Best Restaurant For A Romantic Dinner

The Strand

Table Ten 09
The lighting is dim. The doorways are hung with flowing white linen. The banquettes are squishy-cushy. And the tiger skin on the wall makes you long to take it down and lay it before a fireplace. What this adds up to is sex -- we mean, romance -- of the South Beach kind: decadent, seductive, and plentiful. Executive chef-proprietor Michelle Bernstein's classically innovative cuisine only enhances the mood provided by the décor. After all, it's pretty hard to engage in anything other than sex -- oops, did it again, romance -- when noshing on parfait of tuna tartare layered with caviar, or whole boneless squab stuffed with duck breast and duck pâté and sliced over figs. In other words the fare also is designed to stimulate your appetite for sex -- darn it, romance. Who wants to argue with that?
Don't be fooled by the menu, which reads "Autentica Comida China." At this Chino-Cubano joint, only the cook is 100 percent Chinese. Even the statuette of Buddha that sits on a counter is guarded by Our Lady of Charity on one side and San Lazaro on the other. Here the won ton soup is better known as sopa de mariposa, the fried rice is called arroz frito, and the beef with bok choy is really just carne de res con acelga china to most of the Cuban clientele. The house specialty isn't Peking duck but palomilla steak with a side of papitas fritas, and pork chops plus arroz and maduros. For the best of both worlds, try the char sue ding: steamed meat chunks with almonds and fresh vegetables.
Sadly the Little Haiti Chef Creole at 77th and NE Second Avenue is no more. New Times can still smell the cinders floating through the air the day after the explosion of a propane canister set off a chain reaction that burned out the insides of this beloved take-out storefront and sent one of the chefs to the hospital. Gone is the floor-to-ceiling mural of fishermen in a Haitian seascape on one wall. Gone, too, the gallery of visiting Haitian celebrities opposite. Although the ambiance is not the same, Chef Creole continues to serve the best fish fresh -- stewed, fried, or grilled -- from their bright and shiny location in North Miami. Here, as at the countless festivals where the Chef sets up his kiosk, you will find flaky, spicy conch fritters, three-alarm conch salad, and tart lemonade. Expect lines out the door at lunch and dinnertime, but your stomach will tell you: It's worth the wait.
Cuban sandwich and Versailles -- in Miami, they go together like, well, José Martí and poetry. Like most everything on Versailles' extensive menu, this Cuban sandwich is a credit to its cuisine. Lots of ham, generally more than in other versions, and melted Swiss cheese between not-overly-flattened slices of very fresh Cuban bread. No gratuitous grease. The only thing that could make it better: a little less stinginess with the pickles.
"What's new?" I asked the blonde at The Pit's service counter. "Nothing," she replied. "Tommy Little has owned this place for 35 years, and his whole idea is never to change anything." Thank the Lord for small things. The food here is as reliable as guessing that the counter lady's hair color began life in a peroxide bottle. Good meat, slowly smoked over blackjack oak logs. Key lime pies made from scratch. Fresh frogs' legs and onion rings. Plenty of good customers. Laurence Fishburne is crazy about the chicken. Dennis Rodman loves the ribs. Steven Tyler brought the Aerosmith crew to dine. Jim Carrey and Alex Penelas have been known to pile their plates high. Such stars could make you think you're on South Beach instead of in a tiki hut at the edge of the Everglades. But after being sated by the best barbecue, you'll be glad you're swamps away from that sandbar.
Proprietor Delius Shirley and chef-proprietor Cindy Hutson had the right idea when they closed Norma's on the Beach! and opened Ortanique. Their first Miami restaurant, named for gourmet Jamaican chef Norma Shirley (Delius's mom and Cindy's mentor) was a solid, impressive venture that we honored as Best Caribbean Restaurant year after year. But with Ortanique (and with apologies to Norma) the specter of a mother's influence has been removed, not just from the name but from the entire spirit of cookery that infuses the place. In short the coproprietors are working miracles of a pan-Caribbean nature on the Mile, and Hutson has expanded her skills mightily in her colorful new digs. A more extensive menu includes some old favorites such as pumpkin bisque and fried calamari salad, but also ranges from less obvious house specialties like button mushroom ceviche to ostrich burgers to curried rabbit. Followers of the old Norma's needn't fret, though: Ortanique still offers Blue Mountain coffee, which could make espresso look like a regular cuppa Joe, and golden cake soaked in rum. Order them both for two highs in one.
It's ground beef casserole made into a patty and stuffed in a roll. It's like a sloppy joe, only made a lo cubano, topped with melted cheddar cheese, toothpick-skinny French fries, and shaved onions. In Hialeah or Little Havana, if you can stomach all that, munch a frita fit for a king. At El Rey de las Fritas these Cuban hamburgers are the house specialty. For a measly two dollars, El Rey's fritas are packed to the punch. They definitely rule.
Like a street-smart stray with a knack for survival, the S&S has passed unruffled through a handful of owners in its 62-year history in Miami. And it likely has a few of its nine lives left. Across the street from another notable relic, the City of Miami cemetery, regulars at this down-home diner sidle up to stools at the horseshoe-shape counter like alley cats around a Dumpster full of fish, supping on daily specials such as turkey with all the trimmings, brisket, stuffed cabbage, lamb shank, and buffalo wings, served with a choice of side dishes like peas, salad, coleslaw, et cetera. Good-size, tasty portions of familiar fare -- all for less than $12 -- are served by long-time waitresses who seem to know everyone in the place by name. So there's no need to feel alone, even if you're dining that way. Stop by and soak up the atmosphere like a side of mashed potatoes in gravy. Open for breakfast and lunch seven days, and dinner Monday through Friday.
Drooling over meat-dripping sandwiches or hot dogs of saturated fat doesn't seem like the civilized thing to do when you're traveling by foot through Miami's urban jungle. Oh, there are plenty of portable grease pits along the way, tempting even the most health-conscious of souls. Real health hazards. But just think of them as obstacles in your journey. What you want is a vegetable patty of mushrooms, brown rice, and cheese wrapped in pita bread with added alfalfa sprouts (a wondrous tonic), carrots (rich in vitamin A), romaine lettuce (a good source of protein), and cherry tomatoes (bursting with vitamin C). That veggie burger and many more natural treats await your arrival at Orange Carrot. Perhaps a bit out of the way from the Bayfront shopping circuit but definitely within walking distance. And remember, walking is a good complement to a veggie burger, much better than that extra cheese.
What do you do if you want a quality dessert around midnight but don't want to get gussied up and spend a fortune at some South Beach hot spot? For 46 years Rascal House has had the answer. The place is open until at least 1:00 a.m., and the waiters here wouldn't bat an eye if you sauntered into the joint in your bathrobe as long as you had your wallet with you. At best they might offer an acerbic comment in the gruff manner for which they are famous, as they wait for you to choose from among the 34 different homemade treats. Dessert at Rascal House is meant to satisfy rather than dazzle. There are no effete dribbles of exotic sauces or bizarrely flavored sorbets. The favorite here is the cheesecake, rich and heavy enough to be a meal in itself. If your arteries can take it, move on to the bobka, a marbleized pound cake, or the Victory layer cake, which consists of seven levels of chocolate and whipped cream. Don't worry about offending your fellow patrons: There is no shame in being a glutton in this cafeterialike setting.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®