Wish Restaurant
Located on the top floor of this Art Deco gem (for decades known as the Tiffany before the New York jewelry retailer objected, but only after designer Todd Oldham transformed it into a hot spot), the bar offers a sleek and civilized respite far above the maddening crowds and the cars crawling along Ocean Drive and Collins Avenue. Daylight hours offer an uninterrupted, bird's-eye view of Lummus Park, the sands, and the Atlantic Ocean that will be recognizable as the backdrop for a number of fashion shoots. With the days getting longer, it's highly recommended for a sunset cocktail, whether you're entertaining an important client, gearing up for a big night on the town, or just showing the folks the sights.

Doraku Izakaya and Sushi
Courtesy of Doraku
"It's not just for breakfast anymore" chimed the old Florida orange juice slogan. "It's not just for brunch anymore" could be said about the Bloody Mary. Long considered the perfect morning-after cure for night-before-induced ills, the tomato juice-vodka concoction -- often embellished with horseradish, celery salt, Worcestershire sauce, and stomach-turning substances such as Clamato -- is now commonly imbibed at all hours of the day. Doraku's extensive drink menu (including more than twenty types of sake) features a tasteful twist on the classic cocktail: Stoli Limon vodka, a splash of sake, and a good deal of potent Bloody Mary mix. The wasabi-stuffed olives offer that inimitable eye- and sinus-opening experience. You're up now!

Flanigan's Seafood Bar & Grill
Some would argue that Flanigan's is more restaurant than bar, disqualifying it from the "Best Bar Food" category. Nonsense. Flanigan's is all bar, albeit a sort of pubby, collegial, take-the-family-for-a-meal bar (as opposed to a sloppy-drunk bar or a pickup bar). From the lacquered wood to the sports and fishing junk on the walls, Flanigan's has all the appropriate bar accoutrements. Most important, Flanigan's has great burgers -- undoubtedly the most important bar food. The chain, with six Miami-Dade locations, even excels at second-tier bar food, like ribs (wash down a plate of Flanigan's ribs with a pitcher of beer and try to claim you're not in a bar) and fish sandwiches.

Eagle-eyed traffic scouts will notice a reverse hipster exodus on Miami Beach -- folks are heading west, far away from Washington Avenue's mega-sized venues and velvet-roped lounges, and into Miami proper. Once-quiet neighborhoods are now crawling with activity, thanks to a fresh crop of promoters in search of cheap rents and the resulting freedom to host the musical styles they love -- not the ones that are the most profitable. The irony? The Friday-night crowds at Revolver in the Soho Lounge and Saturday's Poplife at the Piccadilly Restaurant (both were in the Design District, though Poplife has now moved downtown) have rivaled those Beach affairs these electronically artsy-oriented parties were originally launched as a relief from. Which means even newer outposts are surely on the way, such as the Slak Lounge, which has just begun giving the surrounding blocks of Wynwood a taste of the much-heralded garage-rock revival. And of course, the Spam Allstars continue to make Little Havana's cozy Hoy Como Ayer the premiere Thursday-night spot for jumpin' jive and space-age salsa. Just as refreshing as the music you'll hear inside all these nightspots is the accompanying attitude -- or lack thereof. For those whose idea of nightlife is clipboard-wielding door divas, canned beats, and twelve-dollar cocktails, there'll always be the Beach. For the rest of us, Miami has never looked more inviting.

Hotel Astor
Chic. Cool. Intoxicated. And that's the way you feel even before your cocktail! As you walk through the hotel doors, the sleek white chairs and tables to the left announce Miami's best place to sip from a long-stemmed glass and sink into one smooth recline (or decline, depending on how many rounds). What used to be supercool-looking Astor Place and its bar is now even better looking, with clean lines in white, mahogany, and steel gray. From your chair is a full view -- through a glass wall -- of the patio, with its waterfall and colorful plants. Turn your head slowly and the deep-brown wooden shutters that cover the windows make a picture-perfect backdrop to the all-white chairs. But to really do the cocktail experience right, you need to perch yourself on one of the white stools at the glass-covered bar, where Todd will mix you up anything your thirsty soul desires, and will flick a gold Zippo before you realized you even needed a light. What does that whiskey taste like? Here, try it, he'll say. There's no better seat in town.

