Art Basel Miami — A Cypress Tavern Brunch

Tuna nisçoise

Finding a quiet place for a civilized brunch amidst the madness and bustle of Art Basel Miami is not an easy thing to do. It is, after all, the world’s largest art fair. And this year it set another attendance record.

Luckily, I decided to see if a small restaurant called Cypress Tavern was a possibility — a number of things about the place appealed to me. It’s owned by Chef Michael Schwartz. It’s in Miami’s Design District. And the dinner my wife, Trulee, and I had there last year was more than praise worthy. So was the service and the ambiance.

Calling for a reservation two weeks in advance is a must during art fair week. At least for the better tables in town. So that’s what I did.

Yes, brunch was being served on Saturday. And they had a table for us.

The Cypress Tavern was just what we needed after an intense morning immersing ourselves in the monumental art of Anselm Kiefer at the Margulies Collection, a short, cab ride away. Sitting in the Tavern’s cheery, club-like space was a welcome counterpoint to the dark, monochromatic tones of Kiefer’s beautiful, but unsettling, Neo-realist work.

Brightening things even more was the artful brunch menu. Wood-grilled mushroom salad. Lobster- avocado toast. Wood-grilled giant prawn. Soft polenta, grilled mushrooms and poached egg with truffles. Yellowfin tuna Nicoise. Buccatini carbonara with poached egg.

A James Beard Award-winng chef, Schwartz has been a favorite of mine ever since he opened one of the first restaurants in Miami’s Design District, Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink. His dishes are simple bistro-like fare — but a lot more. Carefully thought out and delicious.

As much as I wanted to try the buccatini carbonara with the poached egg, my choice on this drizzly, art-filled Saturday was the tuna Nicoise. I needed something “salad-light” after the crazy, multi-course meal with friends the night before that was way too rich for my taste.

Some Sancerre seemed to be the right thing to do while we waited to see if what we ordered would live up to our expectations. (Trulee had decided on the polenta, mushrooms and poached egg with truffles.)

Well, the Nicoise was a colorful rendition of the classic dish with perfectly seared tuna and a boiled egg that was possibly the best I’ve ever had — a soft, but not-too-soft, golden center begging to be eaten together with a bite of potato and haricots vert. Lightly dressed with a vinaigrette that must have been made with the best of olive oils, just the right amount of acid and a touch of Dijon, the salad would have satisfied the most demanding of Francophiles. It certainly satisfied moi!

And the poached egg on soft polenta, with mushrooms and truffles?
It was just as good as it sounded! Maybe better.

I guess we could have eaten at one of the uncomfotable, over-crowded, food venues conveniently tucked into Art Basel, itself. Lots of people do. But the more civilized experience at the Cypress made more sense. At least to us. And in addition to the first-rate food, it was quiet enough to eavesdrop on the table next to us where an art consultant discretely counseled a couple on investment opportunities and emerging artists.

Cypress Room 3620 NE Second Avenue / Design District – Miami
305-520-5197 / www.cypresstavern.com

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The Greek Orthodox Baptism Book

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I’m almost positive it happened over lunch. At a little French cafe on Main St in Sarasota, Florida, as I was enjoying a Salad Nicoise. That’s when the idea to do an art-filled book about the Greek Orthodox baptism ceremony came up — thanks to my good friend, Pat Kaufman.

Just back from NYC where she attended a Greek baptism, Pat was still overwhelmed by the experience. She described the beauty and the mystery. The rituals at the baptismal font. How she was moved by it all. But to her, it was much more aesthetic appreciation, than religious.

I didn’t mention that Pat’s an artist. Of course, that’s how she’d feel.

It seemed clear to me Pat should express her enthusiasm for the ceremony through her art. And I told her so. Maybe do a book. A gift book with lots of colorful illustrations that would explain the ceremony.

That was it. We both loved the idea, and before our lunch was finished, we had decided to do what we could to make the gift book happen. I would research, write and publish, Pat would create the art.

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That was four years ago. Since then, ArtSource Publishing was formed, Child of Light: The Greek Orthodox Baptism Book is in church bookstores, as well as on Amazon, and we’ve gone on to publish other titles.

But back to the baptism ceremony. If you ever get a chance to go to one, by all means, don’t pass it up. And if you ever need a Greek Orthodox baptism gift, hopefully, you’ll remember this post and our gift book.

Here’s a remarkable fact from the book: The baptism ceremony in the Greek Church has remained basically unchanged for over 1500 years.

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LUNCH AT THE GUGGENHEIM

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Maybe it was the subtle touch of smoked paprika in the rice I made the other night. Or those pictures of my trip to the Basque country that I revisited on iPhoto. Then again, it might have been the Keith Jarrett CD I played for a relaxing Sunday brunch a few weeks ago.

Whatever the reason — I’ve been thinking quite a lot about an exceptional lunch my wife, Trulee and I experienced at The Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. The delicious, minimalist meal was nearly as impressive as Richard Serra’s magnificent work in the gallery right next door or the iconic Frank Ghery designed building itself.

Impeccably seared rouget, minimally sauced, beautifully plated along with a crisp white Albarino made for a light, artful lunch. And then there were the sounds of Keith Jarrett’s Köln Concert gently adding serenity and depth to the culinary experience.

Here we were in one of the world’s most iconic buildings. On our plates, highly-regarded rouget or red mullet. (In antiquity “one of the most famous and valued fish.”) And in our glasses, a bright, zesty, complex rendition of one of Spain’s most distinctive wines.

It was an appropriate prelude to an afternoon at The Guggenheim.

The elegant, spare-looking restaurant responsible for the magic is called Nerua. And its creative, young chef has been getting some well-deserved attention — a Michelin star, among other accolades. Not surprisingly, he worked under legendary chef Ferran Adria at the highly-praised, avant-garde (now closed) restaurant El Bulli.

His name is Josean Martinez Alija. And his impressive culinary artistry is yet another good reason to visit The Guggenheim in Basque country. Of course, you should book well in advance.

The surprise here is that Alija’s Nerua is not just another one of those convenient museum restaurants. It’s a destination unto itself.

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