At 9 pm on a Friday, a restaurant kitchen is busier than it has been all week. The smell of sizzling butter and seared steaks lingers by the stove. Pans are tossed back and forth, making a scratching sound against the hot burners.
Amidst the madness, a chef -- wearing an impeccable white coat -- bends over a stainless steel counter. Around her, there are piles of white plates, pending tickets, and a loud, stressed-out expeditor. She steadily lifts an edible flower with a silver tweezer and sets it on an ivory platter, then follows with sliced hamachi, hibiscus foam and, ultimately, spherified ponzu. The platter leaves the kitchen in the hands of a waiter prepared to explain the dish. It has all the intricacies of a modernized Giuseppe Arcimboldo painting. The food isn't rustic. It's beautiful, pristine and precise.
What follows is our list for Art Basel-goers, those who want to eat food as lovely as a million-dollar art collection. Tweezer-plated fare comes at a high price but, like a good painting, just consider it a smart investment.
Todd Erickson graduated from the Culinary Institute of America, worked at acclaimed eateries like Zuma, and opened up the hip gastro-lounge Haven in Miami Beach. The eatery is surrounded by LCD screens, blasting tunes by Amirn van Buuren, and fare with liquid nitrogen. Dishes include sub-zero ice cream made with special mix-ins. Or Swedish meatballs, cremini mushrooms and lingonberry gastrique. Prices aren't that high -- about $50 per person -- but let's wait and see what happens to ordering tendencies after three or four cocktails. Libations include ingredients like "blood orange" caviar and calamansi juice. Pretty, indeed.
4. DB Bistro
In 2010, DB Bistro arrived in downtown Miami with all the refinement expected from an eatery by Daniel Boulud. Executive chef Matthieu Godard, who previously worked under Ramon Freixa in Marbella as well as the Boulud enterprise in New York, offers dishes like grilled Portoguese octupus with marcona almond purée, oranges, arugula and olives. Desserts by Jerome Maure might include vacherins like the one above, or others with coconut tapioca pudding, tarragon meringue, vanilla chantilly and star anise ice cream. Sound good? Well make reservations. Then plan on spending about $75-90 per person.
3. J&G Grill
French master Jean-Georges Vongerichten brought J&G Grill to Miami this year. He dubbed the eatery "contemporary American with a local influence". We are all still trying to figure out what the heck "American" cuisine means precisely, but just make the drive to Bal Harbor in the medium term. Chef de cuisine Richard Gras helms the kitchen and turns out dishes like grilled Colorado lamb with braised artichoke and chili crumbs for a whopping $55. The eatery was the winner of New Times' Best Outdoor Dining this year. It's simply a nice spot to spend time, buy pretty things and spend a lot of cash. And isn't that what Art Basel is all about?
2. The Bazaar
José Andrés made his highly-anticipated debut in South Beach this year when he launched the Bazaar at the SLS Hotel. The food is fun, including playful nods to Miami, Latin America and the Caribbean. You can get a sandwich cubano for $12, for example. Sound cheap? You will eat it in four bites. But meals at The Bazaar are all about the experience. So, relax, order a liquid nitrogen caipirinha, or a spherified olive, and admire the loveliness of those baby Japanese peaches. The price tag is about $75 per person.
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This past April, Kevin Cory moved Naoe, his acclaimed Japanese restaurant, from Sunny Isles to Brickell Key. Since then, Cory has continued to develop his reputation as one of Miami's leading toques. The eatery serves pristine seafood, and the motto is "its not fresh, its alive". But what makes Naoe all the more beautiful is its exclusivity. The restaurant seats eight patrons per dinner service, with only two seatings per evening. So, it is best to think of Naoe's fare like a sculpture by Isamu Noguchi: subtle yet striking, sensitive yet compelling. Of course, expensive, too. Dinner is omakase style, starting at $85 per person.
Follow Emily on Twitter @EmilyCodik.