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About three years ago, Miami's midtown so-called "Arts District" was trumpeted, in a CNN real estate survey, as the most rapidly appreciating area in the country. National media hype that followed pictured Biscayne Boulevard as the gracious promenade it was to be, possibly within minutes lined with cute cafes in which cultured residents quaffed artisanal wines and snacks. Practically smelling the tapas already, I moved out of South Beach and into the city.
That rapid appreciation turned out to be caused by speculators rather than real human beings. Most of the glitzy condos tanked, and my neighborhood has remained decidedly uncute.
But it's said there are silver linings to every situation, and one of them is Bin no. 18. This small, casually comfortable, industrial, loftlike wine bar/gourmet market materialized about two months ago, with no media hoopla, in the 1800 Biscayne Plaza condo building. The place doesn't have it entirely together yet. But that's not to say it's untogether in that irritating SoBe style overpriced bad food that says "I don't need to give a shit," and attitudinal service that says the same. Rather, Bin no. 18 is a work in progress, exciting in a way that couldn't happen in a neighborhood too thoroughly gentrified to support living, creative evolution.
275 NE 18th St., 107
Miami, FL 33132
Devolution is more like it. Young chef/co-owner Alfredo Patino was formerly chef de cuisine at ultralux Bizcaya, in the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove. You might think a move to a small family-run place (Patino's big brother is the businessman, his little bro a server) in a transitional area is downward mobility, but consider: Michelle Bernstein did it at Michy's, and Michael Schwartz is soon to do it at Michael's Genuine Food & Drink. Patino is stoked by the possibilities of his sandwich/salad/tapas joint.
This was made immediately obvious when I wandered from my party's wine barrel table to the back market/kitchen area (which is open midday, closed by curtains at night to make the main front room feel more loungelike). Among the limited, but top-quality, selection of boutique wines, plus imported cold cuts and cheeses, was culatello. Translating roughly as "little ass," this astonishing cured Italian ham, far superior to the best prosciutto, is a rare find even in Italy (because essentially, a whole prosciutto is decimated to get at its mouthwatering heart). "No way!" I exclaimed.
"Yes," beamed Patino, from behind a counter of housemade salads, and proceeded to detail a culatello tapas he soon planned to add to the menu. It sounded sophisticated enough for Manhattan. Oh, yes.
Already available are urbane salads like the Figciutto (arugula, caramelized onions, sweet-pungent gorgonzola, prosciutto, fresh figs, and toasted pignolias), and about half a dozen sandwiches on freshly-made breads. Especially recommended: the Roast Beefeclectic on ciabatta, with caramelized onions, creamed horseradish, and bold au jus. Though salads and sandwiches are officially lunch menu items, my night owl friends and I discovered that evening diners need only ask, and they shall receive.
At dinnertime, the focus shifts to prepared tapaslike small plates; plus three imaginative Spanish-, Italian-, and French-theme large "degustation boards" of assorted cheeses, cured meats, and pâtés; along with spreads, olives, fruits, breads, and other gourmet garnishes to match. With any of the latter platters, a bottle of any weekly featured wine is only fourteen bucks. Among prepared grazing items, standouts were warm figs brùlée (fresh figs stuffed with Cambozola bleu cheese and toasted hazelnuts, drizzled with syrupy aged balsamic vinegar), and a daily special of richly flavored, homemade lentil soup ("my mom's recipe," according to the youngest Patino, a rough-edged but charming server) that was not initially mentioned but well worth requesting. There was also burrata, a whole ball of imported Italian cream-centered, fresh mozzarella, accompanied by fresh-baked peasant bread, roasted red peppers, and a surprise not on the menu: a generous portion of prosciutto.
Another welcome surprise: free parking, in a back lot (around the block on NE Second Avenue) whose spaces were disconcertingly long, perhaps in anticipation of limos and/or valets. With luck, enough real neighborhood people will populate this edgy local find, so that the limo era will be a long time coming.