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Friday, July 6, 2012

Pig Out at Pubbelly

The Pubbelly Empire has really expanded on South Beach.  Whether you are looking for Spanish tapas (Barceloneta), sushi (Pubbelly Sushi), or Italian (Macchialina) they've got it covered.  The original, and my personal favorite though is Pubbelly, a gastropub in the back corner of South Beach.  As a gastropub, this means they tend to offer not only quality selection of food, but also a pretty reasonable assortment of alcoholic beverages.  The beer selection is quite cleverly fleshed out with more unique offerings than most places, and they've also got a fair amount of wines ranging from fresh and crisp whites to bolder more robust reds, along with some sake cocktail options.  The cuisine skews heavily towards the pro-pork side, and many of the dishes have a tinge of Asian influence (dumplings, udon, miso, etc.).  While vegetarians might be able to find a couple of choices, they definitely cater to the carnivore.  It is most similar to a Spanish tapas style meal, and accordingly, they best option to to indulge in a couple of the small plates.
     For no explicable reason, I waited far too long to check Pubbelly out.  Then as part of our summer dining series (an informal dining group of friends), we decided to make it part of our rotation, being fortunate to dine with a seasoned veteran.  We were also lucky to have a beer expert in our midst who knew exactly which options on the menu would work best with the meal.  We started with a Buffalo Stout from Brouwerij Van Den Bossche, and then we later opted for an Ayinger Altbairisch Dunkel by Brauerei Aying Franz Inselkammer, both of which were very easy drinking choices.  The decor was fairly simple, with brick walls and wooden tables.
     First up was the bacon wrapped dates, a classic tapas staple.  Ok, I've had them a million times, and every restaurant in town seems to exploit this basic and addictive dish, but they really are pretty foolproof, and Pubbelly amped up the flavor with a bit of chorizo zestiness and some silky goat cream.  Slathered in a luscious sauce and wrapped in bacon, you can not go wrong!
To balance the more decadent aspects of the meal, we also opted for a salad.  The heirloom tomatoes with blueberries, amazu ponzu, soft tofu and red onion slices was refreshing, albeit I thought it could have used some minor tweaks.  The blueberries worked better than I had expected, but since tofu is such a sponge, I felt like it became a little too soggy, and might have benefited from a touch of pan searing.  While it was more interesting than most summer salads, it just seemed a bit amiss.
While the menu is frequently changing, one of the options available to us was the short rib and corn dumplings.  Served four to an order they came topped with generous shavings of parmigiana cheese, corn soy, sorrel, and were presented in a miniature skillet.  The meat inside was juicy and flavorful, with a nice aroma from the black truffles.  I would definitely order them again.
The butterscotch miso pork belly with kabocha and corn powder is potentially a lick your plate clean kind of magical.  Again, it is the kind of dish you've heard of at multiple other spots.  You roll your eyes thinking "Pork belly?  Again?  Been there, done that."  Contrary to expectations, it would be a travesty to ignore Pubbelly's rendition.  Perfectly balanced composition of sweet and salty, it truly is an idyllic version that is optimally prepared.  The meat is cut into pretty large slabs, and yet it is very tender nonetheless.  If you like pork, you really have to try it!
Not to be forgotten, the brussel sprouts with bacon miso and sea salt proved to be a standout side.  I've only recently begun to appreciate the tasty aspect of these health-benefit packed veggies, so whenever I find them on a menu it's usually a safe bet that I'll snag an order.  That being said these are, hands down, the most flavorful and delectable brussels I've ever encountered, bar none.  I think a fork fight almost broke out as we all pretended to be generous, well mannered adults that can share, while secretly wanting to dump the entire ramekin onto our own plates.
The kimchi fried rice is definitely meant to be split.  This massive bowl kind of reminded me of a Korean bibimap, with lots of umami flavor plus a touch of spicy.  It was served with an egg on top, which was mixed into the bowl tableside by our waiter.  Also, while the heat might not to noticeable to more seasoned spice eaters, I'm pretty sensitive to it, and it was a little more than I would have preferred.  Not inedible for me on any count, I just definitely noticed it was there.
Time for dessert!  The bacon brownie promised a delectably potent combination.  Our waiter suggested a Gonzo Imperial Porter by Flying dog Brewery to pair with the rich chocolate, and since our table beer snob confirmed this would indeed pair well, we went for it.  The brownies were thick and dense, managing to stay incredibly moist too.  However, much to the chagrin of myself and my dining partners, we only noted an occasional sprinkle of salty, the promised bacon was disappointingly absent.  I was also a teensy bit let down that a restaurant of that caliber would serve us plain vanilla soft serve under the bulk of the dessert.  Surely they can do better.
Minus a couple of points for some lackluster elements, I found myself really enjoying Pubbelly.  I'm quite pleased I went with a group so that we were able to optimize the variety.  It probably also helped that we were with a regular that knew the better choices, so there wasn't really too many disappointments.  While I can not guarantee every item will be a winner, there definitely are a couple of gems.  Sure the concepts do not seem particularly original, but they are incredibly well executed, and the taste alone makes this gastropub worthwhile.  Furthermore, I  appreciated the exceptional service, our waiter was not only attentive but he was also quite knowledgeable about beer pairings.  Another important note, unless you are with a large group they don't take reservations, so either arrive when they open or expect a wait.

Pubbelly Miami
1418 20th Street
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(305) 532-7555
pubbelly.com
Pubbelly on Urbanspoon

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