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Best Of 2003

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Best Of :: Arts & Entertainment

Michelle Bernstein
Personal Best
Steve Satterwhite

MICHELLE BERNSTEIN

AZUL, 500 Brickell Key Drive (Mandarin Oriental Hotel), Miami ,305-913-8358

Michelle Bernstein is that rarest of Miami creatures: a true native. Which is why last year she was honored as Best Local Girl Made Good: "After working for others and then co-owning a short-lived but ambitious venture (The Strand), Bernstein took a major leap: She left South Beach for Brickell Key and the luxe Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Within a year Esquire magazine named her restaurant, Azul, the best of 2001. The Food TV network hired her to host a series on tropical foods. And the Vita-Prep people picked her for an advertisement that numero uno trade mag Food Arts featured prominently. Can any other native make that kind of claim to national fame?" So what's left to say? Well, only that Bernstein's Azul has since received the American Automobile Association's highest commendation: the Five Diamond Award. No other Miami-Dade restaurant can boast that distinction.

BEST PLACE FOR FRESH FRUIT

I probably sound like a princess for saying this, but Epicure is my favorite place for fruit. The colors are vibrant, the fragrance hits you when you walk in the door. What kills me is that I buy a huge amount of produce on a daily basis for the restaurant and I never get such beautiful fruit as Epicure does. Not just that, they get seasonal fruits before we do. I patiently wait for cherry season, plum and peach season, and sure enough, Epicure is loaded with not just the fruit I search out but specialty types like white cherries, sugar plums, and doughnut peaches. They make a honey tangerine juice that is addictive.

BEST MONTH TO BE IN MIAMI

Being a Miami native, there is definitely one month that sticks out in my mind: December. Where else can you spend Christmas on the beach? There is a certain magic in the air. The tourists are here scrambling for their SoBe purchases, the restaurants are boisterous and hopping, the sun is shining, and we have a total of, say, eight days to wear our best winter couture.

BEST PLACE TO SAVOR THE FLAVOR OF MIAMI

I cannot imagine showing off our city's flavors without first stopping at El Palacio de los Jugos. I marvel in their fruit juice selection (made to order), from sugar cane to tamarind to papaya-coconut. As you try to make a fruit-drink decision, the chicharrónes call out your name like a little devil on your shoulder. Take no more than two steps and the fresh mariquitas (thin slices of green plantain) are being thrown into the fryer. They're placed into a little bag so you can attack the crispy critters on your way home. But don't leave just yet -- the best part of this little jewel is the pan con lechon (shredded pork on bread). Ask for a little extra mojo while you're at it. Savoring these Latin flavors is part of our lifestyle; it's what I grew up with and what I live for.

BEST CHEAP THRILL

One of my greatest thrills in Miami is a very personal one. I started going down to Homestead when I was four, to the various U-pick fields, as I do today. First wed stop at the field where you can pick tomatoes, warm and fragrant from the vine. Then corn on large stalks and lettuces of different types. But the best part was (and is) the strawberries. Oh, the strawberries! A group of Old German Baptists run a place called Knaus Berry Farm, which has the sweetest, juiciest, biggest strawberries youve ever seen. The best part: Once youre done picking, you stop at the roadside stand to gorge on strawberry shakes made with fresh strawberry ice cream and the just-picked strawberries. Its the most intense frozen-strawberry smoothie you can ever imagine. But dont go anywhere yet. They also sell big hot cinnamon buns fresh from the oven.

BEST REASON TO LIVE IN MIAMI

There is one good reason why I'll probably always consider Miami my home: the passion. Our city is smoking hot from the sizzling sun, combined with beautiful people, zestful food, and a fusion of many different languages, cultures, and music. Behind all these is a passion that is incomparable. We cook with our hearts, dance with zeal, speak in voluminous tones. Our achievements are accomplished by following our hearts more than our minds. If we don't believe strongly in something, with our hearts and souls, it probably won't even be attempted. Our clothing is bright, our senses alive, and we strive to let ourselves show.

RECIPE

CHOCOLATE MOLE PAINTED FOIE GRAS OVER PORT GASTRIC BRAISED CHERRIES

1 teaspoon ground ancho chiles

1 teaspoon ground almonds

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch of Hawaiian sea salt

1 cup extra-bitter chocolate, melted in a double boiler

Combine above ingredients and keep warm over hot water until just before serving; use a paintbrush to "paint" the mole onto a white plate.

In a pan, sear a 3-ounce piece of fresh foie gras. When golden, place foie gras into a cold pan, set aside.