Readers Choice: Delano Hotel

A good bartender takes care of her regulars, knows what they drink, keeps them company, and isn't afraid to tell them to shut up. Margot Love has all of these qualities and then some. The tall blonde with something to say about everything makes sure your glass is always full before putting a thumb on what's making your life half empty. Bartenders are great therapists, aren't they? At least this gal is. She tells it like it is and her tips come cheaper than a psychiatrist's bill. Spilling your guts is fine, just be prepared to be called a whiner. The older gentlemen who lunch every weekday in designated stools around the L-shaped bar at Fox's dimly lit, leather-boothed lounge are aptly named "Margot's babies," though they're all older than her by an undisclosed number of years (she says it is a lot). They say out loud that the food and drink has them sold on the 57-year-old lounge, but a couple admit with a twinkled eye that it's Margot who keeps them coming. They can't get enough of her laugh; it fills the otherwise drowsy room. But spunk, personality, and straight-shooting insight don't make a great bartender. It starts with how the drinks go down, and no one serves up a better Manhattan than Margot.

Automatic Slim's
The real models, the girls and guys down here during the season working German catalogues and Mexican commercials, aren't all that different from you and me. They enjoy a tony soiree every now and then, but the snootiness gets to them too. For regular relaxing they head to Automatic Slim's on Tuesday nights for the "Double Wide" party. It's become the locals' hangout -- at least for locals who don't have to work Wednesday morning. DJ Mark Leventhal spins rock and roll and old-school hip-hop. That's a big draw. Plus the raucous atmosphere, in which you're actually encouraged to dance on tables, is unselfconsciously fun. After a day of being paid to be incredibly self-conscious, that's liberating. "There are a lot of locals, models, photographers," says one booking agent. "It's a friendly, regular atmosphere. Plus the girls that work there are pretty hot." No cover. Domestic beers are four bucks. The most expensive drink they have is eight dollars. Don't show up before 11:00 p.m.

This neighborhood place, tucked in an unlikely spot just east of the 826, is at once down-home and charmingly tacky in a delightful Miami kind of way. The theme is unfinished wood plank tables bordered by thick nautical rope and a deck that overlooks the retention pond/lake beside the restaurant. The sheer profusion of decoration suggests that here, at least, what goes up never comes down -- oversized Christmas bulbs dangling from green fishing nets, tinsel tossed over trees growing up through wooden tables on the deck, Mardi Gras beads, a witch hat and wig perched on a pole. These visual elements compete with an impressive array of beer signs, all to an effect that recalls a Key West bar set in Havana. Naturally there's a small stage for live performances. Bottles of beer are typically served in buckets of ice. The menu is generous, offering everything from a $4 steak sandwich to a nice $9 conch salad to the ambitious seafood combo for two, a hearty plate of lobster, shrimp, mussels, clams, scallops, calamari, oysters, crabs, and fish in Creole sauce, all for $45. The Sonia of the name is Sonia Salomon, who opened the place in 2000 with husband Luis. The family also operates a fish market and a fishing accessories store next to the restaurant.

Readers Choice: Doral Ale House

PASCAL OUDIN

PASCALS ON PONCE, 2611 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Coral Gables 305-444-2024

At the tender age of seventeen Pascal Oudin won France's "Best Apprentice Chef Award," a coveted distinction that launched the youngster into the kitchens of masters such as Alain Ducasse and Roger Verge. By the time he arrived here in 1984, Oudin himself was something of a master. Hotel restaurants became a specialty: Dominique's, the Colonnade, Grand Café at the Grand Bay Hotel. Along the way he attracted national attention. In 1995 Food & Wine named him one of America's "Best New Chefs." Esquire piled on with "Best New Chef in Florida." After he finally opened his own restaurant in Coral Gables, Pascal's on Ponce, it didn't take long for the awards to begin arriving. Besides many local accolades (including our own Best New Restaurant), Esquire again paid a visit and declared Oudin's namesake to be the "Best New Restaurant in America for 2000."

