Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Meanwhile, in Miami's Design District...

St. Francis de SalesFor months folks had been telling my friend Gregg that he simply had to try this new French place just south of posh Morningside Park in Miami. He had been putting it off, but when I showed up all I had to hear was the word "bistro" and I was deaf to all other considerations. St. Francis de Sales - Patron Saint of Bloggers (well, writers and journalists, actually; there is no blogging Saint yet) - must have been interceding on my behalf as we were a party of four and I was able to convince everyone into ordering something different from the menu for reviewing purposes. This was not to be the only time our group would suffer for my "art".
Another Miami New Times "Best Of..." winner, Buena Vista Bistro opened in May of 2008 and has already built a solid reputation as an authentic French eatery with a loyal following of locals and word-of-mouth visitors. During our visit, I spied a rather shabby gentleman, glass of wine close at hand, anchored at the bar whom the owner never passed without a brief word. He was obviously a welcome regular. I could easily imagine the same scene in any village in southern France. Think Peter Mayle, and you'll get the picture.
Chef Claude Postel relies on market-fresh ingredients, so the menu changes daily. Offerings are posted on a big chalk board hung over the bar. As the night progresses, items are lined through when the kitchen runs out of an appetizer or entrée. I love that. It signals freshness to me and a serendipitous way of living. I'm not gonna read too much into that; maybe you shouldn't either!
Upon arriving, we were greeted by the sweetest little German waitress. She had only been in the States a few weeks, and immediately won our hearts. She was the picture of indulgence waiting for us to agree upon a wine. I think she surmised fairly quickly that we would be a fun group, but a handful. As she cheerfully walked away we set to a serious perusal of the menu. It wasn't much of a struggle to get everyone to order different entrées but when Gregg and Jimmy saw the escargots à la provençale appetizer, negotiations broke down quickly. Liza, our fourth, extended an olive branch by ordering the caprese salad, allowing me to try the house favorite: rillettes du mans, a sort of slow-cooked, shredded pork dish served pâté-style with cornichons, mustard and country bread.
Well, with our group, conversation and wine flowed freely. I'll admit it, I attract a crowd of "wabble wousers" who aren't particularly shy about the bottle. I espouse moderation yet despise practicing it! Besides, I hadn't seen any of these people in months, and there was some catching up to do. But we're a harmless lot and maintain a modicum of decorum when in public. Before too long, plates starting emerging from the kitchen, and what a spread. Postel, a seventh-generation chef from Paris, is well grounded in the rustic dishes of his native land. Everything is served up in a simple, no-frills, unapologetic manner, and the effect is reassuring. More impressively, the dishes shine.
Escargot a la provencaleCaprese saladRillettes du mans
Jimmy and Gregg swooned over their snails! I took a tour of the Burgundy wine region many years ago and tried escargot at the urging of my French traveling companion. I didn't know what to expect, but what I remember most from the experience now was a sense of epiphany. I didn't have to subsist on a diet of pizza and burgers. Horizons were opened up to me. After a disappointing reprise at a very expensive restaurant in San Francisco, I swore I would never order snails outside France again. I now have to eat those words. Postel serves his escargot without its shell in a herbed stock with tomato, garlic and butter. You could actually pick up the subtle earthy taste of the flesh. It wasn't masked by salt, wine or garlic. I was transported back to France and had a maddening urge to call my Franco friend. Liza's caprese had creamy mozzarella wedged between tomato slices and a pesto topping. The chef had cleverly trimmed one side of each tomato to allow the salad to stand up in its layers. My rillettes was even better than described by our little Deutche Fräulein. It was meaty & thick, and I felt as if I should be sporting a beret and espadrilles.
