Monday, September 29, 2008

California Done Right

With the modest apperance of the Coral Way/ Roads area, it is easy to not realize how many great restaurants there are, hiding behind inconspicuous signs and lurking within delapidated facades. I began to open the treasure chest of great restaurants in this area, when I first began working at a former job there. If I wanted a fresh and delicious cuban coffee and pastelito, I just had to cross the street to Karlo Bakery. A quick and healthy lunch - Salad & Co. Fresh pasta and sauces made on site, for a quick-fix dinner - Il Mundo di Pasta. The list goes on and on...

In particular, Fresco California Bistro was always a hot spot for lunch among the Coral Way and Brickell crowd, and I went there often with friends and coworkers. I usually got a salad - and never got bored of my options. I also sampled the pasta a few times, and found the plates to be light yet, completely satisfying. Like its neighbors, it also is obscure in its surrpoundings, and can be difficult to find. It is easy to pass by without so much a glance, and never realize that it is even there.

I had always wanted to try Fresco for dinner, but never got around to it. However, that changed when Marcela and I headed there last Thursday. We got what we were expecting -- and then some. Perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the restaurant is that they bake their bread daily, and serve it with a fantastic olive tapenade. Some people think of the bread that a restaurant serves, as just a basket full of carbs. Not me. I like to think of the bread as a refelction of the restaurant itself. It is the first offering that is presented to a diner and should have the intention to impress. Fresco definitely delivers in that department.

The menu is somewhat large, and offers mainly Italian, American and Mexican fare, with a Californian twist at an affordable price. I have almost always gotten a salad while having lunch, so I decided to mix things up a bit. I orederd chicken picatta. With my main course, I was offered a choice of pasta (olive oil & garlic, marinara or a la vodka sauces) or french fries. I chose the pasta with olive oil and garlic. I didn't want anything to over-power the picatta sauce. This proved to be a smart decision, as it was a perfect verison of the classic. It was salty and tangy, while not being overly so. I tasted the lemon, capers and white wine seperately and together, as a perfectly balanced blend. The three or four cutlets that swam in the sauce were thin, and as a result, very tender.

Marcela ordered a quesadilla, that I have to ashamedly admit, I did not sample. But her reviews were equally as kind. She also mentioned that she liked the unexpected and welcomed "spicy kick" from the quesadilla's filling. Although our dishes were quite different, we both agreed that it is a rarity to order plates of different ethnicities in one restaurant, and be equally impressed.

My Dad often teases my Mom for "ordering the Chinese dish in the Italian restaurant," or never ordering the house specialty, like chicken in a seafood joint. For this, she is often disappointed, or at least underwhelmed. In this case, however, it would have been a more-than-safe choice. At Freco California Bistro, you can expect a good meal, no matter what cuisine it belongs to, in a laid back and relaxed setting.

Fresco California Bistro

744 SW 3rd Ave
Miami, FL 33129
(305) 858-0608

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Happy Birthday Jessica! (Mid-Week Must Try: September 17, 2008)

In honor of Jessica's upcoming birthday, Brittany has contributed the following recipe. Enjoy!



1 cup self-rising flour
1 cup self-rising cornmeal, or from a mix (recommended: Aunt Jemima's)
2 eggs
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 cup buttermilk
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
1/4 cup vegetable oil or bacon grease
Oil, butter, or clarified margarine, for frying


Mix all ingredients together, except for the frying oil, in a bowl until well combined. Heat the frying oil or butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Drop the batter into the hot skillet. Use about 2 tablespoons of batter per hoecake. Fry each hoecake until brown and crisp; turn each hoecake with a spatula, and then brown the other side. With a slotted spoon, remove each hoecake to drain on a paper towel-lined plate.

Chef's Note: Leftover batter will keep in refrigerator for up to 2 days.

We love you Jess!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Chili's in the Grove: Low on my Scoville Scale

While this post could be considered more of a rant than a review, I thought it was only fair that I shared my experience of dining at Chili's in the Grove last night. Although I am normally not even a fan of Chili's to begin with, I was open to the idea of having some cheap food and drinks in a fun atmosphere, where Jacques could catch some (more) Sunday football.

