Tale of Four Cities

Dining Out

Why the local inflation? That midrange Miami restaurants “charge more than a market such as Phoenix,” explains publicist Yokel, “is because those who live in Miami, most specifically on the Beach, suffer from pricing that is directed at the tourists. Tourist markets around the world charge more than other markets.” She adds that this is “not great for the average person; that's why fast-food restaurants prosper and the midrange restaurants struggle or go out of business.” Tourism has another effect on steepening our prices: Locals must pay more so Miami's restaurant owners can recoup money lost during the off-season. In other words, they've only got six months max to attain the profits that restaurants in other cities have twelve months to achieve. But if that logic held true outside the dining world, we'd be paying $12 to see a movie so that theater owners here could make as much as those in year-round markets. Lord only knows how much more we'd have to cough up for a car.

Movies, cars, and Asian restaurants bring us to Southern California, where Jonathan Gold of Los Angeles Magazine, lucky dog, got to dine at two venerable venues in one week: Le Colonial and Mr. Chow's. At the former he luxuriated in a starter of steamed duck and mushroom ravioli “as gourmet as anything you'd get in Milan” for $8.50, following by a main course of “cubed filet mignon in spicy peanut sauce with yams, long beans, and basil” for $21. The chef is Mako Trinidad Antonishek, a Culinary Institute of America graduate who previously cut her chops at two New York shrines, Mesa Grill and Gramercy Tavern. Bambù is similar in cuisine and ambiance to Le Colonial and also has a respectable chef in Norman protégé Rob Deer. The least expensive appetizer here is grilled tofu, spinach, and dipping sauce for $9, with most starters between $13 and $28; main plates go from $25 to $44. Bambù, of course, would fall into Carrino's classification of a quality restaurant, and he mentions that “many of their ingredients are exotic imports -- for instance one of the berries they use grows only in Japan, so they have to fly batches in.” Valid point, especially in explaining why Bambù is more extravagantly priced than other local pan-Asian places. But it's still surprising to find them charging more than Le Colonial, which, according to their review, doesn't skimp on ingredients either.

You can peer through the glass-walled kitchen at Mr. Chow's and watch an army of experienced Chinese chefs knead dumpling dough and shape noodles by hand (a bowl of those noodles, with broth and vegetables, goes for $12.50). Gold describes this legendary spot, which has been home to star clientele since 1968, as “one of the most urbane and theatrical dining experiences in town.” Dover sole, “impeccably steamed in rice wine with sea mushrooms,” goes for $22.50; filet mignon and asparagus in red-wine sauce is $26. While Gold gripes that “the only real problem with Mr. Chow is the price tag,” one can understand how after 32 years prices can creep up a bit. Compare it with less-than-one-year-old Opium, where whole crispy snapper with chili sauce is $26, Szechuan peppercorn-crusted filet with wasabi potatoes and asparagus, $32.

Jeremy Eaton

So blame our inflated prices on the tourist trade, but don't point the finger at high real estate costs: Le Colonial and Mr. Chow are both located in Beverly Hills. Next time you get really fed up with dining out in Miami, think about moving to the apparently more affordable home of the stars.

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