Letters from the Issue of December 8-14, 2005

It's all about the Miami food scene, baby

What's Right?

Klein is right: I read Lee Klein's article "What's the Matter with Miami?" (November 24) with the obvious chagrin of a local foodie — because the comments ring true. Miami's restaurant culture needs to mature if it wishes to be part of the growing food movement taking place everywhere else in the United States ... or the world, for that matter. Since I believe in giving everybody a chance, I recently convinced friends to join me in trying the food at Madiba, the new South African restaurant located on Bay Road in South Beach. While the ambiance works, the food, service, and drinks paled in comparison with our expectations. And as you stated in your article, greedy newcomers thought people would pay close to $234 for dinner without wine. While the food was hit and miss (calamari and ostrich carpaccio worked, but the biltong did not), you simply cannot open a new restaurant, charge exuberant prices, and then top it off with an eighteen percent charge for bad service. Casa Tua has superb service and deserves to charge fifteen to eighteen percent, but a new family-run South African eatery?

Both New Timesand the Miami Herald are partly to blame for the lackluster reviews proffered to us local readers. I agree that if reviewers and their editors would detach themselves from the commercial aspect of the business, then maybe we would have reviews that would jolt the local restaurant scene into action to offer us better food and better service at better prices!

I enjoyed the story because it's true. I hope articles like this one will force restaurateurs and chefs to re-examine their culinary offerings so that Miami can resurface in the national ratings.

Adrian Rene Czahar

Key Biscayne

His pearlies are right: To Lee Klein, regarding "What's the Matter with Miami?": Very nice article. You took the words right out of my mouth.

Kevin Cory

Miami

Laguna Beach is kinda right: I read Lee Klein's article "What's the Matter with Miami?" and wanted to add that there is no customer service here! People are rude! Write an article about how Miamians are rude! Compared to New Yorkers or even Parisians.... This town has become a lot like L.A. Egomania!

Robert Finch

Miami Beach

Kulchah is right: Just wanted to commend Lee Klein on an excellent story regarding Miami's restaurant scene; I couldn't agree with him more. Let's hope with the new influx of "culture" coming to Miami, the culinary industry will become more sophisticated, and someone will put us on their list! Thanks again for a great, eye-opening read.

Ivan Jimenez

Doral

NYC is right: I have been a cook and a well-known sous chef in Miami for many years. I have worked with much of the Mango Gang and was never truly impressed. I went to New York for several years and worked at various well-known restaurants, all very food- and chef-driven. I couldn't begin to tell you what an eye-opening experience NYC was for my view of talent, passion, and food. Seventy-five percent of the kitchens in Miami are a joke. Lee Klein's article really hit home with me.

I've been back in Miami for almost three years and once again have been disappointed with the restaurant scene. The only place I worked in and stayed till closing was Sage on Fifth. I truly believe if that place had gotten off the ground and was allowed to grow, as all new restaurants need to do, Mr. Klein would have written a different article. The chef had some true passion for food and was truly well versed. It was a serious talent that never got exposed enough to Miami. I am glad I got to read an article like this before I move back to NYC, after my last and final season in Miami.

Allen Yen

South Beach

Philly is right: Lee Klein's article was right on target. I've spent the past ten years living (eating) my way through Philadelphia and NYC, and I came here expecting a much richer culinary palette, considering Miami's international and pan-Latin character. One major difference is that up north, restaurants succeed or fail based ultimately on the quality of the food, while here it seems that crowds flock to see-and-be-seen hot spots to spend their pensions on uninspired renditions of basic ethnic exports like fettuccine and ropa vieja. I feel sad to admit that the Cuban food in Philadelphia is astronomically better than anything I've tried in Miami.

But I'd rather not be so pessimistic. How about something akin to the New York Times's "$25 and Under" column, or Linda Bladholm's occasional forays into restaurant reviews? Nothing makes me happier than trekking 45 minutes from Manhattan on the train and then walking ten blocks through the rain to the best Thai restaurant in Queens and finding a line just to sit down because the place was mentioned yesterday in the Village Voice.

Leave big-name restaurants to Zagat, and update us on your findings among our inexpensive, off-the-beaten-track spots.

Best of luck — I wrote some restaurant reviews in college and I understand how difficult it can be.

Jeffrey Travia

Miami Beach

Number ten is right: Lee Klein's story "What's the Matter with Miami?" was great. So happy someone finally brought up number ten [the topic of reviewers being compromised by advertisers]. Love your reviews. Keep up the good work!

Carolina Gelber

Miami Beach

Truth is right: As a San Francisco transplant, I would like to say: Lee Klein took the words right out of my mouth. I would add to his list of ten the lack of immigrants from countries with interesting culinary traditions, which again ties into Klein's argument that the population here isn't very difficult to impress. In other words, why shoot for something good if your countrymen are not around to critique it?

As far as a couple restaurants worth noting in the cuisines Klein touched upon, The Smokehouse at 71st and Collins is serving up some truly fantastic barbecue at a great price. (I think it's a group of guys from the Boston area.) It's not your traditional barbecue atmosphere — it bills itself as a barbecue joint/sports bar, complete with six or so plasma TVs and a full liquor bar.

Another is Renasia at NE 78th Street and Biscayne Boulevard, the only Indian eatery in the entire county really worth mentioning. Anyhow, my New York and San Francisco transplant friends really enjoyed the article. We just need to figure out a way to make it untrue.

Nick Porras

Miami Beach

But Lee isn't always right: I just read Lee Klein's article about Miami restaurants. Cioppino, at the Ritz-Carlton, Key Biscayne, is one of John Mariani's Top 20 new restaurants in the U.S. (Esquire, October 2005). Before writing a cover story, Mr. Klein needs to research and get his facts straight.

Roberto Leoci

Miami Beach

Suffer the Animals

Corruption breeds corruption: This letter is in response to Francisco Alvarado's "Pet Dumb" (November 17). Thank you for illuminating yet another shining example of Miami's true calling in the eyes of the world: glaring political and administrative corruption. This specialty makes cocaine trafficking pale in comparison. The late Pablo Escobar has nothing on our public officials. Don't be surprised that County Mayor Carlos Alvarez is not available for comment regarding signing off on the unauthorized use of funds while he was police director.

And how considerate of Alvarez to throw the county animal shelter a few T-bones (as in Taxpayer/Trust-funded steaks) shortly before departing for richer shores. It is therefore easy to extrapolate the reason why cops needed the $8982 for a grill, picnic tables, benches, landscaping, SUVs, and digital cameras: They hold a weekly barbecue when they aren't beating up people, stealing drugs from dealers, and committing homicide during home invasions while off-duty.

What better way to grill those taxpayer-funded steaks than on a taxpayer-purchased grill? How will they get the steaks, food, and party favors to the party? They'll need to rent a few SUVs. They'll obviously need to sit down and eat, since the police cars are way too small — besides, who likes to eat where they sleep? And what's a party without pictures? Twenty-three cameras should cover it. Come on! And what about all of those travel expenses? With gas at $2.75 per gallon, it's not difficult to rack up $6918 in fuel costs to attend "animal training courses." Is it the police who need training?

Placing any police entity in charge of anything that offers them the opportunity to steal is the same as appointing a pack of rabid rottweilers to protect the meat counter at Publix. Except we, the incredibly naive public, do them one better; we give them badges.

Ernesto Sandoval

Miami

Correction

Lee Klein's December 1 review of Clarke's Miami Beach, "Different Strokes," misidentified the chef at Clarke's. His name is Seth Lowenstein. We apologize for the error. If it makes Seth feel any better, from here on in we will refer to Mr. Klein as "Jacob."

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