Recipes for Success

Pay close attention to the following restaurants, listed in alphabetical order: Carmen's. Chispa. Elia. Il Giramonde. Isabela's. Locanda Sibilla. Mundo. Pao. The Prime Grill. Talula. Taverna Opa. Timo. Wish. A few have new owners, chefs, or retooled menus. Several have opened doors in the past couple of weeks. Some more will debut in the next two weeks. And the rest will launch in late April and early May. But they all have one thing in common: promise.

If the list seems endless, that's because it is. In my decade at New Times, I can't quite recall a single springtime more rife with high-profile openings -- and less punctuated by closings. In fact the only demise I can think of at the moment is the rather surprising death rattle of the long-running Mike Gordon's on 79th Street Causeway. Though I have to admit my last few meals there weren't terrific, I still count the departure from the dining scene of that inimitable fish restaurant something like the end of an era.

So we've lost one place to eat, and stand to gain a good dozen more. For many of us, that number of eateries could constitute half a year's worth of dining out. Which to hit first?

Apart from random decision-making, we have only a couple of ways to support a reasonable, knowledge-based ranking of future meals: word of mouth and restaurant reviews. But no matter which method we choose to rely upon, chances are we'll have to wait a couple of months for verdicts to start rolling in.

I hope to provide a third, more immediate way by offering, in the next several weeks, a preview of some of these restaurants via publication of their chefs' representative recipes. As a writer, I believe there is no better way to get to know somebody than reading his or her work; as a diner, I feel the same way. More than décor, more than the waitstaff, more than the menu, even, recipes provide a clear and unobstructed view into the mind of a working chef. By reading the ingredients and seeing how the chef has envisioned putting them together, an astute eater can divine, at that moment, whether that restaurant will ultimately appeal.

I knew I would appreciate the output of David Andrews, executive chef of the JW Marriott on Brickell, from the moment he began describing the new menu he was launching at Isabela's, the fine-dining venue that overlooks the street below. The fare at the two-year-old Isabela's, formerly generic Mediterranean, will now be a mixture of California and Asian, with the ingredient emphasis on California and the weight of technique drawn from Asian countries. Not your mother's Pacific Rim cookery, but a personal interpretation of the foods and flavors Andrews loves best. "Everything's marinated or infused ahead of time but cooked at the last minute. There's little fat, no creams or butter. I'm very focused on vegetables as well," notes the 32-year-old British native, who has cooked in locales as diverse as Munich and Bermuda.

The regular me -- lactose-intolerant rabbit of a diner -- is naturally drawn to Andrews's pure, fresh, market-oriented cooking that is garnished with very little dairy. The critic me is equally happy to see that there's still someone in this town who likes not just to prepare and serve food in its natural state, but has a desire to shift the general food movement back to basics. "My passion and love for cooking is in this menu. It gives me a chance to teach," Andrews says.

Get ready to learn:

Grilled Scallops in a Ginger-Lemon Grass Tea over Swiss Chard

Scallop Marinade:

4 ounces basil, torn

6 cups olive oil

2 shallots, shredded

1 clove garlic, chopped

1 lemon skin, sliced

12 sea scallops

Mix all ingredients and add scallops. Marinate in the refrigerator for several hours.

Ginger-Lemon Grass Tea:

2 sticks lemon grass, chopped

1 bulb ginger, peeled and chopped

1 carrot, chopped

1/2 head celery, chopped

1/4 pineapple, peeled and chopped

2 gallons spring water

4 cups sake (rice wine)

6 ounces chopped shallots

In a three-gallon pot, slowly bring all ingredients to a boil. Simmer for 40 minutes and strain.

Swiss Chard:

12 ounces Swiss chard, chopped

4 ounces butter

Salt and pepper to taste

In a sauté pan, melt butter. Quickly sauté chard until just wilted. Season to taste.

To plate:

Grill scallops over high heat to medium-rare. Nap with Ginger-Lemon Grass Tea and serve over Swiss Chard.

Serves 4 as an appetizer.

Cilantro-Crusted Filet Mignon with Roasted Shallot Sabayon, Purple Potato Rösti, and Rapini

Filet Mignon Marinade:

16 ounces olive oil

2 sprigs rosemary, chopped

1 sprig thyme, chopped

2 shallots, chopped

1 clove garlic, chopped

Pinch freshly cracked black pepper

4 filet mignons

Dredge filet mignons in marinade and refrigerate for several hours.

Cilantro Crust:

4 ounces cilantro, finely chopped

2 ounces sun-dried tomato

4 ounces balsamic vinegar

8 ounces breadcrumbs

2 ounces mustard

Mix all ingredients together. Mixture should be slightly moist.

Roasted Shallot Sabayon:

8 shallots, minced

16 ounces white wine

12 egg yolks

4 ounces heavy cream

Salt and pepper to taste

In a metal bowl over a steam bath, whisk shallots, wine, and eggs until light and frothy. Add cream slowly and season to taste.

Purple Potato Rösti:

16 ounces purple potatoes, grated

4 teaspoons olive oil

Salt and pepper to taste

6 ounces butter

Mix potatoes, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Form 4 cakes.

In a sauté pan, heat 11/2 ounces butter. Pan-fry one cake until brown on both sides. Repeat until all four cakes have been browned.


4 ounces unsalted butter

12 ounces rapini

4 ounces shiitake mushrooms, julienne

Salt and pepper to taste

To plate:

Grill filet mignons on one side. Turn and top with Cilantro Crust and grill to desired doneness. Plate over Purple Potato Rösti, nap with Roasted Shallot Sabayon, and garnish with Rapini.

Serves 4 as a main course.

White Chocolate Bread Pudding:

2 quarts heavy cream

3 ounces sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 whole orange peel

10 large croissants

16 whole eggs

4 ounces white chocolate, chopped

1 pint vanilla bean ice cream

Preheat oven to 260 degrees.

In a heavy saucepan, bring cream, sugar, vanilla, and orange peel to a boil. Remove from heat and allow to cool slightly. Whisk in eggs and strain.

Tear croissants into pieces and add to cream mix.

Pour into buttered baking pan and bake for 30 minutes.

To plate:

Garnish with vanilla bean ice cream. Sprinkle with white chocolate.

Serves 4 as a dessert.

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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick

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