Sunday, February 9, 2014

Cobaya Divino with Chef Julian Baker

When I explained to Julian Baker, executive chef at Toscana Divino that Cobaya was about providing chefs a platform to take the restaurant handcuffs off and have some fun cooking for an adventurous group, he immediately showed an interest. We discussed doing one several times over the past year but only recently locked in a date. But his mind was working from the moment we spoke.

Julian has a diverse culinary background. He was born in Northern England and attended culinary school there. After graduating he moved to London where he trained under Chef Anton Edelmen at the Savoy Hotel. He returned to Northern England and worked at a Michelin rated restaurant before returning to London and the Savoy. He subsequently moved to the United States to work at The White Barn Inn in Kennebunkport, Maine. He returned to Europe and his culinary career took an Italian turn following stops in Milan, Trentino and Tuscany. He returned to the United States to work for Bice Restaurants in Manhattan. He subsequently opened Bice's in Barcelona, Monte Carlo, Madrid and Luxembourg. He then returned to the States to open additional Bice restaurants.

Julian thoroughly embraced the spirit of Cobaya and delivered a creative, interesting and fun meal from start to finish. The meal was nothing like you would get on a normal visit to Toscana Divino but cleary showcased his modern skills.

A skeleton menu kept each course a mystery. There were plenty of twists ad turns along with some riffs on classic Italian dishes as well as local restaurants. Toscana generously included a thoughtful wine and beverage pairing.
Julian and his sous chef, Jeff Maxfield clearly had fun planning and executing the menu. As you will see, they took a lot of chances with every dish and that's what Cobaya is all about.

Big thanks to Julian and his crew along with General Manager Mauro Bortignon who made sure service was top notch.
And thank you to the guinea pigs for your continued interest and support. I'm looking forward to the next 40.

Guests were welcomed with a very nice aged Gentlemen Jack "Negroni."

Julian was all smiles before service.

The Book of Baker made a cameo appearance.

Inside were very tasty and still crackling Beef Tendon "Frazzles" 

The kitchen crew hard at work finalizing the creative and delicious Foie Roll-Ups. Yes, foie gras meets fruit roll-ups. 

Who knew Toscana Divino had in-house foie vendors? "Foie HEEEERE! Get your FOIE roll-ups HERE!" 

The super snacks continued via Smoked Sweet Potato Cigars Croquettes.

The modern and sharp looking dining room along with views of the open kitchen provided a great setting. 

Course one titled "Blue Collar" was a twist on the popular local spot. Here, Julian paired a perfectly cooked Hamachi Collar with Blue Crab Dashi, Bok Choy and Thai Basil. The hamachi collar on its own was delicious and the additional components resulted in a really flavorful and balanced dish. It was paired with Gewürztraminer, Adrian. This was my favorite dish of the night. 

Course two was another standout. "Unagi" Tokyo Firenze was inspired by an Unagi (eel) Sushi Roll featuring a very nice piece of eel along with Celery Root Risotto, Seaweed Salsa Verde and Watercress. It was paired with Daku, Nigori Junmai Unfiltered Sake. 

Julian's take on "Carbonara" did not include any pasta. He opted for a delicious Black Cod topped with Pancetta and served with Squid Ink Pil Pil, Yuca Coal, Ink Dust and "Zabaglione." Once again, the main component was wonderful on its own and enhanced by the supporting ingredients to form a unique overall dish. This was paired with Franciacorta Brut, Ferghettina. 

Cool Aid, a Cardamon Spiced Watermelon Sorbet served as a refreshing palate cleanser.    

The meal transitioned from sea to land via Pan Dulce. It featured Honey Beer Marinated Sweetbreads with a Pine Nut and Cauliflower Purée, Perigord Truffle and Hazelnuts. It was paired with Menabrea, Blonde. 

Julian's tasty riff on "Alfredo" actually included pasta. Here he served house-made Tagliolini with Parmesan and Fontina "Fonduta" along with Hearts, Livers and Crispy Skin. It was paired with Pinot Nero Buchart, Klaus Lentch. 

Julian's next course was also inspired by a popular local restaurant, Tongue & Cheek. Here, he paired a Veal Cheek and Lardo with Pickled Beef Tongue. Sweet and Sour Pepper rounded out the dish and helped to cut the richness of the tongue and cheek. This was another overall enjoyable dish. It was paired with Amarone, Farina. 

Tea and Coffee for dessert. It included Smoked Tea Cream, Chocolate Espresso Cake, Yogurt and Sesame. A perfect ending to unique and creative meal. It was paired with a Riesling Eiswein, Dr. Loosen.  

The kitchen crew following service. Hope there were some leftover snacks for them.

Go pay Toscana a visit.

Toscana Divino on Urbanspoon

Mary Brickell Village
900 S Miami Ave
Miami, FL 33130  
(305) 371-2767

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