Openings of March

In like a lion, out like a lion: Heralded in by the South Beach Wine & Food Fest, March looks to be a month of little respite for the gastronomically weary. The rash of restaurant openings is like poison ivy on the tender skin of a baby. We've got, first off, president of the Bice Group Roberto Ruggeri's Toscana. Not content with the 35 Bices littering -- er, scattering -- the world, Ruggeri officially launches the new venture this week in the Omni Colonnade Hotel. He and Bice general manager Graziano Ferrari have been busy bees indeed, because Toscana follows on the heels of Sabor and yet another project, Sushi Tepec, a Japanese-Mayan restaurant that picks up the lease of the erstwhile Caviarteria.

As if just to prove what a multiethnic community we really are, the Prime Grill, an upmarket glatt kosher steak house, also debuts this week in Aventura. At 12,000 square feet and 375 seats, this sibling of a popular New York eatery promises, via the press release, to be "a magnet for observant and nonobservant gourmets alike." Not to mention the freshest spot for bar mitzvah celebrations. Suddenly I can't wait for Passover.

The date for the grand opening of the refurbished Clinton Hotel's Pao, a Cantonese throwback to the hotel-restaurant scene, is being billed a bit vaguely as "March 2003." But the menu, courtesy of executive chef Kiki Anchana Praropkul, formerly of the now-defunct Chow (which is soon to be the site of Talula), is set: hot-and-sour soup, salt-and-pepper squid, cold sesame noodles, lemon chicken, and beef with Chinese broccoli, to name just a few of the classic dishes. Of course there will be some reinventions -- it wouldn't be a South Beach eatery without 'em -- but who can argue with star anise duck breast with baby greens and a lemon-soy vinaigrette or a giant fortune cookie stuffed with chocolate mousse? On the late-night, take-your-clothes-off-and-gyrate horizon, Taverna Opa is positioned to close out the month. Owner Peter Tsialiamanis is taking his overtly atmospheric Hollywood restaurant to Fort Lauderdale. Given the penchant that his customers have for partying without inhibition, not to mention the hours the place keeps -- "Every evening ends when the ouzo runs out" -- I'd suggest that a few of the longer-running restaurant-lounges be concerned. Or not: Taverna Opa II, which finally opened after about a year of delays, construction or otherwise, is currently closed, according to the PR reps, "for repairs."

Suicidal chefs, part two: Seems like I'm not the only one to take umbrage at the suggestion that restaurant critics are responsible for the mental health of the community toques. Prominent French chefs such as Paul Bocuse, following the self-inflicted fatality of Bernard Loiseau, have made statements that are difficult to misinterpret: "Bravo GaultMillau -- you've won! Your ranking has cost the life of a man!" the AFP reported he has said. But after the Union of French Haute Cuisine leader Jacques Pourcel sent a letter to 70 members, claiming that it is "unacceptable for guidebooks or journalists to push gifted men into such a state of confusion that they kill themselves," acclaimed chef Alain Ducasse promptly resigned from the organization. His statement was equally forthright: "I cannot support the contents of this letter." Hear, hear. Guidebooks and journalists may be gods and monsters to some, but others clearly believe in self-determination -- even when it results, unfortunately, in self-termination.

King cake, part two: In honor of both Mardi Gras and our group's miserable failure to reproduce the traditional sweet treat that marks the end of all excess and the beginning of Lent, a Ya-Ya Sisterhood friend ordered an authentic king cake from a bakery in Louisiana. Although it arrived a bit melted, its garishly colored icing smeared like the face of a drag queen who's been crying through her cosmetics, the pastry was in good enough shape for me to finally figure out what the Franken-cake we had made was supposed to taste like. It's a cheese Danish, the type of which I used to sneak from the delicatessen and bakery where I worked when I was in high school. Which just goes to prove yet another theory -- Jews and Catholics really are the same people.


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