drink orders. Their Ringo Star appetizer is amazing, and I don't think I've ever gotten something I haven't liked.

    For Italian food, though, I venture to Sunset Beach for Roman Cucina. Their food is scrumptious, and so are their waiters. My friends and I go for post-breakup tiramisu. And I'd do unholy things to be able to perfectly recreate their marinara sauce. (They gave me the recipe when I raved about it, but no matter what I do, it always tastes better when they make it.)

  14. In Tampa, Fl there is a place called Bern's Steak House. It is an amazing location where all staff must be trained on the restuarant's farm for several years(!) before they work in the restaurant. The steak is amazing and its best if you go with a group of people who all like the same cut of meat. That way they prepare a much larger portion cooked at once and it is so much more tender. Then they slice and serve at the table. If you go, make sure to reserve a private dessert room and try the pistachio ice cream, amazing!! If you are really celebrating, they have one of the most expansive wine cellars in the country, including bottles of Port from the American Revolution!!

  15. In Naperville IL there's a little, one-of-a-kind sushi place that that you can call "home". Wild Tuna Contemporaty Sushi. Not only are their rolls fresh, but unique and an amazing variety. The owners, Gene and Susan are incredible. Most importantly, they hire incredible people. With so many sushi restaurants to choose from in any city or town, this is one not to miss. A little gem. Unpretentious, homey, clean, friendly, and great food. You are made to feel special AND at the same time, feel like you're at home.

  16. I have two faves: Waterman's in Virginia Beach, VA and Drunken Jack's in Murrel's Inlet, SC.

    Waterman's sits directly on the boardwalk. You have to love eating delicious food by the ocean. And let's not forget the super friendly staff!

    I rarely get to enjoy my full meal at Drunken Jack's because I fill up on the homemade hushpuppies with honey butter. Gotta love some hushpuppies!

  17. This restaurant sounds amazing! I'll have to lift my no-travel-to-Florida ban just to eat there!

    My favorite restaurant is Birchwood Kitchen here in Chicago on North Avenue just west of Damen.

    It's more than just the wonderfully spiced Salmon Burger with wasabi and ginger; it's the fact that the friendly guy who owns the place makes you feel like you are the only patron at his restaurant.

    My gal pal and I went there almost every day for lunch when she was pregnant and after she gave birth, we didn't eat there for a couple of months. When we went back in, he was shocked she wasn't pregnant anymore and gave us both carrot cake on the house!

    LOVE this restaurant, plus it's BYOB and has a wonderful patio in the summer.

  18. On the North East side....of Texas, there is a town with a population of 3,860. The only chain restaurants are the DQ and a Subway but some of the mom and pop eateries have people coming 100 miles from the Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. Cibo Vino is at the top of the list. Though many of us east Texas hicks didn't know how to pronounce it at first, calling it "sigh-Bo Viayno" we finally learned for fear they would not let us in the door. It's beautifully restored wooden floors, lovely cozy brick wood burning pizza ovens and tuscan decor make you feel like you have stepped through a magical portal and away from the sleepy town of Winnsboro. The chef's prepubescent son dressed in a miniature chef's jacket will quite professionally seat you if the wait staff is busy. The menu is small with a few specials each weekend. The salad greens with a honey-vinaigrette are lovely though the rest of my family is stuck on the lobster bisque. On Friday and Saturday the specials include a prime rib that is first smoked at the barbecue place the same family owns. It is amazing. The breaded Italian chicken is lovely and non pretentious. Unless you order one of their pasta dishes there will not be a lot of starches on your plate. The prime rib served with sauteed spinach and the chicken with asparagus. This is fine because it gives you a bit of space to fit in dessert! The desserts are well presented but not original, creme burle and such or, if you need to walk a bit before the sweets just mozy down to our Dairy Queen. I hear they have mini Blizzards now!

  19. My favoriterestaurant is a little cafe called KC's; I've been going there so long, I don't even have to look at the menu they just bring me breakfast! no decisions; I love that!

