Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Miami Spice 2015 - Toro Toro

Last night I sprawled across my family room floor with the list of restaurants participating in Miami Spice this year (which is huge) and put an X next to all the ones I want to try. The only disappointment I have is that there aren't more days in the week and that I need to stay in some sort of shape (and I don't mean round) so I have got to put a limit to my gastronomic debauchery. (Either that or double on the workout time.)

But at any rate, I have two months to play (and eat) so I'm making the most of it. As promised, I am sharing my experiences with you and I'm starting with the Miami Spice previews I have attended and loved these past couple of weeks. The first one is Toro Toro Miami, located at the Intercontinental Hotel at 100 Chopin Plaza in Downtown Miami. 

Private Room in Toro Toro Miami, where you can
see the chefs doing their thing in the kitchen
through a big screen.

Their cocktails are notorious and delicious

We had the pleasure of coming in for a preview of some of the dishes Toro Toro Miami will be offering during the Miami Spice promotion, and acclaimed owner/chef Richard Sandoval was at the helm that evening, preparing the dishes and chatting with us about the ingredients and inspiration behind each one. Toro Toro is located right off the lobby of the beautiful Intercontinental Hotel, and a dining experience there is always a memorable one.

With Chef Richard Sandoval

One thing I noticed right away when the parade of plates started coming to the table, was that Toro Toro Miami has pulled all the stops when creating their menus. The options are high quality, varied, and in many instances, part of their signature dishes. The flavors are intense, and after listening to Chef Sandoval describe the preparation that goes into each dish, I was left with no doubt that there was deep thought and passion behind each selection. They obviously take their Miami Spice very seriously.

We sampled a trio of their Miami Spice appetizers

Ceviche Nikkei
Chicharrones de
The first thing we sampled was a trio of their appetizer options from the dinner Miami Spice Menu. They were the Smoked Swordfish Dip, the Chicharron de Camarones and the Ceviche Nikkei. The three offerings were exceptional, and we debated around the table which one was our favorite. Personally, I had a difficult time deciding, but I think if I had to choose one, it would probably be the Chicharron de Camarones; the reason being that sweet and salty combinations tickle my tastebuds just the right way. This appetizer was no exception (especially with the subtle kick it brought at the end). The crispy shrimp, drizzled with the aji amarillo (which I love), and topped with avocado and rocoto mint salsa, was a whirlwind of deliciousness from start to finish. Now, that's not to say the other two choices weren't up there too. The Smoked Swordfish Dip received high accolades from all of us because of its original taste and spicy profile. It was very Miamian yet in typical Richard Sandoval fashion, was infused with cultural highlights. The pickled chiles, aioli, tomato and plantain chips gave the dish a Latin flair. Last but certainly not least of the appetizers we tasted was the Ceviche Nikkei. You know I was in heaven because the light refreshing treat was made with tuna (oh yeah), and avocado, then mixed with ponzu and leche de tigre. I loved that the Chef added a layer of contrasting texture to this fusion of Japanese and Peruvian dish by incorporating quinoa and cucumber to the recipe. Great beginning to the meal

Smoked Swordfish Dip
Next up were the entrees and sides. Toro Toro is known for its twist on the steakhouse concept, offering prime cuts, while artfully blending Pan Latin flavors. This is present throughout their Miami Spice Menu. Not only that, but the ever popular sharing plates will also be featured, giving guests the opportunity to experience a little of all they have to offer. Below you can see exactly what I mean.

Chipotle Miso Sea Bass
Baby carrots, baby bok choy,  kabayaki, togarashi aioli
Incredibly tender, slightly sweet and mild flavors for only a $5 upgrade

Their famous Churrasco Platter
Picanha steak, prime ribeye, lambchop, chorizo sausage, achiote chicken
All these flavorful and quality meats for only a $10 upgrade
We salivated and stared as they cut our meat off the skewer

Isn't the Churrasco Platter a sight for sore and hungry eyes?
Side Dishes offered include the Asparagus and Broccolini
Simply prepared with lemon, garlic and olive oil

The Truffle Fries side dish was a hit
It was topped with parmesan, truffle and smoked ketchup, 

Another side dish we enjoyed were the Mojo Brussel Sprouts
Just imagine these little guys mixed with parmesan, mojo and bacon
La Bomba
Their signature dessert - It's a chocolate shell with dulce de leche moussse,
berries, strawberry ice-cream, cookie crumbles and some other good stuff
I'd tell you how it's set in front of you but I don't want to ruin the surprise.
It's available for only a $5 upgrade

