Best Restaurant To Reinvent Itself Again

Big Fish

This restaurant has had more lives than Shirley MacLaine. And part of the eatery's perseverance has to do with its location. As one of the only, and certainly just about the oldest, riverfront restaurants in Miami, we almost owe it our patronage. In fact we've seen this place through good times and bad, through Twenties' gas stations and fish sandwiches (courtesy of its first owner), through gondolas and gigantic sculptures of animals standing on each other's backs (courtesy of the previous owner). It's almost like a marriage that way -- love it or leave it. And we love it. We can't help ourselves. Some glitches will always affect this restaurant: It's hard to find; the neighborhood could be better; the river traffic could be less noisy. But as far as landmark bars built around banyan trees go, we'll take this one. And we'll drink martinis here and eat fish sandwiches (okay, maybe just one, since they're currently so big) no matter who owns it, or cleans it up, or installs weird artwork, or dirties it again. That's a promise.
It's tough to impress the dates these days but you can do it. You score a reservation at Norman's, pick said date up in your new Lexus SUV, and then nonchalantly toss the keys to the valet when you get there. So far, so good. Once inside you relax with a Cosmopolitan at the bar, and voilà! -- the table is ready. You seat your date, then yourself. You open the menus and begin to discuss the food. Here's your chance, you think. You explain some of the more outlandish dishes, then look around for the waitress. Spotting a female striding around the floor, you beckon to her. When she reaches your table, you begin to order: "My date will have the seared ..." "I'm sorry," said female interrupts smoothly. "I'm not your server. I'm the sommelier. Would you care for a suggestion on a bottle of wine?" Congratulations, you've just insulted Laura DePasquale, one of the only licensed female sommeliers in the State of Florida. Don't feel too bad. Even in Miami, when you can't always tell who's female and who's male, gender barriers are still in place. But not for long, thanks to DePasquale and her like. Go, femme!
Nothing about Kon Chau's appearance screams "good eating." With its generic décor, harsh fluorescent lighting, and obligatory incense-bristling shrine to General Kwan, this could be almost any strip-mall chow-meinstream Chinese joint. But it ain't, and it's the delectable dim sum that puts Kon Chau over the top. You just plain can't go wrong; place the photocopied dim sum menu in front of you, close your eyes, point to something, and prepare yourself for bite-size bliss. From the turnip cake, to the pork buns, to the sticky rice in lotus leaf, to the steamed shrimp dumplings, to the world's most delectable spring rolls, every cooked-to-order item on the list is a hit. All served at reasonable prices, without a whit of hoity, and even less toity.
Got a hankering for a half-sour? A craving for sauerkraut? The palate for a pickled green tomato? Relax, you're covered. The only pickle stand in Miami that's called a kiosk, Picklelicious imports its barrels of pickles, about ten varieties, directly from the Lower East Side in New York. And don't worry if you don't feel like purchasing a pint or a quart of the briny goodies. Picklelicious also sells the ever-popular pickle-on-a-stick, which leaves you one hand free for flipping through the clothes at Macy's. Just be careful not to get yourself in a pickle, and have the courtesy to buy whatever you manage to squirt with garlicky juice.
And the best part of all, there is always plenty of stuff around to read.
Chef Pepin -- no, not the famous one, just a hardworking Cuban cook named Pepin -- has been a fixture at Little Farm Store's diner for the past twenty years. More than a fixture; Little Farm Store cognoscenti prize Pepin's homestyle Cuban dishes. But especially his medianoche. Now what is it that makes Pepin's sandwich a cut above? How would he know? Does an artist know what drives him to the canvas? Pepin throws generous portions of pork, ham, Swiss cheese, mayo, and pickles (amount will vary at your order) on some of that soft egg bread, grills it just right, and there it is. Another masterpiece to go. Invest now while you can get one for $2.50.
When it comes to luncheonettes, nobody pays much attention, and that's a darn shame. Some of the best lunch restaurants are downtown and in the Design District, and unless you happen to work nearby, you usually don't hear about them. Such is the case with the Charcuterie, the longest-running restaurant in the Design District. Today the decades-old eatery presents a limited menu with French-influenced deli entrées, such as the salmon mousse and vegetable terrine plate, or the Brie and tomato sandwich. But the real reason it wins kudos is for its hot lunches, posted daily on a blackboard. You just might find grilled salmon with shallot and vermouth sauce, or blackened snapper Louisiana style, or rainbow trout almondine. You get the point: The focus is on fish. Wash it all down with a glass of house white, or an O'Doul's if you're headed back to work. Of course you have to take your chances on the blackboard specials, because what's served depends on what's been caught fresh that morning. But you can bet on the Charcuterie as a hale and hearty standard of the Design District since the days before the renaissance, when the only things caught fresh in the morning were the working girls on their way home.
All you have to do is walk into Steve's and you know you've entered pizza nirvana. For one thing the whole place, really just a glorified stand, smells like the pizza shops in Milan. Then there are the New York-style pies, wafting just a hint of oregano toward you, that are constantly coming out of the oven. The oozing mozzarella, the tangy marinara, the dusky, charcoaled crust -- it's enough to make you drool just standing there. But we should warn you: Hold on to your patience. Even Steve's isn't worth that nasty blister that pops up when you sink your teeth too soon into a slice. Or ith it? Ith really hard to thay, after all.
Numerous high-profile restaurants with authentically gifted chefs opened this past year: Mayya (Guillermo Tellez), The Strand (Michelle Bernstein), Ortanique (Mary Rohan), and Bambú (Rob Deer) to name a few. Then there's Mark Militello's latest effort at the refurbished Nash, which not only tops these other topnotch contenders but perhaps even his own prior work. The cuisine is more Mediterranean, less fusion than at the flagship Las Olas restaurant. The savvily conceived combinations and contrasts, however, are as well executed as ever. Witness the crisp-skinned Scottish salmon with soft fondue of leeks and tomato in truffled sweet-pea coulis. Better yet, go taste it. Time will tell if the quality can be kept consistent without the man himself being around, but for now it sure looks like a keeper.
The exterior of this eatery, located right off a dusty (read: under construction) portion of Biscayne, doesn't look like much: a long, low building with lettering in the windows advertising Middle Eastern food. But don't go by judging the proverbial cover. Inside you'll find wonderful text, not to mention texture -- light, crisp falafel patties, steaming hot in the center and delicately deep-fried. For the best results, get the falafel encased in a soft pita bread with creamy tahini and tangy Turkish salad. The staff also stuffs in some shredded red cabbage and chopped tomatoes for good measure. But don't worry; none of the fillings overwhelm the falafel, which is, after all, the biggest plus of this pita place.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®