Best Of :: Food & Drink
Until recently it would not have been inaccurate to call Coconut Grove "The Land of 1000 Stores and No Great Restaurants." Although in the past couple of years a few excellent eateries have made their home here (most notably Bice, La Gloria, and Anokha), you still need to cross a small bridge to Grove Isle to find the best one. Baleen takes full advantage of its beautiful vistas of Biscayne Bay, the outdoor tables encircled by flowing white curtains blowing in the breezes. The indoor dining room is handsome in a darker, mahogany-tone way, and while there may be red-vested chimps on the lighting fixtures, when it comes to putting out topnotch cuisine, Baleen doesn't monkey around. Every cold seafood favorite you can imagine, like sushi, tuna tartare, stone crabs, conch salad, clams, and oysters (which are shucked tableside), comes fresh, briny, and well chilled. A wide array of seafood dinners, too, some fish dressed in New World trappings but all available simply and sublimely grilled, wood roasted, or sautéed. Meats and steak-house sides also excel, the wine list and service are sophisticated, and the desserts are as beautiful as the evening sunset on the bay. Taking visitors to Coconut Grove? This is where you should bring them to eat. And pray that they pick up the pricey tab.
Oh, we know the myth. The best hamburgers are made from ground chuck, because the meat has more fat in it. The fat then prevents the burger from shrinking into a McDonald's-esque disk while cooking. Well, baloney. At the downtown location of Morton's, the hamburger is a full eight ounces of lean ground sirloin. Hard to feel guilty eating that. And it's just about the juiciest thing we've encountered outside the Chris Paciello story. The single drawback? The burger is served only during the noontime meal. Still, order with a side of lyonnaise taters, and that's what we call a power lunch.
This converted no-tell motel on South Dixie is painted a really disgusting shade of green; a more reliable harbinger of the food within can be seen in the clusters of patrons on the benches outside the front door, eagerly awaiting their tables. Inside it's long and narrow, with a boxcarlike feel, but the friendly service and the pungent scent of Thai basil, fish sauce, and chili paste more than compensate for the cramped quarters. A Thai restaurant is only as good as its pad thai, and this one kills: a light hand with the ground pork, and it actually has plenty of shrimp! The rich curries are excellent, as are appetizers like tiger tear and nam sod. The chefs also show a deft touch with seafood; if you find a restaurant of any ethnic description that can cook up a tastier whole snapper, let us know. And if you like your Thai food with plenty of fire, you'll be pleased to know Siam Lotus Room actually takes you at your word when you ask for "four stars" of spiciness. Ouch! Hurts so good.
You just made it. Booth okay? Care for a beverage? Will that be the pasta fagioli or the garden salad? And your rolls: plain or dripping with garlic? For dinner there's lasagna, stuffed shells, eggplant rollatini, chicken parmigiana, veal cacciatore, linguine in clam sauce, ziti with sausage, or something else ... I forgot; I'll be right back. What do you mean you're full? No dessert? Either way it's $7.95. Come on, take the cannoli! (Oh well, just come back: The early bird special is offered seven days a week, 4:00 to 7:00 p.m.)
Tart enough. Sweet enough. Mellow yellow filling, almost ecru. Velvety texture. Moist, crumbly graham cracker crust. Outside edge daintily adorned with a ring of whipped cream. Center garnished with more cream and a twisted lime slice. Ideal to serve to your friends, but at close to ten bucks, certainly not meant to throw at your enemies.
Some folks visit this corner storefront eatery for its baked pastas. Other patrons go for its wonderfully prepared veal scaloppine dishes and fillets of fish sprinkled with capers. And most appreciate the lengths the staff goes to ensure that even those waiting for a table outside have a glass of refreshment. We, however, frequent the cafe for its absolutely fresh caesar salad, which is redolent with garlic, Parmesan, and the all-important anchovies. Oh, we know picky diners don't like to look an anchovy fillet in the eye, so to speak. But you don't have to. The dressing here incorporates chopped anchovies, not whole ones, so you get the proper flavor without being, well, grossed out. Best of all, the kitchen will split an order for you, and the results usually are two huge salads for the price of one.