Gordon Biersch Brewery & Restaurant
In Miami Beach there are two kinds of happy hours: the ones that begin at midnight, and the ones that begin at 6:00 a.m. But in downtown Miami, where the business people -- yeah, those with day jobs -- play, there's only one happy hour. That's when work is over, the stuffy execs go home, and the unbuttoned professionals come out to play. And there's no better place to relax than on the patio at Gordon Biersch. Located in the heart of the Brickell streetscape, the brewery has even the sharkiest of lawyers relaxing with a homebrewed lager and a plate of fried artichoke hearts. In the end the crowd here, especially on Fridays, may make it tough to negotiate some space for yourself. But if you consider the salubrious effect of a little cheer on a lot of hard-working suits -- those you're likely to be negotiating with come Monday -- then the order of business becomes clear: Drink up, shut up.
The sun may have set on the British Empire long ago, but one of its key rituals continues weekdays at the Biltmore Hotel. The rapacious guardians of civilization knew that whether it be the languid tropics of the colonies or the drizzly comfort of hearth and home, nothing beats a good cuppa as the day turns dozy around midafternoon. Beneath the vaulted ceilings of this grand hotel's lobby, for an hour and half starting at 3:00 p.m., the tradition continues as high tea is served. It all begins with the raw materials from a 115-year-old English tea company. A gracious attendant wheels in a cart filled with teas accented by exotic flavors that carry names like Imperial Gunpowder, Afternoon Darjeeling, and Tippy Assam. The last of these is harvested each year, between April and June, from the Brahmanputra Valley in northeast India. Off to the side a woman plays piano softly. The server pours the tea into china cups, through silver strainers that are then placed into individual silver bowls. She brings fresh fruit and a selection of crustless finger sandwiches that range from salmon to cucumber. Next come wickedly rich scones made of fluffy shortbread dusted in powdered sugar. A dish laden with whipped butter and a complete selection of fruit preserves complements the pastries. At this point, rather than risk the perils of overindulgence, pause and appreciate the beautiful orchids atop the five tables, the plushly comfortable chairs, and, of course, more of that delightfully calming elixir. The last course arrives as if by magic, a plate brimming with confections: little macaroons, diminutive lemon tarts, and mini-pecan pies. When the $15 check comes, it seems a small price to pay for the burden of being civilized.

It might take a little while to get used to. Here you are, all ready to enjoy the best seafood in town, and not a chair in sight! Yet the place is packed, and hardly anyone is ordering take-out. Amid all the roiling humanity, keyed up further by the salsa music on the radio, giving everything a (very) slight beach-party ambiance, you manage to order. You don't have to wait too long. Pretty soon you're leaning against the counter along with everyone else, diving in, and, you got it, thinking it's fun to eat standing up! Next time, sneakers instead of platforms. There's a brand new Fico on South Beach, and the food is probably just as wonderful, but they surely couldn't improve on the original -- seated, standing, or prone.

At all-you-can-eat buffets of the cafeteria-inspired kind, the urge to gorge overtakes most diners. Maybe it's a Thanksgiving-related syndrome. Get it now or your brothers will be asking for seconds before you've taken the first bite. That experience is the opposite of eating at the Brazilian churrascaria Porcao in the Four Ambassadors Hotel. Although porcao is Portuguese for "pig," and one essential element is the same -- you can eat until you decide to stop -- the experience is more like theater for the tongue. You are attended to by a cast of waiters. There is a constant flow of different foods to sample. The tongue remains surprised. A churrascaria is a restaurant that specializes in meat. The style of cooking is rodizio, Portuguese for "rotisserie." Each table has a card, one side green and the other red, like a traffic light. If you flip up the green side, you will be approached by the phalanx of waiters streaming from the kitchen and fanning out through the dining room. Each waiter carries skewers of fresh-grilled meat. One time it will be pork sausages and grilled chicken. The next, buttons of filet mignon wrapped in bacon, perfectly charred roast rump, salmon with mushroom-butter sauce. If you want time to digest all that protein, flip over the card to the red side, order a drink from one of the carts wheeled through the dining room, and indulge in conversation. There's no rush. Or if you just want to give your taste buds a change, take a trip to the salad bar. The array of choices and the quality of offerings are dazzling. And then there is the dessert cart. Yummy. Gluttony never felt so good.
Baleen
Many Miami brunch venues are beautiful (the Biltmore's spectacular Spanish fountained courtyard immediately comes to mind), with prodigiously packed buffet tables. But few settings are waterfront. And cuisine, no matter how impressive in quantity, rarely is of cutting-edge quality in typical Sunday brunch steam-table settings. Which is why Baleen, whose executive chef is Robbin Haas, beats the competition. Luxuriating at an oceanside table in Baleen's elegant outdoor dining area, separated from the sea by only a few lush palms and a waterfront walking path, brunchers enjoy plate after plate of appetizer items atop several big buffet tables in the indoor dining area: fresh fruit, just-baked croissants and breads, and the usual smoked salmon/cold shellfish assortment, plus unusually imaginative cold salads such as chicken with fresh cherries and walnuts, seafood with impeccably fresh briny clams, and caprese with top-quality tomatoes and fresh mozzarella. Move on to hot entrées: grilled shrimp with citrus beurre blanc and risotto, tiny tender lamb chops with rosemary/ricotta polenta, Belgian waffles with real whipped cream, and smoked salmon as well as standard eggs Benedict. Definitely save room for the hazelnut/mocha cake, chocolate-covered strawberries, mousses, flans, and buttery homemade cookies on the dessert buffet table.
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!"

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®