Miami’s Best Kept Culinary Secrets Are Back

by Ryan @ MRPR on February 15, 2011

All pictures courtesy of Anna Elena Brana.

Over a year ago, I wrote this post asking if anyone knew what Chef Jeffrey Brana was up to.  The title of the post is a witty Ferris Bueller reference.  In other words, I have convinced myself that I’m very, very clever.  In any event, I wrote that post because I missed Jeffrey’s cooking, which I experienced first at Restaurant Brana and then at a dinner party in his “Kiss My Pork Butt” dinner series, and I missed his and his wife’s hospitality.  Enjoying a dinner created and executed by Jeffrey and Anna Elena Brana was a unique Miami experience.

Flash forward over a year later.  I’ll wait.  …  One day, in response to that post, I got an email from Anna ,who was nice enough to answer the question of what she and her husband were up to.  After that, we stayed in touch and exchanged emails every so often.  And then recently, for my 30th birthday party and in anticipation of the launch of a new dinner series that will be open to the public, Jeffrey and Anna invited me and several of my friends to dinner.

But first, a quick bit of history.  Prior to Restaurant Brana, where I first got a taste of Jeffrey’s cooking, he made a name for himself at Norman’s (the original, not the 180), where he worked with Anna.  After leaving Norman’s, the two opened up Restaurant Brana in the Gables, a sophisticated dining experience that has yet to be replicated in Miami (and if MRPR existed back then, a top-3 restaurant for sure).  And then after that, the couple began hosting the Kiss Your Pork Butt dinner series (I’ve mentioned those dinners in passing once before but never really gave them the credit they deserve).  As the name implies, these dinners were lots of fun, casual but with sophisticated food, and of course the wine was always flowing.

Over the last year or two, Jeffrey has been working with some of the farms in Homestead.  Meanwhile, both he and his wife have been working on launching Cancer Connections, a charity aimed at improving the lives of individuals with cancer.  Read more about Jeffrey on his website and more about Cancer Connections here.

Needless to say, I considered myself quite lucky to be invited to this dinner party.  How did I show my appreciation, you ask?  By bringing along friends with very divergent–even contradictory–dietary restrictions.  It’s as if I was unwittingly setting up an obstacle course, a 10.0 degree of difficulty, which Chef Brana navigated with ease.  The diners included a pescetarian (or is that pesky-tarian), two kosher eaters (no milk and meat, only fish with scales and fins, that sort of thing), and one who is allergic to shellfish and doesn’t eat most fish.  But nevermind that.  Even with one hand tied behind his back, Jeffrey turned out nine (nine!) courses that showcased his skills.

Here is the menu (there was an alternate menu for the non-fish-eater, but I’ll stick to describing the primary menu):

Cobia Escabeche, Tomato Jus, Celery, Onion, Pepper

Salt-Roasted Beets, Sheep’s Milk Yogurt, Mustard Greens and Mizuna

Sungold Tomato Risotto

Snapper, Braised Leek, Zucchini-Pepper Relish

Cobia, Carrots Turnips and Radish cooked in Laurel, Katsuobushi

Sweet Grass Dairy “Green Hill”, Thoughts of the pasture (honey, flowers and soft greens)

Carambola, Zuccherini sotto Grappa allo Zenzaro

Chocolate Terrine, Knaus Berry Farm Strawberries and a birthday candle

A Variety of Macarons from L’Atelier Gourmet

Since this was a birthday dinner with friends and lots (lots and lots) of wine, I’ll paint with broad strokes in describing the dinner.  In other words, I didn’t have my blogger hat on.  (Editor’s note: My blogger hat is a sombrero.)

First, the quality of the ingredients.  It was like eating on the farm, or the minute you bring home the CSA box from Bee Heaven Farms or Teena’s Pride, when you pop it open and just start to cook.   It was so fresh that my mother washed its mouth out with soap.

Jeffrey also talks passionately about where he sources his ingredients, both from the farms and also from local and regional artisans.  He introduced us to Sweet Grass Dairy’s cheeses (from Georgia, just over the state line from Florida), as well as L’Atelier Gourmet’s incredible macarons (fresh from Pinecrest!).  Next time I lose a bet and have to go to Pinecrest, I’m swinging by L’Atelier Gourmet for sure.

Second up, the technique.  Jeffrey Brana cooks with precision.  His style evokes fine dining and it is a level of sophistication that is somewhat absent from the Miami dining scene.  And Anna provided the dessert, a chocolate terrine that is every bit the equal of the savory courses, served alongside compressed and macerated strawberries.  Those Knaus Berry Farms strawberries were so good that I immediately signed myself up on a fetish website for people who like to be compressed and macerated (or as I tell people now, I’m into C&M).

Jeffrey and Anna are already hard at work on next Saturday’s menu.  Stay tuned to Jeffrey’s website and, even if it takes two years of stalking him on your food blog, make sure you get a chance to experience his cooking.  You won’t be disappointed.

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