Thursday, March 10, 2016

South Beach Food & Wine Fest Dinner @ Yardbird (Miami, FL)

We discovered the hard way that Friday afternoon traffic in Miami (especially when a crucial segment of interstate is closed) is about as nasty as it gets (apparently, the Russian and Saudi oligarchs who reside here bypass this issue using their helicopters). After some long delays and a little cursing, the missus and I freshened up at our hotel before heading over to our main event for the evening, dinner at Yarbird, a celebration of all things Southern gastronomy. This soiree was part of Food & Wine Magazine's annual South Beach Food & Wine Fest (being held around town this weekend) and included dishes prepared by star chefs Sean Brock (of McCrady's and Husk fame in Charleston, SC) and David McMillan/Frederic Morin (known for their temple of excess, Joe Beef, in Montreal).  In some ways, I was more looking forward to this dream showcasing of kitchen talent than our Alinea dinner the next night.

Upon entering, guests were presented with a number of decadent appetizers (deviled quail eggs, mini chicken biscuits, pimento cheese croquettes, and suckling pig rillettes) along with a, um, stiff bourbon cocktail.

Because a number of bourbon companies were co-sponsoring the meal, brown liquor was paired with each course.  Not being a particular fan of bourbon, most of these pairings (which included Basil Hayden's, Knob Creek Rye, Maker's Mark Cask Strength, and Jim Beam Distiller's Masterpiece, in case you're keeping track at home) were wasted on yours truly (I think I managed to get to the bottom of the glass on only two occasions).

First course - Charred octopus, sea urchin, and Miami Smokers guanciale (cured pork jowl) topped with a winter vegetable and watermelon escabeche

Our table was conveniently located right in front of the pass, so we had great views of Chef Brock and the other cooks during food prep.

Second course - Shrimp topped with crispy pig ears on a bed of Jimmy Red grits (a mostly-lost South Carolina heirloom corn variety that has recently been revived by M. Brock and Co.)

At some point, Chefs McMillan and Morin set out what appeared to be a few golf ball-sized black truffles (probably worth about a grand on the open market) on a plate in the pass.  In keeping with their philosophy of unabashed culinary hedonism, these truffles were grated on top of their course (which already featured a foie gras sauce) as an over-the-top finishing touch.

Third course - Stuffed guinea hen with Savoy cabbage, foie gras sauce, and the aforementioned black truffles

Our Joe Beef friends were also responsible for our dessert course, a grapefruit chaud-froid (a traditional French gelatin preparation like an aspic) with rosemary and Chiboust cream (a light meringue, another very French preparation), a wonderful merger of Floridian and Continental cuisines.

Overall, Mrs. Hackknife and I were very pleased with this event.  We got to talk a little bit with John Kunkel (Yardbird's owner), who sadly confirmed that Yardbird would not be coming to Tampa anytime soon (although we may eventually get a Spring Chicken, its fast-casual offshoot slowly spreading northward from Miami), plus Chefs Brock and Morin were kind enough to stop by our table to briefly visit once service had ended.  This was a great start to our food-focused weekend in Miami...

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