Best Of :: Bars & Clubs
PASCALS ON PONCE, 2611 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Coral Gables 305-444-2024
At the tender age of seventeen Pascal Oudin won France's "Best Apprentice Chef Award," a coveted distinction that launched the youngster into the kitchens of masters such as Alain Ducasse and Roger Verge. By the time he arrived here in 1984, Oudin himself was something of a master. Hotel restaurants became a specialty: Dominique's, the Colonnade, Grand Café at the Grand Bay Hotel. Along the way he attracted national attention. In 1995 Food & Wine named him one of America's "Best New Chefs." Esquire piled on with "Best New Chef in Florida." After he finally opened his own restaurant in Coral Gables, Pascal's on Ponce, it didn't take long for the awards to begin arriving. Besides many local accolades (including our own Best New Restaurant), Esquire again paid a visit and declared Oudin's namesake to be the "Best New Restaurant in America for 2000."
February. The weather and the romance of Valentine's Day. There is no better time of the year.
BEST PLACE FOR FRESH VEGETABLES
BEST CHEAP THRILL
A ride on the Metromover is a great minitour of downtown Miami and Brickell. And for just 25 cents.
BEST NOT-SO-CHEAP THRILL
Skydive Sebastian in Sebastian, Florida. 1-800-399-JUMP (www.skydiveseb.com).
BEST RESTAURANT TO DIE IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS
Wolfie's. An institution is gone.
BEST DINING TREND
Cheese. It's been enjoyed for centuries with wine and fruit. Always classy.
BEST REASON TO LIVE IN MIAMI
Tropical weather all year round. This makes the style of living very easy and comfortable. Miami and Miami Beach attract tourists, which is great for businesses of all types all year. South Florida living is affordable compared to other large cities like New York or San Francisco, including housing. Plus, due to the mix of people from different cultures, this city is the perfect place to start a venture of any kind.
SAUTÉED ESCALOPES OF FOIE GRAS WITH HUCKLEBERRY GASTRIC
1 whole fresh uncooked duck foie gras (Grade A; about 1 pound)
Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1 1/2 cups fresh huckleberries (about 8 ounces)
1 tablespoon chopped shallots
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 cup fond de veau (veal stock)
1/2 cup port wine
1 tablespoon butter
To prepare the foie gras:
Separate the foie gras lobes by cutting the connecting tendon with a very sharp knife. For six people you will only need the larger lobe, so reserve the remaining lobe for pâté or mousse. Carefully remove all veins but do not smash liver. Pat it dry. Place lobe flat on a cool, clean surface and, using a sharp knife dipped into very hot water, cut at a slight angle to make a 5/8 to 3/4 inch-thick slice of foie gras weighing about 3 ounces. Continue cutting until you have 6 pieces of equal size, dipping the knife into very hot water each time you slice. Lay pieces flat and with the tip of the knife, cut a crosshatch design 1/8 inch deep across the top of each piece. Cover and refrigerate until ready to sear.
Preheat oven to 275 F. Place a 10-inch nonstick sauté pan over high heat. Do not oil pan! Remove foie gras from refrigerator. Season both sides with salt and pepper. When the pan is very hot, add the foie gras, scored side down. Using your fingertips, gently push slices into pan so that foie gras immediately begins to render its fat. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until bottom begins to caramelize and quite a bit of fat has been exuded. Turn and brown on the other side for 2 minutes or until well crisped. Remove cooked foie gras to a warm plate and keep warm.
To start the sauce:
Place the sugar and the butter in a heavy 4-quart saucepan and cook over high heat until a rich caramel color, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon; be careful not to let it burn. Add 1 cup of the huckleberries, stirring until berries are well coated, then promptly add the shallots; cook until mixture reduces to about 1 cup, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce back to a syrup consistency. Add the fond de veau and the port wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and strain through chinois, using the bottom of a sturdy ladle to force as much through as possible; the strained sauce should yield about 1 1/4 cups. Add the remaining 1/2 cup huckleberries and season with salt and pepper to taste. Return to saucepan and keep warm.
Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons sauce on each heated serving plate; arrange a slice of foie gras on top of sauce and serve hot.
