Best Restaurant When Someone Else Is Paying

Azul

Azul Restaurant
A view overlooking the bay, back toward Miami, and down sparkling Brickell Avenue is the first thing you notice when walking into the elegant, nouveau-Asian lobby of the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Then, at the entrance to the restaurant, you glimpse the waterfall that separates the open kitchen from the dining area. The absolute succulence of the dishes devised by celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein dazzles you next. And finally a bill that surpasses monthly car and mortgage payments combined makes you gasp. If you stopped at the bar first, refinancing could be necessary. But if you've gotten someone else to foot the bill, this is the place to dine (and to stay warm; house pashmina shawls are available to wrap the chilly). Hamachi carpaccio in an Asian-spiced citrus sauce to start? On your own dime, maybe such an appetizer would be out of the question. On someone's else's -- go for it! It's sublime. Foods from the sea remain the best choice for a main course (no need to look at prices this time!). Signature Bernstein dressings, often combining an Asian flavor (a nuac nam or hoisin sauce?) with, say, rose water or papaya, enhance snapper, sea bass, and other fresh cuts. Add up the outdoor vista, the indoor décor, and the internal satisfaction, and Azul reaches the pinnacle of, well, good taste.
Buried in a tiny nondescript minimall, Macau does not look impressive from the outside. And the interior décor is humble, too. But so is the décor in many of China's best restaurants. And Macau's food is Miami's most authentically Chinese. Since Macau is an ex-Portuguese colony and major South China trading port island, people from all over the world have passed through for centuries. So chefs there know how to punt -- and so does Miami Macau's chef/owner May Yuen. If some menu item sounds appealing but not quite appropriate, negotiate; May is happy to improvise for diners with special diets or tastes. Even confirmed carnivores, for instance, will find an unlisted invention of vegetable ho fan (usually called chow fun), chewy broad bean noodles sautéed dry-style with snow peas, bean sprouts, and several other fresh Chinese vegetables. There also are at least a dozen nonmenu specials nightly, often featuring exotic seasonal ingredients. Don't miss delicate sautéed pea shoots with crab or deceptively simple-sounding Maine lobster with ginger and scallion when on the board. But some of Macau's tastiest treats are available always, like salty pepper shrimp. To ensure protection against Macau's only likely disappointment, phone first. Since May is the only cook, Macau closes when her kid has a cold.
Until there is an outbreak of foot and beak disease (or, God forbid, mad chicken) this Anglo version of Pollo Tropical is still a tantalizing investment for a quick healthful meal. The Brickell locale is a favorite lunchtime or postworkout pit stop for the calorie- and cash-obsessed professionals of our shimmering financial district. (You're usually out of there for less than five bucks.) The Kitchen is a pioneer in the merger of salad and entrée: broiled chicken (or beans for the truly health-minded vegetarian) on a bed of rice with fresh tomato, lettuce, and sour cream on top. A clever variety of salsas/dressings make this culinary conglomerate complete.
The boulevard was abuzz when Pascal Oudin opened his eponymous eatery last year, and the place certainly hasn't lost any of its charge. Chef Oudin has crafted a contemporary French menu that's exciting but accessible, leaving the steak frites and escargots to neighbor Les Halles (which prepares those dishes simply and beautifully). Pascal's offerings aren't extensive, but with captivating choices like tenderloin of beef with snails, wild mushrooms, and garlic with Bordelaise sauce; magret duck breast with savoy cabbage; and sautéed yellowfin tuna au poivre (for those who can't do without peppercorns), diners will still need time to peruse and decide. And when the dessert arrives, warm and lovely after all those other courses, you'll be reminded that it's never too early to plan for the future. The 55-seat restaurant is intimate without seeming cliquish, and the waitstaff is attentive and knowledgeable of the menu and the wine list. Prices are reflective of the fare's essence: not over the top. Pascal's is open for lunch, too, where such sensibility is even more obvious.
Zesty, refreshing, cool, and minty. Yes, minty. Making lemonade may seem trivial, but at Eat'n Colors it's become almost an art form. Mixed with bits of fresh mint leaves, a tall glass will quench your thirst and offer respite from not just the heat but the overwhelming demands of life. Nature supplies the crew of Eat'n Colors with lemons, and they make wonderful lemonade for us to enjoy. So enjoy!
This isn't a confection shop; it's a chocolate gallery filled with objets d' cocoa: miniature pianos, magnum-size champagne bottles, and swans, all sculpted out of milk, white, or dark chocolate. Tired of chewing on a dry bird at Thanksgiving? Order a solid chocolate turkey. They make 'em. Don't know what to give the man or woman who has everything? Try an oversize check, made out for a million dollars and printed on 100 percent solid chocolate. It's just one of the many custom-made creations the folks at Le Chocolatier have cooked up over the years. Order anything you see on display, come up with your own chocolate fantasy, or grab for the goodies in the case: chocolate-dipped biscotti, pretzels, fruit, and, of course, truffles -- tons and tons of truffles -- including tropically inspired mango, banana, key lime, and piña colada. Le Chocolatier? C'est magnifique!
Cozy Corner
It is indeed a cozy, homey sort of diner on a bustling corner of Miami Springs' business district. The walls are hung with fancy quiltwork and needlework, old black-and-white photos of the town circa 1930, and antique Coca-Cola paraphernalia; real and fabricated ferns and flowers are everywhere, and delicious-looking cakes, pies, and pastries sit on counters in those covered glass stands. It's plain country-good eatin' here: meat loaf and mashed potatoes, eggs and grits -- even one of the greatest dishes ever to come out of the South, biscuits and gravy. Breakfast is served anytime, and there are many excellent and reasonably priced specials. But the real test of a kountry kitchen is the waitresses. You won't find the actress-student birdbrain type at Cozy Corner. Here the food servers have weathered years on their feet, memorizing prices, and carrying three plates on one arm (if they have to). In other words they're much like the unpretentious throwback the restaurant is.

