When we found out that not only is Kareem Anguin, the new executive chef at Oceanaire, celebrating his big 3-0 this weekend but that he'll also be doing so at Taste of Brickell, we figured it was time to introduce him to the masses. (He said he plans to serve crabcake sliders, fresh oysters, tuna poke or ceviche, and possibly his braised short ribs, so come hungry.)
Fans of Sean Bernal who haven't returned to the restaurant since his departure (Bernal can now be found at SushiSamba, by the way) should take comfort in the fact that the two gentlemen had worked side-by-side for years. "When I first met him, I didn't even know how to make mashed potatoes," he confessed. Anguin said what he learned from Bernal was: "His passion and his knowledge of food. He knows how to take care of proteins, plate presentation. I've very similar to him. He starts in the middle and works his way up."
But now that the Jamaican-born Anguin is top toque, he is bringing a new flavor to Oceanaire, which Bernal left soon after Landry's purchased it. Anguin confirmed that he still has a certain degree of "corporate responsibility," meaning that he can't have his way with probably 80 percent of the menu, but there are glimmers of his inspiration to be had. Case in point, his spicy shrimp and grits. Let's find out more.
New Times: I heard Sean left because Landry's took away a lot of things guests enjoyed, like the herring.
Kareem Anguin: They finally realized they can't take away all these things because that's what Oceanaire is known for. I have herring back there. I have it if my regulars ask for it. We still do the fresh fish, still carry whole fish, still in line with sustainability; I still have a good relationship with all my vendors, still have great oysters... We have at least eight to 10 species each day. We feature more oysters now.
What else has changed?
For the most part, we're still the same.
Oceanaire is one of those places that has always had a strong following of regulars who tend to order off the menu. What do they ask for?
Tempura king crab. I take king crab knuckles, I make a yuzu aioli (similar to sour orange in Jamaica), mix that with kewpie mayo brewed with rice wine, and soy caramel. It's not on the menu. That's a hookup for my regulars. They love it.
What similarities exist between Bernal's Puerto Rican cuisine and your Jamaican style?
I'm Jamaican but the thing about the Caribbean is we all have the same ingredients, they're just different names and different preparations.
Can you give me an example?
Like sweet potato in Jamaica. They call it boniato, which is a white sweet potato. The plantains, they make mofongo, we fry them by themselves. Breadfruit--we use that a lot in Jamaica and they use it in Puerto Rico. We use a lot of, jerk, fruits, root vegetables and potatoes. Latins have escabeche, we do escaviche, which is kinda the same thing, but we take peppers, carrots, marinate that with vinegar, allspice, and then fry the fish.
Tell me about your jerk seasoning.
There's a big history behind the jerk seasoning. I do it here and it's very spicy, but people love it. Jerk originated from the slaves back in Jamaica. They'd get all these spices: allspice, scallions, scotch bonnet peppers. They'd marinade their meats and bury them in the ground in the hills. They didn't want slave owners to see the smoke coming from the hills because they were runaway slaves.
Here I take allspice, a lot of peppers--scotch bonnets, a lot of thyme, scallions, onions and garlic, a little bit of soy sauce, because we have a lot of Asian influence in Jamaica. A lot of Japanese and a lot of Chinese are there. And dark rum. Basically we put that in a blender and marinade the fish four to five hours before cooking.
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Miami isn't known for its spicy cuisine. How well are customers doing with the palate shocker?
I don't make it too spicy, but they love this jerk. You'd think Latins wouldn't like this spice, but maybe it's the combination: I do a citrus sweet potato and mango chutney to balance it out. We have a lot of Caribbean people here.
Come back tomorrow to discover why goats make him cry and what U.M.'s got going with cobia.