Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Himmarshee Review, Part 2

The End of Entrées!
The beautiful beet salad.

The following is my list of reasons why restaurants should do away with entrees all together and create menus of small plates:

  1. Small portions mean diners can experience a wider array of a restaurant’s offerings.

  2. Small plates consist of a few assertively flavored bites, usually highlighting one or two elements, so there is no room for starchy fillers.
  3. It is easy to control the size of your meal as well as the size of your check based on the number of dishes you order.

  4. Scientific studies have shown that incorporating a variety of different flavors into a single meal increases the appetite; you’ll always have room for more!

  5. A parade of exciting little dishes arriving at the table eliminates lulls in the dinner conversation and fosters intimacy, as they are meant to be shared.

  6. You’ll never have to choose between chicken and fish again!

If you took a look at the “About Me” page on this site, you’ll see that among the few details I offered about myself, I felt the need to mention my complete and total devotion to tapas. The best tapas place I have ever been to is Tasca in Brighton, MA. Brighton is really a Boston neighborhood, and this little gem was a short walk or T ride from wherever I lived for about seven years. Now in Fort Lauderdale, I miss it desperately. There is plenty of Latin food here, but Spanish food is mighty hard to come by. There is Salero in Miami. Aside from that, we have not found Spanish tapas that have the depth of flavor and heck, the soul, of a place like Tasca.

Himmarshee, the understatedly hip restaurant and bar in Fort Lauderdale’s Riverfront area has just instated a special tapas menu that replaces the standard menu on Thursday nights for the summer. Because, this is a completely different menu and because of my strong feelings about tapas, I thought a two-part restaurant review was in order. If you look back a few posts to part one, you’ll see that I really like Himmarshee. The food is creative, strongly flavored and different from the standard “bar and grill” type menu.

At the top of their tapas menu, Himmarshee provides a definition of tapas, recalling how King Alfonso of Castile decreed that no wine should be served without an accompanying bite of food. I appreciated the history, but the bright, innovative and delicious dishes on Himmarshee’s tapas menu are not really Spanish tapas. They use a few Spanish ingredients in their eclectic selection of dishes like chorizo and cabrales (a Spanish blue cheese), but otherwise these are small plates. Fortunately, for Mike and I, they just happen to be one of the most well done and extensive collections of small plates that we have ever encountered. Himmarshee can call this menu anything they want as far as I am concerned, as long as they keep turning out perfectly prepared bursts of flavor and make their Thursday night tapas menu a year-round affair.

The chorizo and goat cheese gratin.

We started off with a chorizo gratin ($6) that was an interesting combination of sausages halved lengthwise and covered with a fluffy layer of goat cheese beaten with egg and perhaps some ricotta as well. I thought there may not be two more disparate ingredients than chorizo sausage and goat cheese, but the flavors worked, with neither one eclipsing the other. This particular chorizo was not quite as spicy and strongly seasoned as others I have tasted, but maybe that is how they managed to pair it so well with the goat cheese. Our next dish, a beet salad with candied pecans, celery root and orange segments ($3), was my favorite. It was beautifully composed for two diners on a narrow plate. The beets and celery root were firm and fresh, sweetened just slightly by a light vinaigrette that must have contained a bit of flavored rice vinegar. The pecans were not too sweet or choked by gooey caramel. Mike is not a fan of salads in general because he feels the great effort of chewing they require is not repayed in flavor or satiety, but he did enjoy this salad—victory! It was simply the loveliest dish I have ever had for $3, and I would certainly pay more.

Duck sausage with fig compote.

Sausage was popular with us on that visit, probably because it does rank highly on Mike’s effort versus satiety scale. We had never tasted duck sausage ($8), and the menu promised a fig compote as well. The sausage was tasty, though a little too salty for me. The dried figs, however, had such a strong flavor that they completely overcame the duck sausage if eaten together. Happily, I didn’t mind eating them separately.

When dining on small plates, we always order just one or two dishes at a time. That way, we can gauge how full we are, see where the menu's strengths might be and simply extend the pleasure of eating. The very attentive staff made it easy to do this, although I suspect that there were actually more servers working that evening than necessary. As a former waitress, I can’t help but notice these things, and it helps in deducing what kind of experience you are going to have if you notice what might be happening behind the scenes.

The next item in our parade of small bites delivered by our efficient food runner was the smoked poblano chili stuffed with barbecue pork, cheese and creamy corn sauce ($8). I enjoyed this very freshly roasted pepper even more when I realized that the creamy goodness oozing out was not an excess of cheese but a sweet porridge that tasted like creamed corn.

The French Fry Trio.

The french fry trio ($4), like most of these dishes, is a bargain and a lovely presentation that shows how playful Himmarshee can be as it aspires to create a special food experience. Instead of using garnishes to add some color to the dish, the fries are presented in white butcher paper on a white plate with a white doily and three white ramekins filled with dipping sauces. There was a mustard sauce americaine, an aioli and a gorgonzola cream. Unfortunately mayonnaise on fries is a favorite of mine and the garlicky aioli made it impossible to eat just one.

Cabrales Stuffed Dates.

I intentionally saved this last selection for our final dish, because no dessert could please me more than Himmarshee’s cabrales stuffed dates with applewood smoked bacon, maple vinaigrette and watercress ($6). This dish matched the beet salad in terms of successful mingling of flavors and textures. The bacon was a standout, foiling the sweetness of the dates and the maple with a salty bite. The cheese filled dates were hot from the kitchen and were the right end to a meal that we only wished could keep going.

The "Animal Magnetism" wine flight.

Along with their good list of wines by the glass, Himmarshee serves thoughtfully composed wine flights. On Thursday, an even more extensive selection of flights is offered. I enjoyed the “animal magnetism” flight (they don’t all have funny names), a taste of South African and Australian rosés and a less oaky Chardonnay from Mendocino, for just $6. All the prices at Himmarshee seem quite fair to me, especially on the small plates menu. It may not be real Spanish tapas, but if all restaurants would do small plates like this I would never have need of entrees again.

210 Southwest 2nd Street
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33301 (954) 524-1818

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