BEST RESTAURANT FOR A ROMANTIC DINNER

Magnum

We're not exactly sure why, but most people prefer to be romantic in the dark. If that's true for you, then Magnum, owned by Jeffrey's proprietors Jeffrey Landsman and Kurt Schmidt (Jeffrey's has been a perennial winner of this award), is shadowy enough for smooching, shady enough for liaisons of the deliciously illicit kind. Not only is the room dimly lighted in an alluring way, a throaty jazz singer and a back-door entrance off a rather deserted alleyway suggest something concealed, something that says speakeasy, something that whispers romance.

There's nothing more romantic than a picnic, right? A blanket spread in a secluded seaside nook or beneath a flowering tree. A column of red ants marching across your blanket. Sand flying into your plastic wine glass. And those damn flowers falling into your tuna fish salad. Maybe a picnic's not so romantic after all. You want the greenery, the seclusion, the quiet without all the dirt and pests. And, let's face it, you want a repast that's a little more seductive than what you can cram into a Tupperware tub. So call Perricone's and make a reservation for one of the tables on the back patio. If you really want to get intimate, ask for the wicker chairs beneath the trellis. No one will see you but the waiter when he brings you delectable dishes -- on real dishes. When he's gone, all you'll hear is the whir of the ceiling fans and the sighs of your beloved.

BEST RESTAURANT WHEN SOMEONE ELSE IS PAYINGWhen it comes to subjects of fine-dining debates, La Broche has been a veritable gastronomic epicenter. Just voicing the name of this controversial restaurant is enough to launch earthquakes of opinions, accompanied by tidal waves of whetted appetites and burning fires of curiosity. Indeed the fare that executive chef Angel Palacios prepares at this offshoot of the two-Michelin-star original in Spain can be called nothing less than incredibly avant-garde, highlighted by an array of foams, gelatins, and interesting if not always appetizing parts of animals. When all is said and done -- or eaten, rather -- La Broche isn't any more expensive than the usual prime suspects around town. But when it comes right down to the pork turbot in pea sauce garnished with sea urchin and "empanadas" of trout egg or basil-gelatin lollipops encasing tomatoes and watermelon, which you may or may not find truly exhilarating, you just might be relieved by the saving grace: "At least I didn't have to pay for it."

With a menu of a size that befits its name, Big Pink should be able to satisfy the whims of the most finicky of progeny. Its diner-inspired creations come in gargantuan portions, so you can a) throw junior some scraps off your own plate, b) spare yourself a night's cooking by taking home a doggie bag, or c) order one of the kids' sized options. You may be able to expand their culinary horizons, at least as far as fries are concerned, with Big Pink's scrumptious sweet potato version or the crisp-on-the-outside/creamy-on-the-inside polenta sticks. And you don't have to dress up to do so. Big Pink is supremely casual, and no one will mind if you and the gang troop in wearing flip-flops and bathing suit coverups.

BEST RESTAURANT FOR THE HEARING IMPAIRED

Metro Kitchen & Bar

It could be that the noise level is deliberate, a reflection of the urban name, or accidental, a result of the former Astor Place's mod-Italian renovation. But while there may be quibbling about the motive, there's no question over the decibel level -- it's about as high as the two-story ceiling allows. That said -- or shouted -- Metro possesses a great buzz. Like that created by a horde of honeybees feeding on the pollen of flowers that have been grown on a nuclear-waste dumping ground. But a buzz, nevertheless. And on South Beach, louder is always better.

Along with Michelle Bernstein, Willis Loughhead headed South Florida's "hottest rising young chef" list for years -- enough years that a new name for the list (say, "hottest aging young chefs") seemed imminent. Quick moves from a brief stint at Tantra through her own venue at South Beach's Strand to Azul at the Mandarin Oriental finally vaulted Bernstein from "rising" to "respectable." But Loughhead, her Tantra successor, gamely stuck it out there, cooking serious food in a silly venue, for three years. When the new Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove opened this past September, however, its flagship Bizcaya Grill offered Loughhead a chance to get seriously serious. Ritz decorum, as well as supervision by dining-operations chief Roberto Holz from Germany, means that Loughhead's creative impulse is somewhat trimmed here. But the overall result is most interesting. Menu items like an heirloom-tomato salad with fig carpaccio reflect Loughhead's New American passion for locally produced, seasonal ingredients. Sautéed foie gras with Doktorenhof vinegar showcases Holz's classy Old World influence; and a "simply grilled" list enables diners to indulge their own creative impulses by pairing premium-quality meats or fish with a choice of imaginative sauces (lobster basil Hollandaise, Barolo wine/foie gras butter, saffron aioli, many more). An elegant outdoor courtyard and an indoor dining room accented by muted music also make Bizcaya a best bet for a business lunch or dinner.

