Best Of :: Food & Drink
When they had their place called Norma's on Miami Beach, partners Delius Shirley and executive chef Cindy Hutson built a reputation as masters of Jamaican cuisine, in part because Delius's mom Norma was their mentor, and the tiny kitchen in the Lincoln Road eatery limited the number of ingredients that could be kept on hand. But when the pair moved their operation to Coral Gables a few seasons ago, the name changed and the menu expanded to reflect the possibilities of a larger work space. Now, says Hutson, liberated from whatever the category of Jamaican bistro might mean, she is giving culinary expression to a wider menu that she thinks of as "cuisine of the sun." That might include dishes with Asian or South American origins. But Hutson's basic culinary education remains Jamaican, the restaurant's coolly elegant décor is still Caribbean, and the food is still divine. Jerked pork and lamb patties are often on the menu, but so too are Thai dishes, or curries, or something from Colombia that calls for coconut milk or ginger. Ortanique, by the way, is a sweet hybrid citrus that comes from crossing an orange and a tangerine, a fitting symbol for a restaurant unlike any other.
C'mon, an overpriced sushi joint? We only have about a hundred of those, so why reward a new one? Well, friends, try out Nobuyuki Matsuhisa's dishes and then come back and tell us it wasn't worth every penny. So what if some whine about the décor. People! Style over substance has been Miami's cement shoes for too long. And so what if the super-fresh sashimi melted in your mouth so quickly and deliciously you almost forgot you just ate it. And who cares if chopsticks were used as weapons for the very last crumbs from the black codfish with miso. It doesn't matter. What does matter is this: Miami finally has a Matsuhisa masterhouse to return to over and over again for more of the same. For the first time in a while, a restaurant has opened that can truly contend with the best of the best.
A delicate rose fashioned from slender blush-pink slices of tuna. Carefully carved thin strips of cucumber wrapped around crab stick, avocado, masago, and shrimp. Wooden boats bursting with artfully arranged squares of fish. How fresh is it? Take a glance behind the sushi bar. If the huge white tuna slumped across the sink, ready for carving, is any hint, very.
Chocolate is not a bad or dangerous thing. Chocolate is good medicine for the brain, the blood, the sweet tooth. And the Sweet Tooth's chocolate is very good, made on the premises. From chocolate hearts and cherries to truffles and luscious creams, feast your eyes (did we mention chocolate improves night vision?) on the velvety array of goodies at this well-equipped chocolate clinic. The selection is so stunning, especially on holidays, you may be temporarily paralyzed. The Sweet Tooth people know how you feel and have thoughtfully prepared all kinds of beautiful and therapeutic gift baskets and boxes.
No, it's not really about the drinks. You've had those before. And it's not really about the décor, which is clean and fine but not spectacular. It's also not about the specials, because there aren't really official hours for happiness here. It's about the only reason people seek out happy hours to begin with: the scene. What? On Miracle Mile in the stuffy Gables, you might sneer? Yup. There's a new dawn in that part of town and it's raising a toast at the new Houston's after work. Good mix of cocktails, ages, ethnicities, sexes, economic positions. The men and women behind the bar are friendly, as are the people sitting next to you. Starting late in the afternoon on Friday often you won't find a stool or even standing room, so the party spills out into the street. If you need further proof this isn't the Gables of old, consider: Once you've downed your after-work libations, you can move on to other attractions. Huh? Life after 8:00 p.m. in the City Beautiful? Yes, truly a new dawn.
This is truly the hole-in-the-wall that has it all. Almost indistinguishable from the other storefronts along this part of North Miami Avenue, Clive's makes its mark at the cozy counter set up with great Jamaican favorites like curry goat, oxtail, and cowfoot. With ample food packed on a five-dollar special, this is a can't-miss deal every afternoon. The chicken is cooked to diner perfection and the curry is a smooth blend that avoids the fire-alarm spices of other native cuisines. The mood is laid-back, with a pleasant Mrs. P taking good care of the customers and a small radio pumping out reggae sounds. You just may catch Clive's fan Lenny Kravitz taking in the scene. Clive's is great for take-out but just as nice for a midafternoon stop to take it easy.
