When I hugged Sara Liss hello, I felt how soft her cropped fur coat was. It lay casually draped over her narrow shoulders, a precisely placed detail that came across as a forgotten afterthought. It’s going to be another great evening with the Saffron Supper Club, is what I thought.
Sara and Maude Eaton, the culinary dynamo behind The Saffron Supper Club, the roving pop-up dinner club with a Middle Eastern twist, have food lovers with a soft spot for all things Persian smitten. It’s not just the locations they thoughtfully choose for their fantastic food gatherings that make the night dazzle, it’s the cultural flair they add that has everyone coming back.
Take last night, for example, at Chef Daniel Boulud’s recently opened Miami outpost, Boulud Sud. If you haven’t been yet, goodness, go! The place is amazing, with carefully crafted dishes like yellowfin tuna crudo served with lemon confit, fresh herbs, and pine nuts or arroz bomba with sepia, chorizo, and Valencia saffron rice. Under the helm of the Saffron Supper Club, Sara and Maude have a way of making the celebrated chef’s latest eatery even more memorable. Its space grows immediately intimate, despite it being the supper club’s largest gathering yet, as Sara reads excerpts from Daniel Boulud’s best-selling book, Letter’s To A Young Chef. Maude entertains and prepares diners with lively quotes pertinent to the experience guests are about to embrace.
It’s quite a food journey one embarks on attending The Saffron Supper Club events, and, for $65, it’s easy to say, a steal as well. Last night’s began at the stylish bar, where guests were offered a choice of bubbly or a Mediterranean martini. I like champagne as much as the next gal, but when there’s a pretty pink cocktail served in a martini glass, I’m in. The drink was exquisite: made with fresh lime juice and Q Grapefruit, a grapefruit soda that is, for once, not cloyingly sweet. Apparently there were appetizers passed around too: barbajuans, Monaco’s equivalent to a fried samosa, stuffed with short rib, swiss chard, and parmesan, agnolotti with pumpkin, ricotta salata, and guanciale, and chickpea croquettes. Thanks to the infamously congested I-95, I missed that.
By the way, this could be a lovely evening. Just this: a night at the bar, with soft lighting, a peek at Brazilian artist’s Vik Munoz colorful collage art, surrounded by elegant and global folk who’ll geek out over a good tabouli.
But luckily for me, there’s more to come.
We are seated in the main dining area. What used to be Boulud’s db Moderne space has been completely changed, not only in menu but in its appearance as well. The place is bright, airy, and minimalist, with light hues contrasted by a fun Morroccan-inspired tile floor. But who’s looking down when food begins to arrive in droves? Mezze, which included spicy Moroccan hummus, babaganoush, muhammara (Aleppan hot pepper dip), and tzatziki come first. A waiter quietly places a rectangular board of lamb flatbread. It comes dotted with roasted eggplant and yogurt with pomegranate seeds sprinkled like sparkling rubies on top.
Lamb flatbread with eggplant, pine nuts, and yogurt.
Wines were offered courtesy of Zonin, Italian winemakers with nine wineries throughout Italy, beginning in the north and heading all the way to Sicily in the south. It was plentiful and quite impressive, and I enjoyed using my newly-achieved sommelier skills from the WSET Level 1 class I graduated from just the day before (remember, aerate the wine in your mouth!)
Masseria Altemura, Primitivo Salento
But truly, there is a reason food-lovers bow down to the great chef Daniel Boulud time and time again. Here, under the careful stewardship of executive chef Clark Bowen, Mediterranean magic happens as each dish presented hit the mark.
Boulud Sud’s mastery of fish.
There was a seared mediterranean branzino, cooked to perfection, that was absolutely divine, followed by chicken tagine that arrived in its namesake earthenware pot.
Chicken tagine with couscous, cauliflower, and turnips.
Sides included cauliflower tabbouleh made with za’atar, mint, and fig as well as patatas bravas coated in thick smoked red pepper sauce that I am doomed to crave from now on.
…and then, dessert.
Yes there was dessert.
Yes I made room.
Because those who know me know I will always make room.
Apple chiboust with mastic gum ice cream.
