Best Of :: Food & Drink
First things first: It's busy, so if you're not up for a half-hour wait, we suggest you arrive early (the restaurant opens at 8:00 a.m.). Brunch at Balans is not served buffet style; instead diners choose from the menu and breakfast is served à la carte. The crowd is typically a mix of bleary-eyed boys and babes, South Beach locals, and Balans regulars. We suggest the complete breakfast, which comes with Balans's famous pancakes, or the eggs Benedict, which features a made-from-scratch hollandaise sauce. For days other than Sunday, the restaurant's regular menu features dishes with Mediterranean and Asian influences.
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.
In the restaurant's bygone heyday both the famous and infamous, from Jackie Gleason to Meyer Lansky, were regularly seated in the rounded vinyl booths of the Celebrity Corner. Although Wolfie Cohen hasn't owned it for quite some time, the 53-year-old institution still offers both old-timers and tourists a place to savor an authentic slice of Miami Beach's past, or maybe just a satisfying hunk of cheesecake. Even the waiters' uniforms -- black vests, white dress shirts, and bow ties -- appear to be circa the more formal Fifties. Miami Beach artist Stewart Stewart added a burst of color to the already character-filled place in 1991 with his Pickle People Promenade and a smorgasbord of 3-D paintings of Wolfie's standards, including Day-Glo borscht with a dollop of sour cream, matzo ball soup, and a perky BLT, all of which take on a surreal glow at 3:00 a.m. in the seemingly timeless 24-hour eatery.
In the South Beach scene, late-night snacking really has become the norm. So it's not unusual to see couples supping at 10:00 p.m., parties laughing over veal chops at 11:00 p.m., clubbers strapping on the predance feedbag at midnight. But while you can find plenty of places to eat, it's harder to discover one where you can dine. So far Secrets, open till 2:00 a.m. daily, has been something of a, well, secret. But proprietors Filip Rady and Milan Radesits are bound to have a late-night success on their hands with items like tenderloin bites marinated in yogurt and served with mango chipotle coulis, and a crab and rock shrimp "burger." Indeed the tropically influenced fare ranges from pan-seared tuna steak topped with sugar-cane juice to fruit-stuffed French toast, which pretty much means you can enjoy the secrets of culinary success not only late at night, but early in the morning as well.
The black embroidered shawl of a flamenco dancer drapes down from the arched entrance of this cavelike tavern. The air inside is misty, lanterns hang over the bar, and the waiters are dressed like toreros. Here the tapas are eaten medieval style: standing while chugging down an ice-cold Estrella Galicia (Spanish beer) or sitting at a wooden barrel. To really get into el tapeo, try the bandeja de tapas variadas, an assortment of six tapas for two or more people that includes Spanish sausages, pan tomaca (toasted bread dipped in a tomato and garlic sauce), fluffy Spanish tortillas, ham-and-cheese croquettes, and fried crabmeat. Feast on fried calamari a la andaluza (soaked in aioli sauce and lemon) or shrimp sautéed in white wine and garlic; both will bring out the duende in you. The seafood-stuffed mushrooms and the roasted red peppers bursting with calamari will have you, as the Spanish say, entrando en calor.
The "dining" part might be a bit of a misnomer, given that this restaurant is more of a good place to snack on caviar and sip champagne. But you can't argue with the seductive nature of the fare: caviar, lobster, crab, smoked salmon, Kobe beef carpaccio. Ply your sweetie with some of these luxury foodstuffs and no doubt you'll get quite a return on the investment. And make no mistake -- investment it is. Black truffle soup can run you $45, and a platter of beluga, osetra, and sevruga can cost you $195. Plus, since all of these gourmet items are served with little more than toast points, expect your appetite to be stimulated rather than sated. But that, after all, is the point of aphrodisiac dining: to leave you wanting, craving, desiring more.
You can work up a desert of thirst out on the River of Grass, whether you're fishing, enjoying an airboat ride, or watching a man tangle with an alligator at the Miccosukee Cultural Center. A twenty-minute drive west of Krome Avenue, this tribe-owned establishment is the perfect spot in which to rehydrate. Here the iced brew is served the way it's supposed to be. The age-old formula: tall glass full of ice cubes (ice quantity is crucial); real tea, robust and unsweetened (you can take the country boy out of the country but you can't take the sugar out of the presweetened tea); a quarter of a lemon (not a dinky piece like some places); and finally, free refills.
Cuban sandwich and Versailles -- in Miami, they go together like, well, José Martí and poetry. Like most everything on Versailles' extensive menu, this Cuban sandwich is a credit to its cuisine. Lots of ham, generally more than in other versions, and melted Swiss cheese between not-overly-flattened slices of very fresh Cuban bread. No gratuitous grease. The only thing that could make it better: a little less stinginess with the pickles.