Sakaya Kitchen helps me not kill people on the drive home.

August 28, 2011

By now, everyone has either been to or heard of the Sakaya Kitchen food truck or the Dim Ssam a gogo food truck. The restaurant that started these two food trucks (and another 2 trucks that are in the works) is Sakaya Kitchen located in Midtown. Located right next to Five Guys Burgers this small restaurant offers fresh authentic Asian food at a fast pace. I’ve been to the restaurant several times and in recent months it has become one of my regular dinner stops on the way home from work. Although I love the food trucks, I urge everyone to go to the actual restaurant and try the food there. However, be warned some of your favorite food truck items are NOT available at the restaurant. So don’t be afraid and try new dishes. You won’t be disappointed.

I've tried a couple of their appetizers, one of them being their popular Ginger Brussel Sprouts. I can honestly say I have NEVER had a brussel sprout in my entire life until I had one at Sakaya Kitchen and I’ve only had them at this restaurant. Their brussel sprouts are fried and then tossed/bathed/soaked in a rich ginger, garlic soy sauce that makes these sprouts taste phenomenal. As many of my personal friends know, I don't really like vegetables so when my friends see me hoarding the brussel sprouts at Sakaya, they know they've got to taste great and nothing like an actual vegetable.

I’ve also tried the edamame at Sakaya Kitchen. Edamame is pretty hard to get wrong, steam, sprinkle salt over the top and you’re done. At Sakaya Kitchen, they toss their edamame in the same ginger garlic soy sauce that’s used for their amazing brussel sprouts. So many rich flavors that they really make eating these healthy little guys a breeze.

One item that is available on both the food trucks and the restaurant is their Angus Beef “Bulgogi” Burger. I personally don’t like ordering the burger on the truck or to-go at the restaurant; since they wrap it in aluminum foil the bun gets squashed and slightly soggy from the condensation that builds up. If you can, always get your burger from the restaurant, it’s a completely different experience. The burger comes stacked with an angus beef patty, pork belly, spicy mayo, tator tots and homemade pickles. This is by far the messiest burger I have probably ever had. The insane flavor though makes the mess well worth it. The fresh flavor of the pickles cuts down the spiciness of the mayo perfectly. The crisp pork belly adds a great contrast to the beef patty. The tator tots are great, so why the hell not just throw them in. As messy as this burger always ends up being, I love it and always find myself coming back for it.

My favorite dish at Sakaya Kitchen is their Dae-Ji Galbi spicy pork tenderloin with coconut rice. This dish also comes with butter’d broccoli but I always swap that out for my brussel sprouts. The pork is grilled in a spicy Korean marinade that has a great kick but won’t make you run around looking for bread and water (unless you’re a chicken). The portion of meat is fair and the best part is the coconut Thai rice that it’s served with. The rice is the complete antithesis of the spicy pork, the perfect yin to the pork’s yang. The rice has a tiny bit of sweetness to it from the coconut milk and is almost creamy with sprinkled peanuts and green onions over the heaping portion of rice. All I can ever think about while eating this rice is, “How can I get this to my mom so she can figure out how to convert this to coconut rice pudding.” The slight sweetness of the rice goes perfectly with the pork and cuts down the heat in the pork’s marinade. By far this is my favorite meal at Sakaya so far.

The only thing that Sakaya Kitchen lacks is a dessert menu. However, they do serve enormous cookies the size of your face. Don’t believe me? Check them out for yourself. My favorite cookie is their Kdunk which is a beautiful monstrosity that consists of chocolate chips, white chocolate chips, peanut butter chips and peanut butter filled pretzels. They're sweet, salty and plenty to share, unless you're me; in that case, no sharing.

This place offers great Asian/Korean fusion fare in a relative hurry. The service is always prompt and the vibe is always casual. The food is always fresh and infused with a tsunami of flavor. If they can get a fat ass like me to eat her vegetables, they are definitely doing something right. One of my favorite stops when I’m exhausted on the way home from work and don’t want to cook dinner.

Restaurant Details:
Sakaya Kitchen
3401 N Miami Ave
Miami, FL 33127
(305) 576-8096

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Nothing Sour About Lemoni's Cafe

August 24, 2011

I was headed home the other day and I was craving a good sandwich. Luckily for me, my drive home takes me right through the design district. I decided to stop at my favorite little sandwich shop, Lemoni’s CafĂ©. This is a small hole in the wall on Northeast 2nd avenue sandwiched between Blue Piano and Buena Vista Bistro/Deli. Stiff competition on either side of this shop, but Lemoni’s definitely holds its own. It’s a tiny restaurant with minimal sidewalk seating and holds approximately 40 people. The specials are written in chalk over the bar and the waitresses are all very friendly and accommodating. The walls are all painted in deep earth tones, but the place is always brightly lit with sunlight from the large windows at the front of the restaurant. I decided to just sit at the bar and eat in versus taking it to go. Food always looses it's life when you take it go, atleast to me it always seems that way.