The football game was pretty much the only thing that the restaurant did deliver. First, it took about 15 minutes before we got noticed by a server. Upon ordering our drinks, we were pretty much guilted in to making a donation to St. Jude's by purchasing a coloring project. Of course, I have no problem giving to St. Jude's - or most any charity for that matter - (after all, I am in the business), but before we have even ordered our food? I found it to be pretty invasive, not to mention tacky.

The menu is of course, a standard chain restaurant menu, offering fajitas, dips, ribs etc., with a little bit of southwest "flair". I actually looked forward to my tequila chicken and shrimp fajitas. Jacques was excited for his original and habanero baby backs. We were excited...and excited...and excited...and finally, our food arrived at the table. However, they had run out of shrimp, so I was given plain chicken fajitas (no tequila & lime flavor) and Jacques was given a rack of cold ribs and a lukewarm mound of potatoes. We had waited so long at this point, we dared not complain - let alone ask a third time for a side of sour cream.

Besides the food and service being completely disappointing, the ambiance was a let down as well. I mean I don't mind listening to Lil' Wayne at a club or a bar, but for it to be blaring throughout the entirety of my meal? It was rude. And if I was one of the parents that was there with their family, I would have found the explicit lyrics enough to pack up my kids and leave.

As if that weren't enough, it took about 45 minutes for us to get our check and have it processed. We waited so long, that I had to give the check to the bartender myself, which I think just made the whole situation worse. When our server did come back from what seemed like an hour, he explained that he was in the back having a fight with the chef. Lovely. Just to top it off, they charged us in full for the chicken and shrimp (there was no shrimp), two St. Jude's donations instead of one, and even a spoonful of guacamole. Yes, all very trivial things, but when the entire experience has been trivial at best, those little things can push you over the edge.

Maybe their management will snap out of it, maybe they will get more staff (and hopefully better staff) and maybe they will get the whole system working properly, but as of right now -- I wouldn't go to Chili's. If it's cheap food and laid back fun you are after, at least you know there's a Cheesecake Factory right underneath. My suggestion - go to Flannigan's; it is just down the road and worlds better than what you'll get at either.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Headed South (By Way of the North)

I am so excited to say that I will be off to Gainesville this weekend to watch the University of Florida Gators battle the University of Miami Hurricanes in the Swamp. I am not posting to talk sports, rivalries or predicted scores. I am here to talk about what else - food!

I had four great years at UF, and some of my fondest memories were food related. That is not a joke. Gainesville - packed with students, scholars and professors from around the world - has an incredible restaurant and food scene. Not to mention, that it is very affordable, attracting young, hip chefs from all over the country to set up shop there. Living downtown for my last two college years was great because I had access to the local farmer's market, several boutique coffee shops, and more importantly, some really memorable restaurants.

There are fantastic restaurants for whatever cuisine or meal you are in the mood for. Want a killer brunch? Go to Ivey's for their banana bread french toast and house spiced coffee. If you are in the mood for some thoroughly modern American cuisine, you can always ensure a great meal at Mildred's as well as their more casual, less expensive outpost, New Deal Cafe. If you want pizza, there are obviously an abundance of great places, but home-grown institutions like Leonardo's and Satchel's make it a truly rewarding experience. I could go on and on about the many fantastic restaurants that Gainesville has to offer, but I will simply end by mentioning what I consider the best (non-traditional) sushi restaurant that I have ever been to: Dragonfly.

To locals, Dragonfly is an institution of it's own. The words roll of your tongue as it wags thinking about the Crispy Crunch Roll or Dragonfly short ribs. I went there all four years while I was in Gainesville and have gone back every time that I have returned. It has expanded to multiple locations and trendier decor, but the food has always remained impeccable. I encourage, rather insist, that the next time you are in Gainesville you try Dragonfly. Oh, and you can thank me later.

That being said, it has been a while since I was there last, and I am sure that a number of great restaurants have popped up since. If you have any suggestions or "must try's," I would love to hear about them. With so much to do in such a short while, restaurant exploring may be limited. However, I can't wait to head back to my very favorite southern (northern) town.