In gastronomy, there are numerous prestigious awards, but none comes close to the celebrated status of being inducted in the "Choucroute Halles of Fame," as the Coral Gables-based national magazine The Wine News founder and publisher Tom E. Smith recently discovered. Brasserie Les Halles owner Philippe Lajaunie established the annual award in order to acknowledge those individuals whom he calls "ambassadors" of Alsatian food and wines. Feted with the traditional Alsatian dish choucroute garnie (white veal sausages, smoked pork breast, and sauerkraut cooked in Pinot d'Alsace white wine and flavored with juniper berries), in the company of like-minded local media and diplomatic representatives from Alsace, Smith called the award "a pleasure and an honor." What's even more of a pleasure is that the ceremony kicks off "choucroute month" at the restaurant, where several versions of the tangy classic, including one made with seafood sausage, salmon caviar, monkfish medallions, sea scallops, and smoked herring, are being offered throughout February. Pickled cabbage and the month of Hallmark love -- could there be a better combination?
If you think vintage fashion is fun, wait till you try vintage fare. At Bizcaya Grill, restaurant chef Willis Loughhead has debuted an innovative menu concept -- what he is billing as "a new taste from the past" -- based on culinary trends from former decades. But like a good designer, he's updated them to make them palatable to today's discerning clientele. So while he might be offering traditional escargot en croute, he's also adding fresh Turks and Caicos baby conch to the mix. You like clams casino and veal Oscar? Try them Loughhead's way: the former comprising Long Island oysters and Manila clams, the latter topped with stone crab and white asparagus. The pièce de résistance just might be duck á l'orange, presented as a blood orange-glazed leg confit with crispy skin magret breast and Grand Marnier duck liver mousse. You see? This is not your mother's beef Wellington -- especially since Loughhead's version is made with wild salmon.
In other debut news, the Delano has opened Blue Sky, a poolside bistro serving Mediterranean-style tapas such as fried picadillo peppers stuffed with goat cheese or Serrano ham with olive bread and spiced apple chutney, and main courses including homemade linguine with arugula pesto or grilled sausages like chorizo and merguez. Just don't think you'll be buttering yourself along with your lobster or soaking up the sun while you eat your way through marinated grilled shrimp entrée with its tamarind and citrus notes. The bistro is dinner-only, open from 5:00 to 11:00 p.m., which means you'll most likely be supping after sundown. At least until the summer, that is. Hurry up with that time change!
Date book: Get ready, get set, go mark your calendars. A couple of the following dinners are charity ops and the like, so you can feel good about yourself while you indulge. The others are just good-sounding; who really needs an excuse anyway?
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February 12: Titanic Brewery & Restaurant is serving the five-course winter "brewmaster dinner," pairing brews with dishes from New England. Yup, we're talking items like smoked salmon mousse on Boston black bread or Ogunquit broiled scallops with Vermont baked beans, matched with Shipyard Winter Ale and Shipyard Old Thumper Special Ale, respectively. Sound heavy? Before you decide, skip to the end -- it's not often you'll get a chance to spoon up a New England cranberry-maple walnut sundae while you sip Titanic Old Gnarly barley wine. Tickets: $39. Info: 305-667-2537.
February 16: Restaurant One Ninety is participating in the month-long "Menus with Meaning," a national culinary promotion designed to benefit the education and advancement of females in the restaurant industry. Chef Alan Hughes will be presenting a three-course meal; Sterling will provide the wines. Tickets: $120. Info: 305-573-7828; www.womenchefs.org.
February 29: Café Sambal is celebrating its second installment of the 2004 "Family Dinner Series," which highlights the various gastronomically inclined regions of the Far East. Served family-style, this month's meal focuses on Canton, the legendary city that in the past lent its name to really bad American-Chinese restaurants all over the country. Fortunately Sambal chef Paul Miller's culinary wizardry promises to eradicate all misconceptions. Tickets: $40 (adult); $24 (children ages 5-12). Info: 305-913-8251; www.mandarinoriental.com.
March 9: At Carmen the Restaurant, chef-proprietor Carmen Gonzalez is honoring her Chef Carmen Cooks for a Cure pledge to raise, oh, about a million bucks for cancer research. She and Martha de Cespedes are co-hosting a luncheon at the restaurant, from which a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Braman Family Breast Cancer Institute at University of Miami Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center. The meal will feature the wines of Arrowood and models wearing Victoria diNardo's couture collection of hats. Feel free to indulge both the appetite and the bad hair day -- after all, your head never gains weight. Tickets: $100. Info: 305-913-1944. -- Jen Karetnick