A good neighborhood bar is just as appealing to folks from afar as it is to round-the-way regulars. Hooligan's is that kind of neighborhood bar. College kids from all over town converge on the sports bar on hump day, where the gals really do get wild, up onstage or up on chairs and sometimes just up on anything. Watching sporting events at this joint is second only to being at the game in person. Two theater-size screens broadcast main events, and more than fifteen smaller televisions line the walls of the entire bar/grill. There's a pool hall in the back and an arcade. Of course there are happy-hour specials, a beer stock full of imports, and the best conch fritters this side of Key West.
Readers Choice: Hooligans Pub & Oyster Bar
Some would argue that Flanigan's is more restaurant than bar, disqualifying it from the "Best Bar Food" category. Nonsense. Flanigan's is all bar, albeit a sort of pubby, collegial, take-the-family-for-a-meal bar (as opposed to a sloppy-drunk bar or a pickup bar). From the lacquered wood to the sports and fishing junk on the walls, Flanigan's has all the appropriate bar accoutrements. Most important, Flanigan's has great burgers -- undoubtedly the most important bar food. The chain, with six Miami-Dade locations, even excels at second-tier bar food, like ribs (wash down a plate of Flanigan's ribs with a pitcher of beer and try to claim you're not in a bar) and fish sandwiches.
The real models, the girls and guys down here during the season working German catalogues and Mexican commercials, aren't all that different from you and me. They enjoy a tony soiree every now and then, but the snootiness gets to them too. For regular relaxing they head to Automatic Slim's on Tuesday nights for the "Double Wide" party. It's become the locals' hangout -- at least for locals who don't have to work Wednesday morning. DJ Mark Leventhal spins rock and roll and old-school hip-hop. That's a big draw. Plus the raucous atmosphere, in which you're actually encouraged to dance on tables, is unselfconsciously fun. After a day of being paid to be incredibly self-conscious, that's liberating. "There are a lot of locals, models, photographers," says one booking agent. "It's a friendly, regular atmosphere. Plus the girls that work there are pretty hot." No cover. Domestic beers are four bucks. The most expensive drink they have is eight dollars. Don't show up before 11:00 p.m.
A good bartender takes care of her regulars, knows what they drink, keeps them company, and isn't afraid to tell them to shut up. Margot Love has all of these qualities and then some. The tall blonde with something to say about everything makes sure your glass is always full before putting a thumb on what's making your life half empty. Bartenders are great therapists, aren't they? At least this gal is. She tells it like it is and her tips come cheaper than a psychiatrist's bill. Spilling your guts is fine, just be prepared to be called a whiner. The older gentlemen who lunch every weekday in designated stools around the L-shaped bar at Fox's dimly lit, leather-boothed lounge are aptly named "Margot's babies," though they're all older than her by an undisclosed number of years (she says it is a lot). They say out loud that the food and drink has them sold on the 57-year-old lounge, but a couple admit with a twinkled eye that it's Margot who keeps them coming. They can't get enough of her laugh; it fills the otherwise drowsy room. But spunk, personality, and straight-shooting insight don't make a great bartender. It starts with how the drinks go down, and no one serves up a better Manhattan than Margot.
You're cruising south on U.S. 1, just past the new Home Depot in North Miami, when you see it: a pearl-white Harley-Davidson Road King Classic, glistening under the neon beer signs of a nondescript storefront. That would be The Uke. Inside, a group of aging easy riders are knocking back cold Buds and reminiscing about their track-and-field days at North Miami Senior High School. Their ladies play a game of eight-ball on a cherry-red pool table while Hank Williams, Jr., emanates from the jukebox. Out back, two guys wearing Latin Motorcycle Club jackets roar their hogs to life and disappear into the night.
"It's not just for breakfast anymore" chimed the old Florida orange juice slogan. "It's not just for brunch anymore" could be said about the Bloody Mary. Long considered the perfect morning-after cure for night-before-induced ills, the tomato juice-vodka concoction -- often embellished with horseradish, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce, and stomach-turning substances such as Clamato -- is now commonly imbibed at all hours of the day. Doraku's extensive drink menu (including more than twenty types of sake) features a tasteful twist on the classic cocktail: Stoli Limon vodka, a splash of sake, and a good deal of potent Bloody Mary mix. The wasabi-stuffed olives offer that inimitable eye- and sinus-opening experience. You're up now!
