Posted by Cochrancj at 4:16 PM |
We decided to have another in our continuing 'foodies with cameras' quest with our good friend Kevin and man, we weren't disappointed. Some of the pictures I took turned out like crap, but the food didn't and that is what counts.
Let me preface this review by saying I try really hard not to be a complete chef fangirl. I strive to be as objective and balanced as possible when writing my reviews, if anything I try to be over-objective when it's for a restaurant of a chef I admire or have heard rave things about. I don't want to join the ranks of the self-serving glad-handing food bloggers. Ass kissing is not why I blog. I blog not only for you, the reader, but for me. I like having a record of where I've been and what I've had so I know if a restaurant is worth re-visiting. I love having readers as well, don't get me wrong, and not a few of the places I've been is with my readership in mind. I like being able to give people an unbiased review of the places they should (or shouldn't) spend their hard-earned money.
Having said that, I fear I sound like a gushing fangirl in this review, and though it pains me to admit it, I think it's true. I might just have a Chef crush on Michelle Bernstein. There, I said it. It's out there in the universe, in indelible type. I, Foodie In Miami, have a crush. I don't think it colored my objectivity since I've only just 3 minutes ago discovered said crush after finishing the rest of the writeup, but it's there.
Sra. Martinez is Chef Michelle Bernstein's Spanish-influenced tapas restaurant located in the heart of the Design District and embodies what I have come to expect from this Chef from watching her on Top Chef, Check Please and when she kicked Flay's butt on Iron Chef America. In her TV appearances, Bernstein appears to be nothing short of gracious, elegant and playful and a thoughtful, talented chef. Through her restaurants you can tell that this assessment is true. She really takes the time to think about what she is doing and presenting to the diner. It's rare to see a Chef at that level that is so approachable and so non-ego driven--someone you can root for with no hesitation, someone that loves where she comes from and works hard to improve it. What other James Beard Award winning chef would have a local restaurant review show on PBS and her flagship restaurant in a still up-and-coming district (Michy's is located in MiMo/The Upper East Side)?
What We Had
Egg Yolk Carpaccio with Sweet Shrimp and Crispy Potatoes
This dish had me at egg yolk. I'm in an admitted lifelong torrid love affair with eggs, but this dish is good even if you are not.
What looks simple (almost like Mee Krob at first glance) turns into a rich, velvety sweet/salty/soft/crunchy flavor riot after gently scooping the egg yolk up from the bottom of the dish and ladling it over the mound of crispy potato and soft sweet shrimp. The salty sweetness of the shrimp balances perfectly with the crunch of the potatoes and the deeply satisfying richness of the yolks. A winner in our book.
Roasted Bone Marrow with Schwarma Spice, Sumac Pickled Onions, Apple Butter and Toast
This dish elicited more than a few spontaneous exclamations of "holy shit!" it was so good. If you haven't had the wonder that is bone marrow, the nearest thing I can liken it to would be cow butter. I've stayed far away from bone marrow until now, slightly frightened by the consistency I imagined and horrified by the fat content. No more. This was fabulous. I didn't get much of the spice, but I think that was the point. The onions lent a nice texture change, and combined with a light schmear of the apple butter… forget about it. This is not Amish country apple butter. It's velvety, has a hint of apple freshness and gives a nice little counterpoint to the richness of the marrow.
Croquetas with Jamon, Manchego and Fig Marmalade
This is perhaps the best representation of a perennial Miami favorite--the croquetta. Tender nuggets of soft potato protect salty Jamon and creamy Manchego cheese. What really did it for us with this dish was the fig marmalade. The sweet, slightly sour tang gave the ham a nice punch.
Cauliflower Steak with Marcona Almonds and Golden Raisins
The chef had even my sweet-with-savory-hating husband singing this dish's praises. The nuttiness of the cauliflower really balanced the plump sweetness of the raisins, and the simply treated almonds gave their all for a really nice, well-balanced (and very needed) vegetable component to our feast.
Garbanzo Stew with Chorizo, Kale, Tetilla Cheese and Quail Egg
The picture looks like crap, but the dish was awesome. Possibly my favorite of the night, this dish's dead simple looks hide it's complex flavors and wholly satisfying comfort. This is Spanish comfort food at its finest, with the best chorizo I've had in town. This isn't the under-seasoned or mealy stuff--this is the good stuff. All richness, complex flavors and nice meaty texture--what all chorizo aspires to be. I need to learn how to make a passable version of this dish, and pronto.