Gone are the days when Miami Spice meant a good deal but at some compromises. At least at Toro Toro Miami, you're getting the very best and it's not making a hole in your pocket. I found their upgrades to be incredibly reasonable and personally, this is a place I will come back to. Before I forget, Toro Toro Miami is also adding some more selections to their steak menu and we sampled some of these coveted specialties as well. Although they're not part of the Miami Spice menu, they are definitely worth a bite or two or three. For more information on Toro Toro Miami and a  view of both their full lunch and dinner Miami Spice Menu, visit their website here.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Dinner Lab

Guess what? I finally popped my cherry for Dinner Lab, the world's largest pop-up supper club that unites undiscovered chefs with adventurous foodies (like you and I).  A guy by the name of Brian Bordanick, along with a bunch of his buddies, started the concept back in New Orleans in August of 2011.

Information on Chef, Menu and Rating Card

They were hungry and looking for some late night options in NOLA. After some trial and error, and a lot of eating, they came up with the ultimate and ever-evolving dining night out: Dinner Lab. It's kind of like now you see it, now you don't. For just 24 hours, unlikely spaces are transformed into cool, trendy dining spots, where guests can gather, break bread and enjoy an evening of eating and drinking. Now you and I both know the concept of pop-up restaurants has been around for years, and has even become more popular as of late. But Dinner Lab is a bit different. They concentrate on finding creative venues like parking garages, old theaters and warehouses, and transform them into a place where people can dine, interact with each other and have some fun.

The Dinner Lab I attended was held at
The Blue Shift Project Gallery in Wynwood

Not only do diners engage with each other but they also get the opportunity to chat with the chef, and learn about the inspiration and the ingredients behind the menu they have prepared. And to add to the experience, guests get to rate the meal in writing, from portion size, to flavor, to presentation, and offer feedback to the talented, up-and-coming chef.

Dinner and some swingin'
 Now that's what I'm talking about

Present in close to 25 cities and with nearly 20,000 members, another difference between Dinner Lab and other supper clubs is that historically, you could only participate if you were a member. And the current price is up to $175 for a yearly membership that enables you to receive notifications of upcoming dinners and the opportunity to purchase tickets to the event (prices range from $60 - $80 per dinner).While that still holds partially true, they have recently added a new component that will make many a food lover happy. Here's how it works. For the first time ever, Dinner Lab is offering a new community membership that is free to join, and provides access to the dinners. They chose Miami to launch this new expansion to their membership because while it is one of the most diverse, international cities in the United States, there are pockets of people that don't interact with one another. Can't think of a better way to bring people together than over food and drink.

Chef Chris Bailey

Dinner Lab has been providing events in Miami since January 2014, but just recently started offering the free memberships in order to grow its membership base in the Magic City and create more frequent events. I attended the last one they held over in Wynwood and I had a great time savoring the food and making new friends (who actually gave me excellent tips for a recent trip.) The name of the dinner was The Silk Rodeo and the showcased Chef was Chris Bailey, originally from Oahu Hawaii. His interpretation of Miami's cuisine, coupled with his knowledge of the beachy Hawaiian flavors, created an interesting base for his menu. He also brought in his South Pacific heritage to the mix and elevated the experience to a whole new level. Check out the final product:

Sopa De Calabaza
Pumpkin Seed Brittle, Pepper Oil & Shiso, Whipped Chevre

Scallop Crudo
Chuka Tare, Satsuma Puree, Pickled Radish

Chilled Broccolini
Fresh Wasabi, Whipped Avocado, Crispy Garlic

Grilled Hangar Steak
Forbidden Rice Cake, Ilajua, Pickled Radish

Sour Orange Curd
Thai Long Pepper Shortbread, Grilled Peach, Red Bean Whipped Cream

If you haven't checked out a Dinner Lab event, I recommend you do so. For more information, or to sign up to become a member, visit their website here.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

Event Recap: Ricky Martin Shares a #MomentoNESCAFE With Fans At Bayside

I am a member of the Nestlé NESCAFÉ Clásico team and help spread the word about Nestlé NESCAFÉ Clásico. As a team member, I receive product, compensation and/or incentives in exchange for participating in Nestlé NESCAFÉ Clásico brand related activities and spreading the word about them. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

You all remember that I invited you to come share a #MomentoNESCAFE with me at Bayside Marketplace this past Monday and I promised there would be lots of iced coffee and surprises? Well... if there is something George Washington and I have in common is that we don't tell a lie.

You'd be cheesing too if Ricky Martin was making
fish faces with you.

