We've had some innovative Floribbean and Pacific Rim concepts recently, but not many can hold on to their uniqueness over time. Not so Blue Sea, a tiny Asian seafood bar in the Delano that features communal seating and adventurous food you just don't see elsewhere -- not even on the menus of other sushi bars guilty of taking liberties with tradition. Like an appetizer of green tea noodles, crisped salmon skin, raw quail egg and spicy mayo; a maki roll of barbecued eel, mango, coconut, crabmeat and black sesame seeds; prosciutto and daikon sashimi; and an egg crèpe spiraled around shrimp, crab, Boursin cheese, Belgian endive, radicchio, and asparagus. All are fresh, deftly prepared, and delicious, with six dipping sauces to mix and match, including ponzu and peanut.

All the pleasures of dining at chef-owner Jonathan Eismann's Pacific Time, PT Next Door's sister restaurant (literally a neighbor), and none of the pain. Specifically the pain of trying to get a reservation, the pain of waiting for that reservation while pushing and shoving for a glass of wine at the bar, the pain of shouting your order at the waiter over the din, the pain of having your chair knocked about by other patrons trying to squeeze through the trendy Pacific Time dining room. In fact the only pain that remains when you dine Next Door in the belly of the Sterling Building is the one that hits you at decision time: Should you order the grilled Ho Chi Minh City "killer" pork chops with black bean vinaigrette or the grilled "jade" lamb chops with sushi rice "frites"? The tamarind barbecued Atlantic salmon or the wok-sautéed yellowfin tuna with sushi bar flavors? Or perhaps go completely vegetarian, starting with the steamed fresh soy beans or the vegetable dumplings in miso broth? No matter. Whatever you ask for, it shall be delivered, painlessly.
Don't be fooled by the Fifties-diner look: This place is as Cuban as it comes. In fact once the waitress slams down a crowded plate of blanket-size bistec empanizado with papitas fritas hanging over the edges of the oval-shaped dish, visions of North America will quickly fade. The specialty of the house is steak a la plancha and the black beans remain faithful to a recipe that originated in Güines, in the province of Havana. The food itself is larger than life. Try the chicken-fried steak with sautéed onions piled on top, or the mountains of ropa vieja and white rice. If there's room, a side order of tamales, yuca, or giant tostones are worth reserving a spot in your stomach.

Best Central-American Restaurant And Club

Yambo

If Central America became unified, Managua might be its center, Yambo its expatriate capital. The authentic food, particularly the grilled meat, is excellent and startlingly cheap. Best of all, though restaurant service ends at 3:00 a.m., Yambo is open 24 hours. At 2:00 a.m. the place is often packed with families, teenagers, and novios. Nicaraguan President Arnoldo Alemán drops in for a bite when in town as does legendary contra commander Eden Pastora. If you stumble into Yambo for the first time at the end of a late night, don't let the décor startle you. Every inch of the walls is covered with faux Central Americana, like knockoff wooden masks of Indian princes, national emblems from the region, flintlock rifles, wooden calves, and brightly painted landscapes. There are two bigger-than-life cigar store Indians. One sits surrounded by typical pottery inside a glass case. As a final touch, the ceiling is papered with pictures of scantily clad women. The tourists whom the display hopes to entice rarely enter, but locals looking for a taste of home crowd the place day and night.

Okay so Palm Grill ain't exactly new. The creative eatery attracted tons of national attention when it was located in Key West, where it operated for nine years before its proprietors decided to move. But the playfully swank restaurant is new to North Miami Beach, where it set up shop this past fall. And the cuisine (items like "big ass won tons" filled with fried conch, portobello mushroom "bear claws," and Cuban pork Wellington) are always fresh and modern, not to mention a little irreverent. But then owners Wayne King and Michael Gallagher aren't generally models of propriety. Their talisman is a portrait of a bare-breasted woman that King discovered in Paris, and she's been watching over the boys, so to speak, ever since. Which is fine with us, as long as her attributes aren't like Samson's hair. We'd hope all that restaurateuring talent would remain even if the portrait doesn't.