Lamb Pinchos with Romesco and Grilled Scallions
Perfectly cooked lamb lollipops with just enough sear to be interesting, and a velvety romesco sauce. Although I almost missed the deeply seared fat cap I only barely trim off when I cook lamb, this was a great rendition, and a little better for you as well. Romesco if you haven't tried it, is one of my favorite sauces--with a little attention, simple red peppers and almonds (among other ingredients) turn into a rich, delicious sauce that is perfect on everything from meats and seafood to potatoes and pasta. The next time you're in the mood for a new all-purpose sauce, whip some up. You won't be sorry.
Bacon Wrapped Rabbit with Carrot Risotto, Glazed Carrot Pearls and Pork Jus
Oh yeah, you heard me right. Carrot pearls and pork jus. A lot of love went into this dish. What is a carrot pearl, you might ask? It's a tiny perfect sphere of crunchy carrot scooped out by hand by a poor sous chef. Love.
You can certainly taste the love in this dish. The rabbit is most, if a bit on the overwhelmed side by the bacon, the risotto with pork jus is so good I wanted a huge bowl of it, and the pearls? They give just the right amount of crunch to give you something to ponder.
Pastelito de Membrillo y Queso with Quince, .....
I didn't get the whole name of the dessert, but it was nothing short of amazing. Vanilla and possibly rum? ice cream topped with a flag of salty, crispy Jamon ham and deeply toasted nuts on one side with a fried pastry hiding a surprising pocket of soft cheese and sweet quince at the other. This dish walks the line between sweet and savory beautifully, serving as a great reminder that cheese can make one hell of a dessert dish.
Churro with Chipotle Chocolate
Also not the proper name of the dessert, but was it ever good. I had no idea churros were supposed to taste like that. Nothing like the hard greasy things you get at event stands or the mall. These churros were light and flaky crispy on the outside and warm and soft in the middle. Dusted with enough sugar to give sweetness to the dark, slightly bitter chocolate with nice spice, each composed bite made you want to come back for more.
Sra. Martinez is located in a 1920s old Post Office, and is decked out in rich black wood and gorgeous patterned tile with hits of reds, yellows and citrus. The decor supports the playful colors of the dishes perfectly and serves to give a sense of lightness and air. I have seen complaints about the size of the restaurant online before, but we had no such qualms. Sure, it's small, but food of this caliber wouldn't work in a 200-seater restaurant. Intimate is nice, and even the chairs are comfy. I mean, c'mon people, Michy's is small too. It's obvious (at least to me) that that is what the chef is going for. An intimate setting where you can have great food and conversation with friends, and not have to worry about 200 other diners ratcheting the decibel level up to 11. If she wanted to be Paula Deen with a warehouse and cattle call for seating, I'm sure Chef Bernstein could be. But that's just not her style.
Hands down the best service I have had to date in Miami; possibly ever. Everyone we spoke to was knowledgeable and gracious, attentive without being overbearing, and more than willing to talk about dishes you could tell they were very proud of. We left feeling not only well taken care of, but like we had a better picture of what the Chef had intended. That's rare and something very worthwhile indeed. Food is a topic I never tire of, and it's nice to get background on something I spend so much of my time thinking (and writing) about.
I'm looking for something less than stellar to say about Sra. Martinez. A little qualm; something I would change about the dishes we had, and I can't. The only things I can say even remotely negative are nitpicky. And you know what? I'm no where near this level of chef, so that is ok. I'm great at home, but for an audience? I think not. I've been trying for a day now to see if my amazement will dim with time, and so far it's not happening. This place is amazing.
I think I enjoyed it more than Michy's and even though it really, really pains me to say it… more even than Michael's Genuine. Granted, they're two different kinds of food (both tapas style, but from two different cultural backgrounds), so there is definitely room for both in the pantheon of kickass food in Miami. I still think Michael's is where I will take out of town not necessarily foodie friends, but those foodie visitors? watch out, you're in for a treat.
With Sra. Martinez, you can tell each dish has been thought about and thought about and tested and loved long before it gets to your plate. Think of it as a love letter from Chef Bernstein to Miami. She is at the top of her game with this place, and I can't wait to go back for brunch. Not to detract from Michy's, which is also stellar, but at Sra. Martinez you can relax more--maybe it's the dark woods and high ceilings, maybe not. I guess this will just give me a good excuse to go back soon so I can tell for sure :)
To view more pictures of this dinner, visit Gastography or view the photo set on Flickr.
5+ out of 5 Salamanders