If you judge Haitian restaurants as we do -- solely on the virtue of the lambi -- then you'll agree with us that Le Pavillon is tops in conch. The pounded conch, smothered in a tomato sauce and served so tender you know the chef has carpal tunnel syndrome from all that whacking, justifies the honor alone. Fortunately that's not the only qualified dish at this smartly trimmed eatery, which has been open for several years but is under new management. The beef-vegetables stew and the goat with gravy both rule their categories, as does the rice and peas. And while this eatery clearly is Creole to the nth degree, you won't find better fried chicken -- available every day -- served anywhere in the Deep South. Le Pavillon's motto is "home of many cultures," but really we think it's the place for just one: the culinary society.
In The Beach, a novel about traveling, the central characters are constantly looking for the next undiscovered Eden, where they can play in splendid isolation. Take that concept, transfer it to dining on South Beach, and The Abbey becomes an oasis of an island. Although it's "undiscovered" by the masses, it's not so far off the Ferragamo-trod path that it's unfashionable. Thus the sophisticated eatery, featuring executive chef Philippe Baguette (can his name be any more apropos?), an eclectic menu, and a darling eight-stool bar, plus an airy but formal Mediterranean dining room and a beautifully landscaped terrace for outdoor dining, offers a temporary escape from the madding SoBe crowd. In other words it's the perfect place to talk about your friends, because while their ears may be ringing, they don't yet know where you are. And we won't tell if you won't.
Fact of the matter is, Donna's is a market with a restaurant inside. So you can purchase a number of gourmet foodstuffs to take back to your office or home with you to snack on in front of the TV. But if you're smart -- as we know you are -- you'll order take-out from the bistro menu. Summer-yellow cherry-tomato gazpacho travels exceptionally well, even with the addition of the Maine peeky toe crab centerpiece (though you may have to do a little fishing to find it once you get it home). Chef Donna Wynter and sous chef Philip Brock also pack up a delish "mosaic of Montrachet," goat cheese seasoned with roasted vegetables and then wrapped and baked with thin slices of potato, that beats the chips you pour out of a bag any day. Sturdier fishes like the salmon steak with Creole mustard survive beautifully, and even sweets like the Bahama Mama -- a mélange of sautéed mango, papaya, and pineapple in clarified butter and dark rum -- give the phrase "home-replacement meals" a whole new (and truly valid) meaning.

