There is a lazy trope far too many out-of-town writers fall into when writing about Miami. They list of a litany of obvious Miami stereotypes: Beach! Neon! Pretty people! '80s! Expensive! Parties! It's like the written equivalent of the Miami Vice opening credits. And then they proudly proclaim that they've found something in Miami that doesn't completely fit all of those stereotypes like they've made the discovery of the century.
The undertone is "Miami is still a touristy cliché mess, but lo and behold we actually found something nice about it!"
This worn-out writing trick is on clear display today in a little restaurant report in The New York Times on 27, the restaurant at the Freehand Miami off Indian Creek Drive. Writer Ondine Cohane falls headfirst into the trap in her opening paragraph:
New restaurants on and around Ocean Drive in Miami Beach — usually housed in the latest branded boutique hotel with big-name absentee chefs, high-priced fusion menus and ’80s décor — are a dime a dozen. Then there’s 27, a spot that opened in November just a few steps, but a world away, from that touristy, neon-dotted strip.
Now of course, anyone familiar with basic Miami Beach geography knows that 27 is not anywhere near Ocean Drive let alone a few steps away. The number of steps would be in the thousands, and take about a half hour to complete.
Locals and most savvy tourists (the types the Times should be writing for) already know that many Ocean Drive restaurants are notorious tourist traps more concerned with cramming charges on your bill than flavor on your plate (though Cohane does correctly note that more and more are at least pretending to be fine culinary enterprises). They're not a fair comparison to the rest of the city's restaurants.
The difference in setting is immediately obvious: 27 resides in a classic Art Deco landmark built in the 1930s. Inside, instead of cold marble and garish lighting, the interior design firm Roman & Williams has gone in a much more intimate direction with wood floorboards, candlelit tables and low ceilings that run through interlocking rooms; it feels as if you are visiting a private home for a stylish dinner party. On a recent Sunday night every table was taken and the bar was packed, but the vibe was unpretentious, with groups of young Miamians and couples on dates elbow to elbow on banquettes and benches.
Well, actually most Ocean Drive restaurants are housed in "classic Art Deco landmarks" as well, so that's just sloppy reporting. Also note the implications that all Miami Beach restaurants are decked out in "cold marble and garish lighting" and the fact we're supposed to be surprised one isn't. Note the implication that all restaurants here should be pretentious, and that 27 should be congratulated simply because it is not.
The equivalent of this would be if New Times had a travel issue and went up to New York and reported on a restaurant there like this.
Restaurants symbolizing the decadent evils of uncontrolled capitalism are a dime a dozen in Times Square in New York City, a place that long ago sold its soul to become America's capital of inequality. Take for example Guy Fieri's American Kitchen and bar with its grotesque "Guy-talian" nachos or the unlimited breadsticks at the Olive Garden. But located just steps aways ... in Brooklyn ... is A RESTAURANT that we actually sort of like and will bless with faint praise just because it isn't something we don't like.
And yes, Ocean Drive is very much our version of Times Square (and yet we'd take it over modern day Times Square any day). It is strange how New Yorkers always hold their nose up at it too, since, you know, the strip was pretty much designed for their grandparents to visit, not for us locals to do anything with.
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SHOW ME HOW
There are plenty of other restaurants on Miami Beach that also aren't horrible Ocean Drive eateries with imported absentee chefs, like Yardbird, Pubbelly, and Macchialina just to name the most obvious. The fact that restaurants exist on the island that aren't clichés isn't anything new. 27 should be praised on its own, not just because of what it isn't. It's actually quite insulting. There are plenty of other, more apt ways to write about something in Miami Beach rather than comparing it to Ocean Drive. (Here's our review of the same restaurant in case you're wondering how to do it right).
In fact, this whole article's tone is quite insulting and all too common. It comes off as very, "Miami sucks, but here's one place that doesn't suck."
The ultimate irony, however, is that such writing is more of a cliché than all the Miami clichés they usually list in their first paragraph.