Side Dish

Long before the Loews captured the collective unconscious of conventiongoers, the Hotel Inter-Continental in downtown Miami had garnered the dubious honor of being considered the premier housing for unwitting out-of-towners. Guests were tapped not only for luxury beds but for the handsome Oak Room, pretty much the power-meal staple in that lame market. But with the rise of South Beach's first high-rise convention construction, yielding among other restaurants the Gaucho Room, enter competition. Finally the Inter-Continental is fighting back, tearing down the Oak Room, the Pavillon Grill, and the lobby bars where Miami International Book Fair authors used to swallow martinis like agents' lines. The restaurants were just replaced with Indigo, a spankin' new first-floor eatery featuring the latest in irritating culinary tags: global cuisine. Modeled after a lanai (a Hawaiian veranda), Indigo supposedly breaks down the traditional roles played by lobby and restaurant; in this case the lobby is the restaurant. (Okay, like that hasn't been done before.) And just to show credulous yokels like you and me they were serious, the hoteliers spent four million big ones on the renovations. Now, last time I reported the price tag of another eatery's outrageous six-million-dollar construction costs, an irate reader who didn't name himself/herself sent me an e-mail asking if I "just fell off the turnip truck" and "if I was flak-ing for these guys." In other words he/she just plain didn't believe that when you fill a place with designer items like white sycamore paneling; Mexican tile, African slate, and white-oak flooring; Italian Morano Due lighting; white maple trellises; handmade Thai Ping rugs from China; Ligne Roset seating from France; Fanoos glass sculptures from the Czech Republic; and a tropical planter filled with 2500 specimens, things can really add up. "Smarten up, dear," he/she -- oh, hell, let's just say it -- concluded, obviously concerned that my credibility as a restaurant critic was in jeopardy. Thanks for the tip. Lesson clearly (not) learned.

•Shopping for a gourmet market? If you're not already enthralled by JoAnna's in South Miami, then wait until January, when a second JoAnna's will open on Bird Avenue in Coconut Grove, across from where the fabulous Bocca di Rosa used to be. According to publicist and menu mensch Terry Zarikian, the new JoAnna's will feature French pastries as well as the store's signature breads and gourmet products, and will bake specialty items to sell wholesale to South Florida hotels and restaurants. Do I hear an ooh la la?

•Seems that the locally famous folk have found The Strand: Modeling maven Michelle Pommier brought her latest collection of clothes-hangers to feast their eyes on chef Michelle Bernstein's gorgeous rabbit-stuffed lamb chops (though one wonders if she let them eat). And no-modifier-needed Jon Secada surprised his wife Maritere with a birthday treat while she was dining with her parents. He dressed up as a waiter and walked out of the kitchen carrying a cake and singing. Note to husband: B-day in Feb. Works for me.

Kvetch: "Hola," a voice answers when I call Piero's Pizza on Washington Avenue in South Beach, something I have been doing every day or evening for a week now. Each time I ask, "Do you deliver?" Each time I hear, "'Scuze, no speak English." Not to harp on the obvious, but don'tcha think it'd be a good business practice to hire someone who does?


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