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Best Of 2005

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Best Of :: Food & Drink

BEST RESTAURANT DéCOR

BEST RESTAURANT DéCOR China Grill 404 Washington Avenue

Miami Beach

305-534-2211

www.chinagrillmgt.com There is certainly no shortage of stunning restaurants these days, but you always remember your first. For Miami diners that would be China Grill, which, when it burst upon the South Beach scene in 1996, instantly became the blueprint for grand contemporary dining rooms in the region. When you enter the Jeffrey Beers-designed, 390-seat space, an audio-assault of clatter, chatter, and buzz might momentarily distract your visual senses, but soon enough your eyes will take in the onyx glass and Egyptian limestone surfaces, the towering cherry-wood columns, and a kinetic cocktail scene at the center bar, which wraps around a hectic open kitchen. You probably won't even notice that the floor tiles pay homage to Marco Polo. Subtly terraced seating levels provide clear sight lines to the action, and hanging sheepskin-shaded lamps cast a muted golden glow upon it all. China Grill's décor exudes elegance and class yet at the same time is quintessential South Beach. That's not easy to pull off.

PERSONAL BEST

Personal best Marvin Woods of restaurant mwoods Chef Marvin Woods hails from New York and New Jersey and has worked at the top of the food world, from the SeaGrill at Rockefeller Center in New York City to Restaurant Danzon in Buenos Aires to the National Hotel in Miami Beach. Now ensconced in his NoMi namesake restaurant, Woods is the star and chief scene-stealer on TurnerSouth television's Home Plate Cooking: Everyday Southern Cuisine with a Fresh Twist.

The sassy, handsome Woods says his culinary inspiration stems from summers spent with relatives in the Southern U.S. and from South American, Caribbean, and African recipes.

Best month in Miami: For me it runs from the end of January to, like, May. Blue skies, no humidity? You can't get better weather. The reason I live in Miami is because of the weather. When we're at the peak of our season here, there's no better place to be.

Best reason to live in Miami: Besides the weather, I like the fact that it's close to the Caribbean and it's still on the East Coast. It's close enough that I can jump on a plane and be anyplace I'd like to be in just a couple of hours.

Best cheap thrill: Is there one? [laughs] Paninoteca on Lincoln Road [809 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach]. It's a European-style sandwicherie, and they do a really good job at what they do. I love sandwiches, they're kind of like my weakness. They're not that expensive; you can get a really good sandwich on the healthy side and be quite happy.

Best not-so-cheap thrill: China Grill [404 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach]. They do a great job, but they're a little bit expensive.

Best barbecue: It doesn't exist. I love barbecue. Last year I went to the annual barbecue festival in Memphis, and I saw how it's really done. It's the Super Bowl of barbecue. There are three days of this event, and 63 categories of barbecue, okay? I will give a prop to a place in Fort Lauderdale, Tom Jenkins Barbecue [1236 S. Federal Highway]. They do a decent job.

Best Caribbean restaurant: Ortanique on the Mile [278 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables]. They just do a really good job. Whenever I walk in the door, I'll get the special or whatever, and I'm never disappointed.

What culinary trends do you predict for the year 2020? I definitely think you're going to see more food inspired and influenced by Africa. That's what I do rigiht now. If you were to call up and ask what kind of food I do, we tell everyone New American. The reason we say that is because it's really easy, and a lot of other chefs are also using that term. What it allows you to do is work under this huge umbrella. But when you say American, what is our country made up of today? There are all kinds of different backgrounds. At my restaurant we have lobster, we have crabcakes, filet mignon, lamb -- all those things you'd get at an upscale gourmet restaurant. But when you see how it's prepared, the flavors are Caribbean and Southern and South American and African. I define all of that as food of the African diaspora. But there's no way I can put that out there right now, because I wouldn't get anyone in the restaurant. But I think as people travel and experience more, it's going to hit. Because you can only do Asian so many ways. Give me a freaking break now.

PERSONAL BEST

Bill Nunn -- the grizzly bear of an actor who played Radio Raheem in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (and has barreled through supporting parts in scores of other movies) -- takes a seat at the counter, simultaneously inhaling a croqueta and remarking about the lack of guava pastries which, because of the late hour, have run out for the day. Three seats are occupied by tipsy Brazilian beauties grooving to a tune audible only on their internal frequency. A garrulous air conditioner repairman talks about coming to Miami from Havana in 1994, his ex-wife, and his escape-prone albino ferret. The most handsome man on the planet sits quietly reading, oblivious to distractions. Two gentlemen on their way to Key West study the paper placemats at Puerto Sagua and ask, "Where's Cuba?"

Those guys must be from someplace really landlocked and far away, because Cuba is everywhere at Puerto Sagua -- in the grouper soup, in the flan, in the butter-soaked bread served with limes, and especially in the café con leche. Here the steamed milk is served without sugar and with the espresso in a tiny stainless steel urn on the side. Regular -- and fortunate -- patrons come under the care of Leticia, who reads the urgent need for caffeine on their faces and occasionally rewards her customers with an extra dollop of froth and mouthful of sweet, strong coffee. She and longtime nightshift co-workers Javier and Maria prefer to work quietly, eschewing idle chatter in Spanish and English, but they did have a little to say from their posts at one of Miami Beach's most unchanging landmarks.

Best seasonal or special event in Miami Beach: The South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Even after a day of eating and drinking, people still come over for dinner. It's strange, but maybe people want something simple after all the gourmet dishes.

Best reason to live in Miami: The weather. And the people, even though times have changed.

What do you see in the future for Miami Beach? More building, more traffic, but good things too. Places grow and change. We will still be here!