Saeko Nemoto is the humble executive pastry chef producing some sweet home runs. When I was a little girl visiting my Aunt Miriam on Rehov Rambam in Jerusalem, she’d pull out a few shekels from her change purse and hand them to my sister and together we’d run to the corner kiosk to buy some mastic. It was a glorious five minutes of independence we’d relish, always awarded by a pack or two of our favorite gum. Boulud Sud almost topped that memory (almost, sis, almost) when I was presented with his apple chiboust served with, what else but mastic gum ice cream!
Turns out chocolate, coffee, and architecture go very well.
An architectural coffee and chocolate cube arrived, looking too pretty to eat (I got over that) as well as a Sicilian cassata, and, true to any Mediterranean feast, a plateful of baklava.
Throughout the evening Sara and Maude greeted their guests as a festive, communal, and intimate culinary atmosphere filled the entire restaurant. The irritation from the bumper-to-bumper hour-plus long ride south was a faint memory now. People are full and happy, but already anticipating the club’s gathering next month. “At the Besty” Sara confirms, revealing no more information than that. Details are secondary at this point, eventually Saffron Supper Club enthusiasts will find out. There will be exquisite food, drink, and engaging company. That’s the one hard fact guests can count on right now.
Preparing dinner can present itself as a challenge with kids bearing opposing tastes, as, you guessed it, what one loves the other tends to hate. Now that the Girl is away at college, (okay, a 45-minute drive from home) her arrival home for the occasional weekend presents itself as a full-blown celebration, which, of course, includes at least one home cooked favorite.
The Boy, cursed with three more years of high school, may curl a lip.
“Steak!” the Girl may inevitably proclaim, when asked what dish she’d like me to pamper her with.
“Steak?” Is the rebuttal coming from the other side of the room. “I don’t like meat,” may come next.
(Please note that “meat” excludes bacon in any format, cheeseburgers, and spaghetti bolognese.)
“With pepper!”, college girl will proceed, now fueled by her little brother’s protest.
“Moooooooom! Too spicy! No mom!” The response immediately bounces back.
I’m the net in the middle of a tennis match between Roger Federer and [insert whomever Roger is beating at the moment.]
“Guys, guys, come on!” I may squeal, though Switzerland is always overheard.
“FISH!” Boy will announce, just to get the mood going. He knows what comes next.
You may not.
So allow me to tell you something:
GIRL HATES FISH.
(Please note that “fish” excludes any type of sushi, especially the super duper expensive sushi rolls with foie gras, black truffles, and Beluga caviar.)
“Fiiiiiiiiiiiiiish?????” she squeals, biting the bait. “I haaaaaate fish! MOOOOM!!!!!”
It always comes down to this: Mom.
Both look at me then and there. It’s match point. Who will win?
Really, boy has a little grin, the kind only moms can see in their children. That little grin speaks volumes. It speaks of a brother just messing with his sister, because perhaps, only perhaps (because I don’t want to put words in anyone’s mouths) he missed her a teensy bit. Especially this part. The part where he teases and taunts her and pokes her buttons the way he only knows how.
It’s a quick moment of eye exchanges over at this family Wimbledon match. The girl’s look softens. I watch her and still wonder how this girl, whom I remember walking around with a baguette that was practically her size, is now in college flourishing into a young adult.
“It’s okay, Mom, make something everyone wants,” she manages to say, just barely, but does. Her brother, on cue, joins with “I don’t really care. Steak is just fine.”
I make the steak, because, quite frankly, I am the one in charge. I add the peppercorns, rubbing them well into the meat before searing it in a hot cast iron pan. For good measure I’ll throw in a good old-fashion Cognac cream sauce, because that goes deliriously well with a rare ribeye. Everyone eats it, quietly, which is how you know you’ve won the match.
Just as I got used to the weird, off-balance silence of having one kid in college, she came back. And Husband. And teenage son (from school, that is.) They all stayed at home one day. And then the next and then the next. Days passed huddling around the television watching the news, hearing panicked-yet-professional reports from newscasters and meteorologist about this catastrophic growing (and staying strong!) storm called Irma:
We were doomed. Florida was going underwater, after everything got blown away to bits, Big Bad Wolf style.
