While many of La Brioche Doree's fancy little pastries are beautiful to behold, the croissants take the cake, as they say. Why? Because Edouard Maillan, owner of this venerable boulangerie et patisserie, makes his light-layered treats, as he always has, with premium imported French butter. This stuff blows away the mass-market domestic butters used by less discerning croissant purveyors. A no-brainer involving high butterfat-to-water ratios, French butter seems to have been discovered by national food publications only recently. Maillan's secret, however, has been known for years by legions of devoted patrons. In fact the place is so popular you'd better get there early to score any of the favored minicroissants. If that bin has been plundered, try the equally delicious regular-size croissants, which include almond, cheese, chocolate, and seasonal fruits. Like many businesses in this largely Orthodox Jewish neighborhood, La Brioche Doree is closed Saturday. But it opens again Sunday morning at 7:00. Don't be surprised to find a knot of pastry addicts waiting outside as Maillan unlocks the door.
Franchise-food dining doesn't have the Epicurean seal of approval around here, but once in a while you find an exception. On Friday nights, for example, Robert, the Deep South short-order cook at this mid-Beach branch attached to a Howard Johnson's hotel, will cook you up two golden-red porkchops, an orange sweet potato, and some green broccoli, washed down with heavily iced lemon-Coke. Makes you feel you're in a Carson McCullers novel -- The Ballad of the Sad Café, say. Carlos Duran will serve this feast for only $8.29, and tell you about the time his computer card (for the cash register), which he wears on a vinyl cord, wrapped around a chair while he was delivering an order and nearly pulled his pants off. Lawraye Taveinni, a manager, will seat you in the smoking section (no one sits there) on a crowded Sunday morning and feed you healthy Harvest whole-grain oat, almond, and English walnut pancakes with warm fruit compote for just $5.99. And midweek cute Antoy Williams will cheer up grouchy oldsters who didn't want big sausages on their French toast special ($6.29) with jokes about her bus trip in from Opa-locka: "That driver was madder than you, honey! He just stuck in my face!" Call it breakfast theater.
When Rashné Desai took over Stephans in March 2001, she immediately updated the heavily Italian menu of her predecessor. Her idea was to offer presentable gourmet food and sell it fast as take-out or eat-in. (Located in Miami's Design District, Stephans has 30 Berliner-style tables on the second floor and sidewalk.) A delicious sandwich, drink, and cookie; or soup, quiche, and side (try the rosemary-roasted vegetables and fresh bread from Spain) should price out at ten bucks or less. Rashné learned her stuff at Dean & DeLuca in SoHo before that food-and-wares store went corporate and lame, and is a graduate of the French Culinary Institute in NYC, where she studied with Gaulist master Jacques Pepín. After that kind of training you know the rules so well you can break them. So Stephans presents the best of various culinary disciplines: a black forest ham sandwich on a baguette with French Brie, crisp lettuce, tomato, and olive oil; pasta with roasted chicken, fresh basil, garlic pesto, sun-dried tomatoes, and shaved Parmigiano; the Ultimate Supremo of imported prosciutto, Genoa salami, hot capicollo, and fire-roasted peppers; or curried turkey chili. Presentation is half the battle. "When you work in restaurants," says Rashné, "you're down in some basement kitchen with a lot of smelly people. Here we make food meant to be consumed fast and that looks really good." Call it eat couture.
Emerald Coast Chinese Gourmet Buffet
George Martinez
Something for everyone and plenty of it. That's why you'll often find a line of patrons waiting for a table during peak hours. We're talking chilled snow-crab legs, shrimp, and mussels. Eel, salmon, and California sushi rolls. Barbecued ribs, sweet-and-sour chicken, egg rolls, dumplings, stir-fried veggies. Prime rib, black-pepper steak, General Tso's chicken. A salad bar, six different soups. Eight flavors of hard-packed ice cream, Black Forest cake, miniature coconut tarts, chocolate-dipped fruit. An exhausting array of more than 100 items spread over seven serving stations. Unfettered access to the buffet will run you $7.50 to $11 (on weekends) for lunch and $14 to $17 for dinner. You can also order food à la carte for special dietary requirements. Lunch hours are 11:30 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday; noon to 2:30 p.m. on weekends. Dinner is served 4:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. Monday through Thursday, Sunday, and on holidays. Friday and Saturday dinner service continues until 10:30 p.m.
