January 25, 2012

Kapow! Noodle Bar Karate Chops Your Taste Buds!

Last week my boyfriend and I decided to stay in broward for dinner. We tried our luck at a couple different restaurants in Fort Lauderdale and were met with almost 2 hour waits for a table. We decided to get a little crazy and head to Boca Raton to try this place John had on his list. So we did the drive and got to Boca Raton, which is a completely different planet for my Hialeah raised ass. The restaurant itself is located inside the Mizner Park shopping plaza which was buzzing with want-to-be-hip retirees desperately trying to hold on to the last remaining slivers of their youth.

We walked in and the inside of the restaurant is the complete antithesis of the remainder of Mizner Park, it was young, great alternative rock playing on the stereo, good beer selection and an amazing Asian inspired graffiti mural. Our waitress was sweet, informative and was able to give us a full run down on the menu.

We decided to start the night with a couple of their buns. I had their crispy duck confit buns and John went with their Korean BBQ beef buns. My duck buns were delicious, the duck confit came topped with thinly sliced cucumber and what knocked it out of the park was a dried cherry creamed goat cheese. The cherry and goat cheese combo gave it a slightly tart creaminess what went perfectly with the savory flavor of the duck. While I was stuffing my face with buns my boyfriend was inhaling his korean bbq beef buns which came topped with shredded lettuce and pickled cucumber. He said the beef was tasty, fresh and the bbq sauce was light and didn't overpower any of the other flavors. He did say that the lettuce was a poor way to give the buns any kind of crunch and that cabbage would've been a nice crunchier fit. We both had the same problem that are buns fell apart. Although the buns are soft and fluffy, they were no match for their juicy contents and would break in the center leading to messy buns.

Up next I had their crispy chicken skin, yep you read that right. Think of chicken's version of pork rinds. They were light and super crispy. They were like nature's fatty potato chips. I couldn't really stop eating them. They're served with what tasted just like soy sauce and decorated with a miniature parmesan crisp. My only qualm is that I would've like to have seen a little bit more seasoning on these guys. Although, naturally they tasted great, some sort of funky seasoning on them would have really kicked it up a notch.

My boyfriend had their steamed shrimp dumplings which are served with a chili pepper infused soy sauce. For him, this was probably the lowest point of his meal. He said that although the ingredients were well cooked, the dumplings tasted really, "shrimpy" and that he felt it was a little distracting.
My boyfriend then had their pan seared diver scallops that come with bok choy, drizzled with green curry sauce over a bed of straw mushrooms and rice. The portion was really generous and could easily feed two people. All five scallops were large, plump and perfectly cooked. Only recommendation he would make is to cook them with no seasoning. The seasoning burned and ended up giving the scallops an unfriendly crust of crackling burned bits in his mouth. The green curry sauce had the perfect amount of heat and was delicious with the rest of the dish. I was so full by the time this dish came out that I was bummed that I couldnt try a bite. It looked great.
I then had their green tea cured salmon; this was easily the best dish of the night. This was absolutely delicious. The salmon is served with fresh and fried basil leaves and longan berries that have been stuffed with a yuzu-kosho (citrus) gelee. The waitress told us that the way to eat this dish is by wrapping a piece of salmon around the longan berry so you can get all the flavors at once. The waitress also mentioned that if you don't get a little bit of everything in each bite you miss out and boy was she right. The citrus gelee and longan berry gave the salmon a slightly sweet and refreshing flavor. I usually don't eat slabs of raw fish like this, but the salmon was insanely fresh with a tiny hint of the green tea flavor through out the meat. It's been several days and I'm still thinking about how good this dish was.


If you're in the Boca Raton area and looking for funky Asian food or if you're looking for a restaurant that plays awesome indie/alternative rock music, then definitely check this place out. The atmosphere is fun, the staff was insightful, helpful and the food was overall reall good. It makes me sad that this place is an hour away from home, but if you're feeling adventurous then I encourage you to take a drive.

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Restaurant Details:
Kapow! Noodle Bar
(561) 347-7322
431 Plaza Real
Boca Raton, FL 33432

Kapow! Noodle Bar on Urbanspoon

January 14, 2012

Cuban Guys offering fast Cuban food in Hialeah Gardens

I've been getting some flack from my friends for not reviewing any Hialeah restaurants. The truth is, the variety of food in Hialeah is rather limited and the bulk of restaurants offer primarily Cuban food. Let's be honest, reviewing a cuisine that is so near and dear to the majority of the city's residents is no easy task. Everyone's tio makes the best Lechon and everyone's abuela makes the best arroz con leche ever, so great Cuban restaurants in Hialeah are extremely subjective. None the less, one of my new year's resolutions is to make an active effort to write more about restaurants from my home town.

