Miami's Dining Scene Goes Big League

In 2008, our city's gastronomic curve trended sharply upward.

This was the year Miami finally joined the big league of American food cities. A flurry of activity burst across our local restaurant world, delivering bistros, cafés, star-chef driven establishments, humble neighborhood hideaways, midscale chains, upscale chains, burger joints, sushi bars, wine bars, wine fairs, food fests, farmers' markets, Whole Foods Markets, and the accompanying cornucopia of culinary culture that cobbles it all together. The most dramatic improvement took place in high-end restaurants: Now we're privy to a far wider array of fine-dining choices than ever before.

There were other positive story lines, along with some less-than-rosy developments. Let's take a look:

The Design District and MiMo Take Off

Joe Rocco

Location Info

Map

Michael's Genuine Food & Drink

130 NE 40th St.
Miami, FL 33137

Category: Restaurant > Contemporary

Region: Central Dade

Fratelli Lyon

4141 NE Second Ave.
Miami, FL 33137

Category: Restaurant > Contemporary

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Pacific Time Restaurant

35 NE 40th St.
Miami, FL 33137

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Sra. Martinez

4000 NE 2nd Ave.
Miami, FL 33137

Category: Restaurant > Appetizers

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Buena Vista Bistro

4582 NE 2nd Ave.
Miami, FL 33137

Category: Restaurant > Deli

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Joey's

2506 NW 2nd Ave.
Miami, FL 33127

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Pizza Volante

3918 N. Miami Ave.
Miami, FL 33127

Category: Restaurant > Italian

Region: Midtown/Wynwood/Design District

Michy's

6927 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami, FL 33138

Category: Restaurant > Contemporary

Region: North Dade

Red Light Little River

7700 Biscayne Blvd.
Miami Shores, FL 33138

Category: Restaurant > American

Region: Upper Eastside/Miami Shores/Biscayne Park

Baires Grill

1116 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Category: Restaurant > South American

Region: South Beach

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For those who seek quality, not quantity: Has any Miami neighborhood ever boasted four better restaurants in closer proximity than Michael's Genuine, Fratelli Lyon, Pacific Time, and Sra. Martinez? Add Brosia and Grass and their stunning outdoor spaces, the charming Buena Vista Bistro, Joey's (just a bit over in Wynwood), and Jonathan Eismann's upcoming Pizzavolante, and you have a white-hot dining scene.

MiMo's blossoming was more of a surprise. When Michelle Bernstein premiered Michy's there in early 2006, expectations were that others would follow. It didn't happen — at least not right away. But this past year, Kris Wessel opened his shining Red Light, and the area soon saw second outposts of Moonchine (Indochine) and Moshi Moshi, followed by Anise, a Mediterranean place operated by the former Ouzo owners. Completing the strip are "veterans" such as the homespun Casa Toscana and lively Uva 69. Plus, what area boasts better burgers and franks than those sold at Kingdom and Dogma Grill? Balans will be part of the mix come June, with no doubt more to follow.

The National Economic Meltdown and Its Effect on Miami's Food and Beverage Industry

Baire's Argentine Grill, Cafe Tu Tu Tango, Cielo Garden and Supper Club, City Cellar Grill, Domo Japones, Joley, Karu & Y (since reopening under new management), Kyung Ju in North Miami, Le Bon, Mark's South Beach, Max's Grille, Michael's Kitchen, Novecento South Beach, Ouzo's, Oxygen Bar & Sushi Lounge, Paesano's, Palm Steakhouse in the Gables, Pearl Restaurant & Lounge at Nikki Beach, Rascal House, Red Lantern Chinese, Sheba Ethiopian, Smoking Rabbit, Social Miami at The Sagamore, Touch Restaurant, ViVi Italian. All of these, except Sheba, closed before the economy imploded. Buckle your seatbelts!

South Beach Sizzles. Literally.

Tourist numbers dictate that SoBe will always draw more diners that anywhere else, which means high-profile restaurants will continue to flourish — and so, apparently, will steak houses. Here's the lineup in the less-than-two-square-mile carnivore's corral called South Beach: DeVito's Chop House, Fogo de Chão, Kobe Club, Meat Market, Outback Steakhouse, La Parrilla Liberty, Prime 112, Rancho Argentino Steakhouse, Red The Steakhouse, Smith & Wollensky, Texas de Brazil, and Tuscan Steak. Coming up: Wolfgang's Steakhouse (nothing to do with Puck) and Laurent Tourondel's BLT Steak. That's a lot of sizzle. If you are what you eat, it's gonna be mighty hard to sleep in this neighborhood with all the mooing going on.

Other SoBe newbies: Mediterranean 660 moved into the Angler's Resort, replacing Maison d'Azur, which relocated to the Astor Hotel. Diners can now feast on pricey Eastern fare at Philippe in the Gansevoort or at Asia de Cuba in the Mondrian. Bartolome premiered on Purdy, Vita and the Prime 112 spinoff Prime Italian on Collins, 1116 Loftin's at Casa Casuarina, and Ratatouille bistro, Hot Tuna Asian lounge, and the New Orleans eatery Ahnvee on Washington. Enso, a sushi/Mediterranean deconstructionist joint, jumped onto Lincoln Road, while Hed Kandi Lounge, which also dabbles in molecular gastronomy, took over the old Afterglo space. Getting set to open: Two Barton G. projects in the Adrienne Arscht Center, and Apple Restaurant and Lounge on Española Way, with Bryan Ogden, son of pioneering Lark Creek Inn chef Bradley Ogden, slated to run the kitchen. The one we're looking forward to most, though, is the 24/7 bistro Au Pied de Cochon, due to debut any minute on the southeast corner of Washington Avenue and First Street.

The Fontainebleau Returns

Gotham Steak, Scarpetta, and Hakkasan, Britain's only Michelin-rated Chinese restaurant (coming in January), are just three of 11 new eateries at the dazzling hotel. There was talk of transporting the entire property to Key Biscayne so the folks living there could have a dining scene too, but the logistics proved insurmountable. Which brings us to:

Where the Action Is (Not)

While Por Fin in Coral Gables is a terrific restaurant, and Mint Leaf offers deftly prepared Indian cuisine, few other places of note have recently settled there. Even Coconut Grove had a busier year, adding L'Petit Paris and the ever-festive George's in the Grove, along with Pisco Seafood Bar & Grille, the New York import Angelo & Maxie's Steakhouse, and Cita's Italian Chophouse. South Miami saw its thin restaurant ranks puff a bit with RA Sushi and a branch of Sushi Siam.

Bourdain Becomes Miami's Toastmaster General

Anthony Bourdain reminded us how too-cool-for-school he is at the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, at Miami Book Fair International, and at the Adrienne Arscht Center for the Performing Arts. In retaliation, we will be sending Louie from Deco Drive on a speaking tour of New York.

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