Best Of :: Food & Drink
Living in a coastal town such as Miami, where shores line a large portion of the topography, you expect good seafood to be readily available. But there's good, and then there's great. For the latter, look no further than Casablanca. When a place boasts its own market, fishermen in its employ, and more than 20 years in the biz, you can bet it serves the freshest seafood. And Casablanca's chefs know just what to do with the bounty delivered daily to their dock. Finding that fine balance between flair and finesse, they offer delicious preparations that respect the seafood as the star of the show. Try the crab-stuffed shrimp in garlic sauce ($23.95), which highlights the crustaceans' natural sweetness, or the famous zarzuela de mariscos ($28.95), with generous portions of shrimp, mussels, scallops, and lobster in a delicate tomato broth with a cognac flambé. Let's not forget the unbeatable weekday specials, such as all-you-can-eat free shrimp on Mondays and oysters on Wednesdays — which means you can munch for the sole price of libations. Then there are buy-one-get-one-free deals on the catch of the day Tuesdays, lobster Thursdays, and stone crab Fridays. Plus the market always has a variety of fresh fare, from snapper to grouper to claws of all sizes. And the prices: some of the most competitive in town.
Let's talk alchemy. For centuries, wizened scholars — toiling in dark cellars, their wispy gray beards flirting with flames as they cooked cauldrons of metals and spices — searched endlessly for the secret to transmuting basic elements into something new, something otherworldly. Everyone from Isaac Newton to Tycho Brahe grew obsessed with finding the key. Honestly, they should have just ordered some pho at Miss Saigon. How else to explain what happens inside the massive, steaming bowl delivered to your table at the small Vietnamese eatery on Washington Avenue (or inside its larger sister restaurants in Coral Gables and Pinecrest)? In go a few basics: unctuous broth, thick rice noodles, and chunks of raw beef or chicken, topped off at the table with a plate of basil and sprouts and squirted with bottles of fiery red hot sauce and deep-black plum sauce. Yet into your mouth goes a magically complex meal, infinitely better than the sum of its humble parts. (And a steal at $10.95 for a bowl easily big enough for two). If that's not alchemy, our name is Ptolemy.
The American South has given us Hee Haw, boll weevils, Dollywood, and 92 percent of all mosquitoes in the United States. But it has also bestowed upon us Ray Hicks of West Virginia. It was he who brought Miami locals the First & First Southern Baking Company. When it comes to breakfast, Hicks's hot licks include cornmeal/blueberry pancakes; potato pancakes; blackberry waffles; chicken and waffles (with real maple syrup); a "lumberjack" breakfast of eggs, fried potatoes, two pancakes, two bacon strips, two sausage links, and a fruit cup; oatmeal; and, of course, grits. Most breakfasts run $5 to $9 and are served from 8 to 11 a.m. It's almost enough to make you want to put on a Lynyrd Skynyrd CD. Almost.
Almost as famous as this local chain's coal-oven pizza are its chicken wings. Spared from goopy sauces, Anthony's are seasoned with flavorful herbs and roasted at high heat in the oven. They arrive at the table in orders of ten ($8.95) or 20 ($14.95) with sweet caramelized onions and focaccia on the side. Their skin sports a nice char, and the flesh is moist inside. They are to the palate a coal-fired delight.
We all love Lulu — at least those of us old enough to remember her tearfully singing, "How do you thank someone who has taken you from crayons to perfume?" to Sidney Poitier in To Sir With Love. Huh? Oh. Yes, of course. It goes without saying that we also all love Lulu the restaurant — operated by the team behind the Grove's number one meeting spot, GreenStreet. In fact, it is located right across the street from that landmark eatery and is something of a smaller, cozier version with the same mission: to provide a sidewalk café environment where locals can gather for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and weekend brunch — and lollygag over cocktails, wine (all bottles $25, all glasses $8), and value-driven cuisine. They call it "neighborfood," which means sandwiches of fried green tomatoes and apple-wood-smoked bacon ($11); shrimp tacos ($15); hamburgers, and patties culled from turkey, pork, and brown rice/black beans too ($12 to $15). Entrées likewise lean toward popular American classics: rotisserie chicken with French fries ($18); truffled mac and cheese ($13); and chimichurri churrasco ($20). We all love Lulu, which is why its tables have been packed since opening day. Wonder what became of that other Lulu?
It is a labor of love born from a love story: Jeremy and Paola Goldberg met while they were students at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. After years of earning their stripes in other people's restaurants, the couple serendipitously ended up in Miami and opened a place of their own — located in Coral Gables and named for the highway that swoops by their alma mater. Jeremy helms the dining room, Paola is the chef, and the restaurant serves fresh, home-cooked fare. The concise menu includes charcuterie and cheese plates ($13), soups and salads ($6 to $9), small plates ($6 to $13), main plates ($14 to $23), and sides ($6). There are sticky chicken wings, burrata cheese with fig preserves, and entrées such as prosciutto-wrapped pork loin, and flank steak with grilled romaine hearts and blue cheese vinaigrette. Each plate, of course, is likewise loaded with love. The waitstaff here is excellent, and service is about as good as it gets: personable, knowledgeable, efficient, and professionally trained. Those years spent managing restaurants evidently served the Goldbergs well.