There is a movie included in my Food Triumvirate*: "Babette's Feast", where a destitute French chef is taken in as a housekeeper by two Danish spinsters, and in appreciation prepares a grand meal for their entire village. In one scene, the diners can be seen looking longingly between courses at the door from where the food will come. That's how we behaved after our starters. I know... right?
Boeuf bourguignonJumbo scallops
Swordfish with raspberry saucePeppercorn tuna
By our second bottle, we were speculating on the deliciousness yet to come. Jimmy, strictly a meat-n-potatoes man, chose the Bœuf bourguignon - slow-cooked for days with carrots, onions and a sinful wine reduction - served with garlic mashed potatoes. The sauce would have made a credible stand-alone soup; just add noodles or rice. The meat a tenderness only grandmothers from the Old Country know how to pull off, and the potatoes perfection; not a single lump and creamy enough to serve for dessert.
Gregg trumped me with his order: three expertly seared jumbo scallops. Sweet, tender, moist. Hyperbole has not yet invented words to justly describe Chef Postel's light hand with the sauté pan. Suffice it to say the man is a god. The gods are among us. Liza and I also opted for seafood. She wisely chose the swordfish special with an incredible raspberry sauce. More tangy than sweet, it proved the ideal partner to lead the crispy-skinned, tender piece of fish across the dance floor. My peppercorn tuna was meaty, yet moist; firm, but still flaky. It floated in a reduction so rich Buena Vista had a dental hygienist on call just in case.
What does one do after so spectacular a meal? Usually, I groan into a cup of strong black coffee and pine for my bed. But in this instance there was only one inevitability: dessert. I am not a dessert kind of guy. Even as a kid, I never had a sweet tooth. No birthday cake for me, I'll have a steak, please. Proffer me seconds and I'll push away from the table satisfied. Yet culinary probity demanded something sugary. We allowed the enthusiasm in our young German's description to sway us into having apple pie with vanilla ice cream (I wish the written word could do justice to her marvelous accent!), and profiteroles with chocolate sauce.
Apple pie with vanilla ice creamProfiteroles with chocolate sauce
I swore I would never do this, but OMG! No, wait: Oh.My.God. That wasn't apple pie, it was a French apple tart with vertical rows of apples. They stood up like Napoleon's army. They were caramelized and dusted with powdered sugar. They should have come with a warning label. The noise level at our table increased as we tried to outdo each other in homage to that dish. The cream puffs were only slightly less impressing, and only because there's just something about apples & vanilla ice cream to the American palate. Yet the choux pastry was fluffy and airy. The cream filling ever so sweet. The chocolate sauce would have driven you to your knees.
I mentioned earlier the suffering of my fellow diners. How do you think I got such terrific photographs? Every time a plate came out, I forced everyone to wait while I lined up the perfect shot. Nibbling was prohibited and enforced under threat of bodily harm. And yet, uncomplaining, my pals endured my fastidiousness. In recompense, I picked up the tab. Worth every bite, do-over, and penny!
Buena Vista Bistro
4582 NE 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33137

Open 11am - midnight, Tuesday through Sunday; 1pm - midnight Mondays. Virtually every entrée is under $20, and there's an enviable French and American wine list.
Buena Vista Bistro facadeBuena Vista Bistro wine racksBuena Vista Bistro interior
Bon appétit - Blog O. Food
* "Like Water For Chocolate" and "Big Night" are the other two entries rounding out my ruling body of three.


Jeff (UK) said...

Mikey - As you've been revving up the blog I find myself enjoying your writing style and turn of phrase more and more. I am throwing down the proverbial gauntlet. In spite of its horrible reputation, you are hereby challenged to eat (and write) your way through London - with the caveat that if you are truly miserable I will treat you to the Eurostar to Paris for the day in recompense. However, you must be honest - and I warn you we're starting with one of the oldest food markets, Borough Market, on a Saturday, with Brindisa's grilled chorizo, olive oil, fresh rocket and grilled red peppers on a fresh roll combined with Monmouth coffee company's hot cuppa right next door, followed by a tour of Neal's Yard Dairy's cheese selection. Oh, and then there's beer... Come early, come often.

Matt said...

I want what he's having!