Chefs Who Stick to Us

I haven't heard about the 1998 harvest, but 1996 and 1997 were banner years for ice wine. The stuff was all over the place in Toronto, Canada, where I recently sampled several superior vintages from local wineries. I was thrilled to find a press release from Pacific Time awaiting me on my return home, advertising Eismann's pairing of Eiswein with appetizers and entrees, rather than the more standard desserts.

Money, along with weather, can also be a factor. The Forster Jesuitengarten Riesling Eiswein costs $30 for a 375-milliliter glass: That's about ten bucks per sip. Other brands are less expensive, but savoring a glass with every course can seriously inflate an already high bill.

Eismann's right, though, about Eiswein's lingering perfumes of pear and coconut; they go surprisingly well with his cinnamon-grilled squab, which was rubbed with peppercorns, layered over a subgum noodle pancake, and doused with a shiitake-port-sake sauce that rivals the wine for sweetness. And a slightly more syrupy zinfandel late harvest from Norman Vineyards complemented immensely the ginger-scallion pancake stuffed with Chinese duck, shiitake mushrooms, and wok-sauteed vegetables.

But those recommendations don't serve diners unless they know about them. I suggest offering a special degustation menu pairing the wines with the fare. That way the guesswork is taken out of the meal, and guests can be properly introduced to a wonderful new way to drink Eiswein in the dead heat of summer.

Unlike Norman Van Aken and Jonathan "Eiswein" Eismann, Donna Wynter may not be as familiar a name to Miamians. She soon will be. Born in Jamaica and trained, among other places, at the French Culinary Institute in New York, Wynter moved to Miami in 1987. She started her career here at the Hotel Intercontinental's Pavillon Grill before becoming executive chef at the Biltmore Hotel's Il Ristorante in 1992. She was again in charge when that eatery changed focus and became La Palme d'Or, which invites visiting Michelin-star chefs from France to cook once per month.

This past winter, however, Wynter lowered her profile and moved to the Biltmore's "little sister," the David William Hotel on Biltmore Way in Coral Gables. She opened her own gourmet store and restaurant called Donna's (not to be confused with Sweet Donna's, the country store and restaurant run by Pascal Oudin, another chef whom I admire), which is characterized by a cozy bar/reading room that entices diners to relax for a few moments before entering the dining room.

Donna's Continental bistro cuisine, a good step away from the fancy fare at La Palme d'Or, is simplified but not simple, with entree prices just slightly below the $20 mark. The menu offers a handful of dishes that rely on the purity of ingredients like Florida avocado and hearts of palm combined in a salad plate and dressed with ruby-red grapefruit vinaigrette, which preceded an entree of beautifully translucent sea bass. Fragrant starters such as the supple baby calamari, sauteed with lime, ancho chili, capers, and grilled heirloom tomatoes, also paved the way for slightly more complex main courses, including a juicy roasted veal chop that had been stuffed with mozzarella and risotto, then brushed with a pungent caponata sauce.

Walking into Donna's, decorated like a Williams-Sonoma store, was like coming across an old friend in the supermarket: one who has stayed put in Miami and changed our culinary world for the better.

Norman's
21 Almeria Ave, Coral Gables; 305-446-6767.

Pacific Time
915 Lincoln Rd, Miami Beach; 305-534-5979.

Donna's
700 Biltmore Way, Coral Gables; 305-445-7821.

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