Readers Choice: Caf Tu Tu Tango

It's not surprising that Norman's remains the Gables's best restaurant. Quite frankly Norman's could give the best restaurants in New York, San Francisco, or Paris a run for their money. What's surprising is that there are still Miamians who haven't been to Norman Van Aken's mega-award-winning, elegant yet friendly place. Sure, it's expensive. But so are many other Miami restaurants that are just upscale meals. Norman's is a once-in-a-lifetime experience -- or would be if it weren't for the fact that no one who's been once can resist going back again and again, to revisit favorite classic dishes such as yuca-stuffed crispy shrimp with sour orange mojo, a zingy 21st-century take on traditional Cuban roast pork, or The Ultimate conch chowder (saffron/citrus-tinged, creamy-smooth, and topped with a rich foam "cloud"), as well as to taste-test the myriad of astonishing new surprises Van Aken always, like a world-class magician, has up his sleeve. Recent new inventions include Brazilian-influenced black-eyed pea acarajé fritters stuffed with blue crab; a "New World" duck duo (mango barbecued duck in a green chili crêpe, plus slices of wood oven-roasted rare duck breast with a cumin/scallion sour crema); and a remarkably innovative sushi trio (think crisp West Coast kumamoto oyster in piquant unagi dressing with Asian shoots, or tuna tartare with quail egg) whose only flaw is that there are only three rather than thirty per serving. Hungry yet? Don't mind us. Go eat. See ya next year, Norman, same time, same BOM category.

Readers Choice: Normans

Happy "tin" anniversary! Yup, it's been ten years that PT has been in business, which means that a decade has gone by since we first awarded this outstanding Pacific Rim restaurant in our annual issue. Indeed, to our knowledge, not a single year has gone by without chef-owner Jonathan Eismann, who helped revolutionize Lincoln Road dining, being mentioned in some capacity -- whether for Pacific Time or another venture of his (Pacific Heights, PT Café, Westside Diner). But while the traditional gift for hanging in thus far is something made out of tin or aluminum -- the Happy-Anniversary.com Website suggests tin lanterns from Mexico, fireplace accessories, or woks (we're not joking, though we suspect they are) -- Pacific Time will have to settle, at least in theory, for paper.

Readers Choice: Joes Stone Crab

BEST RESTAURANT TO DIE IN THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS

Macau

It always was easy to overlook this hole-in-the-wall eatery, located in a nondescript minimall on NE 167th Street, so possibly you've driven by a dozen times in the last few months without noticing it's gone. But the next time you're in the mood for authentic Chinese food, you will not be able to find any because May Wong's one-woman operation was virtually the only place in the county, save a couple of good dim sum joints, where you could find actual Chinese Chinese food -- not Americanized stuff but rather the dishes only found, outside of China, in sophisticated urban Asian outposts like San Francisco and Vancouver. Delicate sautéed pea sprouts with crab, dry-style or wet (sauced) fresh ho fan noodles, comforting porridge-like ginger-spiked shrimp and mushroom congee, addictive whole salty pepper shrimp (with the heads left on for maximum flavor) on a bed of crunchy-battered Chinese broccoli. You can't continue the list without wanting to run right out and -- but there's no place to run. And don't bother grilling the nice guys from the Thai restaurant that's replaced Macau about a possible new location. We've tried and they don't know. If you're reading this, May, come back! Miami needs you!

The SSC has carried out a number of successful lunchtime sandwich deployments since completing its Design District buildup in late 2002. The Bay of Pig, one of the most effective items in its arsenal, contains the following judiciously selected ordnance: roasted and seared pork loin with grilled onion and mojo marinade, all packed into a baguette. But given the disastrous and deadly April 1961 invasion of Cuba for which it is named, do customers find it tasteless? Co-owner Cesar Canton, whose family carries bona fide anti-Fidel credentials, serves up an anecdote on wry: "A woman recently called up and ordered one for delivery. She goes: 'And could you send it with some air cover this time?'"

Lyon-born Olivier Farrat and partners were South Beach pioneers when they set up this simple, open-air shop back in 1988. Among the first eateries to assuage the hunger pangs of late-night clubbers, La Sanwicherie now is open practically 'round the clock, from 8:30 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. (sometimes as late as 6:00 a.m.). The casual atmosphere -- an extended counter with stools along an alley and across the street from the Deuce -- belies the freshness and quality of the ingredients. Choices are simple: crusty French bread or a croissant and fillings such as roast beef, tuna, ham, turkey (the best seller), cheeses, prosciutto, or smoked salmon. But we say thumb your nose at those who would have us eat freedom fries and try one of the classically French options like pâté, saucisson sec (French salami), or Camembert cheese (combine the last two and you have Farrat's personal fave). Other Gallic touches include tiny cornichon pickles and perfectly executed mustard vinaigrette. There's usually a midday and late-night (2:00 a.m.) rush, but the staff operates like a well-oiled machine, assembling orders lickety-split.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®