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.
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.
First, the history. Renaissance Bakery, which has scored a bunch of awards from us in the past several years for its outstanding sourdough, olive, and sesame-semolina loaves, was founded by Ron Funt. Now, the present. Funt, along with brother Paul, decided to put Renaissance bread to even better use than selling it out of the back of the bakery and transporting wholesale orders to local restaurants and markets. They opened Upper Crust about a year ago, doing the chic décor -- lots of chrome, glass, stone, and marble -- themselves. So take the name literally. The appearance of this sandwich shop is literally a cut of bread above the rest, as is the Renaissance Bakery itself. The sandwiches are, too, giving a new meaning to portable lunch. Peanut butter and jelly, which is smoothed between two slices of raisin-currant-pecan bread, never had it so good. Now, there really is something better than sliced bread.
And the best part of all, there is always plenty of stuff around to read.
Charcuterie
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.
Chocolate's reputation as a caffeine-crammed, cavity-causing, pimple-promoting, fat-inducing treat has finally turned to mud. In fact the rich creamy substance these days is being touted as an antioxidant that packs a feel-good punch. Scientists are still fine-tuning their theories about phenylethylamine and theobromine (the chemical ingredients that put chocolate consumption on the level of orgasm). So while they're in the lab, you can conduct a little study of your own at Krön Chocolatier. This tiny shop, which spent seventeen years housed in Bal Harbour, has been sweetly ensconced on the second floor of the Aventura Mall for the past two. Chocolate-covered everything -- popcorn, potato chips, Oreos, pretzels, apricots, orange slices, pineapple, strawberries -- is made on the premises. You can mix and match a selection of creams and chews (dark, white, or light) or partake individually of pecan myrtles, rocky road bricks, oversize peanut-butter cups, and Nora's tacos (chocolate shell stuffed with crunchy chocolate, M&Ms, and Rice Krispies). Taste one of Krön's melt-in-your mouth, hand-cut, cocoa-dipped truffles and you'll understand why some addicts claim chocolate is better than sex. The research may be overwhelming, but remember, you're doing it in the name of science.
Doughnuts are sin. You cannot yield to the temptation of a low-fat or sugar-free doughnut. Such abominations are not doughnuts. Therefore, brothers and sisters, he who eats of the glazed, powdered, cream-filled, and all other manner of deep-fried dough, make damn sure it's worth sinning for. Can I get a witness? When you're out there hungering in the depths of your gut for a chocolate frosted, drive thou not into a Dunkin' Donuts parking lot, for that way leads to perdition. No, my children! Hold out for the worst sin! The very anti-halo! A still-warm glazed doughnut fresh from the Krispy Kreme kitchen! What is it, you may ask, that the Krispy Kreme people put in those doughnuts to render them so meltingly soft? So dangerously delicious? Oh, ye of little faith! Shut up and start sinning!
Ortanique on the Mile
Photo courtesy of Ortanique on the Mile
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.
Moises Bakery
As the neon sign reads inside, everything in this bakery is made with "chispa Venezolana." The bread comes to you fresh out of the oven in all shapes and sizes. The cakes are topped with fresh strawberries, kiwis, and peaches. The meat, chicken, and cheese empanadas go a long way. Be sure to wash down the dough-wrapped lunch-in-a-pocket with a Frescolita ( a cherry-flavor Venezuelan soda in a glass bottle). Have a bomba (a pastry stuffed with cooked condensed milk) for dessert, or a flaky mil ojas (1000 leaves) covered in powdered sugar. They even have something to cure the lethargy that comes from eating too much.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®