While we were dining at Fiedele's Seafood Restaurant, a Haitian-Caribbean seafood restaurant on Biscayne Boulevard and 72nd Street, hundreds outside the INS building seven blocks north were protesting the U.S. government's treatment of Haitian immigrants vis-à-vis people coming from that other island nation. I'd love to weigh in on the subject, but as long as Jim DeFede refrains from opining on Brussels sprouts, I see no reason to intrude on his fertile turf. Besides, there are enough good things to say about this engaging 50-seat eatery to more than fill this modest space. Let's start with the sweet and accommodating service, a refreshing change from the slew of glum, indifferent waiters I've recently encountered at fine-dining establishments, where the tip from one table exceeds what Fiedele's workers make in an evening. Some restaurateurs underestimate the importance of having diners like the people who serve them. Waiters are, after all, the human face of the place, and if they turn you off it doesn't matter how much personality the cuisine has -- you probably won't fall in love with the restaurant.
The cut-rate prices of the more than two dozen main courses (all $5-$7.50, except lobster) coupled with a somewhat shabby menu that leads off with "cow feet" had me bracing for the worst: What kind of "stew fish" would arrive at the table for seven dollars? Well, it was a fresh, whole red snapper, succulently cooked in a thin, flavorful tomato broth. Expectations regarding accompaniments were surpassed too, all meals including a generous helping of rice with pigeon peas and baby lima beans; a small cup of fiery, vinegary slaw; and an iceberg lettuce salad with tomato, onion, and a choice of vinaigrette or French dressing. Three huge disks of fried plantains also come with some of the dishes. Other "high-end" items include whole fried fish ($7), fried or steamed shrimp ($7.50), and small strips of battered and golden-fried conch ($7) -- clean and virtually greaseless, as were all the fried foods. The only letdown was crab creole ($6.95), mainly because assiduous picking of the crab shells yielded very little meat. Then again, if you're not pleased with your selection you can simply order another, for less than most places charge for a large bottled water.
Five-spot options were good, too. Fried chunks of pork (griot) aren't cut from the lean loin, but rather a fattier part of the pig. Some prefer it that way, but if you don't, the cap of fat on each cube can easily be peeled off. Or you can just go with a leaner meat dish, like calalou. Traditionally a Caribbean crab-and-spinach stew, Fiedele's features tender slices of beef with okra deliciously spiked with allspice. Barbecue ribs, fried chicken, vegetable stew, and oxtail are some of the other five-dollar offerings. Wash things down with a beer and call it a night, if, indeed, you're visiting for dinner; Fiedele also serves bargain breakfasts, as well as lunch.
There weren't many diners the evening we were here. Perhaps news footage of the demonstration was a factor. Quite a few people were taking food out, though, and if you live in the neighborhood, Fiedele delivers. Actually Fiedele delivers in all sorts of ways, regardless of where you come from.
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