By David Minsky
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Ever wonder how local food writers keep abreast of what's going on in the always-shifting world of Miami dining, or marvel at the way they manage to come up with all those neat adjectives, apropos quotes, and pertinent information about so many intriguing new restaurants and cuisines? It's actually pretty simple if you're on the mailing list of enough public-relations firms, and thus privy to their steady stream of glowing press releases. If you've read one of these, you've read them all -- only the names of the restaurants and principals involved ever change. Yet in all their glorious homogeneity, they also reveal what Miami's haute dining culture is all about. For instance take the following:
•FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: HYPE, a 375-seat indoor/outdoor restaurant on South Beach, is the latest creation of the Acme Corporate Restaurant Management Group, which, as everyone knows, in recent years has set the standard for superb dining throughout Miami-Dade County. This new venture is aiming for nothing less than the stars, which is why they're excited to announce the signing on of celebrity investor Cher. Cher has had a passion for fine food since her childhood and promises to bring much more to the table than just a hugely popular name: She's also providing glossy photos of herself to be used in the press kits.
From the moment you walk into HYPE, a former bowling alley/brothel that has undergone a multimillion-dollar renovation, you'll be struck by the sleek, chic, and cutting-edge design of renowned interior architect Oliver Quince, whose name was recently mentioned in a Reader's Digest article about epileptics and their pets. "We were looking for something industrial, yet sensual," says Oliver, whose combination of cement floors, steel beams, and exposed live electrical wires are accented by green velveteen sofas and custom handmade light fixtures composed of old toothpaste tubes. As part of its commitment to elevate fine dining to an exciting new height, HYPE is already busy working on plans to add a second floor sometime in the future.
"South Floridians now have the unique opportunity to enjoy fresh, light, and flavorful cuisine in a modern yet contemporary environment," says executive general manager Dirk Crony, who, prior to joining HYPE, spent three years as executive food and beverage director of the Mississippi Supreme Court employee cafeteria, a job that entailed overseeing the feeding of dozens of discriminating palates each day. "Plus they can enjoy a full liquor selection at our trendy onyx-and-sandpaper bar, including aphrodisiacal house martinis infused with avant-garde flavors such as oysters, pickled watermelon rinds, and Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup."
Then, of course, there's the delectable fusion/global/New World offerings of rising star Executive Chef P. Although Ms. P has no formal training, she once lived in the same apartment building as celebrated Chef Allen Susser and has spent many weeks studying cookbooks from all over the world. Your senses will be delighted by her specialized expertise in French, Cajun, Chinese, Greek, Cuban, Italian, Turkish, and Southern "low river" cuisine. It's Ms. P's philosophy to "keep on trying different ingredients, different techniques, different utensils, different uniform styles, and, needless to say, different kitchen workers" so that her food never loses its creative edge. "In a few weeks I'll get the next installment of books in the mail, so you can soon expect to see our menu explore even more exciting parts of the globe," enthuses Chef P.
Start by choosing from an array of stunningly innovative appetizers with bold and daring flavors, like Authentic Maryland Crab Cake, Bufala Mozzarella with Tomatoes and Basil, and Fried Calamari with Eleven Sauces. Then prepare yourself for a complete sensory meltdown from the wide range of exotic gourmet entrées, such as Grilled Filet Mignon with Philadelphian Port Wine Sauce; Grilled Veal Chop with Wild Autumn Mushrooms and Minnesotan Indian Wild Rice Pilaf; and Grilled Chicken with Avocado, Goat Cheese, and Aged Australian Chimichurri Vinaigrette.
Chef P's deft touch is especially evident in her vibrant fish specialties, like Plantain-Crusted Grouper with Blackened Coconut Beurre Blanc; Lemon Grass and Maple Marinated Shrimp with Mango Sauce; or, one of HYPE's most popular dishes, Pan Sautéed Crispy Skin Yellow-Eye Red Tail Snapper with Hearts of Palm, Roquefort Cheese, and Macadamia Nuts in a Wasabi- and Tarragon-accented Roasted Beet Sauce, served over a velvety bed of Pumpkin and Poblano Risotto. "Clean, simple flavors are what I aim for," says Chef P, whose love of cooking and commitment to quality are such that she wakes up early each day and heads to Costco in order to personally pick out the very freshest ingredients available.
Vegetarians won't be disappointed either, as they'll be able to thrill to nutritious and delicious treats like Steamed Zucchini and Yellow Squash with Fresh Parsley; Grilled Zucchini, Yellow Squash, and Tofu "Teriyaki"; and the oft-requested Brown Rice Surprise. You'll be delighted to note HYPE's affordable pricing: Starters run from just $17-$28, and entrées, excepting red meat or shellfish, from $35-$59.
An ambrosial array of desserts are crafted meticulously by executive pastry chef Fernando "Sticky Fingers" Suarez, who has worked in dozens of Miami's finest restaurants since graduating from the prestigious ABC Culinary Academy this past October. He previously was the director of operations of a Subway shop in Hialeah. Suarez brings a sense of adventure, a squeeze bottle of raspberry purée, and a shakerful of cocoa powder to each and every one of his dazzling creations. This Picasso of sweets is so enthralled with visual design that, as he proudly tells his translator: "It requires three waiters to carry my signature dessert, Cinquenta Leches with Protruding Chocolate Structures, into the dining room."