I grabbed a menu and realized they had several new wraps, sandwiches, salads and paninis since my last visit. I decided to start off with their Brie Bites. They’re Brie Bites are slices of Brie cheese over ciabatta bread with date spread, sliced almonds and drizzled over the top with honey then toasted. The bites are also served with a small green and cherry tomato salad with balsamic vinegar. I went ahead and ate half of the bites and decided to take the other half home since I also wanted to eat some real food. The ciabatta bread is soft and warm and it goes perfectly with the dates, brie and honey combination. This is an appetizer that lands on sweet side of the spectrum but a great one none the less. I went ahead and washed my bites down with a cup of water; I should mention that at Lemoni’s they place fresh mint in their tap water to give it a tiny hint of mint flavor. With our Miami heat, their slightly minty water is actually really nice and refreshing when served ice cold.

After my Brie Bites, I decided to go with their Prosciutto Caprese wrap which was new to me on their menu. The wrap comes with pesto, garlic mayo, spinach, fresh mozzarella, prosciutto, tomatoes and calamata olives. The description alone had my mouth watering with excitement. All of their wraps also come with a side of their three-bean salad. The wrap itself on the plate looks very pretty lots of bright and fresh colors popping out at you and begging to be shoved in your mouth. This wrap had so much savory flavor, it was genuinely insane. The olives, prosciutto, mayo and pesto all have very strong in your face flavors and they were all cut down by the generous amount of spinach and monstrous slab of mozzarella that’s right in the middle of the wrap. The three bean salad that comes with the wrap is very fresh and also great for our never ending south Florida summer. The salad consists of chick peas, red and black beans are all tossed in olive oil with minced green peppers, cilantro and onions This turned out to be way too much food for me, so inevitably I decided to take half of it with me and ensuring the next day's lunch (or midnight snack).

Along with my to-go bag, I decided to take with me one of their home made chocolate chip cookies. It was calling my name since I walked in the door and they have several of their baked goods on display at the bar. The cookie was great, soft yet firm with giant chunks of semi sweet chocolate. If only my fat ass would’ve waited until I got home to eat it with some milk, instead of stuffing my face with it at a red light. I guess there’s always next time, I suppose.

I love this little shop and of course I had to share my thoughts on it. It’s just north (by only a couple of blocks) of the design district in the Buena Vista side of town. The staff is always nice and the sandwiches, wraps, and paninis are always great and fresh. Miami New Times awarded this place as “best place to eat alone," in the 2011 Best Of list but again I disagree. Lemoni's Cafe is a great place to go and share with friends and family for lunch or dinner. I should mention, if you're interested in seeing the most up to date menu, don't bother with their website. Unfortunately, the menu posted on Lemoni's website is not up to date by any means. Even though it is a small place, the staff is always very accommodating and the food is always made to order and refreshing.

Restaurant Details:
Lemoni's Cafe
4600 NE 2nd Ave
Miami, FL 33137
(305) 571-5080

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:CLOSED: NeMesis Urban Bistro, So Much More Than a Funky Name.

August 20, 2011

With a name like NeMesis Urban Bistro, I was intrigued from the start. With my curiosity piqued, I had driven down to the restaurant on a Monday after work a few weeks back, only to find out they’re not open on Mondays. Defeated, I left but promised myself I had to try this mysterious and elusive place out. I decided to march my way back this past Friday, insisting on trying out their food. The restaurant is a small place, with very colorful, unique and intricate art and decorating throughout the entire space. Everywhere you looked your eyes were mesmerized by a different art piece or decoration. The kitchen itself is also open and visible from anywhere in the restaurant, which is very neat. I’ve always liked being able to see cooks and chefs create your food; if you’ve ever seen the movie Waiting, you can understand why. The place itself was fun and funky all on its own. My favorite decoration are the upside down umbrellas that hang from the cieling as you walk in. As I walked in, I decided to help myself to a seat at the bar since there were only a couple of patrons in the restaurant.

Within minutes of sitting down, a spritely woman came up to me and began questioning me as to how I found out about the restaurant, if I had a reservation and everything short of asking to see my birth certificate. Once I divulged that I had found out about the restaurant through twitter, she insisted on knowing my twitter account name. This had never happened to me and all I could think about was the soup Nazi from Seinfeld. She finally stated that I was in her restaurant, that her name is Micah and she’s the owner. She also stated that she asks everyone about how they heard of the restaurant since she uses no PR personnel and with the recent media over the restaurant’s name, she’s become protective. And protective she was, like a lioness safeguarding her cub. After passing my initial interrogation and interview process, I realized that Chef Micah Edelstein is indeed vigilantly careful of her baby and her craft (as any chef should be). Her initial abrasiveness subsided only to show a woman who is very passionate about what she does and is seemingly very sensitive about her work.

