Tis the season! In Miami that means not only the time for Art Basel, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year's Eve parties, but also barbecues. While the rest of the country freezes, we get to grill in our swimsuits.
Only problem is, after Thanksgiving's sweating-over-a-hot-stove marathons, we're all cooked out.
For partiers who don't want the prep, check out the barely month-old Market Grill. Though the space is small, it houses a bakery (with a large selection of sweet and savory pastries and nicely priced breads); a prepared-foods counter with sandwiches and entrée specials (two daily); a cheese counter; a mini butcher shop; and market shelves stocked with global gourmet goods.
1539 Alton Rd, Miami Beach; 305-722-1855. Open Monday through Saturday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Sunday 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.
The most unique feature is the butcher operation. Barbecue buffs need only say how many guests are coming for dinner, and the counter people will pack up the appropriate amounts of beef entrana (skirt steak), vacio (flap steak), and tira de asado (short ribs), plus pollo (chicken), molleja (sweetbreads), morcilla (blood sausage), and chorizo — the soft South American, not hard Spanish, sausage — in stylish thermal bags that keep the carne cold till it hits the grill. Additional meats are available à la carte.
For non-DIYers, chefs will cook the Argentine-style asado and pack it up with two vegetable sides plus homemade bread — at a bargain price: just 10 bucks more than the raw meat, regardless of the order's size. Judging from a vacio entrée we tried, we suggest that rare-meat lovers speak up; the default is medium. Still, the beautifully marbled strips of flap meat — beefy like skirt steak but actually part of the loin — were admirably juicy and quite tender.
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The vacio, entrana, and chorizo are also available on large ciabatta sandwiches. For parties, the best bets are sandwiches de miga, thin Argentine tea sandwiches on crustless bread. The squares can easily be halved or quartered for no-mess finger food. Especially recommended fillings are prosciutto and Swiss cheese, as well as a cheese and sweet red pepper spread similar to pimiento cheese.
Most impressive are the baked goods, which reflect Uruguayan chef Diego Mieres's years in a French bakery in Manhattan. Argentine empanadas elsewhere can be formidably thick-crusted and chewy; here the casings are delicate, flaky, perfect puff pastry. As for fillings, diced entrana rules, but almost all the other choices (ground meat, chicken, ham, and mozzarella) are also delicious. The one disappointment: overcooked, bitter spinach.
Desserts — including alfajores (chocolate-topped, dulce de leche-filled sandwich cookies), rich-crusted fruit tarts, and two original creations: Diegitos (apple-topped puff pastries) and ojitos (shortbreadlike cookies topped with strawberry jelly) — were all winners. But the showstoppers were the chef's melt-in-your-mouth mousses (one tart raspberry/lemon, another deeply chocolaty mocha/vanilla) served in shot glasses and packed to go in equally stylish gilded miniboxes.
There's also a counter with stools, for those who want to eat in, but the parking lot view is not a strong suit. Market Grill is one-stop shopping for foodies who want to entertain effortlessly and elegantly in their homes or hotel rooms. No shirt, no shoes, no sweat. No advance planning? No problem.