:CLOSED: Going Greek at Egg & Dart

September 27, 2011

As usual, I had just gotten out of work and I was as ravenous as a gay man at Score on a Friday night. My friend had suggested trying out Egg & Dart and to be honest neither one of us had any idea it was a Greek restaurant. I was clumsily expecting omelets and other egg related delicacies. Instead, when we walked up we were greeted with the sign that read “Rustic Greek Cuisine” and all I could think was “Well I’ll be damned…” My friend and I were game so we walked in. We were so hungry they could’ve been serving brains on a stick and we would’ve given them a try. When we walked in we immediately realized we were the only people in the restaurant that weren’t employees. The place was completely empty; this was our first clue as to what was in store for us. The restaurant’s décor was rather simple, all white with a few accents in varying hues of blue, nothing particularly exciting.

We had our pick of where to sit and our waiter was a middle-aged Greek man with a very thick accent. We ended up picking from their Miami Spice Menu and tossing in a couple of additional appetizers. The first thing to hit our table was thick slices of Greek bread with a small plate filled with Olive oil, roasted tomato and capers. The bread wasn’t warm, but was relatively soft. Nothing extraordinary about it. Very soon after the bread came out, our hummus and tzatziki came out. Both the hummus and tzatziki came in small dishes with a spoon. We waited a while expecting pita bread to come any minute. Finally we waved our waiter down and asked if they had any pita bread, he looked at us like moronic wildebeests and said, “We do not serve Pita bread.” All I thought to myself was “WTF?! How does a Greek restaurant NOT serve pita bread?!” Our waiter said that the hummus and tzatziki is to be eaten with the Greek bread he had brought out earlier. The Hummus lacked seasoning and all around flavor. On the other hand, the tzatziki was very thick and overflowing with flavor. The yogurt was slightly tart and the flavor of the dill and cucumber definitely shined through in a cohesive way.
We didn’t get two bites of our hummus and tzatziki when our Miami Spice appetizers came, we had both decided to try their Avgolemono soup. The soup also had a very sharp flavor with the taste of lemon, carrots and chicken beaming through primarily. Although the soup itself wasn’t very visually appealing, it was very flavorful. The flavor of the chicken and lemon infused stock went really well with the chopped carrots. This was actually one of the better dishes we had.

I don’t know if our server was on speed that day, but again we didn’t get two bites in and our additional appetizers had come out. In hindsight, I realize we ordered way too much food, but oh well. I had ordered their crispy cheese pie (think greek cheese pastelito) and my friend ordered their octopus. I really liked the crispy cheese pie, it’s phyllo dough stuffed with Feta cheese and sliced almonds and then honey drizzled over the top with sesame seeds. I loved the sweet and salty play on this dish. The almonds and crisp phyllo dough gave it a nice little crunch. The saltiness of the Feta was the total antithesis of the honey drizzled over the top. It was funky and I liked it. My friend’s octopus on the other hand, was way too salty for my personal liking. In addition, the octopus was slightly chewy and tough similar to a good year tire.

Within seconds, our entrees were out and served. By the time I looked up our table was completely inundated with unfinished plates and food. Our waiter also noticed the plethora of food and dishes and like any authentic greek person (or Cuban abuelita) asked us “Ju no like!? Ju must eat if you like, yes?!” Both my friend and I had their Greek Lamb Kebab with lemon oregano potatoes. This dish was also a disappointment. The lamb was perfectly sliced, the meat itself had no seasoning what so ever and was very over cooked. The potatoes, on the other hand, tasted as if they had been soaking in lemon juice for days. I tasted no oregano on the potatoes, only the overwhelming lemon flavor that permeated through out the entire bite. The grilled eggplant was actually good and well cooked, but there was only one small piece given per dish. Yet another dish added to our never ending pile of unfinished food.

