Although they acknowledge that the new Miami cuisine is generally very good, Richman and others say they may have overblown the phenomenon at first blush. "It's like, 'Look at how many snappy ingredients we can put on this plate,'" says Merrill Shindler, a restaurant critic for L.A.'s top-rated talk-radio station KABC. "So you tend to have a cuisine that reads great but you can't figure out what the heck it's about." Shindler says he hopes that as attention shifts away from Miami -- as it inevitably must -- the cuisine will improve. "People have jumped all over it and praised it beyond reason. Meanwhile, no one has had time to develop. All these heads are swollen. They think they can walk on water, wave their hand and part the Red Sea, and all that."

"Like all artistic movements in their infancy, a lot of what they do is overeager and adolescent," comments Richard Sax, a New York-based columnist for Bon Appetit and the author of several cookbooks. "I think they're being too creative. At one restaurant I had a fish drowned in salsa and sauce and garlic mayonnaise and tropical-fish chutney. I think there's too much going on. The problem is what one local chef down there called 'bringing too much to the party.' I think a lot of these things wouldn't fly in a city that had many more good restaurants."

While the pundits anticipate a maturation of Miami's new cooking style (and indeed last year the James Beard Award Committee in New York named Mark Militello the best chef in the Southeast), they don't hold out as much optimism for South Beach's evolution beyond its current status as a dining carnival with mediocre food and service. "They all seem to be purely concept restaurants, thought up to appeal to a certain crowd," says John Mariani, food and travel correspondent for Esquire and restaurant columnist for Travel & Leisure. "If that crowd is Gianni Versaces and Madonnas and models, good food or fine food is not really something you need to have. If you don't expect good food, it's not going to be very good."

Bon Appetit's Richard Sax expects that the Beach's sybaritic ethos may continue to govern its restaurant scene, even as standards of service and food rise in other parts of the region. "Food in South Beach is more trendy attitude than real sustenance," he says. "Trashiness: that's part of the scene; you don't come to South Beach for transcendental dining. Frankly, I don't think the clientele really cares."

Says Norman Van Aken: "I think it's going to have to move a little bit away from this -- its cheap charm being its up-to-the-moment hipness. It's going to need a little bit more longevity. Especially on the Beach, restaurants set themselves up to be here for two years, and that's the length of time they're looking at. There's never going to be real depth to the food or to the service, because you'll never develop the staff with the ability to turn it out.

"It will be a circus show, and that's going to be fine for a lot of people. But for Miami Beach to matter five or ten years from now, there's got to be people that make the type of commitment that transcends those get-rich-quick facades."

"The Beach to me is not about dining," adds Steven Raichlen, a Miami-based syndicated food columnist and cookbook writer. "I find that all the food could come from the same commissary. There's the obligatory tuna with sesame seed, the obligatory salmon with braised leeks. What the Beach is about is making money.

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