If your mother is from Ireland, you know about soda bread, baked daily in many homes both in Eire and abroad. Owners Martin Lynch and John Clarke remember, and that's why with every meal at this venerable pub a basket of the tasty quick bread is set down on the table just after the pint of Guinness. The formula is simple: flour, salt, soda, buttermilk, and a handful of raisins. And you don't have to be Irish. Lynch says people with surnames like Castillo and Cohen come in all the time just for the bread. You can carry some home, too, for $3.50 a loaf.
In theory the cheapest lobster is the one you pluck from the ocean floor during lobster miniseason. But when you factor in the cost of the boat, the gas, the gear, and the beer, the total looks like a $5000 meal. No, the truly frugal eat their bugs on Tuesday nights at Tobacco Road. Just under ten bucks gets you a decent-size, nicely prepared crustacean, potatoes, and all the napkins you need. The Florida lobster is fresh, delicious, and relatively speaking it costs next to nothing. This is a great deal, just slightly better than the Road's rib night. Or the Road's T-bone steak night. Or the Road's....
Translated, dim sum means "touch the heart," meaning this is food that aims to please, by providing a great grab bag of variety; there's a little something for everyone seeking small bites of big flavors. And though this is not the only excellent dim sum establishment in town (or even on the block, as better-known Tropical Chinese confirms), its offerings are the most excitingly similar to those in the top dim sum parlors in the world. Though small, casual Kon Chau serves up over 60 selections, divided into four basic categories: sweet dessert items; deep-fried items; miscellaneous stir-fried, grilled, or stewed variety dishes; and most important, steamed savories such as stuffed breads, various root vegetable and cereal "cakes," and dumplings galore. There's har gau, small steamed cilantro-spiced pork and shrimp dumplings; fun gor, especially a steamed vegetable version filled with spiced shiitake mushrooms; and cheoung fun, tender but chewy rolled rice noodle crêpes filled with barbecued pork, beef, or shrimp, topped with a succulent salty/sweet sauce. Selections are made by menu, less festive than the rolling carts at some dim sum establishments (but, in smaller and slower-turnover tea houses, ensuring greater freshness). At any rate Kon Chau's large proportion of Asian diners confirms the quality.
Deli Lane's Swiss apple melt sandwich ($6.95) takes three ingredients that have no business hanging out together and proves the old adage about the whole being greater, and tastier, than the sum of its parts. The apple wedges are glazed with cinnamon and grilled to gooey goodness. The bacon is lightly fried. Melted Swiss holds them together, between two slices of raisin pumpernickel bread. Eat one and you'll wonder why this concoction isn't up there with the Reuben as an American deli classic.
It seems odd that a restaurant with three locations (Hialeah and Deerfield Beach as well) and a name like Little Havana can be "unknown," but this Cuban specialty joint in North Miami easily gets lost amid the clutter of shops, banks, and condos on Biscayne's commercial strip. Once you find it, though, you'll know why tourists and locals alike pass on the word about the no-frills cuisine served up seven days a week. From traditional Cuban selections like oxtail in wine sauce and palomilla steak to Spanish omelets and a savory ground beef in Creole sauce, the dishes are basic in presentation (all come with rice, beans, and fried plantains) and delicious in their simplicity. Each course complements the selection of appetizers ranging from fried yuca to the Cuban tamal with mojo. Also worthy of entrée consideration is the baked or fried chicken plate and the broiled seafood assortment. Top off any meal with either the guava with cheese or a sinfully good coconut flan. Prices range from $6.95 to $22.95 and it's open from 1:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. daily.
So much has been said about this North Miami eatery and its scrumptious menu of gastronomic delights (including what we said in "Best of Miami" last year, when it also took this award). It has done justice to the former home of Mark's Place, Mark Militello's nationally recognized shrine to New World cuisine. In addition to executive chef Edson Milto's traditional but still exotic feijoada (served weekends), the Picanha menu offers plenty of adventure. The same can be said of the restaurant's festive atmosphere. After dinner you can sip the best caiprinhas in town as you samba into the night accompanied by live bands (call for music details).