Friday, October 14, 2011
South Florida Trip
Two weeks ago, the promotion wining and dining extravaganza reached its apex with a congratulatory trip for new partners and their spouses to the Waldorf-Astoria Resort in Boca Raton, Florida. Not only did this little junket allow Mrs. Hackknife and I to enjoy a few days of tropical sunshine, but also provided us the opportunity to meet up with my dad/stepmom (who live about 1.5 hours north of Boca) for dinner and do a bit of sightseeing in Miami, a city that neither of us has spent much time in. As you might expect, seafood is heavily represented on the dinner menus of many South Floridians, but there is a substantial focus on Latin (especially Cuban) cuisine as well.
So, with that tasty tidbit in mind, we packed our bags and headed to the airport, arriving in Ft. Lauderdale early on a Saturday afternoon. Our first meal was at the resort itself, a sprawling, pink labyrinth of passages and breezeways constructed in a combination of Mediterranean and Spanish Colonial styles by Addison Mizner, the architect who created the city plan for Boca Raton in the 1920s. Inside the resort were several restaurants, some of which were not open for lunch. Lucky for us, the sushi restaurant on the premises, Morimoto, welcomed us with open tables. Those of you who are Iron Chef fans will recognize Chef Morimoto's name from the show - he has sushi restaurants scattered in various spots around the globe, but none in Chicago, so we were excited to have the chance to try his wares. Boca's Morimoto is sleek and modern with a wall of video screens behind the sushi bar projecting schools of fish, giving one the impression of being on a submarine. Since it was already past 2pm local time and we had upcoming dinner reservations with my parents in just a few hours, Mrs. Hackknife and I opted to try a couple of appetizers: a delicious tuna "pizza" (tuna sashimi on a tortilla with red onion, jalapenos, tomatoes, and anchovy sauce - see photo above) and a locally-caught soft-shell crab platter with soy dipping sauces. The second dish arrived at the table by accident - we had actually ordered a soft-shell crab maki roll, but our server mistakenly brought us the platter, which was one of the daily specials. This ended up being a good thing as the crabs were fantastic, huge and crispy and luscious when soaked in the sauces.
Dinnertime saw us heading north about 30 minutes to West Palm Beach to a place I found online last Xmas season. Marcello's La Sirena is an old-school Italian joint catering to the retired masses in this part of the state, just the type of food that my old man loves. I bought he and my stepmom a Marcello's gift card for Xmas and they hadn't yet gotten around to spending it, so we were happy to provide the excuse. At first the restaurant was pretty empty (was it even open?), but it filled in quickly with Saturday night diners. At our table, we passed around a plate of baked little neck clams to sample, along with a wonderful buffala mozzarella/tomato http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifplatter, washed down with a nice Chianti. For the main course, Mrs. Hackknife enjoyed veal canneloni while I scarfed down a pan-fried branzino (sea bass) that was perfectly browned on the skin, served with the house specialty "vegatale del giorno" (vegetables of the day), namely carrots, zucchini, and fennel sauteed in butter. By the time our desserts arrived (tiramisu, of course, but also chocolate-almond flourless cake and panna cotta), my pants were busting at the seams.
Sunday was our big day in Miami. We slept a little later than usual (no kids to provide a wake-up call, you know) and left the hotel a bit tardy for the hour-long drive southward. After a quick climb up the lighthouse at Key Biscayne, we made a stop for brunch at Sra. Martinez, a tapas-style restaurant inside of an old post office in the city's Design District. Sra. Martinez is one of Chef Michelle Bernstein's two eateries in Miami, this being the more casual of the two. Starving from the lighthouse climb, we started out with a cheese plate (Manchego and a pungent Valdeon blue) alongside some Spanish serrano ham and raisin bread with fig marmalade. Next up were some tapas plates recommended by our server, amazing bacon-wrapped dates (stuffed with Marcona almonds and more Valdeon blue cheese) and ham/cheese croquettes. Slowing down, we concluded with huevos rancheros (mostly Mrs. Hackknife's choice since I'm not a fan of fried eggs, but I managed to choke down most of my portion) and a small platter of churros with chocolate sauce. The churros were spectacular and probably the best I've ever had, with a crisp exterior and a warm, soft interior like the best doughnut. After our experience here, we made a pledge to visit Michy's, Chef Bernstein's flagship fine dining restaurant here on our next Miami trip. With only a few short hours until we were required to return to the resort for a scheduled work event, we drove over to the Lincoln Street Pedestrian Mall in South Beach for a little people watching. I was blown away by the number of restaurants on this street and marveled at the many food vendors, who were mostly selling empanadas and fresh-squeezed juices. Had we shown up at South Beach with empty stomachs, I would have been happy to fill up on this street food (alas, it was not to be).