Minutes later or desserts came out; I am not sure if they were in a hurry to get rid of us or if the staff really was on speed. None the less, by our third bite of our entrée our desserts hit the table. I had gotten their greek yogurt that came topped with honey, walnuts and apricots. I actually really liked this, the yogurt was very thick and had a tart flavor that was down played by the apricots and honey. My friend got their baklava which was also good. It was pretty thick and we needed to use a fork and knife to cut through it, none the less the flavor was good. It wasn’t in any way unique, but it was one of the better baklavas I’ve had in Miami.

Although there were some positive points in our meal, I have to say that Egg & Dart was an over all disappointment. For a restaurant that got an honorable mention in Miami New Times, “Top Five New Restaurants: Beyond Best of Miami” article, I definitely expected a bit more quality (and some damn pita bread!) Alas, you live and you learn.

Restaurant Details:
Egg & Dart
(786) 431-1022
4029 N Miami Ave
Miami, FL 33127

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Heard It Through The Grapevine

September 22, 2011

It was Friday and for once my girlfriends and I miraculously had nowhere to go for a change. I remembered this hole in the wall wine bar in Hollywood was having a FREE beer and rum tasting. As many of my friends know my favorite kind of beer and rum is free beer and free rum! So naturally, my girlfriends and I drove over to downtown Hollywood to enjoy some free spirits at Hollywood Vine. This little wine bar is located on the west end of downtown Hollywood on Harrison Street. It may look small, but Hollywood Vine actually sells over 600 wine and spirits in addition to offering over 40 different cheeses, meats and snacks. They have a few high top tables and bar seating that gives the place a very laid back, casual and “loungey” feel. They’ve got a couple TV’s hanging up over the bar that usually show whichever sporting event is on that night They don’t have a kitchen on the premises and therefore don’t sell any prepared food. However patrons are welcomed to bring in their own dishes from neighboring restaurants such as Lola’s on Harrison across the street.

I had been to Hollywood Vine several times in the past on Tuesdays when they offer their weekly free wine tastings. Every Tuesday they sample about 5 different wines for absolutely free. If you don’t like the wines they’re offering for free, you can always buy yourself a glass of a different wine or buy a bottle to drink there. Every other Friday, however, they have samplings of various spirits depending on what’s in season. In addition to our beer and rum sampling we also walked over to their fridge where they have all of their cheeses, meats, and other good things on display. Typically, one of the employees will hand you a plate and you get to pick and choose whatever you want. Once you’ve decided, you hand your plate filled with fatty goodness back to the employee who then slices everything for you and brings it over to your table. In essence you get to create your own charcuterie plate.

For this trip we ended up going a little over board and helped ourselves to some smoked Gouda, Aged Goat cheese, Mozzarella, fresh Salami, spicy Spanish Chorizo and roasted tomatoes. Everything was neatly sliced and served with tiny Melba toasts. All of the cheeses and meats were insanely fresh and all of their complex flavors shined through. My favorite though, has always been their smoked Gouda with some their roasted tomatoes on a piece of Melba toast. I’ve been trying to figure out the recipe to their roasted tomatoes for ages, but my version never comes out as good as theirs. Luckily, between the beer, rum and snacks by the time we were ready to go we were actually quite full.

I’ve always really liked this place, it’s a great place to come with your friends, drink some wine and just chat in a laidback setting. In my case, it’s a great place to go with my girlfriends to discuss that "asshole guy" that I can never seem to figure out, but wish I could. Once we were done snacking, talking crap and drinking it up, one of my friends decided to buy a few wines. Luckily, the staff at Hollywood Vine is not only nice but they know their shit when it comes to booze. They were able to help guide my friend on choosing wines based on what she was looking for and her budget. All in all, I love this place. This is a great place to check out (even if you’re not in the area), especially on Tuesdays!

Restaurant Details:
Hollywood Vine
(954) 922-2910
2035 Harrison Street
Hollywood, FL 33020

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Spicing it up at Tudor House -CLOSED

September 18, 2011

I was finally able to make my way down to Tudor House without running over a Canadian tourist for a parking spot. The restaurant is located right in the middle of South Beach's hustle and bustle on the corner of eleventh and Collins Avenue. Located in the lobby of the Dream South Beach hotel, the restaurant itself offers an open and almost ethereal dining atmosphere that can be found in both their indoor and outdoor seating. I decided to swing by after work recently to check out their Miami Spice Menu and see what all of the buzz was about.

