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On the glam sports scale, bowling has always ranked right up there with croquet and badminton. That's not to badmouth bowling. In fact, it's probably bowling's nonglamorousness that makes it nonintimidating as a participatory sport, even for a desk potato like me, whose lifetime average score, out of a possible 300, is 38. You might impress someone by boasting about your lean and mean "swimmer's body," but "bowler's body"? Not likely, especially considering classic bowling alley fare: cellophane-packaged junk food washed down with pitchers of bad beer.
Strike Miami may change all that. Owned by the company that transformed Manhattan's venerable Bowlmor Lanes into a trendy multimedia entertainment center, the new venue bills itself as a "boutique" bowling alley -- and a gourmet bowling alley. Along with 34 lanes (topped by a huge video projection wall and complemented by a high-tech sound system with DJ), there's a stylishly retro sports bar and restaurant open to the lanes, plus several large and small enclosed banquet rooms reminiscent of hotel function rooms. More fun, there's laneside service, so bowlers can eat and drink while they play.
And the menu plays havoc with bowlers' traditional beer-bellied image, though it has already been both downsized and downscaled since Strike's opening in October. By my second visit in early December, a perhaps overly ambitious list of full entrée specials (like shrimp fettuccine in white wine cream sauce) was gone. More regrettably, many of the menu's more interesting Latin/Asian fusion small plates also were eliminated. I'd strongly urge reinstating the steamed chicken dim sum with soy/ginger sauce and the shellfish-packed Bahamian conch fritters with spicy guava chutney that our entire party had loved during my initial visit.
But you can still get a salad -- three, in fact. Generally the only green things to be found in a bowling alley are the rental shoes, but a $3.95 tossed salad's mixed greens were snazzy mesclun supplemented with cukes, red onion, goat-cheese-topped croutons, and genuinely ripe tomatoes. A Caesar ($3.95 or $7.95 with grilled chicken breast) with herb croutons beat many I've had in fancy restaurants, despite a bit of a Worcestershire overdose in the creamy dressing.
Popcorn shrimp ($8.50), usually little more than greasy nubs of fried batter, were perfectly cooked; both small whole shrimp and halved jumbos came barely dusted with herb breading. Their accompanying dip, described as ranch sauce, was actually a spicy chipotle chili remoulade -- a welcome surprise. Calamari ($7.50) was even more lightly breaded. Crisp outside and tender inside, it was disappointing only in its zesty but overly thick marinara dipping sauce, as well as the absence of the sweet cherry peppers mentioned on the menu.
For those who crave junk food, tortilla chips are available, but not from a vending machine. The fresh tricolor chips come in a basket with flatbread crackers and pita wedges, along with a big serving of spinach-and-artichoke fondue ($8.25). The subtly spiced mix of veggies, three cheeses, and cream was so inspiring (along with several South Beach-style cocktails featuring designer brands like Grey Goose) that I bowled a 64, losing to the hunky pro football player at the next lane by a mere 180 points.
At Strike, bowling is definitely not what it used to be.