BEST MONTH

February. The weather and the romance of Valentine's Day. There is no better time of the year.

BEST PLACE FOR FRESH VEGETABLES

Norman Brothers.

BEST CHEAP THRILL

A ride on the Metromover is a great minitour of downtown Miami and Brickell. And for just 25 cents.

BEST NOT-SO-CHEAP THRILL

Skydive Sebastian in Sebastian, Florida. 1-800-399-JUMP (www.skydiveseb.com).

BEST RESTAURANT TO DIE IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS

Wolfie's. An institution is gone.

BEST DINING TREND

Cheese. It's been enjoyed for centuries with wine and fruit. Always classy.

BEST REASON TO LIVE IN MIAMI

Tropical weather all year round. This makes the style of living very easy and comfortable. Miami and Miami Beach attract tourists, which is great for businesses of all types all year. South Florida living is affordable compared to other large cities like New York or San Francisco, including housing. Plus, due to the mix of people from different cultures, this city is the perfect place to start a venture of any kind.

RECIPE

SAUTÉED ESCALOPES OF FOIE GRAS WITH HUCKLEBERRY GASTRIC

Serves 6

1 whole fresh uncooked duck foie gras (Grade A; about 1 pound)

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups fresh huckleberries (about 8 ounces)

1 tablespoon chopped shallots

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 cup fond de veau (veal stock)

1/2 cup port wine

1 tablespoon butter

To prepare the foie gras:

Separate the foie gras lobes by cutting the connecting tendon with a very sharp knife. For six people you will only need the larger lobe, so reserve the remaining lobe for pâté or mousse. Carefully remove all veins but do not smash liver. Pat it dry. Place lobe flat on a cool, clean surface and, using a sharp knife dipped into very hot water, cut at a slight angle to make a 5/8 to 3/4 inch-thick slice of foie gras weighing about 3 ounces. Continue cutting until you have 6 pieces of equal size, dipping the knife into very hot water each time you slice. Lay pieces flat and with the tip of the knife, cut a crosshatch design 1/8 inch deep across the top of each piece. Cover and refrigerate until ready to sear.

Preheat oven to 275 F. Place a 10-inch nonstick sauté pan over high heat. Do not oil pan! Remove foie gras from refrigerator. Season both sides with salt and pepper. When the pan is very hot, add the foie gras, scored side down. Using your fingertips, gently push slices into pan so that foie gras immediately begins to render its fat. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until bottom begins to caramelize and quite a bit of fat has been exuded. Turn and brown on the other side for 2 minutes or until well crisped. Remove cooked foie gras to a warm plate and keep warm.

To start the sauce:

Place the sugar and the butter in a heavy 4-quart saucepan and cook over high heat until a rich caramel color, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon; be careful not to let it burn. Add 1 cup of the huckleberries, stirring until berries are well coated, then promptly add the shallots; cook until mixture reduces to about 1 cup, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce back to a syrup consistency. Add the fond de veau and the port wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and strain through chinois, using the bottom of a sturdy ladle to force as much through as possible; the strained sauce should yield about 1 1/4 cups. Add the remaining 1/2 cup huckleberries and season with salt and pepper to taste. Return to saucepan and keep warm.

To serve:

Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons sauce on each heated serving plate; arrange a slice of foie gras on top of sauce and serve hot.

PASCAL OUDIN

PASCALS ON PONCE, 2611 Ponce de Leon Boulevard, Coral Gables 305-444-2024

At the tender age of seventeen Pascal Oudin won France's "Best Apprentice Chef Award," a coveted distinction that launched the youngster into the kitchens of masters such as Alain Ducasse and Roger Verge. By the time he arrived here in 1984, Oudin himself was something of a master. Hotel restaurants became a specialty: Dominique's, the Colonnade, Grand Café at the Grand Bay Hotel. Along the way he attracted national attention. In 1995 Food & Wine named him one of America's "Best New Chefs." Esquire piled on with "Best New Chef in Florida." After he finally opened his own restaurant in Coral Gables, Pascal's on Ponce, it didn't take long for the awards to begin arriving. Besides many local accolades (including our own Best New Restaurant), Esquire again paid a visit and declared Oudin's namesake to be the "Best New Restaurant in America for 2000."

