Another Year Devoured

May again. Matteo & Alfredo sparked a revolution of sorts when it opened in Surfside, an area dominated by similar family-run, homemade-pasta joints. Only this one's a little different: Asia helps out here, lending character to sea scallops with wasabi-tinged flying fish roe, to beef carpaccio with bamboo shoots, to tuna carpaccio with oyster sauce. Fish lasagna, flavored with ginger and topped with a creamy bechamel sauce, vies with ricotta gnocchi sauced with a lemon-zested veal ragu. For tradition or invention, chef-partners Matteo Giuffrida and Alfredo Alvarez, who used to enjoy the relationship of teacher (Giuffrida) and student (Alvarez), both earn A's.

June. I porked out at Porcao in downtown Miami and didn't regret a mouthful. This rodizio ranch has an extensive salad bar that includes a whole leg of prosciutto and a bowl of pickled quail eggs. Fill up on that, then flip over a color-coded card from red to green. This signals waiters carrying skewers of luscious meats to come over to your table and slice away. Bacon-wrapped turkey and filet mignon, pork sausage, lamb, flank steak, and even chicken hearts all tumble from sword to plate with the flick of a carving knife. The good news: Only desserts are a la carte; everything else is included in a $26.50 price tag.

July. Biscayne Boulevard construction forced Paquito's in North Miami to close and relocate nearby in the corner of a new strip mall. But neither the duress nor the seven months' interruption of business hurt the food any. Homey, spicy salsas and pico de gallo; cheesy nachos and quesadillas; meaty, marinated salpicon (shredded beef) salad; and char-grilled carne asada are all reasons for the clientele to remain faithful. In fact, though it's grown from 90 to 260 seats, it can still be difficult to grab a table.

Location Info

Map

Astor Place

Hotel Astor, 956 Washington Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Hotels and Resorts

Region: South Beach

Mercury Resort

100 Collins Ave.
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Hotels and Resorts

Region: South Beach

Paquito's Mexican Restaurant

16265 Biscayne Blvd.
Sunny Isles Beach, FL 33160

Category: Restaurant > Mexican

Region: North Dade

Porcao Steakhouse

801 Brickell Bay Drive
Miami, FL 33131-2952

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: Downtown/Overtown

Two Chefs

8287 S. Dixie Highway
South Miami, FL 33143

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: South Dade

Yuca

501 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Bars and Clubs

Region: South Beach

August. Food may not always be entertainment enough, as proved by the talented singing waitstaff at Bravo! on Collins Avenue in North Miami Beach. Arias, expertly sung, ease the digestion of offbeat New American dishes conducted by chef Lawrence Wells. Roasted sweetbreads on a licorice satay, quail over watercress, rabbit curry braised with cumin, and venison loin with brambleberry sauce are rich and gamy; ceviche langostino and snapper with roasted pearl onions may be lighter but are equally show stopping. Love the singing-waiter concept or leave it -- but be sure to get takeout if the latter is the case.

September. Max's South Beach transmogrified into Mercury, under the direction of new owner Kenneth Jaworski. Chef Kerry Simon stayed on at first, fine-tuning his modern menu with select Eastern European influences, but he recently left the establishment; manager Michael Ward cites "creative differences" between Simon and Jaworski as the main reason. Chef de cuisine Marc Gruverman, who trained under Simon at both Max's and Mercury, is now running the kitchen, though Ward admits the restaurant is "investigating the possibilities" as far as executive chef goes. Meanwhile, the menu stays relatively the same: duck-filled pierogi, caviar pie, steamers, and roasted pepper soup for starters. Steaks with pommes frites or marinated in teriyaki sauce and served with wasabi mashed potatoes are mandatory main courses, as are a smoked pork tenderloin with stewed Granny Smith apples and lemon-chicken sausage scattered over rich risotto accented with broccoli rabe. Not hungry? Sip a silken martini at the in-house Hg bar and your appetite will jack up like quicksilver.

October. South Miami got its first real gourmet restaurant with Two Chefs, courtesy of co-owners Jan Jorgensen and Soren Bredahl, who also operate the adjoining cooking school. A wood-burning oven turns out fragrant pizzas, tartlets topped with snails, and Maine lobster-meat cassoulets. For the most part, the fare here is one-dish and seasonal, as good-looking as a display ad but much, much tastier. Look for fish or oxtail with Caribbean accents to complement the roasted game that frequently appears, and make sure to order your dessert souffle at the beginning of the meal.

November. A scaled-down Pacific Time, Pacific Heights nonetheless gave Coral Gables a lift when it opened a couple of months ago. Less Asian-influenced (the menu even offers macaroni and cheese) but no less skillfully prepared fare has a regional focus, with a host of independent and local purveyors contributing fresh goods to the mix. Organic salads with goat cheese, gazpacho with yellow pepper coulis, and steamed Costa Rican hearts of palm and leeks are refreshing appetizers. Main courses include pepper-encrusted strip steak with tamarind ketchup, a teriyaki-marinated portobello mushroom cap, black grouper Szechuan, and sake-braised sea bass. For those who think the light stuff sounds better for lunch, Pacific Heights now serves midday.

December. Back to South Beach for Savannah, a brand-new Southern fried experience where the chicken is boned before it's battered and hush puppies are stuffed with filet mignon. Mashed yams, pork chops, collard greens, even corn bread and biscuits are satisfying reinventions of familiar favorites. Sure the fare can be fattening, but unlike the majority of SoBe restaurants, this beautifully designed dining room has a soul as well as looks. I just reviewed this place and already I'm plotting to go back.

December. Another recent review, this one from December 19, yielded Bocca di Rosa in Coconut Grove, an Italian restaurant at once regional and sophisticated, with a warmly welcoming staff. Interesting is the key word here -- starters range from raw fish dipped in Sterno-warmed garlic butter to potato-mushroom puree garnished with rose petals, while entrees cover all categories with filets, game birds, and catches of the day. Pastas, particularly gnocchi and ravioli, are spectacular, as are desserts. And the wine list, arranged by region, may well be the only one in town that's exclusively Italian.

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