Side Dish

In town filming a promotional documentary about Miami at the Forge, a member of the Washington, D.C.-based West Beach Entertainment crew recently confessed she loves this city because "there's ceviche on every menu." Too true -- in the last few weeks alone, I've had scintillating versions at Azul, Bizcaya Grill, Chispa, and Food Café. And that's just the beginning of the alphabet. The ceviche movement keeps creeping on: Pescado's new chef, Puerto Rican native Sean Bernal, has just unveiled his latest takes on the subject, which include expertly executed Caicos conch marinated in lime juice, celery hearts, cilantro, and aji Amarillo (a Peruvian chili pepper) and garnished with choclo (boiled, large-kernel corn) and maize cancha (imploded kernels of corn, the direct opposite of popcorn) as well as grouper tiradito, sashimi-sliced fish flash-marinated with lime juice, scallions, cilantro, and aji Amarillo. To keep the chili peppers from overwhelming the fish, Bernal removes the seeds and ribs and soaks them in water for two days. "I strive for balance," he says. He also goes all-out for authenticity: While he was studying for his former role as executive chef at Tambo, a Peruvian-Japanese restaurant that went under on South Beach and recently resurfaced in Coral Gables, Bernal "sat on the beach for a week with a bunch of guys making ceviche," he says. When he returned, he devoted himself to "religious research. There was no sleeping, no TV, no going out. I was bound to the idea of mastering ceviche."

The results speak for themselves, but they also say something for Pescado owner Jim Cafarelli, who sincerely confessed his desire at the media dinner to be "part of the community." The hiring of Bernal and the harnessing of his ceviches just may help Cafarelli reach that goal quicker than he thinks.

Bound for Beantown: Wish executive chef E. Michael Reidt has resigned after two and a half years at the helm. Come mid-December, he's heading back to Boston to be closer to his family, especially his pregnant sister who will soon make him an uncle. Taking his place is Tantra's latest ex Michael E. Bloise, 28. Bloise spent less than twelve months in that den of grassy iniquity; immediately before that he was Reidt's executive sous-chef for a year. But don't expect Bloise to continue in the French-Brazilian vein that Reidt so thoroughly probed. He was rehired after reportedly "blowing away" the Hotel and Wish owners Jessica Goldman and father Tony Goldman during a tasting of Bloise's own Asian-style fare, which is enhanced with classic American accents.

You can take Barrio Latino in North Miami Beach, sibling to the identically named eatery in the Shoppes of Waterways, fairly literally. The menu encompasses dishes from a slew of Latin cultures, including Cuban, Argentine, and Mexican. The NMB Barrio replaces Vietnamese restaurant Saigon Palace, which had vacated premises during the summer to move in with Japanese restaurant Zipang a few blocks north. The fare was just as tasty in its new digs but alas, the last time I was in for sweet-and-sour rice noodle soup with okra and shrimp, the proprietors, worried about a family emergency, were making plans to pack up shop for good and return to the homeland.

The crates are being unpacked in La Estancia Argentina, the second of two planned marketplace-eateries to open in the Village of Merrick Park next door to the Palm. If the second is as good as the first, located on Biscayne Boulevard in Aventura -- the spinach empanadas are delicious, as is the garlicky, thin-sliced matambre -- this section of the massive mall just might start to draw a hungry crowd even before Norman Van Aken's neighboring Mundo debuts.

Here's Johnny: "I'm baaack!" the voice announced with glee on my answering machine. It was Johnny Vinczencz, a.k.a. the Caribbean Cowboy, a.k.a. the Guava Gaucho, n.k.a. (now known as, once and for all) Johnny V. Turns out the acclaimed ex-Astor Place chef has left his groundbreaking gig at De La Tierra at Sundy House (and its sister restaurant in Taos, New Mexico) to open "my own joint" on Las Olas Boulevard. No doubt he'll bring his typical energy and creativity to the eponymous restaurant, though he probably won't have unlimited access to the grounds at Sundy House, an acre of tropical fruit trees, that supplied the De La Tierra kitchen. Oh well, there's always purveyors.

Double the pleasure, double the fun -- the three-year-old Mandarin Oriental, Miami has been awarded the prestigious American Automobile Association's (AAA) Five Diamond Award for the second consecutive year. The 329-room hotel is one of only nine hotels in Florida to earn that many transfigured lumps of coal. Such gems are even more precious to Azul, which also took the crown jewels of the hospitality industry, making chef Michelle Bernstein the only toque in Miami to currently wear the five-pointed tiara.


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