Miami Spice 2011: The Good, the Great, and the Grudging (Design District, Midtown & More)

Yesterday we took a look at some upcoming Miami Spice menus (the promo begins in four days) from South Beach and Mid-Beach. We noted that some restaurants embrace this $35 prix fixe three-course menu with more gusto than others. Those that are generous with choices and availability are deemed "great." Those with solid if uninspiring deals are "good." And those whose bills of fare seem grudging are listed under "grudging."

We'll repeat the caveat that we haven't eaten these Miami Spice dinners, so we are not taking portion size into account. And our assumption is that food quality will be fine because we've included the better establishments on the list. We're really judging the menu and attitude more than the meal.

Unless noted otherwise, the Miami Spice deal is not available Friday and Saturday evenings.

Onward and upward we go -- heading north, with stopovers in the Design District and midtown.

The Good

Egg & Dart Greek Cuisine: We're giving this not-yet-open restaurant in the Design District a spot in the "good" category because there's an extra course thrown in and the offer is valid every day of the week. That said, the Spice menu is a bit skimpy on choices. Country bread with hummus, tzatziki or tirokafteri is followed by soup or Greek salad. Main course comes down to seafood kebab or lamb kebab. Dessert: Greek yogurt topped with honey and walnuts or Greek vanilla-orange custard phyllo cake, which sounds pretty tasty.

Graziano's Restaurant: Trio of main-course offerings starts off well with a 12-ounce "hand-cut" Angus T-bone steak. Other two options are brick-pressed grilled organic chicken breast or white truffle-and-fresh ricotta sacchetti (pasta pouches). Starter choice is little balls of burrata cheese or steamed mussels (meh); dessert pick is dulce de leche crêpe with flambé or Argentine-style cake. Not a grudging menu, but not the most generous either.

Opportune time to visit Makoto.
Opportune time to visit Makoto.

Makoto: Four diverse choices for each of the first two courses. Appetizers include a Japanese Caprese with momotaro tomato and silken tofu; oysters with yamamomo granita and serrano chilis; house salad; vegetarian maki; and "tuna air bread" with caesar foam. Creative stuff, no? Entrée selections are hot pepper chicken; charcoal Kobe skirt steak; ponzu salmon; and assorted sushi. Dessert is chef's choice.

Michy's: Chef Bernstein starts with choice of mussel velouté with laughing bird shrimp (or laughing shrimp chickens -- I get confused); warm burrata cheese with marinated tomatoes; or egg pappardelle with pork belly and poached egg in Parmesan broth. This is followed by half a roasted young chicken with fregola, dandelion greens, and grilled figs; wild salmon with fingerling potatoes and caviar beurre blanc; or grilled pork chop with cherries and spiced basmati rice. Dessert is either bread pudding with ice cream, chocolate candy bar cake with chocolate hazelnut mousse, or vanilla panna cotta with tequila gelée, strawberries, and ginger snap cookie. Lots of creativity here, and a nicely balanced blend of choices in each category. Available Friday, not Saturday.

Petit Rouge: Neal Cooper's French bistro presents classic choices for Miami Spice. Starter picks are escargots de Bourgogne; watercress, endive, walnut, and blue cheese salad; and pâté de campagne. Mains are crispy duck leg confit with mixed greens and pomme sarladaise; Idaho trout grenobloise with French green beans; and skirt steak à la bordelaise with caramelized shallots, red wine jus, and fries. Chocolate pots de crème, crème caramel, or chef's choice of sorbet are the desserts. The deal is good Friday nights, but not Saturday (closed Sunday).

Sra. Martinez: This is a very good "good" menu because there are lots of varied choices. For first course, you can choose among seven items, including a chopped Greek salad; octopus carpaccio; and beef tartare with kimchi vegetables. Diners get two small plates from among 15. They encompass lamb ribs with red curry jasmine rice; hanger steak with roasted beets; oxtail stew with a chorizo arepa; and country fried quail with barbecue beans and slaw. Dessert is Greek yogurt panna cotta, chocolate bread pudding, or strawberry "shortcake." Spice is nice here Friday and Sunday, but not Saturday.

Bacon-wrapped dates are one of Sugarcane's Spice options.
Bacon-wrapped dates are one of Sugarcane's Spice options.
Jacob Katel

Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill: We like the long list of starter choices, from prawns with couscous to local fish crudo; corn chowder to a seafood chirashi bowl. Entrée choices are more limited: hanger steak (apparently this year's most popular cut); duck leg confit; and mini clam bake with red bliss potatoes and sweet corn. Dessert comes down to gianduja mousse parfait; condensed-milk-soaked sponge cake; or assorted ice creams or sorbets. That's a very nice menu, but it isn't available Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. That's not great.

Sustain: This menu is short and sweet. Starters are "corned" pork belly with slaw; big-eye tuna crudo with compressed melon salad; and fennel salad. Mains promise ricotta cavatelli with Harris Ranch braised short rib; local pan roasted snapper with fingerlng potatoes. "Koreatown" fried chicken with sweet potato fries. Georgia peach cobbler with mascarpone cream sounds like the dessert we'd pick; chocolate fondant or ice creams and sorbets are the other options.

Continue to the next page for the Great and the Grudging.


The Great

Mercadito: This midtown Mex shows just the sort of spirit we're looking for -- starting with a glass of spirits for each diner: margarita, malbec, michelada, or one of a few other topnotch cocktails. Then guests get to choose two types of guacamole for the table; two types of ceviche; three types of tacos (out of a dozen); a side of choice (rice and beans, fried plantains, and so forth); and one dessert. Plus the offer is available every day. A tip of the sombrero to a fun and welcoming interpretation of Spice.

Tuna's Raw Bar & Grill: What makes this a great menu? For one thing, it's available on weekends. For another, diners are offered a mango sorbet intermezzo "with champagne splash." Seven appetizer choices include the sort of dishes you would want to order on any given night: lobster bisque; bacon-wrapped prawns; Bluepoint oysters Rockefeller. No skimping on entrées either: Ten-ounce Florida lobster tail; New York steak Madagascar; lamb chops Provençale; and a roasted half duckling, among other selections. Roasted potatoes and vegetables fill each plate. Chocolate mousse cake, apple strudel à la mode, and strawberry Romanoff are the desserts. Tuna is giving the best it has got. That's great.

The Grudging

Michael's Genuine Food & Drink: First course is Niman Ranch lamb tartare or local avocado with grapefruit and Florida shrimp or wood-roasted eggplant with chickpeas, raisins, tomato, and yogurt. Second course brings linguine carbonara with house-smoked bacon and duck egg or grilled local fish with salsa verde or White Oak Pastures rib eye with fingerling potato hash. Dessert is mango semifreddo or chocolate brownie sundae. This Spice menu is simple, but genuine. We don't doubt that a Spice dinner here will be a satisfying meal, but these aren't exactly Michael's best dishes, choices are limited, and it isn't available Friday, Saturday, or Sunday.

Tomorrow: We head south. Monday we'll have a comprehensive listing and catch up with some late-posting menus.

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