Enter the Dragon -- and I do mean that literally. China Grill has debuted its private seating area, called the Dragon Room, featuring traditional Japanese sushi spiked with local influences. In other words, we're talking about the Havana Roll, yellowtail snapper with rum, coconut, avocado, and tobiko. Or crispy salt-and-pepper shrimp with palm sugar and lime. And, most important, the SoBe Saketini, a martini comprising sake and pear, apple, and watermelon liqueurs. The Dragon Room is dominated by a huge ceiling-suspended sculpture of said lizard, complete with spotlights in its belly to light up the fourteen-seat communal table below. But what makes the new space so special, of course, is its no-reservations policy, so you should probably consider yourself a VIP if you want to sip.
January's bringing us a trio of promising South Beach dining venues. (Here's hoping that's not a contradiction in terms.) Roberto Ruggieri, of Bice fame, has debuted Sabor on Collins Avenue. The fare is Meditalian, classic Italian dishes updated and broadly influenced by neighboring Mediterranean countries and our own back yard -- hence items such as swordfish carpaccio and smoked salmon with micro-greens. Apart from the 75-seat dining room and terrace, the Sabor-Ami lounge is the place to score late-night goods. And get your mind out of the crackhouse. We're talking tapas, ceviche, and what no South Beach restaurant can afford to be without these days -- a bathroom attendant. I mean, sushi.
Then there's Novacento, a pan-Latin "Nuevo Bistro" that looks to finally bring some South American sophistication to mid-Alton Road. Located in the erstwhile Biga, the restaurant is decidedly neighbor-friendly, serving three squares a day with bakery goods prepared on site. If the Colombian dishware and Argentine glassware are any indication, Novacento's committed to authenticity; if the dinner items like the hand-carved beef empanadas, grilled rosemary-scented rack of lamb, and passion fruit semifreddo with warm chocolate ganache, prepared at a dry run for the media, lend a clue, the retro Formica tables will be in constant rotation. And Joe Allen might want to consider renaming itself José.
Finally it looks like Cafeteria is on par with its stated intentions of launching this month -- I've been seeing help-wanted ads for service staff. Now unemployed club kids can score themselves employment without resorting to the dreaded day job -- Cafeteria will be open 24 hours.
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Someone's been doing a lot of pitching lately. Or Nation's Restaurant News has developed quite an interest in the Miami culinary scene. Recent issues have noted the return of chef Mike Sabin to Nemo; the unique partnership of chef Edgar Leal, Chocolates El Rey, and Bodegas Pomar at Cacao 1737; and Doraku's $7 sake-spiked holiday eggnog. In the year-end list of "hot foods," the magazine named Nuevo Latino, tres leches, Cuban sandwiches, and dulce de leche as some of the top trends, for which this region can no doubt take credit for inspiring. And E. Michael Reidt's avocado vichyssoise, which the executive chef makes at Wish, was coined the "most elegant" dish of the year. All in all, I'd say, not bad for our little 'burb.