My meal started with some Salmon Rillete served over a crostini. The rillete was very creamy and had a tiny bit of black sea salt sprinkled over the top that added to its rich flavor. It was a small and great start; a foreshadowing to what was in store.

I decided to have their Peaches N Cream salad as my appetizer. The description simply states “French Feta, Baby Mache, Candied Hazelnuts” What I got was a wonderfully plated dish of sliced and delicious, fresh peaches over feta cream. The Feta cream was slightly salty but not over powering like some Feta tends to be. The Candied hazelnuts added a nice variation of texture with their crunch and added to the peaches’ sweet flavor. The baby mache worked in tying all of the flavors together perfectly. With this dish though you had to be sure to get a little bit of everything in each bite, otherwise there was a tiny something off from the flavor. Although I’m pretty sure this isn’t the type of "Peaches N Cream" 112 was singing about, it’s gotta be just as good in my opinion.

Up next I had their Short Rib that came with tater tots, apples and asparagus puree. This short rib was wonderfully seasoned and insanely tender. Their line cook, Christine, was nice enough to explain that their short rib is cooked for approximately 5 hours in a variety of ways including sous-vide. This thing was ridiculously soft and I kept muttering to myself “Oh my god, it’s like buttah,” like some old Jewish lady from the Bronx. The tater tots were also really good, nice and crispy on the outside yet soft and creamy on the inside. The best part was dunking and smothering the tater tots in the au jus and asparagus puree. The apples that came on the dish were also cooked sous-vide and were very tender, they gave a tiny hint of sweetness to the rest of the savory dish. By the time I was done, I was actually pretty stuffed and had completely forgotten there was still dessert headed my way.

I was lucky enough to get my chubby hands on two of their desserts. The first one I tried was the Lucky Charms Milkshake. The milkshake is served with crunchy rice crispies and homemade marshmallows floating at the top of the milkshake. Eating this felt like a lazy Sunday morning, curled up in my comfy pj’s and eating a bowl of childhood cereal. Again, you really had to get a little bit of everything in each bite so you can really enjoy the varying textures in the milkshake. I really liked it and as my friend perfectly put it, “It’s like drinking the milk at the bottom of the bowl.”

The second dessert I had was their menu regular, Popcorn Milkshake. This milkshake is made from salted brown butter, which is reminiscent to a salty caramel flavor and served with caramel popcorn for that extra added crunch. Along with the popcorn, it’s also served with homemade kit-kats with sea salt sprinkled over the top. The only thing I could say, is that I usually prefer my milkshakes to have a slightly more thick consistency, but the flavor with both of these were great and completely made up for it. I do have to say my favorite was the Popcorn Milkshake by a nose.

This place was a completely pleasant surprise. Not a lot of places live up to their hype in South Beach, but I can honestly say that Tudor House not only lives up to the hype, but actually exceeded it. From the absolutely perfect service I got from my waiter Kurt to the quality of the food. The only negative thing I can and will point out is that their Miami Spice menu is exactly the same for lunch and dinner, the only difference is the $13.00 price increase you have to shell out if you go for dinner. Which I felt is a bit of a rip off, don’t get me wrong this meal is absolutely worth $35. However, knowing I could’ve gotten it for $22 stings ever so slightly. None the less, this is a place to definitely check out and fight over South Beach parking for.

Restaurant Details:
Tudor House
(305) 534-8455
1111 Collins Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33139

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Goodbye Himmarshee, Hello Pl8 Kitchen! -CLOSED

September 13, 2011

Although I had only been to Himmarshee Bar & Grille once before, I had become an instant fan. I was especially a fan of their Butternut Squash Purses and entrees. The restaurant offered different appetizers, entrees and desserts with international influences ranging from Caribbean to Middle Eastern. The restaurant had sidewalk seating on one of Fort Lauderdale’s busiest downtown streets and was always very packed. The interior was painted in warm and inviting colors like rich burnt red with wooden accents. However in recent weeks, Himmarshee abruptly changed its name, menu and concept. It's now known as Pl8 Kitchen and offers primarily small plates at more reasonable prices. The interior also changed to dark and metal hues to embrace a more industrial/modern look.