One of my sisters took her dog, got in the car, and headed north. Way north. D.C. I-ain’t-taking-no-chances north. So did 1.3 million other Floridians- the biggest evacuation in the state’s history.
I can’t say I blame them. After all, mandatory evacuations had been issued to 8 counties. Anchormen had taken off their jackets and rolled up their sleeves, quite literally. Our pretty, statuesque meteorologist, Lissette, suddenly looked pail, her lower lip slightly quivered. She mentioned having slept over at the station. She mentioned missing her pretty daughters, the ones she always posted on Instagram wearing matching sundresses. She mentioned her husband putting hurricane shutters OVER their hurricane-proof windows.
I have hurricane-proof windows.
When we remodeled the house sixteen years ago, it was the single most expensive investment. Burly men carried bunker-sturdy panels of double glass while chatting to each other in Italian in between puffs of unfiltered Camels. I remember being impressed by their coordination: the lifting, the walking, the talking, and the smoking. The fact that it was in a Romance language certainly elevated the experience. And the sharp jaws, all lined with stubble before stubble became chic. That seemed part of their uniform.
“You no worry, miss. You and de baby will be so safe with dees now,” Vitto promised. De baby was my soon-to-be-born son, who’d turned my belly into a sphere freak show.
I knew Vitto by name because he was the one always fucking things up.
“Fai attenzione, Vitto!”
“Vitto! Non lasciare cadere il bicchiere, per amore di Dio!”
“Lentamente…lentamente….No più lento, Vitto! No!!!”
Ya, you had to feel a bit sorry for Vitto, really.
But even though he wasn’t as skilled in the hurricane-glass installation business as his brothers (I assumed they were brothers, they all had the same gorgeous eyes) they seemed not minding having him around. He knew the best jokes, or, at least, fool-proof ways to make the others break into unbridled laughter. His English was apparently the most advanced, so aside from encouraging phrases directed at my belly (“is gonna be a stronga boy, eh? Molto forte!”) he also explained the lock mechanisms, the screen system, and other critical information one would need to know in the event of a hurricane.
Like the one barreling towards South Florida now.
It had been a while but I decided to trust Vitto and his brothers. Irmageddon was approaching. I had water. I had batteries. And I had faith in Italian craftsmanship.
It turned out I also had a lot of free time waiting for the storm to make landfall. So I baked. And I cooked.
Peanut butter cookies, brownies, cumin-marinated chicken and orange-infused pork tenderloin. There was also plenty, and I mean plenty, of pasta. That bump Vitto pointed at is now a constantly ravishing fifteen-year old boy. Pasta is a favorite of his and he is quite flexible with what goes in it. Pesto, seafood, bolognese, and vongole are top picks, but for all the Irma craziness, which thankfully only took a few beloved trees, I found comfort in a classic basic spaghetti al pomodoro. Sometimes the sweetest and simplest things are the ones that help make us feel safe, happy and molto forte.
It turns out it doesn’t matter if your college-bound kids moves away to a school the distance it would take to toast a pop tart or to a university half way around the world- the growing pains of leaving home remain the same.
My daughter, who will be an assuring 45 minutes away and already “left” for summer term, is back after a brief one-week break and preparing now to head back for the fall.
The days are quite consistent: an odd mix of excitement and nerves, anxiety and empowerment, denial and overthinking about what the whole thing entails. And that’s from the two of us.
She may wake up wanting mommy to fix her a full-blown sunshine breakfast, the kind I used to make when she was seven. I’d quickly fry up an egg and slice pieces of buttered toast into rectangles that I’d then place around it, creating my overeasy masterpiece. If I were truly crafty, I would have, should have, cut out the whites, leaving the yolk as the sun’s core, then floated the whites above as drifting clouds. But my daughter was always so thrilled with my lazy version that I never bothered to upgrade.
Other times I am the one hurridly trying to shove last minute parental lessons down her throat, as if I were Tevye bidding my daughter farewell, never to meet again. “Make sure to make eye contact and say thank you whenever someone holds the door. Don’t forget a firm handshake. Always handwrite a thank you note, I don’t care if everyone else just texts.”
