By Rebecca Cahilly-Taranto
City & Shore Magazine Dining Writer
BROWARD COUNTY Top Chef, 2017
Diplomat Beach Resort, Hollywood
How often do you hear a six-year-old rave about duck scrapple? And by rave I mean, “Can we have duck scrapple tonight?” Or, “This pasta is OK but it’s not duck scrapple.” Or, “I’m going to die if I don’t get duck scrapple!”
These statements – and many more – concerning the duck scrapple bao bun dish we ordered at the new Monkitail restaurant have been uttered nearly as often as requests for Pokemon cards at my house these past few months.
The vision of celebrity chef and restaurateur Michael Schulson, Monkitail offers a contemporary take on classic Japanaese izakaya fare, with shareable small plates, sushi and unique creations served from a robatayaki grill.
One of Philadelphia’s most successful hospitality professionals, Schulson has a stake in a collection of restaurants including the award-winning Double Knot, Independence Beer Garden and Sampan in Philadelphia. After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, he worked his way up the culinary ranks through the kitchens of New York’s Peacock Alley at the Waldorf-Astoria to Philadelphia’s Le Bec-Fin and Susanna Foo. Schulson oversaw such esteemed kitchens as Philadelphia’s Pod and Buddakan in New York City, and refined his appreciation for Japanese techniques with stints in Tokyo kitchens, including Spago and the Four Seasons Hotel. In short, Schulson is no stranger to Japanese cuisine and the gourmet restaurant experience, and combines the two seamlessly in the casually elegant Monkitail.
The fixed price Chef’s Tasting Menu includes a dish choice from each of 10 categories: cold (our 9-year-old recommends the toro caviar with tuna, wasabi, toast); small (the aforementioned duck scrapple bao bun with maple teriyaki, cucumber and chili is a must); fish (Japanese scallop with onion ponzu and jalapeño); crispy (tempura shrimp taco with pickled daikon, cucumber and radish); meat (the aged NY strip with hon shimeji and ponzu is exquisite); robatayaki (choose from a stunning array of seafood, vegetables, chicken, beef, pork or game); sides (black cod fried rice); and, of course, a delectable array of sushi and sashimi, specialty sashimi and rolls.
Prominently situated in the lobby of the Diplomat, Monkitail echoes the recently renovated resort’s casually elegant and sophisticated vibe. It’s far from the run-of-the-mill corporate hotel restaurant, rather a destination that will see locals and visitors alike vying for reservations.
Chef Schulson stopped by our table and appeared pleased with the reviews from his youngest new fans. “This is the best restaurant, ever!” said the six-year-old, his face smeared with teriyaki/chili sauce.
I had to agree.
Monkitail at The Diplomat Beach Resort, 3555 S. Ocean Drive, Hollywood, 954-602-8755, monkitail.com.
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MIAMI-DADE COUNTY Top Chef, 2017
Restaurant: Arson, Miami
Cool your Pacojets. The Josper oven is heating up South Florida’s culinary scene this year, and we have a James Beard Award-nominated chef showing us its apparently endless possibilities.
The Josper – a charcoal-fueled hybrid oven/grill – actually made its debut in 1970 in northeastern Spain, but it’s enjoying renewed popularity in Europe. Named for its chef creators – Josep Armangue and Pere Juli – the Josper recreates the ancient covered fire pit cooking method popular in Spanish and Mediterranean cooking. Featuring a unique closed barbecue design, the Josper both grills and roasts and allows for simultaneous searing and smoking.
With the ability to infuse the unique flavors of the charcoal embers from the enclosed chamber – as well as create unique textures while capturing the natural moisture and flavors of the ingredients – this seemingly simple method is actually quite complex and demands the finesse of a learned chef. Enter Deme Lomas.
Executive chef Demetrio “Deme” Lomas landed in Miami five years ago from Barcelona and started making waves with Niu Kitchen, a Catalan-style restaurant he opened with partners Karina Iglesias and Adam Hughes. At Niu, Lomas’ penchant for celebrating the molecular gastronomy techniques of the Pacojet – and all things eclectic and eccentric (think mustard ice cream topped with chilled gazpacho) – quickly gained him notice, as well as two James Beard Award nominations for Best Chef: South.
But Lomas was burning to trade in the Pacojet for a Josper oven, described as the “next must-have chef’s toy.” Six months ago, he opened a second restaurant just down the street from Niu. He called it Arson.
If Niu (“Nest” in Catalan) was Lomas’s comfort zone, Arson represents his desire to spice things up – and turn the traditional idea of what should be cooked over charcoal or flame on its head.
“I have always wanted to open a concept like this,” says Lomas, whose résumé spans 20 years and includes head chef positions in Spain at both Mediterranean/Japanese fusion and Spanish restaurants, such as Barcelona’s El Xalet de Montjuïc. He visited Miami on vacation and decided to stay. “Americans love barbecue so I wanted to open a barbecue concept but offer something completely different that you don’t often find here.”