I decided to check out the new Pl8 Kitchen on its opening weekend with my best friend. Our waiter seemed slightly nervous but was nice and helpful in explaining the new menu and how dishes come out as they’re ready in no specific order. We started rattling off dishes and the first to show up was their Creekstone Farms beef sliders that are made of ground short rib and brisket and topped with garlic herb spread, ketchup and caramelized onions. The sliders are cooked medium (unless otherwise specified) and are served on a toasted bun. The meat was tender, really juicy and well seasoned. I was apprehensive about the ketchup and garlic herb spread together, but the combination tasted surprisingly well. My friend and I realized there was cheese on our sliders and although it wasn’t included in the menu description, cheese is always welcomed on my sliders. We asked the waiter and he advised that it was smoked Gouda. The caramelized onions were slightly under cooked and I wouldn’t call them caramelized per say but they went well with the sliders none the less. I really enjoyed the sliders and was eager to see what else was in store.

Once we were done with the sliders, we moved onto our wedges (not to be confused with wedgies). We ordered their Parmesan Potato Wedges and Chili Dusted Sweet Potato Wedges. The parmesan wedges were made from Idaho potatoes and although the order brings 6 thick wedges, it equates to one giant potato. The seasoning on the parmesan wedges was great and really flavorful; the only disappointment was the double mustard sauce that came with the wedges. I felt the mustard sauce robbed the wedges of their rustic, Italian infused flavor and didn’t compliment them at all. A garlic aioli or pesto would’ve really been a much more appropriate sauce instead of the mustard sauce. The Chili dusted sweet potatoes could have used slightly more chili seasoning. The seasoning didn’t come through at all and the accompanying sauce, spicy raspberry jam, lacked spiciness. Although I liked the idea of serving the sweet potato wedges with raspberry jam, both the jam and potatoes lacked the spice and kick the menu alluded to. With that we decided to keep on moving to our next dish.

We then decided to tackle their version of Butternut Squash Purses. The Himmarshee butternut squash purses are a very tough act to follow; they were cooked with shiitake mushrooms, sage, pecan oil, chopped pecans and topped with shaved parmigiano reggiano. They offered a complex and wonderful flavor that had me eager to drive back to Fort Lauderdale from Hialeah for. Pl8 Kitchen’s revamped butternut purses were a sad let down. Their purses were simply fried and then sprinkled over the top with cinnamon and salt. They were also served with the same double mustard sauce that the parmesan potato wedges came with. I felt that they lacked depth and creativity. When given the opportunity I told the managerial staff that for Christ’s sake bring back Himmarshee’s version of the butternut squash purses and to chill out with the damn mustard sauce.

Up next we tried their cast iron Macaroni and Cheese which according to the menu changes daily. Macaroni and cheese is a pretty big deal for me, it’s the wonderful marriage of two of my favorite things, cheese and pasta. The waiter explained that today they were serving a tex-mex inspired mac and cheese with ditalini pasta, onions and peppers. The cheese was a “secret cheese sauce” and our waiter wouldn’t even explain which cheeses were in the damn thing even when we tried to bribe him. What I can say is, the mac and cheese was really flavorful and the one cheese’s flavor I could honestly make out was Cheddar. I liked the tex-mex seasoning that gave it a different spin and twist to what is typically seen as a southern dish.

Our last dish was none other than a whole brick over pizza. We tried their Sunny Side Up pizza that came with bacon, smoked gouda, onions, peppers, fingerling potatoes, sunny side up eggs, maple syrup and truffle oil. This thing was packed with toppings and smelled just as great as it tasted. I was really worried about the maple syrup and truffle oil combination, but it surprisingly went perfectly together. This pie was the best breakfast inspired pizza I’ve ever had, hands down. The smoked Gouda, bacon and sunny side up eggs went perfectly with the onions, peppers and potatoes. The whole combination of toppings went extremely well together and the fact that each bite was slightly different from the last only made me want to keep eating it.

