At Home on the Boulevard
To someone accustomed to urban walking neighborhoods like Manhattan or South Beach, the prospect of living in Miami's Upper Eastside has always seemed claustrophobic. Yes, there were beautiful homes and condos in the residential neighborhoods, but no pedestrian-friendly places to which residents could stroll for a cup of coffee in the morning, a glass of wine in the evening, plus a bite to eat and some convivial people watching at all hours. The recent additions of Casa Toscana and a Starbucks took care of the wine and coffee. Several eateries with outdoor tables have opened along Biscayne Boulevard in the past few years, but not a single alfresco area has seemed inviting as a place to hang out and get to know the neighborhood.
Uva 69 qualifies as this kind of classic café on many counts. It's owned by brothers Sinuhe and Michael Vega, who opened the tiny Cane á Sucre bakery a couple of years ago, opposite the mammoth vacant lot that will eventually become "Midtown Miami," a sprawling mixed-use project that promises to be a city within a city. As anyone who's discovered the brothers' slightly more southern outpost might guess, Uva's fresh-baked breakfast pastries are terrific, particularly the buttery, moist, rich plain croissants. As for coffee, I can't imagine swilling Starbucks's lattes when directly across the street are Uva's truly authentic French café au lait and eye-opening Cuban cortadito. For those in search of something more than pastry with their jolt of joe, there are eight breakfast sandwiches, including the tasty campagne: bacon, Brie, caramelized onions, and scrambled eggs (cooked soft, as ordered) on a housemade baguette.
Later in the day, salads and lunch and dinner are also made fresh to order. And although the usuals are available (chicken caesars, et al.), many offerings display inspired original touches. Le Habanero, for instance, is a Francophile's fantasy of a Cuban sandwich. Piled and pressed on a baguette are plenty of juicy pulled pork, caramelized onions just vinegary enough to cut the roasted pork's richness, pepper jack cheese, plus imported French ham, cornichons, and Dijon mustard -- this instead of the usual supermarket-quality ham, Swiss, pickles, and condiments. The same assertive mustard and authentic imported pickles, as well as European-style artisan sweet butter, turns Le Campagne, a sandwich of honest, rough country pâté, into a mini trip to rural France. La Minuta is far superior to most fish sandwiches, with its cilantro aioli, heaps of smokey grilled onions, and truly ripe plum tomato slices garnishing crunchy, beer-battered mahi-mahi.
Among salads, the tempura rock shrimp is a standout -- seven lightly battered, perfectly deep-fried morsels atop tangy chayote slaw with citrus vinaigrette-dressed tomatoes, avocados, and field greens.
For dessert, the French apple tart isn't the classic, sleekly elegant puff pastry travelers to France might expect. But diners with a Miami sweet tooth will probably prefer Uva's more formidable fusion arrangement: a typically French thin layer of crisp caramelized apple slices atop a hefty chunk-style all-American apple pie. Would you like that à la mode? Mais oui.
Uva does mean "grape," so it's not surprising that the café also doubles as a wine bar. What is surprising is the limited list's many unusual selections (including two Spanish Albariños, a respectable Tuscan, and some thoughtful Argentine picks) at unusually reasonable prices, $18 to $45 per bottle. Many wines are available by the glass too, complemented after 6:00 p.m. by a small selection of tapas, and on some nights by live acoustic music. But the biggest surprise is that Uva is such a pleasant place to linger and enjoy the café's fare. This is thanks to the placement of the covered outdoor patio on a side street, protecting it from boulevard traffic -- but not from neighborhood energy. Uva is one of those welcoming places that transform a street from merely a way to get home into home.
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