Sunday, October 9, 2011

A for Azul

Great news fellow Miami food fans, special things are happening on our home turf  thanks to the cutting-edge skills of some talented chefs with impressive resumes. Oh, I'm talking about Azul located in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Brickell Key.

I was a big fan of Azul when Michelle Bernstein was at the helm of the open-air kitchen.  I never made it back after she left despite hearing good things about her predecessor Clay Conley's kitchen.  When I heard Joel Huff was hired to replace Mr. Conley I quickly did some research to see what we were in store for.  Excited by my discoveries would be an understatement.  Mr. Huff has worked with outstanding chefs and in some famous spots around the world as has the team he assembled.


He surprisingly started his culinary career as a sushi chef in California. He left to train under Nori Sugie in Australia before following him to open Asiate at the Mandarin Oriental, Manhattan.  Two years later, he became the chef de cuisine at Silks located at the Mandarin Oriental, San Francisco. He received critical acclaim while at Silks, earning  3.5 stars from esteemed critic Michael Bauer and being named him one of the nations "four chefs to watch" by Esquire magazine.  Along the way, he trained under José Andrés at  Minibar in DC which led to his position as chef de cuisine at Andrés' SAAM at the Bazaar post Silks. Yes, you read that right. He was chef de cuisine at Saam at The Bazaar.  I'll wait while you go make your reservation now over at opentable.  His last spot before moving to Miami was as the executive chef at Tydes at the Four Seasons, Santa Barbara.

Chef Huff has assembled a talented supporting cast, including assistant chef de cuisine, Jacob Anaya, who was his sous at Silks.  Subsequent to that he was in the kitchen at the Ritz Carlton, San Francisco and was most recently chef de cuisine at Pahu i’a at the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island.

Also on the line is a rising star to keep your eye on, Brad Kilgore. It was Kilgore's blog The Power of a Passion that really sparked my desire to visit Azul. He does a great job capturing the complexity of each dish along with the finished product. Mr. Kilgore spent a few weeks in the kitchen at Alinea before taking advantage of an opportunity to work under Laurent Gras who was opening L20.  He eventually left L20 to open Epic also in Chicago where he was the executive sous chef.  During his tenure at Epic, it was named one of the best new restaurants in the country by Esquire magazine.

The team is rounded out by sommelier Cyntnia Betancourt and master pastry chef, Frédéric Monnet who was previously at the Ritz Carlton, Key Biscayne.              


I was obviously very excited to return to Azul and Mr. Huff and his team did not disappoint.  We sampled a wide range of dishes via a fantastic eight course tasting menu that showcased their modern skills and top notch products.  It should be noted that I did not take any notes during the meal or any pictures. I simply sat back and enjoyed the ride.

The tone was set via a perfect amuse bouche, a spoonful of wonderfully rich and smooth foie gras and root vegetable mousse topped with sesame brittle which added a nice subtle texture.

The mousse was followed up by a pristine Kusshi oyster topped with fresh wasabi, radish, a hibiscus granita mignonette and Asian pear.  This was a fantastic combination that perfectly complimented the oyster. It was also a nice contrast to the amuse.

The Power of a Passion-same dish different fish

Chef Huff went old school with the next course by exhibiting his skills as a sushi chef  and serving an ultra fresh Hamachi Sashimi.  This was accompanied by Concorde grape ponzu (hamachi manischewitz?) and topped with crispy noodles.  You can read more about the preparation here.  The hamachi melted in my  mouth while the grape and citrus components provided a nice balance of flavor.  The noodles rounded out the dish with its light crispy texture.  

Next up was what appears to be one of Mr. Huff's staples, Panzanella Salad. I really wish I took a picture of this dish because it was a beautifully vivid presentation. It featured heirloom tomatoes, mozzarella, pieces of brioche toast and olive vinaigrette. Sounds simple right? Doubtful... I'll leave it at refreshingly delicious.      

The Power of a Passion

One of my favorite dishes of the night was the Smoked Octopus accompanied by a cauliflower vadouvan puree, brown butter babaganoush and eggplant.  I had to google vadouvan which turns out to be some sort of spice. Again, there is so much more going on here than "smoked octopus" from its preparation to each of the accompanying ingredients. The combination of this dish was not only delicious but visually and texturally pleasing. Brad's picture above does a good job of capturing that aspect as well as its complexity. A real work of art.

Next up was Huff's kick ass riff on breakfast, Bacon, Eggs & Toast. It featured a 12 hour suckling pig, a tempura duck egg, bacon air, black truffle pomme puree, and pork jus. Egg yolk, fatty and crispy pork belly, black truffles & potatoes.  Do I need to explain this further? I think not. Outfstanding!

The last savory course featured a great version of surf & turf. Chef Huff paired a perfectly seared and really tasty piece of cobia along with curry braised pork belly.  This was accompanied by a lobster emulsion and heart of palm.  While the cobia was perfectly seasoned, the pork belly skewed on the overly salty side. A good dish nonetheless. 

Dessert was yet another beautifully presented dish.  Chef Monnet prepared a vanilla bean semifreddo, red berry sorbet and pistachio pain de gene crouton. This was on the light side and not overly sweet.  It was a nice ending to a great meal.
I was very impressed with the attention to detail that went into each dish from the preparation to the plating.  Each dish featured vibrant colors with various shapes and textures that were presented in 3D like fashion.  It's almost as if the kitchen has a combined degree in landscape architecture, science and art. 

Sommelier Betancourt has put together a thorough wine list with selections at various price points along with several by the glass and half  bottle options.

Service is formal yet attentive and friendly.  Yes, prices are very high making it more of a special occasion type place for most but it's well worth saving for.            
Azul's menu is eclectic, artistic, modern and playful while still remaining elegant.  Most importantly, chef Huff utilizes his cutting-edge techniques and the fine products in his cupboard to deliver really great tasting food.  And that's what matters most and why you need to go.    

Azul on Urbanspoon

(305) 913-8254
500 Brickell Key Dr
Miami, FL 33131

1 comment: said...

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