Best Restaurant Pretending To Be A Nightclub

Touch

If one had to name just a single Miami restaurant trend for the past twelve months, it'd be restaurant/nightclubs. Or is it nightclub/restaurants? Whatever. The idea is having it all in one place: Diners eat and then stay to dance the night away. That's in theory. In practice these allegedly one-size-fits-all eats-and-entertainment spaces satisfy serious clubbers much better than they do serious diners. The latter tend to find the sounds too pounding for dinner conversation or digestion -- and having to run a gauntlet of velvet ropes and doorfolk with attitude to reach one's rib eye tends to ruin the appetite. At "American grill" restaurant/nightclub Touch, the rib eye is an intensely charcrusted, subtly spice-rubbed 24-ouncer with a generous topping of thin-cut onion rings just peppery enough to tingle one's tongue. And other food offerings are equally first-rate in terms of ingredients and preparation: a lobster blini featuring Maine lobster, or a custardy smooth ice-cream-topped bread pudding that's the sexiest thing most SoBe club kids have experienced in years. What makes Touch superior as a restaurant/nightclub is that you get to enjoy the experience. While Touch opened a year ago with the standard senses-smashing sounds and faux-glam ambiance, dinnertime music now is seductively smooth -- and subdued in volume (after the kitchen closes, all bets are off). Best, there's little velvet-rope snobbery; personnel are genuinely welcoming, even to those who don't look like J. Lo.
Okay, it's an archaic term. So we'll go with the euphemism and allow that Andre's "sunset specials" are the best in the biz. And that's not only because the restaurant offers complete meals, including soup or salad and dessert and featuring elegant pastas and tender meat dishes, for a measly nine dollars. It's because the let's-make-a-meal deal goes on and on: Monday through Thursday, Andre's offers "between specials" as well, which are full-course meals plus a glass of wine ranging from $14.75 to $16.75. These are so tough to beat because chef-owner Andre Filosa, a legendary local aficionado of Northern Italian fare and French-influenced dishes, puts out a great product. Quite frankly the more you get of Andre's at the cheaper the price, the more you can afford to go. And if that's your goal, as it is ours, then all we can say is, "Score!"
They say that Costa Rica is the Switzerland of Central America. Then Nicaragua must be the Argentina of that historically embattled isthmus. Why? Churrasco. You know, charbroiled beef. The Nicaraguans are as crazy for it as their Southern Cone cousins. But whereas the Argentines often credit Italy for some of their culinary inspirations, the Nicaraguans tend to look north. Hence dishes such as tenderloin tips a la jalapeña (i.e., with a creamy jalapeño and onion sauce). You, however, need only travel west a few miles to this modest yet elegant establishment on West Flagler and SW 107th Avenue. The menu also offers a wide variety of appetizers and chicken, pork, and seafood entrées. And ask your very cordial waiter for that spirit enhancer that crosses all north-south divides: a carafe of sangría.
Icebox Cafe
Owner Robert Siegmann has created a virtual dessert oasis in the heart of Lincoln Road. And the former New York caterer has done it by taking classic desserts and giving them a modern flair. Take, for example, the pink coconut layer cake. The color isn't the only thing that stands out. Each slice is immense, a towering testament to days gone by. Indeed the enormous dimensions of his creations are Siegmann's trademark. But size alone doesn't matter. (At least that's what we've always been told. Really.) The true test is in the taste, and once again Icebox doesn't fail. The carrot cake is so fresh you'd swear the carrots were picked that morning. The mouthwatering banana cheesecake will make you want to swing from the trees. And don't get us started on their pound cake. The only problem you'll encounter is whether to order the marble, the coconut, the chocolate chip, or the lemon-poppyseed variety. In every category Icebox offers the widest selection of desserts and pastries of any restaurant in Miami that we've seen for a long time: banana cream pies, raspberry-chocolate mousse cake, and an assortment of ice cream cakes too long to list.
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Unlike some of our other more blatant eateries -- Tantra or Touch, for example -- chef-proprietor Kris Wessel's Liaison isn't all about sex. It is, however, all about the sensual: the feel of a large airy dining room with a high ceiling and billowing linens. The look of a sleek bar that has the friendly, open-door ambiance of a corner shop. The taste of Wessel's restrained yet exuberant New Orleans-inspired cuisine that combines classic French technique with local and seasonal ingredients. Don't look for too much blackening seasoning, though. This restaurant doesn't hit the diner over the head with Cajun flavors and drag her off to a cave for a bout of postprandial feasting. Rather Wessel seduces the sophisticate in all of us with items like filé gumbo with blue crabs; grillades of veal served over grits; crêpes stuffed with oysters; or zesty short ribs. Wash it all down with a sparkling kir royale, and you've got the perfect introduction to the main course after the dinner, if you know what we mean (wink, wink).
It's just a simple ground-beef sandwich, dressed with a bit of sauce and the obligatory vegetable matter. Yet somehow it's like biting into a memory of your favorite comfort food Momma used to make. Wash it down with a tropical juice: banana, mango, passion, papaya, guava, or Jus Tropical special blend. About as much lunchtime bliss as you can expect for five or six dollars. There are a handful of other sandwiches -- chicken, tuna, or a daily special-- and some sweet snacks for dessert. Friday and Saturday nights the place stays open until 1:00 a.m. so patrons can lounge at outside tables and listen to the sounds of Haitian musicians like Sweet Vibe play at the front of the shop. During the week Jus Tropical is open from 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.
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Okay, we admit that the interior of this freaky circus-theme restaurant, with its banquettes shaped like jesters' hats and papier-mâché harlequins dangling from the rafters, is striking. But it's also a little scary, especially if Cirque du Soleil just really ain't your game. All in all we prefer the seaside terrace, which provides the prettiest seating in North Beach. There you can enjoy executive chef Paulo Barroso de Barros's intriguing ginger duck confit with ravioli and fresh mango sauce as it should be: out in the tropical air under a full Miami moon. When it comes to magical entertainment, sometimes nature, with a little help from a chef who knows how to cook a really good osso bucco, is all you need.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®