I had seen a couple of tweets about a brand new restaurant offering Cuban favorites at a fast food pace. I decided to head into Hialeah gardens and give the place a shot. The restaurant's decor was simple and it had a fast food layout. The music playing on the stereo were Hialeah basics, you know Pitbull, Daddy Yankee, Marc Anthony and the like. Their menu is laid out on a large tv on the wall next to a sign that reads, "Not just fast food, it's awesome food fast."

I decided to keep it simple and had their Pan con Bistec with a side of plantain chips. The pan con bistec was enormous and piled high with a palomilla steak, real deal crispy potato sticks, shredded lettuce, a tiny bit of mayonnaise, thinly sliced tomatoes, and grilled onions in lightly pressed Cuban bread. The steak was perfectly grilled and seasoned. The crispy potatoes were fresh and homemade. This was easily one of the best pan con bistec sandwiches I've had in a really long time. I inhaled this bad boy and didn't think twice about that pesky new year's resolution to lose 20 pounds.

On a second visit I decided to give their bowls a shot. Similar to a cubanized Chicken Kitchen's chop-chop; it's served with your choice of protein, white rice, black beans, fried sweet plantains and more of those awesome potato sticks. I decided to have steak as my protein, since it tasted so good in the pan con bistec. Again, the steak was perfectly seasoned and ridiculously flavorful. The sweet plantains were chopped, which was a nice variation to how they're typically served. The potato sticks added a nice crunch to each bit. My only qualm was that the beans and rice were really under-seasoned for my particular taste. I found that unless I had a piece of steak with each bite, there wasn't a lot of flavor going on. It's nothing a little salt and pepper wouldn't fix, so hopefully they'll correct it.


I also had a side of their fried plantain chips. Their made fresh in-house and are cut slightly thicker than usual but still manage to have a great crunch. They're served with a small side of mojo that is perfectly garlicky just how I like it. I would've loved a whole bucket of the mojo because it was seriously that good.

I also decided to try their tamal. Flavorwise, this bad boy was on point. The pork and corn was perfectly seasoned and tasted great. My only issue with this was that it was served at room temperature, which is a complete shame. Had the tamal been nice and hot, it would've been a lot better. None the less, it's something small that this place can definitely tweak and correct.


Onto their desserts, this place has some amazing flans. They offer a cappuccino flan that has a nice hint of coffee throughout the really creamy flan. If you're a coffee and sweets lover, then definitely give this a try. I loved this variation of flan and was definitely addicted at first bite. I also tried their guava and cheese flan, think of a pastel de guayaba y queso without the pastry dough. This flan is primarily a cheese flan with rich guava over the top. This flan is very sweet but completely delicious. Both flans I'd have again in a heart beat, they were a different and neat twist on this Cuban staple.


I really liked this place over all and liked the concept of offering fast Cuban food. Definitely check this place out for the sandwiches and their flans. This place is brand new and has the potential to fill a hole in Hialeah with their fast food approach. Wishing them the best of luck.

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Restaurant Details:
Cuban Guys Restaurant
3174 W 76 St.
Hialeah, FL 33018
(786) 326-8890
Www.cubanguys.net



Cuban Guys Restaurant on Urbanspoon

January 10, 2012

Something's brewing in Wynwood

Now that Edible South Florida magazine has done a whole article on the owners of Panther Coffee, it's safe to say my secret coffee spot is no longer much of a secret. Owned and operated by a married couple from Seattle (The Jerusalem of American Coffee), they've brought their Seattle brewing style and technique to sunny South Florida. Nestled in the center of Wynwood's art district, this place is a regular stop for Miami hipsters and coffee hounds alike. They roast their own coffee right there in front of you on a beautiful 1920's vintage coffee roaster and are always friendly to answer questions regarding the process. You'll find this place relatively simple, not a lot going on decoration-wise because they let their coffee do the talking. The coffee brewed and roasted in this small place is some of the richest and strongest coffee I've had outside of Colombia and it's one of my favorite pit stops on my days off from work.




Their menu is relatively simple, these people know what they're good at and they stick to it. You won't find a dozen fancy coffee syrups to make your, "mocha toffee hazelnut chai with 2% milk, a splash of soy, extra foam, 2 splendas and extra hot." Forget about that shit, the folks at Panther Coffee are purists. They carefully select coffee beans from around the world and carefully roast them to perfection. When I go, there are only two types of coffee drinks I have, either their cold brew (iced coffee) or their cappuccino.