This place was a bit of a hit or miss, some dishes were successful and others fell short. I really enjoyed the sliders, that day’s mac and cheese and the pizza. The potato wedges and butternut squash purses were a bit of a disappointment. I realize that I went on their opening weekend and there are still adjustments to be made. The manager did mention that several people had expressed their concern over the butternut squash purses and they were in the process of deciding whether or not to bring them back. The staff as a whole were all friendly and all asked how we liked the food and if there were any suggestions or concerns. The restaurant was very busy and if you plan on checking it out for yourself, I would suggest making a reservation to avoid an extended wait time.

Restaurant Details:
PL8 Kitchen
(954) 524-1818
210 SW 2nd St
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301

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This isn't your momma's Chinese food!

September 7, 2011

I recently made my way over to Chow Down Grill's new South Beach location to try out some of their Asian fare. I entered the restaurant and was in what seemed like the restaurant’s lobby where a hostess greeted me with a bright smile. She asked if I wanted to sit at the bar or a table, I decided to stick around and I chose to sit at a table. She lead me through an arch that led into a very dimly lit and seemingly vast room where there were several large picnic tables and booths. I had a seat and my waitress Heidi came over and introduced herself. She was very informative, friendly and explained that the food is cooked fresh to order. Heidi also mentioned that the restaurant operates on sustainable produce and meats from local farmers. She also mentioned my two favorite words, “Happy Hour” and suggested a beer or cocktail from the bar. I eagerly took my beer and looked over the menu.

I have to admit the lighting in the restaurant was a tiny bit distracting, especially after a long day at work. I was tempted to ask for my beer in a sippy cup and curl up in my booth for a nap. Luckily though, Chow Down Grill plays some of the best music I’ve ever heard in a restaurant. The music was so good that Heidi was kind enough to find out what Pandora station the restaurant was using. The station is called ‘Pheonix’ in case you were wondering.

When it came to picking out my food, I decided that for starters, I’d go with their fried chicken wontons with peanut sauce. What I received were 6 delicately plated wontons with a drizzle of peanut sauce, sesame seeds and scallions. Along with the wontons, came six different sauces. The sauces included house-made soy sauce, spicy peanut sauce, spicy Chinese mustard, hoisin sauce and sriracha chili sauce. For the wontons though, I felt that the best pairing was between the house-made soy sauce and their (not so) spicy peanut sauce. The wontons themselves were crisp and fresh. The portion of chicken inside the wonton was a bit on the skimpy side, but the meat was tender and had great flavor. Finally, the peanut sauce that came drizzled over the top was great, complex yet slightly subtle. The sesame seed garnish added to the toasty flavor that shined through. I inhaled them and was sad to catch myself debating whether or not to lick the peanut sauce off the bowl when the wontons were gone.

As an entrée I decided to try their sweet and sour chicken with white rice. The menu description was simple yet really intriguing, “Sweet and sour sauce with Mango / Walnut / Pepper / Onion.” Keep in mind I’m used to generic hot pink sweet and sour goop with chunks of canned pineapples and maraschino cherries. What I got was a beautifully colorful plate with generous slices of mango, onions and red peppers with walnuts. The sauce appeared to be soy based and the chicken breast was perfectly grilled and sliced over the sauce. The whole chicken breast was plump, juicy and went perfectly with the sauce and mango slices. The flavor was refreshing and great. the fresh mango and red peppers gave this dish a new life. Chow Down Grill's take on sweet and sour chicken really revitalized my idea of sweet and sour anything and I’m eagerly looking forward to going back soon.

I ended up not getting any dessert this time around, but I definitely intend to on my next visit. I really enjoyed this place, from the zen atmosphere, friendly staff and great music to the wonderfully fresh food. I've been looking for quality chinese food for a long time and I'm glad to say I've finally found it. The best part about this place? That it’s less than 5 minutes away from my job!

Restaurant Details:
Chow Down Grill
920 Alton Rd
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(305) 674-1674

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