PERSONAL BEST

Bill Nunn -- the grizzly bear of an actor who played Radio Raheem in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing (and has barreled through supporting parts in scores of other movies) -- takes a seat at the counter, simultaneously inhaling a croqueta and remarking about the lack of guava pastries which, because of the late hour, have run out for the day. Three seats are occupied by tipsy Brazilian beauties grooving to a tune audible only on their internal frequency. A garrulous air conditioner repairman talks about coming to Miami from Havana in 1994, his ex-wife, and his escape-prone albino ferret. The most handsome man on the planet sits quietly reading, oblivious to distractions. Two gentlemen on their way to Key West study the paper placemats at Puerto Sagua and ask, "Where's Cuba?"

Those guys must be from someplace really landlocked and far away, because Cuba is everywhere at Puerto Sagua -- in the grouper soup, in the flan, in the butter-soaked bread served with limes, and especially in the café con leche. Here the steamed milk is served without sugar and with the espresso in a tiny stainless steel urn on the side. Regular -- and fortunate -- patrons come under the care of Leticia, who reads the urgent need for caffeine on their faces and occasionally rewards her customers with an extra dollop of froth and mouthful of sweet, strong coffee. She and longtime nightshift co-workers Javier and Maria prefer to work quietly, eschewing idle chatter in Spanish and English, but they did have a little to say from their posts at one of Miami Beach's most unchanging landmarks.

Best seasonal or special event in Miami Beach: The South Beach Wine & Food Festival. Even after a day of eating and drinking, people still come over for dinner. It's strange, but maybe people want something simple after all the gourmet dishes.

Best reason to live in Miami: The weather. And the people, even though times have changed.

What do you see in the future for Miami Beach? More building, more traffic, but good things too. Places grow and change. We will still be here!

PERSONAL BEST

Personal best Marvin Woods of restaurant mwoods Chef Marvin Woods hails from New York and New Jersey and has worked at the top of the food world, from the SeaGrill at Rockefeller Center in New York City to Restaurant Danzon in Buenos Aires to the National Hotel in Miami Beach. Now ensconced in his NoMi namesake restaurant, Woods is the star and chief scene-stealer on TurnerSouth television's Home Plate Cooking: Everyday Southern Cuisine with a Fresh Twist.

The sassy, handsome Woods says his culinary inspiration stems from summers spent with relatives in the Southern U.S. and from South American, Caribbean, and African recipes.

Best month in Miami: For me it runs from the end of January to, like, May. Blue skies, no humidity? You can't get better weather. The reason I live in Miami is because of the weather. When we're at the peak of our season here, there's no better place to be.

Best reason to live in Miami: Besides the weather, I like the fact that it's close to the Caribbean and it's still on the East Coast. It's close enough that I can jump on a plane and be anyplace I'd like to be in just a couple of hours.

Best cheap thrill: Is there one? [laughs] Paninoteca on Lincoln Road [809 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach]. It's a European-style sandwicherie, and they do a really good job at what they do. I love sandwiches, they're kind of like my weakness. They're not that expensive; you can get a really good sandwich on the healthy side and be quite happy.

Best not-so-cheap thrill: China Grill [404 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach]. They do a great job, but they're a little bit expensive.

Best barbecue: It doesn't exist. I love barbecue. Last year I went to the annual barbecue festival in Memphis, and I saw how it's really done. It's the Super Bowl of barbecue. There are three days of this event, and 63 categories of barbecue, okay? I will give a prop to a place in Fort Lauderdale, Tom Jenkins Barbecue [1236 S. Federal Highway]. They do a decent job.

Best Caribbean restaurant: Ortanique on the Mile [278 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables]. They just do a really good job. Whenever I walk in the door, I'll get the special or whatever, and I'm never disappointed.

What culinary trends do you predict for the year 2020? I definitely think you're going to see more food inspired and influenced by Africa. That's what I do rigiht now. If you were to call up and ask what kind of food I do, we tell everyone New American. The reason we say that is because it's really easy, and a lot of other chefs are also using that term. What it allows you to do is work under this huge umbrella. But when you say American, what is our country made up of today? There are all kinds of different backgrounds. At my restaurant we have lobster, we have crabcakes, filet mignon, lamb -- all those things you'd get at an upscale gourmet restaurant. But when you see how it's prepared, the flavors are Caribbean and Southern and South American and African. I define all of that as food of the African diaspora. But there's no way I can put that out there right now, because I wouldn't get anyone in the restaurant. But I think as people travel and experience more, it's going to hit. Because you can only do Asian so many ways. Give me a freaking break now.

BEST CHEF

BEST CHEF Norman Van Aken With this new item comes a new rule that applies to it alone: no repeats. Therefore, this being something of an informal Hall of Fame, who could we possibly choose as initial inductee other than Mr. Van Aken? If he weren't the best chef, we'd feel pretty silly for having crowned his fine-dining emporium with a record ten consecutive Best Restaurant in Coral Gables awards. And who are we to second-guess the James Beard Foundation, The New York Times, and all the others who have cited Van Aken as Miami's master modern mango man? Other great veteran chefs from the area -- Mark Militello, Allen Susser, Jonathan Eismann, Douglas Rodriguez, Robbin Haas -- can lay claim to having made important contributions to what we place under the umbrella of New Florida cuisine, but Van Aken's New World cooking most clearly represents the movement's apex. This thinking-chef's chef and multiple cookbook author has spread himself thin of late with new Norman's branches in Orlando and Los Angeles (and the late, lamented Mundo), but a meal at his flagship establishment still braces with brassy, intelligent elixirs of indigenous ingredients and global concepts. Congratulations, Norman, and we wish you many more a success to come.

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BEST RESTAURANT DéCOR: China Grill

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