Let’s stop right there and agree to not use the term “BBQ” to describe Arson. There are no spice rubs, no pulled pork, no brisket….rather, dishes like Patagonian lamb chops with cauliflower purée and mint oil, or the Duck 2 ways (charbroiled and cured) topped with cute little cubes of honey-mustard bread and served with two textures of apple.
Also, Arson is not a Spanish concept. While there are hints of the executive chef’s Spanish and Japanese culinary background and techniques, the Josper oven reigns from its prominent location in the restaurant, as if to broadcast: “this restaurant is about tradition meeting technology.” There is also nothing fancy at Arson. The Pacojet stays at Niu. “There are no foams, gelatins or stuff like that,” says Lomas, with one exception: the whipped cream star anise foam and tomato gelatin that accompanies the grilled Spanish octopus.
With a career that began at age 16 and included six years manning a Josper oven station at another restaurant, Lomas says the Josper is anything but a “toy.” “I learned all of the techniques,” he says. “What I wanted to do at Arson was something that was less spectacular – a return to traditional techniques.”
“I’m cooking whole fishes and steak – trying to make things that no one else does inside the oven, like pasta,” he says, referencing the squid-ink tagliatelle with cuttlefish, tomato sofrito and aioli. “Every dish is made with the oven, even the shrimp with a red curry paste. I make my own recipes using ingredients from all over the world – prepared in my style.”
I ask Chef Lomas what his style is, exactly, and he pauses. “I guess it’s not that easy to describe,” he says, laughing. “It’s all the influences from over 20 years. I have always worked with Spanish food but also with Spanish and Japanese techniques. At Arson I’m experimenting with different ingredients, and with the oven we can come up with anything.”
Perhaps it’s that signature je ne sais quois style that earned the rising chef consecutive James Beard Award nominations. But it’s certainly the sizzle from Arson that’s turning heads.
Arson, 104 NE Second Ave., Miami, 786-717-6711, arsonmiami.com.
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PALM BEACH COUNTY Top Chef, 2017
Restaurant: The Regional
Kitchen & Public House,
West Palm Beach
There must be some energy vortex at work in Palm Beach County, attracting and illuminating rising culinary talent. In the past five years, the ultra-formal – read, stuffy – options that had dominated the luxury dining scene have given way to a new generation of hip, farm-to-table concepts in intentionally rustic atmospheres reflecting a youthful, energetic vibe.
Let’s give the Palm Beach Food & Wine Festival, going into its 11th year this fall, at least partial credit for that – and for bringing Chef Lindsay Autry to West Palm Beach.
Autry was executive chef at Delray Beach’s Sundy House and resident chef for Swank Farms in 2012 when she was approached by David Sabin, founder of the Festival’s PR firm Brickhouse Public Relations. He invited her to participate in a farm-to-table luncheon, and the two ended up collaborating on a series of chef-driven events at the festival over the next few years. They eventually married last summer, just three months before unveiling The Regional Kitchen & Public House in CityPlace.
Trained in traditional fine dining and working in kitchens on the East Coast and in Mexico alongside such celebrated chefs as Michelle Bernstein, Autry had always thought about opening her own restaurant. She and Sabin teamed up with restaurateur Thierry Beaud to start the 287-seat Regional, which has earned a loyal following and accolades for her simple, balanced approach to fine dining.
“Local is the way it should be,” she says. “In the late ’90s, the fancier you were the further your food came from – wasabi from Japan, fish from France…. I lived in Mexico for four-and-a-half years where sourcing food was very difficult, so I taught myself how to cook with what was around me.”
While The Regional celebrates fresh and local, Autry is clear about how much can actually be sourced regionally. “To say we were local, all we would have in the summer would be mangoes and star fruit!” she says, laughing. “Our growing season is opposite from everyone else.”
Fish at The Regional is local, wild caught or farm-raised organically. The Florida blue crab comes from fisheries in the panhandle that clean and save the shells for the restaurant to use. The all-natural, free-range, organic chicken comes from farms in central Florida and Georgia; and Autry selected Creekstone Farms in Kansas for her beef. “I grew up in 4H showing animals so I’m really picky about where the cattle come from and how they are treated,” she says. “The beef – and the olive oil from California – is the furthest-sourced thing. I spend as much time sourcing as I spend cooking so that we know where everything is coming from.”
Divided into four categories – “From the Pantry,” “Warm and Soulful,” “To Share or Not to Share” and “Green Things” – The Regional’s menu harkens back to Autry’s childhood on her family’s peach farm in North Carolina, eating simple tomato sandwiches on cheap white bread and snacking on melons and field peas during the summer harvest.
The 10,000-square-foot restaurant may be larger than Autry originally anticipated, but she likes it. “My experience has been as executive chef in hotels so I’m used to more space. In a strange way it made me feel more comfortable than it might have been to open a tiny place. Here I have the ability to do offsite catering and private dining events.”
Once again West Palm Beach has given us another best new restaurant for 2017 and Autry couldn’t be more fond of her new community. “I’ve been somewhat of a vagabond as a chef,” she says, “but I love it here because of the support the community gives us and now we feel like we are giving back.”
The Regional Kitchen & Public House, CityPlace, 651 Okeechobee Blvd., West Palm Beach, 561-557-6460, eatregional.com.