NESCAFÉ Clásico helped Miamians kick off their work week with fun, excitement and the opportunity to make new friends, all while sipping delicious iced cafecitos that kept coming in droves.  Encouraging guests to share a #MomentoNESCAFE with a stranger, they surprised all of those who took a chance by bringing them into a tent to meet the "stranger".  Imagine their surprise when this stranger was none other than our very own beloved and talented super star Ricky Martin.

Ricky Martin and I sharing some Selfie Love and
a #MomentoNESCAFE

With his signature charm, warm hugs and heart-pulsing good looks, Ricky sat down and chatted with fans and made their #MomentoNESCAFE even more special. They all walked out with a smile on their face and the realization that we can experience amazing things if we open our hearts and minds to it.

NESCAFE Clasico Cheers to old friends and new

The most special #MomentoNESCAFE of the day

Besides the endless coffee and the Ricky Martin love, there was a quirky photo booth where new and old friends could dress up and smile for the camera, capturing their very own #MomentoNESCAFE. Attendees also had a chance to play a game of interactive BINGO, and grab some nice NESCAFÉ Clásico swag to take home.  A group of us Miami blogueras attended the event and I can tell you that we had an amazing time. We're always so rushed with our individual projects and daily lives, that having the opportunity to slow down and have some relaxing conversation with one another holding a cup of NESCAFÉ  Clásico cafecito in our hands, was a perfect way to spend a Monday.


If you got the chance to join us at this fabulous event, you know what I'm talking about. If you didn't, check out the Event Gallery below, but first make yourself a cup of NESCAFÉ  Clásico coffee to get the full experience.

To find out more about NESCAFÉ Clásico, and learn other ways to enjoy a #MomentoNESCAFE, visit their Facebook  page and follow them on Twitter.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Nescafe Clasico Coffee Break at Bayside Marketplace to Share a #MomentoNESCAFE

I am a member of the Nestlé NESCAFÉ Clásico team and help spread the word about Nestlé NESCAFÉ Clásico. As a team member, I receive product, compensation and/or incentives in exchange for participating in Nestlé NESCAFÉ Clásico brand related activities and spreading the word about them. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

You know what they say... when life gives you lemons, you make lemonade. Personally, I rather take a coffee break. So this coming Monday, July 13th, NESCAFÉ  Clásico is hosting a #MomentoNESCAFE Coffee Break at Bayside Marketplace, located at 401 Biscayne Blvd, from 10:00 a.m. to 7 p.m.. Everyone is welcome and attendees will get to participate in iced coffee samplings, games, photo booth fun and giveaways. What better way can you think of to kick off a week, than a break from the everyday routine, sipping coffee with new and old friends in a popular Miami spot.

I look at it like this, life has shown me that when you stop WAITING for things to happen, and instead start MAKING them happen, the possibilities are endless. If we open our minds to let great things in, instead of controlling and planning every single second, I bet you we are going to be pleasantly surprised. The problem is that the hustle and bustle of everyday life sometimes gets in the way. But NESCAFÉ  Clásico is giving us a treat. They're providing us a chance, on a Monday nonetheless, to make some special moments happen, and all we have to do is show up and sip away.

Why don't you join me and let's share a #MomentoNESCAFE. I'm very excited to be there because not only do I look forward to taking a a break and meeting and talking with new people, but the moment will also take me back to those lazy Sunday mornings with my grandmother, when she'd make us both a cup of Nescafe and some pan con mantequilla, as we chatted about anything and everything that came to our minds.

Check out this NESCAFÉ Clásico Make The Moments Happen Video Invitation for more details and take a few minutes out of your day on Monday, July 13th to experience a #MomentoNESCAFE with me. To keep updated on all the NESCAFÉ Clásico happenings, Like them on Facebook and Follow them on  Twitter. Hope to see you there...


Soy miembro del equipo de Nestlé NESCAFÉ Clásico y ayudo a difundir informacion acerca de Nestlé NESCAFÉ Clásico. Como miembro del equipo, recibo productos, compensación y / o incentivos a cambio de participar en actividades relacionadas con la marca Nestlé NESCAFÉ Clásico informacion sobre sus productos y eventos. Sin embargo, todos las opiniones son mías.

