Miami Spice, now in its 11th year, has grown to become one of the most popular events of the year. For two months, its a foodie's dream -- South Beach Wine & Food Festival at Festival Flea Market prices. With Miami Spice kicking off this past Wednesday, Short Order decided to get a little better acquainted with spice in Miami.
Our quest was to find the spiciest dishes in Miami, and in the process, we ended up on a mouth-watering world cuisine tour. From signature Indian vindaloo at Mint Leaf to Clive's special Jamaican jerk seasoning, Short Order spanned the spicy food globe. There were dishes we didn't expect (ancho chili ice cream, anyone?) and alcoholic drinks with an extra kick to them. We also learned that hot spiciness, or piquance (pronounced pee-kens), is measured using the Scoville scale, named after the American pharmacist that created it back in 1912.
The Scoville scale measures the amount of capsaicin, the chemical compound found in piquant peppers that stimulates chemoreceptor nerve endings in your mucous membranes. Plants developed the ability to produce capsaicin as a deterrent to fungi and herbivores. For humans, it actually acts as an appetite stimulant once the initial burning sensation is overcome. Jalapenos are among the least spicy popular peppers, with a Scoville rating of between 2,500-5,000. Tabasco has a rating of about 30,000-50,000; while scotch bonnet and habanero peppers rate a powerful 100,000-350,000. In comparison, pure capsaicin rates a steep 16 million.
The restaurants aren't in the business of making spicy food for spicy's sake -- they are in the business of making good food. While all of these dishes have a kick to them, the most important thing when it came to rating was not only how piquant they were, but how good they tasted.
"The trick with making things spicy is you have to make sure you use the right amount of spice," said Tap Tap managing partner Gary Sanon-Jules. "Too much can make the dish unpleasant to eat."
10. Murg Vindaloo at Mint Leaf Indian Brasserie
Indian food is known to be spicy, and no matter where you find it, vindaloo is usually the spiciest dish on the menu. Mint Leaf, which is quickly becoming a neighborhood favorite in both Brickell and Coral Gables, offers an authentic chicken vindaloo that is also the most expensive chicken on the menu ($31). The spiciness comes from the combination of hot curry and Kashmiri chilies, ingredients in the vinegar, sugar and ginger marinate it sits in overnight.
Located in South Beach and the middle of Mark Brickell Village,Doraku
stands out with selections like the "God of Fire" roll. ($13.50) Spicy tuna, cucumber and jalapeño is wrapped and topped with tuna sashimi, masago and spicy garlic aoli. The jalapeno's bite sneaks in behind the smooth flavor of the spicy tuna and is dulled by the flavor of garlic in every bite.
8. "Salsa of Life" at Tuyo
As the only restaurant on this list actually taking part in Miami Spice, Tuyo represents with its salad of Okeechobee shrimp with clams, crab and a "Salsa of Life," available on the regularly-priced luxury dining menu for the start of Miami Spice. Though we weren't told much about the "Salsa of Life" ingredients, we know its what makes the dish spicy. The Mexican dish is part of the restaurant's first leg of a four-part Miami Spice world tour through the French Caribbean, Brazil and Argentina, each lasting two weeks.
bar manager and head mixologust Isaac Grillo concocted "The Fever"
($15) as part of Haven's grand opening, he had no idea that 9,000 would be ordered in the first 14 months. A mix of 70
proof Grey Goose pear, lychee and pear puree, simple syrup, lime juice
and fresh jalapeno slices is placed in a shaker tin with half cubes of
"kold" draft ice, a harder ice that actually pulverizes the jalapeno.
The resulting blend is strained into a martini glass, a prosecco
champagne floater is added and a slice of fresh jalapeno tops the
masterpiece.6. Ridiculously Hot Sauce with Habanero Lime Rub Wings at Hurricane's
offers a massive list of 35 different sauces, separated under
categories according to hotness, to go on your chicken wings. The
iFlavor special (10, $9.95) comes with two sides and allows you to combine two of the flavors. If your really
brave try Category 5 flavor ridiculously hot
sauce and Category 4's habanero lime dry rub. "I wouldn't even recommend it to the average palate," said bar
manager John Winston. During a recent wings competition, guests who
attempted to scarf down the fiery combo rapidly had to sign a liability
5. Sweet Potato Ice Cream with Ancho Chilies and Chocolate Chips at Azucar
We thought the same thing you're thinking -- "ice cream with hot pepper?" But Azucar manager Bianca Gomez assured us the contrasting tastes blend perfectly in layers. Azucar's mission statement is to make ice cream just like owner's Suzy Battle's abuela used to make. The dominant flavor came from the sweet potato ice cream that tastes just like their stated purpose would suggest -- homemade. The subtle kick from the chilies next appeared, followed by a smoothing down provided by the chocolate chips. Every bite became smoother and smoother until there was nothing left. You'll have to try it for yourselves (two scoops, $3.50; three, $4.50).
4. Taco with "Stupid Sauce" at T-Mex Tacos
T-Mex doesn't do taco sauce like most Mexican eateries. The beef is marinated in a secret blend of spices. Flavors mild, medium and hot are varying degrees of spicy tomato based taco sauce. But the serious "sauce" is actually shaved jalapeno peppers. Their "stupid sauce" is shaved habanero peppers and would be painfully unenjoyable if it weren't for how good the taco loco ($4.25-$6.25) tastes. Brave diners get the hot flavor sauce for its tomato-based texture and just throw the stupid sauce shaved habaneros in it.
3. Ceviche Anconero at CVI.CHE 105
Wonder-chef Juan Chipoco isn't shy about heating up his dishes with some spice at either of his two very successful eateries downtown. At CVI.CHE 105, the spiciest dish on the menu is the Ceviche Anconero ($12.95), prepared using eight ounces of corvina fish cut in squares, the juice from six whole limes, minced garlic, Peruvian Aji limo, diced fresh cilantro, rocoto pepper and red onion. Steam and peeled sweet potatoes, roasted corn and Peruvian white corn are served on the side. E-mail the author for the full recipe.
2. Jerk Chicken at Clive's
Manager Pearlin Murray remembers what North Miami Ave looked like 37 years ago when Clive's opened its doors. A lot has changed, but one thing has remained certain. Customers will be lining up for Clive's most popular dish, the jerk chicken ($7.50). "All the customers say its the best in town," said Murray. All parts of the chicken are marinated overnight in a secret blend of jerk seasoning that includes fiery scotch bonnet pepper. Brave souls can attempt the Jamaican breakfast drink "Front and Lifter" -- a blend of oatmeal and Guinness beer that's more meal than drink.
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1. Spicy Conch Salad at Tap Tap
This staple at South Beach Haitian mainstay Tap Tap has been making customers sweat since 1994. The conch is diced and mixed with onions, celery, shredded carrots and tomatoes. The resulting mix is doused in lime juice where it sits for about two hours before inflaming your palate. The heat comes from diced scotch bonnet peppers cleverly disguised among the mild ingredients. The salad ($10) is among the spiciest dish we had, but its so good, you can't stop eating it and end up guzzling six 10 oz. cups of water with a runny nose and sweaty forehead. Even the beads of sweat slowly forming on the back of your neck are not enough deterrent.