Route 9 ran down the highway with our Best Restaurant in Coral Gables award in Best of Miami 2011. But Coral Gables has a whole lot of excellent dining establishments. Well, maybe not a whole lot, but certainly more than these five favorites of ours. So with apologies to Ortanique on the Mile, Christy's, Francesco Restaurant, Romeo's Cafe...
5. Caffe Abbracci
Venetian Nino Pernetti has been one of Miami's finest and most charming restaurant hosts since opening this fine dining Italian venue in 1988. The ambiance is Old World elegant, with burl wood ceiling blooms, green marble accents, and a stainglass ceiling in the bar/lounge area...
Cuisine, too, is from long-time Italian recipes and traditions: Antipasti (shrimp and pancetta on polenta); risotti and pastas (linguini frutti di mare); seafoods (pan-roasted branzino with prosecco and saffron-butter sauce); veal chops and scaloppine, lamb chops and steaks. Stellar and personal service is what sets this apart from other fine high-end Italian restaurants, and that stems from Pernetti's expertise.
4. La Cofradia
It's the prettiest Peruvian dining room in town, a sleek modern space with soaring ceilings. Service soars too, the slickly trained staff attending to all needs with a personable professionalism. And the cuisine takes the great classics from Peru and redesigns them into stunning, delectable fare. Cebiches and tiraditos are delicate and sharply flavored. Filet mignon is used in the anticucho (in aji panca sauce), which isn't quite cow heart but maybe better for most American palates. There are chaufas, yucca croquettes, organic piquillo peppers, and a signature pork slow-braised with pisco and grapes. Also: Best beef or shrimp saltados around. Big menu, big flavors.We awarded it the Best Restaurant in Coral Gables in 2008.
3. Ruth's Chris Steak House
Today's steak houses are "contemporary" in style, meaning a lighter decor and lighter cuisine. But Ruth's Chris is your Daddy's steak house, rustic stone tiles and traditional steak house decor beckoning in somber, formal fashion -- yet without a trace of stuffiness. The New Orleans-based chain has been around for over 45 years, named after Ruth Fertel (the first Ruth's Chris was opened by her father the day she was born). The menu holds no surprises -- steaks, steaks, more steaks, all USDA Prime, seared at 1800 degrees, and topped with fresh butter. Sides are also the usual: creamed spinach, Lyonnaise potatoes, asparagus in hollandaise sauce, and so forth. Ruth's Chris just does it all a little bit better.
2. Pascal's On Ponce
Pascal Oudin opened this 55-seater in 2000, after having wowed with fine French cooking at Grand Bay Café. Maybe "wowed" is the wrong word: Chef Oudin's cuisine is defined by subtle delicacy, an updated, understated take on country French fare. This includes a peerless duck terrine; wild salmon slow-poached in olive oil; and a fantastic baked Alaska with Grand Marnier meringue. A three-course prix fixe lunch is currently just $22. Oudin learned his classic technique from the likes of Alain Ducasse, Roger Verge, and Jean-Louis Palladin (now you can say "wow!"). Pascal's has won New Time's Best Restaurant in Coral Gables in 2005; Best Restaurant for Intimate Conversation in 2006; Best Service in 2008; Best French Restaurant in 2009. It has also snared a Wine Spectator Award of Excellence every year since 2007.
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1. Palme d'Or
Let's not mince words: Palme d'Or isn't just the best restaurant in Coral Gables, it's the best restaurant in Miami-Dade. Chef Philippe Ruiz has mastered the finest techniques of haute French cuisine and uses the finest quality ingredients (local, organic, and imported) -- then puts them together into brilliant, seasonally-changing menus as contemporary as the trendiest, most cutting-edge eateries. Of course the top-notch service, world class wine list, and romantic Biltmore setting contribute mightily to the unforgettable dining experience too. Best French Restaurant in 2000, Best French Restaurant in 2006, and Best Restaurant in Coral Gables 2009. Plus major awards from two continents. As another French chef recently told me, "This is Michelin star cuisine."