El Palacio de los Jugos
Photo by Zachary Fagenson
Chicken slow-roasted the Cuban way, with just the right touch of salt, pepper, and maybe a little mojo, is not that hard to find in Miami. But try to find better than here for the price: two dollars for a large breast with wing attached. Pick up a carton of moros and a bag of tostones and the family is well-fed for about ten bucks. But while you're here at the juice palace, have a look around. This place may have begun as a little roadside juice stand, but it's now a major Latino marketplace for foodstuffs and socializing. Lechon for sandwiches, of course. But also fruits and vegetables, tamal, uncooked black beans, chilled coconut, cheeses, and a unique fried rice. Have a coffee or a watermelon cooler and sit outside under the trees, though not too close to the troubadour on the electronic keyboard. And now watch Miami go by. Not just the guy in the parking lot with the hand-tooled belts and guajiro hats arrayed on his car, but all the rest of multiethnic Miami ebbing and flowing along the street that is at its heart.
Chefs of all stripes like to say that with regard to cuisine, quality is in the details. For the Cuban gourmet one measuring stick for refined gastronomy is to be found in the mariquitas (curly, long, plantain chips). Casa Romeu's are el maximo: soft and fluffy, not crispy and burned like at some places. Another culinary barometer is the sopa de pollo (chicken soup), which Romeu's customers wistfully remember for days, sometimes weeks. Somehow they even make people rave about the congrí, a seasoned mixture of rice and beans. Romeu regulars are especially fanatical about the picadillo (a juicy, piquant concoction of ground beef, onion, peppers, and spices) and the bistec empanizado (breaded steak). Located about a mile north of Miami Lakes, the restaurant opens at 7:00 a.m. and closes at midnight. ¿Qué más tu quieres?
Because Candace Lopez's TJP was getting all the action from the beach boys and girls bronzing near 22nd Street last summer, we followed the crowd over for a big twenty-ounce lemonade ($1.85). We were astounded by the taste, a kind of adagio of three sensations: tartness (fresh local lemon), sweetness (pure sugar), and a kind of energy boost. There's no caffeine added, so when we asked Candace, she pointed out that the major froth she achieves in the blending enhances the natural vitamin-C properties in her lemon juice, "opening" them and allowing for faster absorption. (Many fighters suck oranges before they go into the ring, so she may be right.) In addition Candace has an impressive collection of tropical-rain-forest smoothies from Brazil. The smoothies, great with vegetable-wrap sandwiches, go for $2.85 for 12 ounces, $3.85 for 20 ounces, and $5.85 for 32-ounce jumbos.
Yes, Nuevo Siglo is "decrepit-looking," as noted in the New York Times. In fact it looks pretty much as decrepit as most of Havana, Cuba. Sitting at the counter on a balmy winter afternoon, a coffee-scented breeze wafting in from the window open to the cacophony of Calle Ocho, you feel a little like you're lunching in your tia's funky kitchen in Centro Habana. Your tia who can always comfort you with a bowl of savory chicken soup, who seems to effortlessly produce plate after plate of really good Cuban food, such as roasted pork and chicken, picadillo, oxtail (sometimes goat, lamb, or shrimp) accompanied by perfect yuca or maduros, and of course plenty of rice and the potaje of the day -- black beans, garbanzos. Nothing fancy, just a solid meal a lo cubano. The menu changes daily and the entrées go fast. A big lunch can run you five to seven dollars. There are also some decent breakfast specials.
Nemo Restaurant
The problem with most Florida raw bars is Florida oysters, which come from the Gulf Coast and other locales where the water is so warm the wan, flaccid southern belles come out of it practically precooked and tasting mild to the point of nothingness. Not at Nemo, where the nightly selection of three to four varieties includes nothing but crisp cold-water beauties. According to chef/owner Michael Schwartz, there's usually at least one from British Columbia, such as refreshing Fanny Bays, whose unique sweet-and-salty taste and pronounced cucumber finish accent their typically Canadian brininess. Often there are Pacific Northwest oysters -- kumamotos or plump, creamy-rich Hog Island Sweetwaters -- and sometimes even eastern U.S. oysters from Long Island. An important plus for those who love oysters but don't love living dangerously (and risking the bacterium responsible for 1992's notorious nine oyster-related deaths in Florida): All Nemo oysters are farm-raised. By the way Nemo does serve other raw-bar items, and of course it is first and foremost a full-menu restaurant. But the friendly staff welcomes those who just want oysters. The interior "food bar," where diners can watch chefs work, is a fun place for shellfish, though a difficult place to resist escalating to a major meal.

Within the world of Cuban-style black beans there are many variations. The beans ought to be fresh and the seasonings tasty, but after that opinions diverge. What seasonings and in what combinations? Garlic, of course. But what about onions, green pepper, salt, pepper, cumin, even tomato sauce? This restaurant, a Little Havana fixture for 27 years, enjoys the talents of long-time chef Guillermo Martinez, who has found a formula that works. This includes garlic, green peppers, olive oil, and white sherry, according to restaurant manager Orestes Lleonart, Jr. Ah, but there's more. And that part is a secret. "The rest," says Lleonart, "is what only the cook knows." Dig into a bowl of black bean soup for $2.50.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®