Up first I'll talk about their cappuccino. Not only is it simple and delicious, the foam is always light and frothy as it should be. In addition, these folks have brought west coast "latte art" to Miami by always putting a nice design at the top of your cup of joe. The hot coffee is usually at a spot on temperature and if you need to sweeten up your coffee, your options are natural turbinado sugar or white sugar. I urge you to always go with the turbinado (brown) sugar, the flavor goes perfectly and it gives it an added richness.


You'll also find a handful of pastries from local bakeries for sale by the register. My favorite though are the mini cakes from Yummy ChunBuns. Specifically the Chunky Monkey ChunBun. It's a small banana cake with a chocolate center, topped with chocolate ganache and a chocolate dipped banana. So good and rich, that it's ridiculous. The fact that they're a relatively small dessert, you won't be left feeling like Precious with her bucket of chicken. It's a nice little indulgence that will not leave you feeling like a complete glutton. I personal love banana and chocolate or banana with peanut butter, so I almost always get one.



Since the weather in Miami is usually as hot and muggy as Kesha's armpits, I typically get the Coldbrew (Iced Coffee). They cold brew their coffee at room temperature for approximately 9 hours, so you still get the intense flavor of a hot coffee without any fuss. The coffee's flavor is still strong enough to give you a jolt but refreshing enough to fool you into thinking a second glass won't do any harm. Afterwards, I usually find myself running around town with a ton of energy and a crazy stare in my eyes resembling one of the Lohans.


If you're someone that lives and dies by Starbucks, I would urge you to give this place a shot. If you're still on the fence, try their coffee for FREE! They host coffee tastings on the second Friday and third Saturday of every month. Once you drink their coffee you'll soon find yourself noticing that Starbucks tastes like muddied water. I found it exceptionally neat to see the roasting process done right there in front of you, something you will never get at any Starbucks where everything is prepackaged and sealed.
For more in depth information, feel free to check out the Edible South Florida article, located on page 12/13 of the virtual magazine http://onlinedigeditions.com/publication/?i=84376&p=1


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Restaurant Details:
Panther Coffee 
2390 NW 2nd Ave.
Miami, FL 33127
(305) 677 3952
http://www.panthercoffee.com

  Panther Coffee on Urbanspoon

January 3, 2012

Crave hits Merrick Park

I had never heard of Crave and much less that it had opened in Merrick Park two weeks ago. Luckily for me, my boyfriend had mentioned it when I was trying to think of places to go to dinner with my friends. After some research into the menu I realized this was a small national chain with a diversified menu similar to Cheesecake Factory (minus the cheesecake). The menu offers a lot of continental/new American dishes as well as a decked out sushi bar and wine list. One of my friends had visited one of their Minnesota locations and raved about it, so we decided to give it a shot. Once at the restaurant you realize how enormous it is. The outside dining area is bigger than most locally owned restaurants, venture inside and you are slapped in the face with a gargantuan space that screams, “Viva las Vegas!” The décor reminded me a lot of the Bellagio, with Chihuly-esque glass structures hanging from the ceilings and walls.

While we waited for my friends, we tried a couple of appetizers and drinks. I kept it simple and ordered their edamame. The edamame is tossed in a sriracha soy glaze that gives it a nice kick and by the time I was done, my lips were burning and tingling. The edamame was perfectly cooked and very well seasoned; luckily for me, my date was too busy with his food so I didn’t have to share.
My date had two appetizers; he started off with their Sunomono Salad (a fancy way of saying cucumber salad). The salad is really light and refreshing with cucumbers, daikon and carrots tossed in sweet rice vinegar. The presentation was also very simple and colorful with the bright greens, orange and yellow hues popping against the contrast of the white dish. The rice vinegar tasted great and was a good compliment to the thinly shredded daikon and cucumber.
Up next, my date had their Grilled Ceviche. I know what you’re thinking, “Grilled Ceviche, isn’t that a total oxymoron?” and you’re absolutely right. That’s actually what intrigued us about the dish. The menu has a simple description for this dish that states, “Shrimp, scallop, kimchee, mango and cilantro.” What we got was a bowl filled with shrimp, scallops, chopped mango and minced cilantro with 3 orange segments and 3 slices of avocado. As you can see in the photo, the avocado had some slight brown spots, but nothing that was too unbearable. As some of you may know by now, I’m allergic to shrimp, so I couldn’t try this dish and have to rely solely on what my date’s thoughts on the dish were for this post. He said that the freshness of the ingredients wasn’t top notch, but none the less it was a good dish with a great combination of fruits and savory flavors. Whether the name GRILLED Ceviche is 100%befitting is still to be determined, but it was a flavorful dish none the less. I will comment, I’ve noticed that my date’s consumption of shrimp has skyrocketed exponentially since it’s become clear that I’m allergic… coincidence? I think not.

