Friday, August 7, 2009

7 Meals in 7 Nights: Thursday - Calafate Grill & Naomi's, Sunny Isles

Having made it thru "hump day" with a small dinner to help the hump on my belly go away, I awoke with an appetite for the 1st time all week. I had my Thursday morning bagel at the office then a light lunch. Why a light lunch? Well, I was to be heading to Naomi's at the Trump International Hotel in Sunny Isles for a tasting event, thats why.

Since I work halfway between my home and Sunny Isles, I headed up there right after work. Id be getting there about an hour or so early, so I decided to stop at Calafate Grill for a $3 beer and $3 tapas to snack on. I ordered a Pacifico and the croquetas. The beer hit the spot. The croquetas...well, I wasnt really a fan. The breading was kinda weak in the crisp department so when I cut one in half the rest would just turn to mush. Also, the 3 spinach and cheese croquetas came sitting in a generous portion of aioli that was loaded with what I deemed to be celery seed or celery salt, most likely the former. I just know that taste from my own taco meat recipe. The aioli was just overpowering and since the croquetas were swimming in it, there was no way around getting that flavor or at least having the option to minimize it. This tapa was a miss for me. The calamari I had on my previous visit, however, was a winner. Plus, tapas for $3 is tough to bitch about. I was the only person at the restaurant for quite some time so I asked the staff about the happy hour. They said not too many people take advantage of it which was surprising to hear. I asked if it got busy on the weekends and they gave a resounding "yes", noting that they bring in a flamenco act on Fridays that gets the place packed until they close. I think maybe they need better promotion because $3 tapas and beer should not be ignored. I finished another beer and headed off to Naomi's.

I arrived at Naomi's ready to see some of the recent changes that the restaurant had made. This restaurant is really a hidden gem, and "hidden" is to be taken literally as the restaurant has the misfortune of being on the 2nd floor of the hotel so you kinda have to know its there. Ive heard some signage at the bar and in the lobby is in the works and that should help. The main reason this place is a hidden gem, however, is due to the food. Chef Kurtis Jantz and Chef Chad Galiano are truly talented and arent afraid to search for new paths to make diners go "Mmmmm...". The restaurant harnesses the creativity of this kitchen team once a week in a "restaurant within their restaurant" called Paradigm: The Test Kitchen. Paradigm dinners consist of an 8-10 course chef's choice menu that is reserved for 10 diners sitting at a communal table. Oh, I almost forgot that 2 of those courses come from Chef Fabian di Paolo who handles desserts in expert fashion. I dont like dessert usually but Ive yet to pass up one of Chef Fabian's. The menu is revealed upon diners' arrival and the chefs come out to explain their inspiration behind each dish. Its an awesome experience. On one hand, you have the excitement and anxiety of putting your faith and trust into the hands of a chef without knowing what will be served but also that understanding that youre in the hands of an expert and a daily scholar of the culinary craft. A "trust me, I wouldnt serve you something that tastes bad" mentality that really makes you expand your mind and tastes. On the other hand, you have the chefs coming out and explaining their inspirations behind the dishes, talking about the different cooking techniques used, and showing that they are really happy to have diners ready and willing to eat what their creativity has drummed up. Its a killer experience for both belly and mind if youre like me and like to keep both of those things full.

Naomi's Grill itself was doing Miami Spice again this year and offered us a sneak peak at their Miami Spice offerings. We started with some of their new kennebec chips and green onion dip which they serve as a free snack when you are first seated. The chips were mega crisp and seasoned and the green onion dip was phenomenal. They blacken some green onions on the grill before pureeing them and combining them into the sauce for the dip and it gives the dip loads of onion-y goodness. The first course brought kogi tacos, made up of korean bbq’d pork, shaved cucumber, and cabbage kimchi. The marinade on the pork provided an incredible taste with multiple flavors popping out, one prominent that brought back memories of a dish my mom used to make but I couldnt quite remember or identify what that flavor was. Im still bothered by that haha. I wish my brain had its own Google search engine sometimes. After the tacos, we were served what I can honestly say is one of the best Miami Spice offerings Ive ever had - a "taste" of lobster. I think the title of the dish is a play off of their regular lobster main course on the menu which, at $85, Im told they sell quite a few of. The "taste" meant you werent getting the whole she-bang but you certainly get more than just a taste. Id estimate that they use anywhere between 1/8 and 1/4 pound of lobster meat in this dish. My guess comes from having ingested many bowls of lobster bisque at the Capital Grill where I know they use 3.5oz (1/8 lb) of lobster in every bowl. The brown butter poached lobster comes on top of a few potato skins that have been topped with Saint-Andre cheese. ***CULINARY BONER ALERT*** Saint-Andre is a 75% milkfat (triple creme), cow's milk French cheese that is like a version of brie on steroids. It was melted on top of the potato skins and topped with the lobster. The cheese gave this incredible buttery taste to the whole dish, complimenting the classic pairing of lobster and butter and also the potato skin and butter. A brilliant combination. I couldnt get enough of this dish even though the portion was large enough to have me full. We also got to taste the 'gaucho' meatball made with argentine sausage, polenta, fresh ricotta, baby arugula, and served with a tomato-fennel sauce and evoo chimichurri. I gotta say, this meatball was damn good but with the lobster on the Spice menu, Id have to be allergic to shellfish or a huge meatball lover to make this my Spice selection.

The meal ended with a trio of desserts from Chef Fabian. White chocolate molten lava cake with coffee and vanilla sauce, cacao sorbet, and a cardamom macaroon. Again, I dont really like dessert but I cleaned my plate because this dessert was that good. It was another incredible meal at Naomi's. Im encouraging anyone and everyone to check this place out, whether you go for a Paradigm dinner, dinner at Naomi's, or Miami Spice. The food is phenomenal and you will not be disappointed. To make things even better, they've recently added another killer option - Sunday brunch. For $35 you get all you can eat at the brunch AND access to the Trump's pool and beach all day! Thats a pretty kickass offering if you ask me. I simply cant say enough good things about this restaurant. The staff is incredibly accommodating from the top down, service is sharp, and the chefs really do an incredible job in the kitchen and out. You can learn more about some of the ongoings at Naomi's and Paradigm by reading Chef Chad's blog. Once you see how fired up these guys are about cooking killer dishes, you'll have to go check it out for yourself.


AdvisorGirl said...


We were the only guests for most of the Happy Hour at Calafate too. Luckily we like our own company and made a mini-meal out of 5 tapas plates.

After the conversation and feeding frenzy subsides, it is nice to check out fellow Happy Hourers though...

Maybe next time.

Will have to get back to Neomi's soon.

Great post!


Blind Mind said...

Yeah, I feel bad for poor Calafate. Just seems like a great deal and its not like the place is a dump. Ive been there twice and maybe have seen a total of 10 people in there on both visits combined (I was 4 of those!). I just dont get it. They swear it gets mobbed on Fridays though!