Bon-Bon Bakery
Just the name, written in big old-fashioned script above the entrance to this 32-year-old bakery, makes you think of sweet treats. And here there's an abundance of just about every Latin-American-style treat that can be baked. Homemade tamales simmer in a crockery pot by the cash register, and periodically a kitchen helper carries out fresh loaves of Cuban bread. In the morning and afternoon, people stop in on their way to or from work to pick up empanadas or pan gloria, maybe some pasteles de guayaba, cookies or cupcakes for the kids. The cakes at Bon-Bon are beautiful (it's best to order first and pick up later to ensure freshness), and the pies are dense and heavily crusted. The chocolate, coconut, and almond brazos -- a rolled log of cake that looks like an arm -- are festively decorated and even more fun for the palate.

Was it propaganda? Was it fixed? Was it a given? In order: No, no, and yes. When Pascal Oudin, one of our all-time favorite chefs of Grand Café fame, finally opened his own restaurant in the Gables, we knew it was only a matter of time till Best of Miami named it a winner. That's because the French-trained Oudin, who has noodled around the area with interim projects like the erstwhile Sweet Donna's, has always deserved a neoclassic place in the Florida sun -- and we're determined to keep him here. So simply put, he keeps producing dishes like lobster bisque with fish quenelles or his justly famous soufflés, and we'll keep buying 'em. And giving him the kudos he deserves.
Tony's represents Miami-Dade County the way it used to be, with a small-town rural feel. Breakfast at this greasy spoon begins at 5:00 a.m., daybreak being the time farmers usually go to work. Plopped in the middle of each of the two dining rooms are two big tables, one square, one round. These are where regulars who are eating alone but want to chat with their neighbors can sit. A prime topic of conversation is the weather (did we mention this is rural farm territory?). The food at Tony's is basic, but one can usually fill up on a good, complete breakfast for less than five dollars. Still doubt that this establishment isn't just another joint shoveling hash for cash? A toy train motors through the restaurant on tracks built high into the wall -- can't get more country than that.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®