Miami Art Week hits the city in a few short weeks, turning just about every street corner, public space, and hotel lobby into a pop-up art gallery. Art Basel, the signature event, runs December 3 through 6 at the Miami Beach Convention Center, and satellite fairs such as Art Miami in midtown begin as early as December 1.
At some point, the week turns into a frenetic jumble of colorful canvases, people-watching, and champagne in plastic flutes. You'll need nourishment to continue. Luckily, Miami's restaurant scene is as varied as the art displayed at the shows. Of course, there are sure-fire, established hits like Joe's Stone Crab, but Basel is the time to explore the new and exciting. With that in mind, here are five new restaurants chosen for their creativity and ability to transport you to a different time and space through food.
Byblos at the Royal Palm South Beach is a chic foray into Eastern Mediterranean cuisine. The two-story dining room, awash in sea tones, sets the mood for the food, a modern interpretation of fare from Lebanon, Israel, Syria, and Turkey. A wood-burning oven turns out Persian barbari bread, which is served with beets or labneh ($10 to $13) for starters. Fragrant rice dishes are sweet with carrots and saffron or savory with foraged mushrooms and truffle paste ($13 to $28). The seafood-heavy menu features local selections as well as imported Mediterranean fish such as branzino, but carnivores aren't forgotten. Lamb ribs marinated in Egyptian spices ($18) and an 18-ounce bone-in prime rib eye ($65) satisfy meatier cravings.
Bazi's dining room looks like a set from a 1940s spy mystery — complete with a Chinese dragon surveying the crowd. Chef/partner Michael Pirolo, best known for his Italian dishes at Scarpetta and later at his own Macchialina, said he had been playing with the idea of an Asian concept for years. Pirolo mixes traditional Asian flavors with local product and freshly caught fish for his dishes, which include Cantonese shrimp ($20), pork belly gyoza ($14), and lobster served two ways — hence the name "Our Fickle Friend" ($40). The standout dish is the Peking duck feast for two ($96), which includes duck lo mein as a precursor to the duck entrée, served with pancakes and pickled melon.
3. The Continental
Though the AMC series Mad Men has ended, we like to think Don Draper and Joan Holloway finally hook up in sunny Miami Beach in the late '60s. If that did happen, chances are they would share tiki cocktails and sizzling seafood wor bar ($25) at the Continental. Philadelphia-based restaurateur Stephen Starr brings his martini bar from the City of Brotherly Love to Miami and gives it a retro-tiki twist. Here you'll find waitstaff dressed as cabana boys serving colorful cocktails and food that can be best described as Middle America eats the world. That translates to mashups like cheesesteak egg rolls ($16) and Korean fried chicken ($22). An attentive staff, good quality, and kitschy/elegant surroundings make dining here a pleasurable time capsule of an evening.
2. Driftwood Room
Celebrity chef Alexandra "Alex" Guarnaschelli recently opened Driftwood Room at the Nautilus South Beach Hotel (1825 Collins Ave.). Though the indoor dining room is a tribute to MiMo minimalist design, opt for a table on the enchanting patio if weather permits. It is there that the glow through the wicker light fixtures mimics the nearby ocean waves. The restaurant serves unfussy Mediterranean cuisine with an emphasis on France, a place where the chef spent years learning her craft long before Food Network came calling. A lionfish crudo ($13) is whimsically arranged to resemble a Christmas wreath, with the sweet flesh of this invasive species allowed to shine with just EVOO and some acidity. Giant local Florida shrimp a la plancha ($23) will have you sucking the heads for just a bit more of the savory flavor. Whatever you do, leave room for passionfruit-custard-filled doughnuts, served with vanilla creme. They come three to an order, so be prepared to armwrestle your date for the last one.
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Bradley Kilgore's Alter fits right into Wynwood's artistic scene. The small restaurant is nondescript, decorated in concrete tones with a bit of colorful neon for punch. That all allows diners to focus on what's on the plate. Kilgore, best known for his role as executive chef at the tony J&G Grill, allows his talent and imagination to soar in his inventive menu that changes frequently and offers everything from heirloom carrots and pastrami-cured eggplant ($21) to a dish of prawns and squid in a Thai green curry ($25). Each dish feeds the eyes and the palate, which makes Alter the perfect restaurant to discover during your Art Basel experience.