Best Martini (2000)

Mark's South Beach (in the Nash Hotel)

Last year we ranted over the debasement of this most refined of cocktails. Haplessly clutched to the noxious bosom of mass culture, the martini recently had been drained of its noble heritage and left to molder as a pop icon. Uncomprehending amateurs ordered facsimiles of them by the millions from uninitiated bartenders -- with disastrous results. And no one seemed to care. No one! For chrissakes, a martini is not a beer! In our recommendation we grumpily retreated to that lonely bastion of tradition, the deluxe American steak house, where a martini is, without fail, straight up, very dry, and made only with fine gin. Now we're happy to announce the dark cloud is lifting, slowly but surely. Here are two quite different venues with one thing in common: a proper respect for our beloved elixir. Mark's South Beach should come as no surprise as it perfectly fulfills two of our criteria for ensuring martini success: It is a restaurant with a bar attached, and it is a top-quality restaurant. Located in the exquisitely refurbished Nash Hotel, Mark Militello's latest culinary temple includes a sleek and cozy bar separate from the dining rooms, so you can pop in for a splendid martini unannounced, whereas dinner reservations must be made well in advance. At the other end of the swankiness spectrum, as it were, we have the new incarnation of Big Fish, hard by the Miami River. The location and ambiance here are acknowledged elsewhere in this compendium of superlatives. But let it not go unnoticed that this version of Big Fish also includes a full bar -- and a bar staff fully conversant in the complex language of a deceptively simple drink: chilled gin, vermouth, garnish. The informality at Big Fish blends easily with the sublime pleasure of a perfectly prepared martini. One olive, please.


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