When my friends joined us, we dove straight into our entrees and everyone ordered completely different types of cuisines. The menu is all over the place, like Britney Spears when she hasn’t had her daily Lithium dose. My friend Manny went with their sushi, his wife and my date both had pasta and I had a pizza. I’ll start off my talking about my friend’s sushi. He got two different rolls, their Sumo Roll and Crunchy Spicy Tuna Roll. The sumo roll is a tempura roll with a combination of spicy salmon, mango, cilantro and asparagus with a drizzle of sweet eel sauce over the top. The Crunchy Spicy Tuna roll comes with Spicy tuna, shrimp tempura, cream cheese, avocado, cucumber, seaweed salad, crunchy flakes, and sweet sauce. My friend was a concentrated sushi eating machine. He did at one point mention that the sushi did taste good and the fish was fresh. The fact that he inhaled his food and didn’t look up much during dinner was a positive sign.
My date had their Shrimp and Andouille sausage pasta (another shrimp dish, I smell a conspiracy!). The dish comes with linguini, sautéed shrimp, andouille sausage, spinach, broccolini, tomato and fresh parmesan all tossed in a slightly spicy vodka cream. I was unable to taste this dish, but the vegetables were all brightly colored and my date did mention the dish had a nice kick to it that went well with the sausage and shrimp.
My friend Jen is easily one of the pickiest eaters in America. I know as she reads this she is probably saying out loud, “I AM NOT!” I still love you Jen, but you are picky…don’t be mad at me! Although she was debating over two different dishes, at the last minute she decided to have their Roasted Chicken and Penne pasta. The pasta comes with roasted red peppers, kalamata olives, goat cheese, pine nuts, minced basil tossed in a romesco sauce. She enjoyed the red peppers and the fact that they were still al dente and firm. The Chicken tasted fresh and the pasta was also cooked al dente. The romesco sauce gave it all a great, slightly spicy flavor that tied together all the ingredients nicely. You can imagine our amazement when she left all but 5 pieces of pasta behind. If the picky eater of the bunch ate her whole plate, you know it can’t be bad.
I ended up having their Grape and Apple flatbread pizza. I was in a vegetarian friendly mood that night and this dish seemed relatively healthy. I really enjoyed this dish, the crust was really thin, and almost cracker like around the edges (I realize some people don’t like this kind of crust, but given the toppings it worked well for me). The pizza came topped with a ton of blue cheese crumbles, thinly julienned red apples, halved seedless purple grapes and drizzled with honey and minced parsley. The menu mentioned that the pizza comes with rosemary, but my pizza had no rosemary in it whatsoever. None the less, this giant flatbread was really tasty and the red apples and grapes went well with the blue cheese. And don’t let this dish fool you, it is actually very filling yet it doesn’t leave you asking the waiter for a wheelbarrow and stretchy pants.
My friends decided to try a couple of their ‘Crave Miniatures’ also known as dessert shots. My friends went with their Tiramisu and Salty Caramel Mousse shots. The Tiramisu was delicately layered almost like a miniature trifle and topped with a generous dusting of cocoa and a chocolate decoration to give it some extra pizzazz. My friend Jen inhaled her shot and was kind enough to grace her husband with one tiny spoonful before devouring it. Her husband ate the bulk of the Salty Caramel mousse shot that looked airy and light as a mousse should. The presentation of this shot was less decadent and fancy but it looked delicious. I was too stuffed to try either one of the desserts, but both of my friends assured me they were very good.

All in all, our meal and experience was a favorable one. Our waitress was jovial, helpful and eager to assist us with suggestions. The food was good and the restaurant was definitely busy for a Thursday night. If you’re looking for a large place to host a party or a restaurant that is a notch above the Cheesecake factory, then give this place a try. The menu does spread itself rather thin with so many various options and cuisines. As with several chain restaurants that have so many options, it doesn’t particularly excel or wow, but they execute their dishes well in an above average manner. This is their second outpost in Florida, with their first located in Orlando, and I expect more locations to pop up in South Florida.
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Restaurant Details:
CRAVE 
4250 Salzedo Street
(Inside Merrick Park across from SAWA)
Miami, FL 33146
(305)444-4595
http://www.craveamerica.com/location_coralgables.html Crave on Urbanspoon