We fight. Constantly. In the parking lot of the supermarket. Rushing to Target for last minute lotions. Or sitting across from each other at the dinner table.
Then clumsily, we find our way back to an apology, always with a hug, a joke, a laugh, a peek at our iPhones to see what the latest craziness has appeared on Twitter. And life goes on.
I had lunch with a friend, who is in the midst of driving her son to college far away, who reminded me with a tinge of fear and an ocean of sadness in her eyes that things will never be the same. We sat and picked on our salads at a café trying to grasp the idea of empty nesting, that not understood identity that hovered very close by, just days away.
“I still have the boy,” I joked to lighten the mood, referring to my teenage son still at home. But we both knew that would not be for much longer. That just as we’d blinked and gone from overwhelmed first-time mothers we now sat, a little worse for wear, staring at our Nicoise, wondering where the hell the time went.
We assured ourselves everything would be okay. One way or another. Because it will. Because it must. Because, as we’ve told each other and our children, we have done our best, perhaps not a perfect job, but what is life without a little imperfection, a little stumbling, a heated argument followed by a heartfelt apology, and of course, a deliciously simple, comforting breakfast. Just remember to always hand write a thank you letter, never send a text.
People tell me it’s my fault, but I swear to you she was born that way. How else does one explain an 18-month old pushing away the apple juice, the milk, heck, the chocolate milk, and insisting, sorry, demanding, the Perrier?
“No puede ser,” stunned friends visiting our Florida home from Venezuela would comment as they watched my daughter’s plump fingers clasp the bottle and chug chug chug the fizzy imported content in one gulp.
“Why not a jugo de guayaba or a merengada de cambur?“worried relatives would suggest, reminding me of all the fresh guava juices and banana milkshakes I grew up on in Caracas.
My daughter would have none of that. She’d only have Perrier. Which meant Husband and I would make many visits to Costco, where one could most affordably buy it by the caseload.
I’ll admit, there was a distorted sense of pride in this newly-forming upscale palate. But of course, as things that are newly-forming tend to do, it grew stronger and, hmmm, more upscale.
Soon she discovered prosciutto. And not just any prosciutto, prosciutto di Parma. Because what’s a mother to do but only give her daughter the best? After that, it was foie gras. Foie gras in any shape or form: pan seared, torchon, terrine. As long as there was an endless supply, our toddler was happy.
“Remember the foie gras we served at our wedding,” Husband beamed, nudging me at a dimly light, quiet restaurant where even seasoned waiters were in awe of their young guest’s sophisticated taste. Our daughter sat focused and content, gobbling her serving and then mine before waiting eagerly for the grilled octopus that came next.
So…maybe we are a bit to blame. Some may call us enablers. We managed, oh heck, okay, bragged about it at playdates (“no, she hates peanut butter and jelly, but, by golly, give her quail eggs and she won’t stop eating!”)
It was only a matter of time before my daughter discovered caviar. She loved the whole prep work involved: mincing up hard boiled eggs and onion and serving them in separate bowls with tiny mother of pearl spoons. The baby toasts bowled her over as did the blini, Russian pancakes with which the delicacy is traditionally served. But after trying out all the accompaniments, she did what she always does, went straight for the good stuff, quietly pulling the tin of caviar closer to her and double-timing the scoops, working rather proficiently to snag the last roe.
She’s eighteen now and those habits haven’t changed a bit. If anything, she’s developed a keener radar to the more expensive tastes in life, something her father and I can’t help but glow with pride over, even if our wallets may keep getting skinnier.
National Caviar Day is this Tuesday, July 18th, and as a tribute some of Miami’s hotspots are celebrating the day with specials for those with fancy tastes. Seaspice will be offering Hokkaido Scallop Tartare on a bed of crispy bamboo rice topped with Ossetra caviar ($24), LaMuse Café , housed inside the chic Avant Gallery, is upping an American comfort classic with their Dora’s Deviled Eggs with Caviar ($18). If you want to people-watch and eat like a celeb, head over to Villa Azur for modestly-priced caviar specials such as lobster rolls: scallions, shallots, chives, dice radish, mayonnaise, yuzu sauce and finished with Kaluga caviar ($25).