The "mall experience," for me, is pretty much defined by the quality of my trudge from parking lot to movie theater and back out again. Even from this admittedly limited perspective, though, I've been able to glean the obvious: To succeed as a mall restaurateur, you must either be part of a very big chain or rent a very tiny space. It also helps to be thematic.
The only theme I look for in restaurants is that of good food, which, I suppose, makes me just the sort of person that Café Tu Tu Tango and China Grill Café were looking to hook when they opened shop in Aventura Mall last year. If so I let them down: They weren't in my lot-to-theater path. Certainly the rest of the mallgoers weren't going to eat at these places, not when Johnny Rockets, Rainforest Café, and the Cheesecake Factory were there to snare with dancing waiters, mechanical monkeys (or is it the other way around?), and infinite flavors of baked cream cheese, sugar, and eggs. Both China Grill and Tu Tu tangoed out of business with passionate speed. The crack China Grill Management team went back to the drawing board, did some research (let's say "borrowed" News Café's concept), tacked on a sushi bar, and resurrected as The Newsroom. Although run by CGM, it's not a chain, and the newsroom theme is so feeble as to be irrelevant (the only newspaper they sell is the Herald). Still, after six months of operation, they seem to be holding their own against Aventura's growing chain gang of national heavyweight eateries. Even more surprising, the food was as fresh as the morning news, and very good.
The décor is more newsworthy than noteworthy, meaning photos of magazine covers on the walls, names of periodicals (including New Times) laid into the floor, and multiple TV screens lined up side by side, silently showing sports events interspersed with news programs. From the inner, darker side of the Newsroom, a sushi bar offers nine types of fresh fish in the usual sushi/sashimi/roll combinations, as well as "Yoshi's Favorite Rolls." Yoshi is fictional but his rolls are inside-outers that will appeal to those who prefer less exotic fish, meaning tuna, salmon, and crab, as well as those who prefer no fish at all; various vegetarian fillings and even a BLT roll are available. Not hard to figure out why they installed the sushi bar ("Look here, Livingstone, there are 63 places in Aventura to get a hamburger, and none for raw fish!"), but the food seems incongruously paired with the rest of the menu, which, though multiethnic, is a "best-of" selection of American restaurant fare.
19501 Biscayne Blvd, Aventura Mall, Aventura; 305-933-8313.
Open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner Monday through Thursday from 10:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m., Friday through Saturday 11:00 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and Sunday 11:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m.
Guess CGM's research must have shown that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. The cheesecake place -- whose outdoor tables share courtyard space with the Newsroom -- and the Rainforest directly upstairs feature similar menus of tried-and-true hits. In fact there may not exist a popular national restaurant food that at least one of these eateries isn't serving. The starters, for instance, include enduring headliners like chicken wings, nachos, hummus, and a plate of sliced tomatoes with fresh mozzarella and basil. We chose the fried calamari ($8.45), a generous portion of big, crisply fried rings (but no tentacles) with cocktail and tartar sauces, and half a slab of chili-barbecue baby-back ribs ($7.95), the meat smoky and cooked to an impeccable softness.
Salads, too, are familiar favorites, like chef, cobb, caesar, and spinach ($6.95-$9.95), with classically routine (or is it routinely classic?) dressings: Russian, French, Italian, ranch, blue cheese, and balsamic vinaigrette. Extra!! Extra!!'s of grilled chicken, tuna salad, or fried calamari can be tossed in for $2.95 each. Our tostada salad didn't need any such supplements, the tall top-hat-shape tortilla shell overflowing with shredded lettuce, grilled chicken, salsa, cilantro, black beans, tomatoes, guacamole, sour cream, and ranch dressing; in other words one huge, glorious mess. Tasty, too. In many restaurants these types of tortilla shells get fried in the morning and sit around all day and night (sometimes for many days and many nights), but this one tasted relatively recent.
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I didn't notice any "sandwich of the millennium" lists last year, but it's safe to say the following Newsroom selections would have placed high: BLT, turkey club, tuna salad, grilled cheese, and grilled chicken (if you're thinking they missed the PB&J, relax -- it's on the children's menu). We tried the nine-herb chicken salad sandwich on rye, which was nine herbs short of its promise, and a grilled mahi sandwich with tartar sauce ($9.95) that was delicious despite a mediocre roll. Actually the bread on both sandwiches, which we sampled during one lunchtime visit, tasted day-old. A sesame seed bun sandwiching the Newsroom burger ($7.50), which I downed during a subsequent stop, was fresher. The regulation eight-ounce patty came with lettuce, tomato, red onion, and, as with all sandwiches, a choice of fries, the crisp and skinny kind, or salad. Veggie and turkey burgers are also available.
Neil Simon once said that just two laws exist in the universe: gravity, and everybody likes Italian food. So naturally there are pizzas and pastas here, too, even if Mexican pizza with guacamole and Monterey Jack, and Southwestern, with barbecue chicken, don't exactly conjure visions of Rome. Thankfully you can get a pie with tomato sauce, mozzarella, and basil, too ($7.95). Pastas don't stray from the Mediterranean, a choice of linguine or penne offered only with olive oil, garlic and basil, or with Alfredo or pomodoro sauce. Vegetarian lasagna ($10.95) gets baked with Alfredo and pomodoro sauce, and layered with spinach, mushrooms, roasted peppers, and ricotta cheese. It was flawlessly prepared and delicious. So was the meat loaf ($11.95) with wild mushroom sauce, mashed potatoes, and the green, green sautéed spinach of home. And while the chimichurri-topped skirt steak ($15.95) isn't going to put any Argentine steak houses out of business, it was nicely done. Other entrées, which can be accessorized with soup or salad for $1.95 extra, include calf's liver with bacon and onions, roast turkey with "Thanksgiving dinner" accompaniments (both $10.95), and rare pan-seared tuna with citrus soy sauce ($17.95).
If none of this whets your appetite, the Newsroom serves breakfast all day, has a full bar, and offers fountain selections like milkshakes, root beer floats, and banana splits ($3.95-$5.95). Decadent diner-style desserts ($3.50-$4.95) such as fudge brownies, pecan pie, and an absurdly tall "mile high coconut cake" (that was dense and not that great), provide predictably comforting, and filling, finishes. Even more comforting was the crew. Everyone from hostess to manager to waitstaff was working hard yet of cheery demeanor. On one evening, when we were among the last to leave, we could actually hear the kitchen staff singing (which is what makes cooks cooler than actual newsroom people, who will probably edit this line out). Still, inquiring minds want to know: Is the food at the Newsroom any better than at Rockets, Rainforest, and Cheesecake Factory? Yes, a little bit, and too close to call. And that's all the Newsroom news that fits.
All the news that's fit to -- eat