If there is a Hell on Earth for small-business owners, its name is Biscayne Boulevard.
What's amusingly termed "ongoing construction" (replace con with de for greater accuracy) has left stretches of Miami's premier boulevard looking as if they've been hit by ICBMs, with surfaces so potholed that even driving over them at a slow creep can crack axles and damage sensitive internal organs.
To open a new restaurant along certain sections of Biscayne requires either boundless self-confidence and near-saintly patience or cast-iron gonads and a set of delusions rivaling Dick Cheney's. And to open a restaurant on a site that eats restaurants as if they were so many chicken caesar salads ... well, you can only hope that God or Oprah or somebody is watching over the brave/crazy entrepreneurs who think they can make it work.
Moonchine Asian Bistro
7100 Biscayne Blvd, Miami; 305-759-3999. Open Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 11 p.m., Saturday through Sunday 5 to 11 p.m.
The folks at Moonchine Asian Bistro think they can make it work. Moonchine is the younger brother of Indochine, another restaurant that set up shop in a problematic location and not only survived but also prospered, thanks to an affordable, accessible pan-Asian/sushi menu and savvy marketing. The same concept and essentially the same menu are reprised at Moonchine, but with lower prices and portions that, although adequate, aren't exactly generous.
One exception is tuna tataki — nicely done, fetchingly presented slabs of quality seared raw tuna arranged like flower petals on a bed of julienne vegetables surrounded by citrusy ponzu.
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At 20 bucks, "Vietnamese bouillabaisse" is one of most expensive dishes, a delicate amalgam of shellfish and wide, slippery rice noodles in a shimmering lemongrass-infused broth. Unfortunately the modest price tag was achieved by the equally modest inclusion of seafood — heavy on large, fetuslike green-lip mussels; light on the advertised scallops; and nowhere at all on the promised lobster tail. As for the broth, it came off bland at first, but adding spoonfuls of three condiments (spicy vinegar, fiery chili paste, and crushed peanuts) gave it more urgency.
Panang curry is as unconscionably rich and luscious as the bouillabaisse is subtle, thick, and creamy with coconut milk. Each successive bite ignites a slow fire on the taste buds. You can choose your protein — chicken, beef, pork, or shrimp — to go along with strips of red and green bell pepper, short lengths of green beans, and a handful of Thai basil leaves.
Pad thai is above average, owing to a sauce that properly balances tart and sweet, unlike many other local versions that suggest pad thai translates to "dessert noodles." You have the same choice of proteins here too, and for $12.95, they could be added more liberally.
Since you won't be having pad thai for dessert, Thai doughnuts are a much better substitute, not quite ethereal but close enough and almost addictive when dragged through their peanut-flecked sweetened condensed milk dipping sauce, a suitable reward for your journey through our own little Hell on Earth.