Best Restaurant For Intimate Conversation

Pan Coast

When you think of the best restaurants for an intimate conversation, you usually think small. Which isn't always the best when the couple next to you can hear your every word. Pan Coast certainly has an intimate quality, but its ten tables are nicely spaced on a patio that surrounds a quaint, fish-filled fountain and a tropically landscaped pool. At this Mediterranean eatery, the only ones hearing your sweet whispers are your partner and maybe the stars.
Bad news for wine-loving vegetarians. Most of Miami's best wine lists are in restaurants that cater to carnivores. This year's best is no exception. It's the popular and pricey New York import Smith & Wollensky. They've got some 350 very drinkable choices, and a mind-blowing inventory of more than 14,000 bottles. Out of necessity the neatly stacked bottles make up the primary décor of the restaurant. They are everywhere: in a second-floor cellar, in bins behind the bar, lined up on tables in the dining room, even mounted on the walls. Most important, the stuff that pours forth makes for a superb glass of wine. "We don't even consider a Bordeaux or cabernet unless they have at least four years in the bottle," says wine director Danny Thames, whose careful selections also go well with the exceptional aged beef, the restaurant's claim to fame. Be sure that you'll pay for it. Only about two dozen fall below $40.
In Japanese yasumoto means "surrender." But perhaps owner Bok H. An should have given his eatery, located on the second floor of the Bal Harbour Shops, a name that means "conquer." 'Cause that's what this place does to its competition. At what other local Japanese spot can you get soft-shell crab encrusted with cornmeal, served over arugula, and dressed with a sweet corn vinaigrette? Or boneless quail partnered with jicama, watercress, and red onion slaw? Okay so these items aren't particularly Japanese. But most of the menu, such as the Szechuan pepper-crusted tuna over black Thai rice, has a welcome pan-Asian flair, which complements the sincere efforts of sushi chef Soo Won, who presents thick slices of sashimi as well as more interesting fare such as yellowtail jaw and marinated raw beef. The name Yasumoto may have some relevance; they've courageously surrendered the teriyaki, the stir-fry, the typical tempura. It's about time someone turned a Japanese restaurant into a destination for the culinary thrill-seeker rather than a bland fish joint with a Japanese moniker.

Best Restaurant In Coconut Grove

Bice

The second time's the charm. This high-end restaurant chain failed in its first Miami location in South Beach in the mid-Nineties, but succeeds wildly this time around in its new setting in the Grand Bay Hotel. Gilded mirrors, brightly hued murals, plush banquettes, and striped wood floors create an elegant atmosphere, complemented by the luxurious menu items: baby artichoke salad with shaved pecorino, ricotta and arugula canneloni, sautéed calf liver with onions, and two kinds of polenta. Bice's flagship restaurant opened in Milan in 1926, and in the late Seventies began opening new restaurants in what the proprietors considered to be the most internationally acclaimed cities around the world. Now that Miami's made that A-list again, we can honestly say that this time, we want Bice as much as Bice wants us.
The name "Cocky Bob" sounds as though it should describe the guy that does those obnoxious FPL commercials, but it's actually the name of the tastiest fried chicken dish, glazed with garlic and honey, that's available here. And that's not the only evocative nomenclature: "Lost in the Garden," your choice of meat, chicken, or shrimp sautéed with ginger and fresh vegetables, brings Eden to mind. "Tani's Angels," shrimp and scallops sautéed with ginger, onion, and mushrooms, couldn't be improved even if it were served with a healthy portion of winged creatures. As for curry "Gang Dang," well, it's a veritable big bang of coconut milk, bamboo shoots, and peppers. All these silly little appellations might make you think Tani Thai doesn't take its customers seriously, but that's not the case. Not only is the fare distinctively delicious, the décor is contemporary and sophisticated and the service professional and friendly. When you're this good, a dish called "Cocky Bob" sounds perfectly justified.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®