Culinary cage match: shrimp part II

Stomachs, let's get ready to rumble!

At Pacific Time, Chef Jonathan Eismann’s Hot and Sour Popcorn Shrimp should be the perfect opener to a pan-Asian-y menu. I can only assume that “popcorn” is simply a menu-naming ploy to get people to order something that looks like it came in a takeout box from Wong’s. And it doesn’t taste much better. The shrimp are bland and mushy, served over crunchy noodles that taste like ramen noodles before you boil them. Speaking of ramen noodles, it seems as though this dish was conceived in a dorm-room-like haze, with no thought given to the final product, other than what was in the pantry or fridge at the time. Of course, if you’re going to serve from an open kitchen, as is the case at PT, you might not want to have a perpetual scowl on your face, as the dour countenance of Chef Eismann can put the kibosh on the whole dining experience. Cheer up, my boy!

A few miles south in downtown Miami, or DWNTWN as it was dubbed this year in an attempt to make it hip and, I guess, text-message friendly, there’s the Epic Hotel’s Area 31, where Executive Chef John Critchley’s enthusiasm for his fresh ingredients translates to some great shrimp dishes, including his Key West pink shrimp done a la plancha. They’re crunchy, bursting and served with a simple salmoriglio sauce (olive oil, lemon zest, oregano) that brings out the subtle flavors of the sweet shrimp without overpowering them. It’s a good portion of five big shrimp, and I recommend you pair it with the 31 Manhattan, made with Pampero Anniversio Rum from Venezuela. As Critchley and his fellow chefs traded grins across the open kitchen, I knew I would be heeding his advice to return for the Royal Red shrimp, whose season starts, well, now. And then I smiled.

Published: 1/09

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