Go Sunshine State! What a thrill to see Chef Norman Van Aken. He is one of the original kings of the self-dubbed Florida "Mango Gang" - a terrific group of local South Florida chefs that includes Allen Susser, Mark Militello, Pascal Oudin, Doug Rodriquez, Robin Haas and Jonathon Eismann. They're known for focusing on local, indigenous ingredients as well as the stellar seafood that our state has to offer. Eating at Norman's restaurant in Coral Gables is always a thrill - one of his signature dishes, yucca stuffed shrimp, is a must. One Monday night, Chuck & I were dining there (the only night we can get out of our restaurant), and Wolfgang Puck was filming a segment in Norman's kitchen. Afterward, both Wolfgang and Norman came to our table to chat. I was blown away!
Sadly, his Coral Gables location has now closed, and the only Norman's restaurant is in Orlando, which is a bit too far for our Monday night soiree! However, I hear that he is opening a new branch in Key West, which will be a return to his roots, as Norman spent part of his early career at the legendary Louie's Backyard restaurant there. Since we travel down to the Keys at least two or three times a year, we really look forward to his opening there.
Quickfire Challenge - Florida Sunshine
What a great challenge. As soon as I saw those beautiful blood oranges on that citrus table, I was craving a blood orange Mojito - tall, cool, and refreshing. What an amazing table of locally grown citrus. I got a little nervous when I began to see all of those salads - "Beware of the Salad Curse" LOL! Unfortunately, I couldn't taste these dishes through my TV screen, but my favorite was Lia's. I love citrus and crab, the flavors naturally balance beautifully. Sadly, there was a little shell in the mix - oops! It's funny: most local laws state that if you chip a tooth on a shell or any natural component of a dish, you are not entitled to compensation (So you can call off your lawyer Padma...HA!).
However, a stone or other foreign matter is a different story.
I must say that I am quite impressed with Tre's clean plating style - it is impeccable. And
Hung...OMG...he is taking no prisoners.