Take this easy quiz and get a grip on the gossip:
1. You know it's starting to be a good season when:
a) Carmen the Restaurant is forced to add 30 seats.
b) License plates from Quebec are spotted in North Miami Beach.
c) Pacific Time relaunches lunch service Monday through Friday from 11:45 a.m. till 2:30 p.m.
d) Both a and c.
Answer: d. Prompted by ever-increasing reservation numbers, chef-proprietor Carmen Gonzalez has converted one of two private dining rooms into regular, public dining tables. But she says not to worry -- you can still reserve the room for larger, secluded parties. As for Pacific Time, chef-owner Jonathan Eismann says it's a bit earlier than he'd planned, but why not take advantage of the suddenly soothing climate and promising tourist economy? Hey, I'm not complaining, especially when items such as gazpacho with cucumber sorbet or sake-steamed mussels with fermented black soybeans are on his daytime menu.
2. The following restaurants are running holiday toy drives for Big Brothers/Big Sisters of Miami:
d) All of the above
Answer: d. You can bring an unwrapped toy to any of these restaurants for donation up until December 25. Not only will it feel good to give, it'll feel even better to get a little something back: Talula rewards donors with a complimentary glass of wine; Doraku's saying thanks with a "multinational" flight of sake mixed drinks (green for Christmas, blue for Hanukkah, and red for Kwanzaa); and Cacao makes it even more tempting by offering the choice between a glass of wine or sherry.
3. The following have been invited to cook a feast at the James Beard House:
a) Edgar Leal of Cacao
b) Kris Wessel of Elia
c) Carmen Gonzalez of Carmen the Restaurant
d) Giancarla and Pino Bodoni of Escopazzo
e) All of the above
Answer: e. Leal will hit the historic Greenwich Village townhome in December; Wessel goes in late February; Gonzalez cooks for the annual awards ceremony in May; and the Bodonis have a July time slot. These chefs and restaurateurs join the ranks of other recent visitors: Andrea Curto and Frank Randazzo of Talula, Alan Hughes of One Ninety, Mike Sabin of Nemo, Philippe Ruiz of the Biltmore Hotel, Marc Ehrler of the Loews Hotel, and a host of familiar high-enders such as Michelle Bernstein, Cindy Hutson, Robbin Haas ... I could go on, but don't really need to. Phyllis Isaacson, director of information services for the James Beard House, acknowledges that quite a few of our regional toques have been tapped in the past two or three years. "Miami chefs are always popular [with diners and House members]. They have a really creative background with all the influences and seafood that's available." Darn right. And it's about time the entire country started to appreciate our regional resources. FYI: If you're curious about how the whole JB thing operates, watch "Dish" for occasional installments as I follow Kris Wessel through the process.
4. This season, I am most thankful for:
a) Norman Van Aken and Mundo (Merrick Park)
b) Douglas Rodriguez and OLA (5061 Biscayne Blvd.)
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c) Marvin Woods and M. Woods (12953 Biscayne Blvd.)
d) None of the above
Answer: d. Since all these chef-driven restaurants are forthcoming, I can't play favorites, though the proposed menu items at M. Woods -- Caribbean jerk duck cake, lobster dumplings in a vanilla bean and lobster broth, grilled pulled pork, Cajun ribeye, and fried chicken -- do sound nifty. But at the moment, I'm just grateful for the anticipation.