I'll admit it right from the start: New York is a great restaurant town. How could it not be? The place is huge, with zillions of eateries of every type. Out of the zillion, just by virtue of the odds, trillions are bound to be good. Billions are very good. And one or two hundred thousand probably are super.
So it's not my intention to denounce New York restaurants. It is my intention to denounce New Yorkers. Over the years that I have been on the job, countless numbers of those extremely irritating people have moved down here and proceeded to crap all over our restaurant scene. "I'm from New York," someone will always preface. "Why can't I find a decent restaurant here?"
For one thing, rather obviously, New York is New York. Miami is, well, South America, really. Be that as it may. One needs to take the culinary vibe of a city in consistency with its character. Given that Miami essentially is a small city without a large urban center, the sheer quantity of our restaurants exceeds gastronomical expectation. Although prices have risen lately, especially in South Beach, tons of joints still offer good value. And the freshness of our seafood simply cannot be argued with.
However, since the New Yawkers who have been yapping at me lately insist on comparing the Magic City with the Big Apple -- to our detriment -- allow me to rise to the defense. I'm not saying our restaurants are the equivalent of Manhattan's finest. I'm saying they're better.
Don't believe me? Just try to be in a smoking state of mind and a New York state of mind simultaneously. No go. In NYC eateries you can't breathe burning tobacco in any form, in or out. Yeah, yeah, I know: nonsmokers' rights, cancer sticks, the ozone layer, and pigeons that choke on cigarette butts. But my hands are over my ears, and I'm humming loudly. Why? Because it's not a party until someone lights up. And if Miami restaurants have anything at all going for them, it's their party atmospheres. Besides, if the models who hang out at our bars and restaurants can't smoke, they might actually -- gasp! -- eat something, and then where would we be? Oh, right, healthy.
While we're on the subject of bars, let's address it properly. The restaurant bars in New York are crowded enough that the New York Times had to run an article about trying (and failing) to get served. But don't let that fool ya. The bars aren't packed because they're so popular; they're simply like Volkswagens: too small for the number of people who supposedly want to fit in one. Space is at such a premium in that city that most eateries feature only about eight to ten seats at the bar. The rest of the dining room is filled with tables. What a waste. Here in Miami we know liquor sales float the rest of the business. That's why our restaurants have bars with palm trees growing out of the corners, and four-cheek love stools.
Of course if you're not a big drinker, you might want to snag a table and actually order dinner. In Miami it's a mite easier than in New York; in the subtropics we aren't so fanatically tech that we have machines take reservations for us. In other words no voice-mail morass, press two if you want to skip to the end of this article. Here we have real live reservationists pick up the phone. Okay, so they might not answer in English. But everyone knows you don't need to speak English in Miami, because Spanish is the city's official first language, sí?
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Then there's the problem of getting to the restaurants. In New York you can take a taxi, bus, or subway. You can walk. You can, if you were very good at dodge ball, even Rollerblade or ride a bike to get somewhere. But you can't drive. Driving is out of the question, because parking is out of the question. Yes we have some serious parking issues in Miami, particularly in the congested beach areas. But that's why God and Mark Militello invented valets. We may pay 25 bucks for the privilege of having our seat settings changed, but at least we have somewhere, at last resort, to leave a vehicle. In New York if you hand over your car to a valet parking attendant, you can pretty much bet your worthless receipt that you got taken, buddy. It makes sense that if the majority of New Yorkers don't drive, the majority of New York restaurants don't have valets.
Still not convinced? Let's chat for a moment about coat checks. I know you tropical bunnies don't know what those are, so I'll explain. In cold snowy climates (what the silly-ass optimists call seasonal) you actually have to button something over your outfit. And make no mistake, it will not match your Ferragamo shoes, which you just ruined stepping into a slushy puddle on the way to the restaurant. To add insult to injury, you must, upon entrance to a New York restaurant, pay someone to hang up said outerwear. You can always hang your coat over the back of your chair I guess, but given that the smell of wet wool is about as appetizing as day-old broccoli fumes, you might want to think twice.
Or you might want to call first, but not on a cell phone if you dine in New York. The gall: Some eateries have outlawed the use of mobile communication objets, including beepers that haven't been set to vibrate, on the premises. Well, no self-respecting Miamian would be caught talking to his table companion. How gauche. Hand me that wireless e-mail Palm Pilot thingamajig. What do you mean I have to take off my mittens to use it?