The start of the rainy season has special significance for those of us fascinated by the food-and-wine scene. And I'm not talking about the fact that we now have moisture falling from the sky, so can expect to be served water instead of having to play by the drought rules and request it. Rather this is a week in which a series of doors opens and closes. The umbrella door opens, and it's wise to carry those handy little objects with you into the restaurant of your choice, because you can't count on the valets to have the forethought to provide such shelter. The stone-crab door, along with Joe's Stone Crab, closes. The door to fresh seasonal produce opens. The door to tourists, for the most part (unless you count visitors from Boca as out-of-towners), closes.
At this point in the year I usually assess, along with the chances of a major hurricane hitting our shores, the restaurant season. I make note of who has managed to stay open. I make fun of who has closed. I generally show no mercy.
This year I can't really do that. Why? Because despite the imminent opening of Breez and Parallel in the Billboard Live! Building (see next week's column), many of the promised doors didn't bother with abracadabra, open sesame, blah blah blah. They simply never came into existence.
We can start with the obvious: Nobu and the Shore Club. Rumor has it that the Club now needs something in the arena of 50 million bucks to open, that there's an outlandish weekly payroll of half a million for employees who are running a hotel as mythical as the one in The Shining. But I'm kind of done picking on the poor place. After all, Nobu Matsuhisa himself was in town dining just a week or two ago -- at Shoji Sushi, where Shin Inoue, one of his former protégés, is master sushi chef. Ouch. And the fact is, though the Shore Club people think I've made them into a pet target (and they're probably not totally incorrect), they're not the only ones who should be feeling the sling of my newly sharpened chopsticks.
Got it, Sushi Samba? Cafeteria? Rumi? And lest we forget, AcQua? In short none of these restaurants, all of which vowed to wow us during season, even has come close to completing the pact. Rumi seems to be the one nearest to accomplishing its goal, because I see help-wanted ads for this eatery in the classifieds, but that's no guarantee (Rumi people, meet Shore Club folk). Sushi Samba on Lincoln Road has a phone number and that's about it. Projected to debut this past spring, the 7000-square-foot Cafeteria, sibling of the well-known Chelsea eatery, isn't yet listed in directory information. The AcQua project, located in the old Mezzanotte site and chaired by Tantra owner Tim Hogle, stalled so long ago it never even got out of the driveway.
Whatever anticipation I've felt at the projection of these eateries has dispersed with the speed of an afternoon thunderstorm. Whatever press I've allowed them -- and give them even now -- has been reduced to the proverbial rain in the desert. Useless prattle. Idle chat. And since I don't like to waste (or mince) words, that doesn't sit well at all. It makes me not want to even speculate, let alone salivate, about award-winning chef Andrea Curto, who recently left Wish and is hinting that she'll be running her own place come fall. (The on-the-quiet buzz also has it that her fiancé, Frank Randazzo, executive chef of the Gaucho Room, might be involved in the restaurant too, a collaboration of talent that I could really get behind. But just in case they can't, I don't want to get my hopes up.)
What to do but drown my sorrows? Even that becomes more difficult -- at least in choosing the medium -- because when the door to humidity opens, the door to the wine cellar closes: The wine reps stop coming to town. Fortunately they're still available to give advice, and as a collective unit, they want us to know that despite the coming heat, the days of big red wines and roses are not over.
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Indeed many of us who live in the subtropics believe that the rainy season marks the time when it's appropriate to switch from consuming room-temperature reds to sipping chilled whites. The wine magazines often further this myth, featuring sauvignon blancs and pinot grigios in their June and July issues. It's a general rule as outdated and inapplicable as not wearing white shoes before Memorial Day and after Labor Day.
So, while you may have to abandon plans to quench your thirst this summer with a sweating bottle of pinot grigio at the 24-hour Cafeteria, you can indulge in high-intensity, high-alcohol red wines even in the afternoon sun. Most Americans, notes Carmen Castorina of Frei Brothers Winery, "look for cold things in the summer. It's really the American tradition of drinking cold sweet drinks." But in Mediterranean cultures, notably Spain, no one stops drinking red wine during the summer. "Who's to say they're wrong? Look at the Bible. Long before man even thought of air conditioning, he was making wine. After all, Jesus didn't make chilled chardonnay," he wryly concludes.
Rick Garced, the corporate wine purchasing manager for Apollo Ship Chandlers, Inc., agrees wholeheartedly: "Reds in the summer can be very refreshing." But, he warns, "Big [red] wines, or wines with higher alcohol and with more tannic structure ... should be “cooled' to at least 60 to 62 degrees before serving. The big boys, Hermitage, Barolo, Aussie Shiraz, Chateauneuf du Pape [are] what I mean in wines that are full-bodied and contain high alcohol. Drinkable, yes, but in midafternoon high heat, [they] will tend to warm fast and develop a high alcohol finish to the wine -- and your brain."
Could be just the ticket for substance-friendly Miamians, actually. Lisa Somers, news editor of the Wine News Magazine, suggests adding a little more decadence to make those fruit-forward wines even more palatable. "If the structure and complexity of full-bodied cabernets, merlots, and zinfandels are what consumers crave, many will suck it up and drink those big reds poolside during hot, muggy South Florida summers. Cold accompaniments -- such as chilled blackberries, cherries, blueberries, even frozen bonbons or chocolate Fudgsicles -- could help die-hards cool off while enjoying big reds in the summer." Hear that sound? It's called a freezer door opening. So let it, both figuratively and literally, pour.