Sidedish

Flashy renovations

The Albion Hotel, owned by the Rubell family, has finally taken the plywood off the windows of Mayya, the boutique hotel's signature Mexican restaurant. TV talk show host Cristina Saralegui handled the ribbon-cutting duties during its recent opening. Fortunately, despite the heat of 400 bodies packed into the two-story eatery to watch her play with scissors, the smoke alarms didn't go off, not like they did during a brunch hosted by the Miami City Ballet's artistic director Edward Villella and his wife Linda just a few days earlier in the hotel's banquet room. At Mayya the coolest place to hang out was actually in the kitchen, where nationally known chefs Charlie Trotter from Charlie Trotter's in Chicago and his protégé, our very own Norman Van Aken of Norman's, as well as Mayya executive chef Guillermo Téllez (who also worked under Trotter), gave minilectures to an eager crowd. The admiring group included former Jada chef-proprietor Jake Klein. Klein, son of Mayya's publicist Barbara Raichlen, admitted he's in the market for a property. Wonder if Trotter has any ideas? Van Aken and Trotter, meanwhile, along with five other internationally heralded chefs, are collaborating on VINAFFAIR, a dinner and fine-wine auction to be held at The Four Seasons Hotel in Chicago. Proceeds benefit the American Cancer Society and are expected to approach $500,000.

Norman's reopens for lunch this week, but don't try to get in at 21 Almeria Avenue. That's because Van Aken is serving the midday meal at his newest installation, Norman's Next Door, which is located at 25 Almeria Avenue. Van Aken promises a casual atmosphere, ten to fourteen wines by the glass, bistro prices (yeah, we'll see about that), and -- get this -- a takeout menu. What's next, Norm, delivery? Meanwhile, in other Next Door news, Jonathan Eismann, chef-proprietor of Pacific Time, is considering when to reopen his Pacific Time Next Door. It's not 100 percent certain, his manager says, but early December could be the launch date.

The Miami Herald's dining section has got it backward as usual: The mid-September review of Cheeky Monkey in Merv Griffin's Blue Moon Hotel has the place pegged as "casual dining." I find appetizers that range from $8.95 to $11.95; entrées that peak over the $20 mark; and desserts that mostly come in at $8 to be something of a stretch for the Every Diner's wallet. By The Herald's rating system, entrées that cost between $15 and $20 earn the restaurant $$$, which should disqualify it for casual dining. But then, the daily paper has never been one for consistency. Places like Perricone's ($$), and Gio Cafe ($) are listed as fine dining, while restaurants such as -- whaddaya know? -- Perricone's and Gio Cafe are also listed under casual dining. Perricone's even merits two different capsules and ratings: As fine dining it's considered "Very Good," as casual dining it's just plain "Good."

•It's all relative at Casa Bacardi, located in Miami International Airport's Terminal E. That's where Ivan Trinidad, cousin to flyweight boxing champ Felix Trinidad, throws some mean punches of his own -- via the mojito. Trinidad, who's as proud of his mix-master methods as he is of his Puerto Rican heritage, crushes the mint leaves in the glass before adding his homemade "simple syrup," comprising water and sugar, to sweeten the rum. The Forgetake note: At the recent Café Nolstalgia grand-opening party, which featured complimentary mojitos, the bartenders at the Hemingway and Benny Moré bars were throwing straight sugar into the glass.

Kvetch: While we're on the subject of The Forge's latest addition, allow me to pass on a warning. In the handicapped stall of the ladies' room, there's a mysterious door in the wall. Don't open it, if you're so inclined (as I was), until you're decent: It leads into the showcase window that fronts the street.

 
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