Ya sabes lo que dicen ... cuando la vida te da limones, haces limonada. Personalmente, prefiero tomar un descanso y disfrutar de un café. Así que el próximo lunes, 13 de julio, NESCAFÉ  Clásico va a presentar un #MomentoNESCAFE Coffee Break en Bayside Marketplace, ubicado en 401 Biscayne Blvd, de 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Todos son bienvenidos y los que asistan tendran la oportunidad de participar en degustaciones de café, juegos, fotos divertidas y recibiran regalos ¿Qué mejor manera puede exisitir para darle inicio a una semana, y descansar de la rutina diaria, sino es tomando café con nuevos y viejos amigos en un lugar popular de Miami?

Yo lo veo de esta manera, la vida me ha demostrado que cuando se deja de ESPERAR que las cosas sucedan, y en lugar de hacer eso HACEMOS que sucedan, las posibilidades son infinitas. Si abrimos nuestras mentes para recibir cosas positivas en vez de controlar y planificar cada segundo de nuestras vidas, estoy segura que nos espera una grata sorpresa. El problema es que el ajetreo y el bullicio de la vida cotidiana a veces se interpone en el camino. Pero NESCAFÉ Clásico nos está dando un regalo. Nos están ofreciendo una oportunidad, un lunes, no obstante, hacer que sucedan algunos momentos especiales,  y lo único que tenemos que hacer es presentarnos y tomar café.

¿Por qué no te unes a mí y juntos compartimos un #MomentoNESCAFE? Estoy muy contenta de asistir a este evento porque no sólo me da la oportunidad de tomar un descanso breve y conocer amistades nuevas, pero tambien recordare esos domingos perezosos, cuando mi abuela nos preparaba una taza de Nescafé y pan con mantequilla, y charlábamos sobre cualquier cosa que nos venia a la mente.

Echa un vistazo a esta Invitacion de NESCAFÉ Clásico - Haz Que Los Momentos Sucedan para que leas mas detalles.  Toma unos minutos de tu día el lunes 13 de julio y construye un #MomentoNESCAFE conmigo. Para mantenerte actualizado sobre todos los acontecimientos NESCAFÉ Clásico, siguelos en Facebook y tambien en Twitter. Espero verte allí ...

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Commander's Palace - New Orlean's Finest

When you think of New Orleans, I'm sure the first thing that comes to your mind is Mardi Gras and Bourbon Street. But I know immediately following those memories of incessant partying, jazz music and beads flying from the balconies, your next lingering thought of NOLA is the food - that spicy, tongue-tingling Creole and Cajun cuisine that stays with you long after you've left. 

Jazz Street Musician

After a recent trip to the Big Easy, I really can't think of anything else besides the food. From the different varieties of gumbo and the flavorful Jambalaya, to the fun Po' Boys and Beignets, there really is an incredible foodie culture in that city that supersedes all of its sometimes dark history and ghost stories.

World Famous Bourbon Street

But although there are plenty of spots to dine in and get a memorable taste of the culture, there is one particular place that kept being referred to by the locals as the "best" restaurant in New Orleans, and a must-visit anytime you're in the city.  This place is Commander's Palace, located at 1403 Washington Avenue, in the Garden District, roughly two miles outside the popular French Quarter.

Commander's Palace

I first heard about Commander's Palace on Twitter, by one of my virtual friends, who suggested I go check it out during my foodie trip to NOLA. (Thanks for the tip.) After that, other friends seconded his suggestion and were more than enthusiastic to share with me the great experiences they had had there. So after all of that buzz, I put Commander's Palace on the top of my list and made my reservations to visit.

Photo Courtesy of Commander's Palace

Before I tell you about the food, let me give you a little of its history. To say this place has won awards is an understatement. They have been named Best Restaurant in New Orleans for three years straight; they've received the title of Most Popular Restaurant in New Orleans by Zagat for 18 years; their Executive Chef, Tory McPhail, won the James Beard Foundation Award for "Best Chef South"; the restaurant received the James Beard Foundation Outstanding Restaurant Award; and they also won the Wine Spectator Grand Award. I think the accolades speak for themselves, but there is nothing like personally living out the experience to see if in fact it merits all the hoopla.

My foodie friends.... Commander's Palace not only meets the expectations set forth by their numerous awards, it far exceeds them. As often as I experience fine dining, I walked away truly impressed beyond words by the level of service and the quality of the food at Commander's Palace.

Chef's Playground Menu - White Tablecloth BBQ

We decided to try out the Chef's Playground Menu for the month of July, that had just been launched a day or two before, featuring Chef Tory's very creative and elevated take on a summer White Table Cloth BBQ. But this was not your ordinary backyard BBQ.. oh no. This was Commander's Palace very creative, gastronomically supreme interpretation of this American summer tradition, playing with the finest of Haute Southern BBQ. All I can say is, if heaven hosted a BBQ, this is what it would be like.

