Last night I attended a Slow Food Miami dinner at Creek 28 hotel and restaurant. There wasn't any particular event or special guest involved--just a highlight on local, seasonal and organic ingredients. The chef, Kira Volz, talked to us about how, in many big cities if you want local/seasonal/organic you've got a lot of choices, but here in Miami she's one of the few working in this area. She's even started a kitchen garden to ensure supplies. She thinks, and I agree, that we should have our pick of restaurants where the chefs think about the ingredients they're using.
If you'll pardon a tangent here, I'm a bit concerned about seeing local/seasonal/organic become trendy and so many chefs on the cooking shows I watch talking about it as if it constituted a style or a cuisine. It's not; it's just the basics. It seems to me that if you're a chef looking for the best ingredients to work with you're naturally led to either with traditional regional ingredients shipped halfway across the world daily or local/seasonal/organic. It makes sense that here in Miami we see a lot of chefs taking the first option and neglecting the second, but either way you're just describing your ingredients. Once you've done that, you need to have a style and a point of view--particularly if your style is something as nebulous as New American cuisine or, as Chef Volz, puts it "eclectic neighborhood dining". An unfocused menu isn't that big a deal, but if local/seasonal/organic is a style then it can go out of style as the fooderati move on to the next new hotness and that would be a shame. Honestly, this is a tangent; this rant was engendered more by the latest season of Top Chef than last night's dinner. You can look at the menu presented and decide for yourself if Chef Volz has anything interesting to say and/or if I have any idea what I'm talking about here.
Getting back to the meal, Chef Volz went on to introduce Margie Pikarsky from Bee Heaven Farms, familiar from her organization of the CSA I keep going on about, and Meghan Tanner, forager of produce at local farms and markets. Both ladies were recently profiled by Jacob Katel on the Short Order blog so I'll refer you over there for details.
Donna Reno then introduced a guest from Slow Food New York and possibly someone else from the Food Network. I didn't quite catch that last part as some rather rude folks at my table talked through it. Other, not rude people at my table included Holly Hickman, creator the quite interesting Sustainable Suppers podcast and website, and Rachel O'Kaine, organizer of these Slow Food events. I probably should have moved away to retain what small amount of journalistic integrity I've got here, but I had arrived early and picked the seat with the best lighting available and I wanted to make sure my pictures came out this time.
As it turns out, that didn't matter. We were seated out on the patio which was quite lovely, but after the speeches and the waitstaff taking our orders the rain that had been threatening all even began to fall in earnest and we all moved inside. The tables followed us, as the wait- and kitchen-staff including the chef brought them in--tablecloths, plates, stray napkins and all--and got us set up in the hotel lobby remarkably efficiently and smoothly and with little delay or trouble getting our orders right in serving the first course. Very impressive all the way around.
After we all got settled back in our seats and a bit of rather tasty bread had been passed around (and the rain had stopped, of course), it was time for the first course. We had the choices of filo-wrapped baked goat cheese with blueberries and honey or an heirloom tomato and green salad with more goat cheese and a meyer lemon vinaigrette. Here's a pic of Rachel's salad, but I went with the cheese.
The blueberries with as tart and firm as wild, but big enough to be domesticated; the honey was light and warm; the filo crisp. If it was filled with cream cheese this would have been a desert, but the slightly coarse, slightly savory taste of the goat cheese brought it back to the appetizer zone. It all tied together nicely, but the goat cheese could be a bit much over time and needed a powerful beverage to cleanse the palate. Unfortunately, I had chosen the red wine to go my main dish which would be entirely inappropriate for this appetizer so I had to make do with water.
Those aforementioned rude people at my table asked me to mention that their friend, allergic to cheese, was refused a special order of a cheeseless salad. They were quite indignant at this outrage and said that in all their time of eating at some of the best restaurants and touring some of the best kitchens in the world they had never encountered a chef so pretentious and inconsiderate. Seems to me that, under the circumstances, the staff had enough of a challenge just to get us served at all and no time to consider special orders which are out of line when at a special event with a pre-determined prix fixe menu such as this. As they had been throwing back the wine with some gusto, I think they were probably just impaired in judgment rather than natural full-time assholes so I'm trying not to judge them too harshly. There's your mention; happy?
So, on to the main dish which was a choice of grilled mahi mahi with sorrel crema, roasted potatoes and onion relish; braised rabbit with egg papparedelle; and pork chops with roasted root vegetables and sun dried tomato relish. Here's a shot of Rachel's pork chops, but I went with the rabbit. I didn't see the fish anywhere nearby so no pic of that.
The rabbit really wasn't what I expected from that brief description. I was thinking of hearty noodles tossed with falling-apart meat in a thick hearty (possibly tomato-based) gravy. Give me that description as a remit and that's what I would have made. It's certainly not the chef's fault that that's not what I got so I want to judge what she did prepare on its merits, but I've got to say if I knew what I was going to get I would have ordered the fish.
What I did get was hard to distinguish from something my mother used to prepare after making a big pot of chicken soup. She would shed the boiled-out meat, dice the mushy vegetables and add them back to the soup along with some egg noodles. I suppose this was probably rabbit soup and the noodles were fresh, but otherwise just about the same and I didn't care for it overmuch back then either. I'm not saying it was a bad dish--either Chef Volz's or my mom's--both are fine examples of what they're supposed to be. If I like my papparadelle thicker, my vegetables crisper and my meat retaining more character that's just me. Everyone else seemed happy enough with it. Donna Reno made a point of coming by the table to say she loved it. And who am I to say she shouldn't?
The wine, La Minota Pirorato D.O.C., was a big spicy red with lots of tannins and a long warm finish that would have been lovely with the dish I thought I was getting and not quite as good a match with what I actually got. Probably a good choice for the pork chops, though.
I forgot to mention earlier that Donna spoke a bit about future Slow Food Miami events and at this point in the evening Peter Rabino spoke about becoming a Slow Food Miami member and the non-dinner activities they do (which, in part, this evening was a fund raiser for, although I don't think anyone mentioned that). A much better job all around at branding than at previous events.
Finally, desert: lemon thyme ice cream over strawberries with cardamom shortbread cookies. I've attempted and failed to make lemon thyme ice cream myself.Although that failure was more because of the lavender I added than the lemon or thyme I was still quite curious to taste what Creek 28's kitchen would do with it. And I was impressed; they managed a nice balance between the herb and citrus notes without either or the combination becoming overwhelming. Must have taken a few tries to get that right. Of course, lemon, thyme and cream are all lovely with strawberries. As for the shortbread, I'm not much for the stuff so I'm not a good judge. Holly liked it quite a bit.
And that was that. Oh wait, one more thing. We each got as party favors Shea & Cedarwood organic soap nuggets from Verde, proprietor of which, Jennette Frances, was in attendance. Yes, that's a rustic lump of stanky soap. But stanky in a good way assuming you want your hands to smell like grandma's wardrobe.
So, overall, I think I liked this event and Creek 28 better in theory than in practice. Maybe it's just me. It's probably just me. Did any of you go? How did you like it?