In the hot pan with foie fat add:

1/4 cup pitted cherries

1/4 cup port wine

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 tablespoon sugar

Reduce until it coats the back of a spoon.

Heat the foie gras in the oven at 350 degrees until medium rare to medium, approximately 3 to 4 minutes, until it feels soft when you press lightly on it. If there is hardness, heat for 2 more minutes. Glaze the foie gras with a little extra chocolate. Place 2 tablespoons of sauce in the center of the "painted" plate. Top with the chocolate-glazed foie gras. Top the foie with a little sea salt and serve immediately.

BEST ACTING ENSEMBLE

Much of the success for this year's smash Floyd Collins lies with its solid-gold ensemble that produced one memorable performance after another. Besides Tally Sessions's work in the leading role, the show featured Blythe Gruda as the ethereal, off-kilter sister Nellie, Brian Charles Rooney as their moviestruck brother, Jerry Gulledge as their haunted father, and Lourelene Snedeker as their warm-hearted, long-suffering stepmother. The cast also featured terrific work from Michael Turner as a guilt-ridden reporter, Brian M. Golub as a wannabe folk singer with a bell-clear voice, and Ken Clement as a blustering, officious engineer. To that add Wayne Steadman, Mark Filosa, Terry M. Cain, Oscar Cheda, and Barry Tarallo and what you've got is a dream of a cast.

BEST ACTIVITY TO DO WHILE INTOXICATED

Your night out is over. You step out of the club's raging din and onto the sidewalk, where the relative silence is as shocking as a slap in the face. Head spinning, you realize you might not be up for the drive home just yet. Stumble over to Puerto Sagua for a no-frills Cuban meal in an atmosphere easygoing enough to enable a soft landing when you come back to earth. The restaurant -- a South Beach institution for more than 30 years -- stays open until 2:00 a.m., perfect for clubland's early exits, and it won't break the bank, assuming you have some bank left after those double-digit cocktails.

BEST ACTOR

With a powerful singing voice and boundless energy, Sessions conjured up the memorable title role in the best show of the year, staged by Actors' Playhouse. Sessions's Floyd Collins was a high-spirited Huck Finn whose entrapment in an underground cave led him from optimism to panic to horrible despair. Sessions is that rare musical-theater performer who keeps his work fully grounded in emotional truth. He adroitly handled the difficult challenges of his role -- long, musically complex solos and significant athletic demands.

BEST ACTRESS

Sometimes a performer finds the perfect role, or the perfect role finds her. Maybe it's karma or the planets' alignment. Maybe it's sheer luck or hard work -- or all of the above. Whatever the reason, Claire Tyler was the right actress in the right role as JC333 (Jaycee Triplethree), the android actress heroine of Alan Ayckbourn's dark fantasy Comic Potential at Actors' Playhouse. Tyler's performance clearly delineated JC's slow awakening to some hidden core of humanity. Her 'droid's awkward movements began to turn into some kind of nascent grace, and her squawk-box voice mellowed into something musical. The role also had a theatrical dash, as when Jaycee went haywire, spouting bits of long-past performances that had somehow been stored in her hard drive. Tyler has been very fortunate in her short theatrical career, working with top area directors and with excellent scripts. Besides her fine work with David Arisco in Comic Potential and the recent Sherlock's Last Case, she also scored in a trio of Joe Adler productions at GableStage: The Shape of Things, Popcorn, and The Play About the Baby. But it is the android with a heart of gold who remains the most memorable role of her young career.

BEST AM RADIO PERSONALITY

Mandich may have the experience and credentials to be a jock-talk radio host (including three NFL Championship rings, one from his play as tight end on Miami's undefeated 1972 Dolphins squad), but it's his voice that really reaches out and boxes your ears. Where other jock-talk personalities embrace goofy sports-geek overenthusiasm or know-it-all laconicism (like Hank Goldberg, Mandich's colleague at WQAM-AM 560), Mad Dog's bombastic pipes carry the show. It's impossible to transcribe the stretched vowels and clipped consonants that roll around like gumballs in his mouth, but suffice it to say that the voice makes even the generic parts of his act seem fresh (the studied political incorrectness, barking at callers when the show gets a little slow). Almost everything he says seems funny, including his stock "Never better!" (delivered as if fired from a cannon) in response to callers' ubiquitous "Howyadoon' Mad Dog?" In addition to the afternoon call-in show (1:00 to 3:00 p.m.), Mandich can be seen on Channel 10's Sports Jam Live, though it's hard to get the full impact of the voice when you have to watch him too.

Readers Choice: Neil Rogers, WQAM-AM (560)

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Michelle Bernstein: Personal Best

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