Oscar G, the G standing for Gaetan, blends a unique combination of pounding, hardfloor beats and smooth melody, without compromising soulful rhythm, something lost on much of house music. His residency at Club Space has made him bigger in the club scene than trance king George Acosta, which makes sense considering he taught Acosta the ropes. His fame came by way of his Murk Boys productions with partner Ralph Falcon. Their early tracks laid the foundation for house music in Miami, bringing it out of the gay clubs and into the mainstream. He has steadily become Miami's most promising export. According to local label heads like SFP Records' Marc Sacheli, "Oscar is bigger in France than Paul Oakenfold."
Readers Choice: DJ Snow White
The legendary fixture of South Beach clubland lore died, again, last fall. Liquid is synonymous with Washington Avenue's glam-slam heyday of the late Nineties, when it sat juxtaposed with the peasantry of a Payless shoe store and the Art Deco all-night supermarket. Back then the cavernous joint pioneered the trance-dance subculture that dominated clubs till just a couple years back. This is where the notorious and the beautiful trick-or-treated under the moonshine magic of the now witness-protected Chris Paciello, the thug-cum-club king and his partner in crime (er ... figuratively speaking) Ingrid Casares, the queen of clubland and at the time Madonna gal pal. The original location on Fourteenth and Washington closed soon after the Paciello crime syndicate debacle, then reopened across the street at Shadow Lounge's old site a year later. But the magic had disappeared, or at least headed down the avenue to Level and across the bay to Space, where the new superclubs have prospered with the image and fare Liquid introduced back in '95. The new club tried to sign heavy-hitting, cutting-edge resident DJs and sapped all the promotional flair Casares and new partners could muster, but to no avail. Liquid has finally faded into nightlife lore.
Given all of Level's recent guises -- live music venue, host to touring theater productions, boxing matches, as well as Bill Clinton and Janet Reno political rallies -- it's easy to forget this cavernous spot is also an old-fashioned nightclub. Thankfully the staff here hasn't neglected to tend to its thumping dance floor amid all this diversification, and for clubbers seeking a hands-in-the-air night out, Level remains a solid weekend bet. A top-notch sound system delivers the beats in stomach-rumbling (but still clear) audio, while the pumping air conditioning ensures you'll be just the right side of sweaty. The second-floor balconies provide for plenty of people watching down below, while the club's bounty of nooks and crannies serve up some semi-secluded spots for when you've gotten your mix 'n' mingling down to a more intimate, ahem, level. True, the six-dollar miniature bottles of water are a bit outrageous. And the egalitarian door policy has more than a few fashionistas turning up their carefully sculpted noses. But an evening of affordable drinks and snobbery-free socializing just wouldn't be very South Beach, now would it?
Readers Choice: crobar
Do not confuse this category with best happy hour. This is about the best drink served at a reduced price. The two-for-one mojitos at C&P House (a.k.a. Condal & Peñamil, Spanish tobacconists), offered from noon to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Thursday, crisply suit that definition. The drinks, expertly concocted the labor-intensive way, with all ingredients mixed in the glass, are offered for $7.50. Most notably, no premade lime juice is used. Instead chopped limes are ground with a pestle in your glass. The yerbabuena mint leaves are clipped from fresh bunches kept refrigerated. The bar rum used is the respectable Puerto Rican distillery Castillo. You could request a fancier rum, but it would be a waste given that the ingredients would obliterate the finer points of a sophisticated liquor. Sit out on Lincoln Road and ignore the tourists; take a long sip confident in the knowledge that the next one is not going to cost you a thing.
There is more to the gay party scene in South Florida than the white-centric, steroid-drenched circuit party. Trance music, electronic diva music, and drum and bass get as monotonous and obnoxious as the middle-age muscle clones who haunt the clubs looking to score a gram of Tina. Club Boi, located in the heart of black Miami, just above a ramshackle female strip club, offers a refreshing, if not grittier alternative. Here the bruthas and those who love them party all night on Fridays and Saturdays to the sounds of hip-hop, R&B, house, reggae, and old school. The macho rapper posturing is charming during hip-hop nights and the old-school/house music crowd on Saturdays is among the rockingest parties in town.
Readers Choice: Twist