  20. Roma Cafe in Detroit. They say it's the oldest restaurant in the city, and it was mob hangout back in the day (and really, if you've ever been there?, you realize quickly that 'back in the day' means 'right this minute'). The food, however, is to die for. I've never had any pasta, marsala or anything stuffed with ricotta better than this. It's not wildly expensive, either, which I love. The waiters are even octogenerians in tuxedos. During one visit, I had to step outside the restaurant halfway through the meal to take an important call from my boss, and they whisked my food away saying they would keep it warm. When I came back, they brought me an entirely new meal. Not the one I had eaten half of. The service only adds to the food.

  21. If you are ever in Calgary, AB (Canada!) You must try Brava Bistro. Amazing. I went with my 2 sisters & Mom and when we do this we ususally order appetizers & maybe a couple entrees to share.

    We had a roasted beet salad with goat cheese,a Margherita flatbread pizza which were amazing. Seared scallops with a sherry truffle vinaigrette that were divine. But the most amazing thing we had that day was the Lobster Poutine. Now poutine is a Canadian thing. It is usually fries with gravy & cheese curds. Yummy in its own way. (Ok delicious) But that Lobster Poutine was something else. They take frites top them with lobster & mascarpone cheese and them pour shellfish butter sauce over top. Oh my! Pure bliss. Just one more reason for you to come to Canada!

  22. I haven't been to this restaurant in probably 15 years but it was such an experience that I still think about it fondly. The restaurant is the Union Square Cafe in NYC. I'm not a fancy person but I like fancy food, so USC was a perfect fit for me. Carefully-prepared food in a place you could wear jeans to (if they were nice jeans!). The amuse bouche was homemade potato chips. They had me at hello.

    Strangely, I can't remember what I had, but I know what my husband did. Maybe it's because I always have Order Envy when we go out...he just seems to have a knack. His dinner was tuna in the style of filet minon. Seared on the outside, red in the middle, with wasabi mashed potatoes. This was before wasabi was known outside of major cities (and in Japan. Duh.) and for dessert, a perfect creme brulee.

    I'm almost afraid to go back because I would hate for that perfect food memory to be erased by a restaurant that now cuts corners or has changed its casual but elegant style.

  23. while i have been to most of the towns listed above and have found wonderful eateries in all of them, i have to stick with my hometown of cleveland, ohio!

    Melt, owned by matt fish, is all about grilled cheese sandwiches of any kind... grilled cheese, what's so special about that? right? ask the people who continuously wait for 3 hours just to get in!

    Lolas/Lolitas, michael symon. need i say more? yes? this man made the only brussels sprouts i will ever eat... and if you are lucky enough to be there when he is, michael's laugh and smile just makes this person happy.

    west side market... not entirely an eatery, although there is a bratwurst stand to do DIE for, this place has all the spices, meats, cheese, baked goods, fresh veggies and fruit for any amateur chef or in my case, aspiring cook (LOL) drool at the thought of preparation.

    come to cleveland!

  24. Pasta Pomodoro in Voorhees, NJ is by and far the most delicious place I've had the pleasure of eating. In addition to the best homemade vodka sauce, they have a full gluten free for those of us celiacs out there. If any of you are in South Jersey, you have to check it out.

  25. This afternoon we went, for the first time, to watch the local hockey team. After the game I intended to go for dinner to The Little Saigon Restaurant, in Whitecourt, Alberta, Canada. (a little off the beaten track) They make their own food, no frozen packages of spring rolls here and no MSG. They made a divine chicken and peanut satay. This stuff is truly amazing, I eat it with their coconut rice.... yum! So after the game we head over there, they were CLOSED! So disappointed. My dear husband offered to take me somewhere else... but no. I just couldn't. We came home and ate leftovers. (Homemade pizza, good, but it's no chicken peanut satay.)

    Thanks for the review... wish I was in Miami right now!

    P.S. Do you have an awesome pizza sauce recipe? Have you shared it somewhere? I want something zesty, but not hot... my dh doesn't 'do' hot. I've tried a couple I found online, but I'm left wanting.