BEST MONTH

February. The weather and the romance of Valentine's Day. There is no better time of the year.

BEST PLACE FOR FRESH VEGETABLES

Norman Brothers.

BEST CHEAP THRILL

A ride on the Metromover is a great minitour of downtown Miami and Brickell. And for just 25 cents.

BEST NOT-SO-CHEAP THRILL

Skydive Sebastian in Sebastian, Florida. 1-800-399-JUMP (www.skydiveseb.com).

BEST RESTAURANT TO DIE IN THE PAST 12 MONTHS

Wolfie's. An institution is gone.

BEST DINING TREND

Cheese. It's been enjoyed for centuries with wine and fruit. Always classy.

BEST REASON TO LIVE IN MIAMI

Tropical weather all year round. This makes the style of living very easy and comfortable. Miami and Miami Beach attract tourists, which is great for businesses of all types all year. South Florida living is affordable compared to other large cities like New York or San Francisco, including housing. Plus, due to the mix of people from different cultures, this city is the perfect place to start a venture of any kind.

RECIPE

SAUTÉED ESCALOPES OF FOIE GRAS WITH HUCKLEBERRY GASTRIC

Serves 6

1 whole fresh uncooked duck foie gras (Grade A; about 1 pound)

Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1/3 cup light brown sugar

1 1/2 cups fresh huckleberries (about 8 ounces)

1 tablespoon chopped shallots

1/2 cup balsamic vinegar

1 cup fond de veau (veal stock)

1/2 cup port wine

1 tablespoon butter

To prepare the foie gras:

Separate the foie gras lobes by cutting the connecting tendon with a very sharp knife. For six people you will only need the larger lobe, so reserve the remaining lobe for pâté or mousse. Carefully remove all veins but do not smash liver. Pat it dry. Place lobe flat on a cool, clean surface and, using a sharp knife dipped into very hot water, cut at a slight angle to make a 5/8 to 3/4 inch-thick slice of foie gras weighing about 3 ounces. Continue cutting until you have 6 pieces of equal size, dipping the knife into very hot water each time you slice. Lay pieces flat and with the tip of the knife, cut a crosshatch design 1/8 inch deep across the top of each piece. Cover and refrigerate until ready to sear.

Preheat oven to 275 F. Place a 10-inch nonstick sauté pan over high heat. Do not oil pan! Remove foie gras from refrigerator. Season both sides with salt and pepper. When the pan is very hot, add the foie gras, scored side down. Using your fingertips, gently push slices into pan so that foie gras immediately begins to render its fat. Cook for about 2 minutes, or until bottom begins to caramelize and quite a bit of fat has been exuded. Turn and brown on the other side for 2 minutes or until well crisped. Remove cooked foie gras to a warm plate and keep warm.

To start the sauce:

Place the sugar and the butter in a heavy 4-quart saucepan and cook over high heat until a rich caramel color, 3 to 4 minutes, stirring almost constantly with a wooden spoon; be careful not to let it burn. Add 1 cup of the huckleberries, stirring until berries are well coated, then promptly add the shallots; cook until mixture reduces to about 1 cup, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the balsamic vinegar and reduce back to a syrup consistency. Add the fond de veau and the port wine and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer about 7 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat and strain through chinois, using the bottom of a sturdy ladle to force as much through as possible; the strained sauce should yield about 1 1/4 cups. Add the remaining 1/2 cup huckleberries and season with salt and pepper to taste. Return to saucepan and keep warm.

To serve:

Spoon 2 to 3 tablespoons sauce on each heated serving plate; arrange a slice of foie gras on top of sauce and serve hot.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®