Just as the lit-up-at-night, I.M. Pei-designed Bank of America tower stands apart from the rest of Miami's skyline, its in-house restaurant, Skyline Cafe, makes other downtown lunch spots seem commonplace by comparison. It's literally on another level -- the eleventh-floor to be precise. To get there you'll have to take a brisk elevator ride to what's called the SkyLobby, and then just follow the horde of hungry office workers as they file into what has to be the most exquisite cafeteria in the city. After piling food on to your black plastic tray and paying the cashier, grab a table in the three-tiered dining room, which is paneled in white ash and comfortably appointed with marble tables, mahogany furniture, and soaring ceilings with wall-to-wall windows framing Biscayne Bay and various downtown vistas. If that's not quite picturesque enough for your tastes, an outdoor SkyTerrace offers seating beside tropical plants and a tranquil pool. Altogether the space accommodates 800 to 1000 people per workday and up to 1500 guests for catered events, which are held here on weekends.
Eurest Dining Services, which runs Skyline, is one of those giant conglomerates that gobbles smaller food companies the way the people at the table next to us were downing their grilled hamburgers: ravenously and with relish. I feel somewhat uncomfortable cheerleading these corporate cookie-cutter cafeterias (which nowadays are serving not just office workers across the nation but college students, hospital patients, sports fans, and all sorts of captive diners), yet I have to admit it's just this depth of experience (and buying power) that enables Eurest to do what it does so well.
Skyline is a contemporary cafeteria, which is to say it's not just a lineup of steam-table stews that get plopped on to paper plates but a series of distinct stations preparing food freshly per order. Many items remain constant, such as packaged sushi, a fruit bar, salad bar, and certain sandwiches, but the soups and hot foods change each day, as do special sandwiches, salads, pastas, and pizzas. Soup du jour on our Monday visit was vegetarian chili, while one of the hot entrées was chicken baked Cuban-style with tomatoes and olives. Our selection, pork carnitas, was cut at a carving station into thick juicy wedges and placed atop yellow rice and sautéed vegetables; these meals cost $5.95, making them the menu's highest-end items. The rest of the week's global specialties included butternut squash soup with sage, shrimp and mango salad, barbecue chicken quesadilla with corn relish and chipotle mashed potatoes, and "price busters" such as pork chop or chicken lasagna with garlic bread, each just $3.95.
The largest and most impressive station encompasses a fantastic array of sandwich breads and fillings -- Cuban-style pressed sandwiches, veggie burgers, heroes, pitas, wraps -- all prepared before your eyes and delectable. A grilled panini of smoked turkey, Gouda, and artichoke spread was the toast of our table, as was the mustard-dill potato salad on the side. Also solid was spicy grilled chicken breast accompanied by a choice of curly or regular fries.
Pies in the sky are basic classics like Boston cream and key lime, the same familiarity extending to other small-portioned and prepackaged desserts such as cheesecake and coconut layer cake. They weren't bad, but I'd go instead with ice cream or frozen yogurt. Beverages encompass just about anything nonalcoholic that you can think of, and Ritazza coffees, flavored or regular, are hot and strong -- especially good news for those arriving when the doors first swing open at 7:30 a.m. I can't think of a more pleasant spot than the SkyTerrace for indulging in breakfast alfresco, before the midday sun gets too intense. The food is fresh, the prices right, the ambiance upscale. When I started out by saying that other downtown lunch spots seemed mundane by comparison, I didn't mean to suggest that Skyline Cafe is better than all those other places. It's a lot better.
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