By David Minsky
By Jen Mangham
By Bill Wisser
By Laine Doss
By Bill Wisser
By Dana De Greff
By Laine Doss
By Zachary Fagenson
In case fish ain't your dish, the Grille bakes mighty good pizzas. We crunched through a whole-wheat crust spread with herbed goat cheese, caramelized onions, leaf spinach sauteed with garlic, and roasted pine nuts. And dessert carries not a whiff of the sea, though it can be aromatic: Chocolate decadence, a smooth fudgy torte, was perched on rich coffee-flavor caramel and covered with real whipped cream.
Mike Gordon Seafood Restaurant
1201 NE 79th St.; 751-4429. Open daily from noon to 10:00 p.m.
Applied to a restaurant, the word institution is enough to give me indigestion. I generally avoid places that are referred to as such. Yet that's exactly what Mike Gordon is -- a veritable institution that has survived a debilitating hurricane in 1965, a destructive fire in 1968, and the 1993 passing of its namesake founder. And I don't avoid it, for several reasons: the genteel seafood house atmosphere; the picture windows overlooking Biscayne Bay, where accommodating tarpon swarm in the water and pelicans perch on pilings, all of them looking for scraps; the saltwater tanks holding Maine lobster; and the significantly fresh local catches. Mike Gordon dubs itself "a touch of Cape Cod on Biscayne Bay," and though the restaurant opened in 1946 as a bait shop that expanded to serve local fish and Florida lobster, in 1996 that's no lie.
Oyster stew is available made with milk or with half-and-half; we went for the thinner version, which self-respecting Mainers and Cape Codders swear by. This large bowl featured six satiny oysters, large enough to pillow over the edges of the soup spoon. The milky broth, pooling with butter, was bland and unsatisfying, even after having been dosed with a huge quantity of salt and pepper. What it really needed was an infusion of oyster liquor and a dash each of Worcestershire sauce and sherry. Another northeastern favorite, an appetizer of steamed littlenecks, fared better. These flavorful little nuggets were delicious dipped in drawn butter.
Dungeness crab, a special of the day, took us from East to West. A good-size portion, the two clusters of crab (four legs and a section of the body on each) were soft-shelled and easily cracked. We dipped the meat from these in butter, though the rich texture of the flesh hardly required it. They could have used some more steaming, however: We were disappointed to encounter several still-defrosting spots.
Clearly, black grouper had not ever been frozen. The thick fillet, served grilled on a toasted bun, was juicy and hearty and was complimented by a delicious tartar sauce. Cole slaw stocked with celery seed, and a side of broccoli, brightened up the plate. (French fries, or yellow rice enlivened by chick peas and bits of bell pepper, are options for those allergic to vitamins.)
For dessert, homemade key lime pie is a quivery, high-meringue version.
Tani Guchi's Place
2224 NE 123rd St., North Miami; 892-6744. Lunch Monday -- Friday from 11:45 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. Dinner Monday -- Saturday from 6:00 to 11:00 p.m. (Friday and Saturday until midnight), and Sunday from 5:00 to 10:00 p.m.
Every staff member shouts "Hi!" when you walk into this friendly neighborhood joint. Some of the customers do too; most of the people who dine here seem to be regulars, known to the waiters as well as to each other. The reason for this familiarity is obvious. Celebrating six years in this Sans Souci Plaza East location, Tani Guchi's is the premier Japanese restaurant in North Miami.
Part of what makes the Place so compelling is its daily list of fresh fish preparations. We ordered a calamari appetizer from the special board, and it was fantastic, rings of squid coated in light teriyaki sauce and covered with sauteed mushrooms sliced thin as lace. Sections of portobello mushrooms also capped the calamari, which was supple and plentiful.
Gleaned from the written menu, an unexpectedly large portion of shrimp tempura was another satisfying starter. Two shrimp coated in a fluffy, bubbled tempura batter were stunningly fresh and grease-free. Hefty slices of sweet potato and zucchini, plus a shredded onion-and-carrot fritter, gave body to the dish, while a side of dipping sauce garnished with freshly grated ginger gave it flavor. We asked our server for the secret to this tempting tempura, and she told us it was the degree of heat to which the oil was subjected, a temperature that can only be achieved on a gas stove.
A main course special, tuna sauteed with vegetables, was the best cooked dish I've had in a Japanese restaurant. Our waitress described this as steaklike medallions cooked medium-rare. She got two out of three. These were steaklike, juicy and hearty, and they were a beautiful sunset-red. But three gigantic sections of tuna steak could hardly be deemed mere medallions. Marinated grilled eggplant and zucchini, plus a pile of sauteed shredded cabbage and carrots, were heaped atop the tuna. A side of sticky white rice, a bowl of miso soup, and a serving of crisp house salad with sweet ginger dressing made this monstrous meal so enticing that we felt sad and guilty for being unable to finish.
Of course, the truest test of any Japanese restaurant is the quality of its sushi and sashimi. As the Tani Guchi menu states, sometimes the best way to cook a fish is not to cook it. And the restaurant rose to the occasion, serving a beautifully designed bowl of churashi (mixed sashimi over mounds of vinegared rice). A veritable color wheel, this platter contained pieces of tuna, snapper, shrimp, salmon, conch, omelet, a fan of thinly sliced cucumber, shreds of seaweed, and two sections each of California roll (crab and avocado) and tekka roll (tuna).