Letters from the Issue of December 1, 2005
No Lillet? Not fair: Regarding Lee Klein's story "What's the Matter with Miami?" (November 24): The ten points he raised about why Miami has never matured into a great restaurant city were right on the button. I would like to contribute an eleventh point for restaurateurs to consider, which also happens to be the same reason why Miami's handful of would-be five-star hotels have not rated higher than a four: Service. Uninformed, inefficient, and surly far outweigh stellar. Clue: Stellar is never, ever asking "Is everything okay?" Stellar is never addressing anyone as "you guys." Stellar is being able to intelligently answer a simple question about the menu without resorting to having to go to the kitchen to ask. Stellar is attentive but never obsequious. Stellar is not saying "A what?" when a Lillet is ordered before dinner. (And, for heaven's sake, why is it that the bars in Miami restaurants have countless silly flavored martinis but can't manage a couple of bottles of Lillet in stock? Maybe three places in Miami have it at the bar).
Stellar service can make a casual restaurant the reliable choice, as is the case of Joe Allen, where the staff is consistent, knowledgeable, and would never rush the last table out (they even have Lillet!). It can make a wonderful meal at a topnotch restaurant even more pleasurable, as at Ortanique. It can turn around three terrible dining experiences in a row, as was the case at Charthouse, where we ventured to go one more time at the request of out-of-town guests. Our waiter was so stellar that we felt compelled to tell her that because of her, we would return to the restaurant in the future (and even overlook the macadamia-encrusted entrées). She was from St. Louis, and she should be teaching other waiters in Miami their art, for it is an art. But alas, the majority of Miami's service industry remains ignorant of that fact.
Quality, not price, a great meal makes: Great article about the mediocrity of Miami's dining scene. Lee Klein makes many of the points I've noticed for years. The lack of a food culture is definitely one of the primary reasons why Miami is so behind culinarily than most cities its size. Most Miamians couldn't care less if their shrimp comes from the U.S. or Vietnam; that grouper, though caught a few miles away in the Gulf of Mexico, costs twice as much as salmon; and that much of our produce is sold shrink-wrapped. And the attitude of "the more expensive the better" is pervasive. There are almost no middle-market restaurants worth their salt in Miami, and if a good one were to open, I believe it would fail, since for most Miamians, quality is linked directly to price.
As an aside, something that was not mentioned in the article was the level of service at restaurants from fine-dining to mom-and-pop establishments. Then again, there's enough juice in this topic for a "What's the Matter with Miami?" Part 2.
Chew everything 50 times: Thanks to Lee Klein for his recent observation of the Miami restaurant scene. Finally a writer speaks the truth, and I commend him for it.
The food scene in Miami has always been a challenge for me since leaving New York City. I am a member of Slow Food, graduated from the French Culinary Institute, followed Ferran Adrià since I bought his book in 1997, waited for the raw food movement to arrive here for years. It is few and far between to even have a conversation about these things much less be inspired by the local scene. I just hope it makes a difference.
I would love to send Mr. Klein some champagne.
Richard Jay Hales
People get the food they expect: Lee Klein is totally right on. I have one other observation to share: Ninety-five percent of the dining public in Miami does not know the difference, and I believe they prefer mediocrity. For example, after Shin left Shoji Sushi for New York (where he thought he would be appreciated, and paid, for his talent), I spoke with the owner of the restaurant and asked what he would do now with Shin gone. He told me it really didn't matter because only three to five percent of the customers even know the difference. And you know what? The restaurant has raised the prices twenty percent from last year and is even busier.
The question becomes: How do we improve the quality of food in Miami? I tried to stop eating at restaurants but got tired of my own cooking.
Also, I recommend that Mr. Klein check out the new Italian restaurant on Ocean Terrace and 73rd Parioli Café. It is advertised as "authentic" Italian cuisine and is comparable to Mario Batali's Lupa in NYC. I think it is a cut above Timo's.
Plenty of good eats here: Does Lee Klein really eat out at restaurants on the Beach? What about the extraordinary Vix at the Victor Hotel, the delicious Prime One Twelve, the amazing dining at the Setai? And of the many "local" places, has he ever been to wonderful Talula or yummy Macaluso's? Maybe he should get out more.
No charge to look back: Please allow me to praise the New Times for its excellent archives. I recently wanted to learn more about Kirk Nielsen's story concerning Julio Marrero's development of Grand Avenue ("Fables of the Reconstruction," July 14).
Expecting that reading back articles would cost me money, as it does with the Miami Herald, I was happy to find that New Times archives are both excellent and free. This makes them similar to a library, where I can learn and be entertained at the same time.
Jackson Rip Holmes
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