Chef Edelstein then went on to explain her menu with patience and great detail. She mentioned she had a blueberry beer with fresh blueberries, which immediately got my attention and I went with that. The fresh blueberries in the golden ale were completely refreshing for a hot summer night. The beer itself was really light and had a tiny hint of blueberry which was only magnified by the fresh blueberries floating about in the glass.

For my food choices, I decided to stick with the sexy nibbles side of the menu and get a couple of small dishes. My first dish was the Leek & Fig Braised Duck Potstickers. The potstickers also come with a drizzle of guava cardamom sauce. I took my first bite and wow, what an interesting and delicious take on potstickers. The flavor of the guava and cardamom sauce highlighted the flavor of the duck in a neat way but by no means overpowered the flavor of the meat. This only left me excited to see what else was in store.

Onto my next sexy nibble, I went with their Tuscan Sushi. The description simply read “Prosciutto, Mascarpone, Gorgonzola and Figs 3 ways,” and that was enough to sell me. Once I got my ‘sushi’ I was captivated, it looked like your typical Japanese sushi, but it tasted nothing like what I’m used it. The texture alone was pure madness. From the creaminess of the mascarpone and gorgonzola, to the firmness of the prosciutto and then let’s not forget the fig. One of the figs on each piece of sushi had caramelized sugar much like a brulee, that gave the dish a surprising and delightful crunchiness. It was an awesome party in my mouth and no one else was going to be invited. Once I was done with this dish, I was sad to realize that I didn’t have any more sushi bites left. I debated if I wanted to order another Tuscan sushi plate, if I wanted to get dessert or if I wanted to be a complete fat ass and get both. I decided to control myself and just get dessert.

Just like the rest of the menu, every dessert listed in the dessert section was interesting and intriguing. I decided to go with the Huckleberry White Chocolate Bread Pudding. The bread pudding also listed as being joined by hibiscus honey, Greek yogurt and poppy seeds. What I expected was overly sweet, ooey-gooeyness. Instead what I got was at first glance similar to fried pork chops, but as I had already learned that night, looks can be so deceiving in NeMesis. I took a bite of the bread pudding, making sure to get a little bit of everything in the bite and what I tasted was subtle, sweet yet slightly tart at the same time. The bread pudding was firm and slightly crisp on the outside yet soft and warm on the inside. The Greek yogurt and poppy seeds gave the pudding a slight tartness that was a perfect contrast to the hibiscus honey. It was a subtle yet wide ranged flavor that hit every taste bud; perfect way to end my first visit to this great restaurant. I ate every last bite and even scooped up the left over Greek yogurt and honey. I was left completely stuffed and wishing I had worn sweatpants instead skinny jeans.

I really enjoyed this place; from the decoration and art in every part of the restaurant to the presentation of Chef Edelstein’s plates. I loved how the Chef took dishes we all know and decided to re-conceptualize them and turned them on their ass. She gives everything a new spin and new life. I enjoyed how personal the place is with the Chef greeting everyone that came into what seemed like her second private home. In addition, the entire staff is extremely attentive, from the line chef Christine to the servers. If they didn’t know the answer to your question, they were eager to find the answer for you. I should mention that they are only open for dinner and the earlier you get there the better. When I first walked in, there were only a couple of people in the establishment. However, by the time I left the place was full with a few people standing around waiting for a table. This place is great if you really want to impress a date or just go out and celebrate anything. I definitely plan to go back very soon, there were so many other dishes I wanted to try but didn’t have room for.

Restaurant Details:
NeMesis Urban Bistro
1035 North Miami Ave. (In the Legal Art Building)
Miami FL, 33136
(305) 415-9911

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Green Street Brunch and Munch

August 17, 2011

Recently, my friend and I were starving on a Sunday morning as usual; we were looking for a nearby brunch fix that wasn't going to break the bank. We settled on Green Street Cafe in Coconut Grove because it usually fits the bill. The only problem was that it seemed like half of Kendall had also settled on the same restaurant for brunch. Luckily, this restaurant is relatively large with lots of sidewalk seating as long as the south Florida weather cooperates. So although there were tons of people buzzing around, getting a table was a non-issue.

Their menu is simplistic with nothing insatiably unique about it. They cover all the basics: variety of pancakes, omelets, egg benedict, French toast, continental breakfast and scrambled eggs with a variety of add-ons. Their prices are also very reasonable for the most part. I decided to go with a full order of their Chocolate French Toast. By the way, always go with the full order at this place, the price difference is only a $1.50 less for a half order. That’s just ridiculous if you ask me. My French toasts came out and appeared like toasty chocolate sandwiches. There were pieces of thick chocolate nestled between each slice of bread. The bread was slightly crisp around the edges, soft and fluffy in the center and lightly dusted with confectioner’s sugar over the top. It was a good start to my lazy fatty Sunday.