While we relaxed in the luxurious setting, sipping on a glass of wine, the chef brought out an Amuse Bouche to awaken our palate. It was a bite of flavorful lamb belly and vegetables, lightly placed on a brioche and drizzled with a honey-based sauce. We were ready...

Lamb Belly Amuse Bouche

Our first course were the Half Shell Oysters. These were very fresh, meaty and prepared with cane vinegar, which gave them a unique flavor that made me want to pucker up and kiss each one. They were also served with coriander granite and sea salt. The next course was a Smoked Red Fish and Caviar, consisting of pecan smoked red fish and BBQ caviar with pressed lemon, crab boiled potatoes, Mexican corn and charred parsley. The combination of textures and flavors went very well together, and provided a subtle kick to the dish that hinted at Southern USA meets French Creole.

Half  Shell Oysters

Smoked Red Fish and Caviar

Before starting with the entrees, they introduced Le Coup du Milieu, or a small glass of St. Arnold, chili and lemon infused El Jimador tequila and a shot of rather light beer. Together they cleansed our palates and prepared us for the meat feast to come.

Le Coup du Milieu

The first entree was laid on our table and our mouths began to water. It was a plate of Smokehouse Spare Ribs that were perfectly cooked and tender. A savory delight of crispy confit duroc pork danced on the dish with baked corona beans, pickled watermelons, cucumbers, pieces of pork fat corn bread and sweet molasses. I seriously had to savor every bite slowly to ensure I didn't miss an ounce of culinary pleasure. The second entree was the Broken Arrow Ranch Antelope, which I feel highlighted Chef Tory's playful and innovative style. The creation consisted of smoky beef fat-injected loin with antelope tamale, smashed chipotles, tomatillo and queso fresco. Now we were adding a Latin flavor to the mix. The result was spectacular and we couldn't stop talking about it well after the meal was over.

Spare Ribs
Broken Arrow Ranch Antelope

With the fabulous presentation and flavor we had experienced in our adventure thus far, we couldn't wait to see what BBQ twist the Chef would come up with for dessert. Once we dipped our spoon in it and closed our eyes, we realized: the perfection continued. The sweet finale was a Peach and Sweet Tea Cake prepared as a roasted peach streusel, served with sweet tea sorbet and a strip of BBQ chicken cracklin'. Yes, you read correctly. Everything just went up yet another notch with this inventive sweet and salty combination. Adding to the fun and N'awlins theme, was a dollop of Southern Comfort Custard. 

Peach and Sweet Tea Cake

While food is the main focus of most of my posts, and the level of quality of the cuisine at Commander's Palace merits the detailed descriptions, one aspect of this place that stands out far beyond any other restaurant I've been to is the service. I hate to sound cliche, but ladies and gentlemen, they make you feel like royalty from the moment you walk in to the moment you reluctantly walk out. I felt at times the server could read my mind, so I was making sure to be thinking pure thoughts. You didn't have to ask for anything because they were there, making sure everything was perfect, and you hardly even noticed they had come by the table. Forget the water running low. If the ice melted, they would immediately provide you with a new glass of iced water. Whether a table had just two guests or twelve, everybody's dishes came out at exactly the same time by an entourage of staff, and they placed each plate on the table simultaneously. Seriously, I didn't want the night to end and I wanted to take them all home with me. One of the Co-Proprietors, Ti Adelaide Martin, constantly circled the restaurant and talked to the guests. She was friendly and welcoming, and I could tell that there were many repeat customers there. For an upscale, luxury restaurant, the ambiance felt homey and relaxed.

While you can obviously conclude that a meal at Commander's Palace is not going to be inexpensive, it really is very reasonable for the level of excellence they provide. The Chef's Playground White Table Cloth BBQ we indulged in was only $65 per person for the five courses, and they offer a local craft beer pairing from Louisiana, Texas and Mississippi, for only $20 more. If wine is your thing, you can choose a specially selected wine pairing instead for an additional $43.25. Personally, I found the price to be extremely reasonable and am so excited about returning  to Commander's Palace on a future trip to the Big Easy.

And while I was planning out my other foodie stops, I happened to find out they own several other restaurants in the area, including a newer one called SoBou. This one is a more trendy spot, but after dining there as well, I can tell they are owned by the same family and also hold themselves to the same high standards. The meal was amazing and it also ranked high on our list.

For more information on Commander's Palace, or to make reservations (which I encourage you to do), you can visit their website  or call them at 504-899-8221.

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