Along with my chocorrific French toast, I got a side of their potatoes. Their potatoes were great with little pieces of burned and crispy onions tossed in. They were lightly seasoned with salt and pepper and they gave a generous portion. The only downside was that their portion was so generous that the plate they were served in was too small and there were potatoes all over the damn table. Other than that, I really enjoyed them and the flavor they had thanks to the burned onion bits.

My friend had their Eggs Benedict Florentine over wheat bread with a side of the same potatoes I had. She was happy with her dish and although I did not try them for myself, they did look very good.

This restaurant is usually my old reliable for brunch in the Coconut Grove/south Miami area. It's not earth shattering or mantra altering, but it's good food in a nice neighborhood. It’s usually very busy during the weekends but with ample outside seating and a large staff, there’s usually not much of a wait. Unless it’s raining, then you’re absolutely screwed. However, because there is a large wait staff and relative busyness, trying to get a hold of your waiter can at times be like trying to find a good driver in Miami-Dade County. If you’re ever in the area and looking for a solid breakfast/brunch this is definitely a good place to check out.

Restaurant Details:
Green Street Cafe
3110 Commodore Plz
Coconut Grove, FL 33133
(305) 444-0244

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Salsa Fiesta Urban Mexican Grill spices it up!

August 10, 2011

I was recently in the neighborhood when I came across Salsa Fiesta Urban Mexican Grill on US1 and 30th street. I had never heard of or seen this place before but their outdoor patio/lounge area seemed inviting. Turns out this is actually an international chain with only 2 locations in the United States. So I walked in and checked out their menu. They offer various types of different tacos, burritos, specialty dishes including enchiladas, salads, soups and other Mexican fare. You choose what kind of meaty addition you want for your tacos and burritos, similar to Chipotle. The set up of the restaurant is a mix between fast food/on the go and a sit down restaurant. As you walk in, you grab a menu, walk up to the cashier and you order. You’re then handed a number and a server brings your food out to you. You serve your own drinks and additional salsa (if you so desire).

The cashiers were very helpful the minute they saw my bewildered and confused face. They picked out this newbie right away and were very nice about suggesting different combinations based on what I was looking for. Also they serve free chips and homemade, corn based salsa at the register. As the cashier said, “I know it looks like baby diarrhea, but it’s really good.” Although slightly frightened with the visual, I decided to give it a try and it surely was very good and completely different to any salsa I’ve ever had. It was like a thick and spicy corn/salsa puree that went great with their home made chips.

I decided to start off with one of their Mero Macho tacos with chicken. This taco comes with chimichurri salsa, black beans, lettuce, sour cream and topped with monterey and cheddar cheese. This little sucker is so messy; between the black bean juice and chimichurri salsa, by the time I was done I looked like I had been playing in mud. None the less, this mess packed quite a tasty punch. The chimichurri went perfectly with the chicken and black beans and the sour cream and cheese calmed any overtly spiciness. Definitely worth the messiness, but you’d better pack some extra napkins for this one.

For my main attraction decided to go with their Mango Burrito with steak. The burrito also comes with an amazing cream chipotle sauce, shredded cabbage, cilantro lime rice, mango salsa, and sour cream. The mango’s sweetness went perfectly with the cream chipotle sauce and saltiness of the steak. The texture of the mango also was a great contrast to that of the rice and steak in the burrito. Another big plus was the fact that this bad boy was perfectly wrapped which meant for once I wasn’t left looking like I don’t have opposable thumbs. There was also a very generous portion of steak in the burrito, no skimping on the meat at this place. That makes a carnivore like me very happy. The happy marriage between the mango salsa and chipotle cream sauce is what really sky rockets this burrito into outer space. Just writing about the burrito makes me want to jump in my car and get one, but I’ll control myself at least til I’m done.

The only downside is that this place only has one dessert option called the Mayan Roll, a crispy flour tortilla with chocolate, vanilla ice cream and dulce de leche. The cashier was honest and told me it’s ok, he didn’t try to sucker me into ordering it or play it up to be the most amazing dessert on the planet and that’s something I genuinely appreciate as a consumer.

None the less, this place is a great alternative to your run of the mill Chipotle’s and offers a lot of different variety. The restaurant is too far east to be considered part of the art district and too far north to be part of the downtown hysteria. Definitely worth the quick drive down US1 for.

Restaurant Details:
Salsa Fiesta Urban Mexican Grill
2929 Biscayne Blvd
Miami, FL 33137
(305) 400-8245

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