Norman Van Aken's eponymous restaurant has topped this category for so many years you almost wish he'd screw up just once and give someone else a shot at the gold. This past year it actually seemed possible, what with Van Aken expanding to Orlando and California, as well as opening Mundo closer to home at the Village of Merrick Park. That's spreading yourself pretty thin. At the same time, some exceptional new restaurants opened in the Gables. But Norman's still rules. Van Aken (who apparently needs no sleep) remained firmly in control of his flagship kitchen, retaining favorite old dishes while introducing several astonishing new creations. Long-time customers would become homicidal if his classic citrus/saffron-spiked creamy conch chowder disappeared from the menu. But a new, nut-rich Brazilian seafood xinxin (heaven for lobster lovers) is equally divine. Among new entrées is an irresistible, multicultural escolar a la Veracruziana, with oyster mushrooms, Creole mustard gnocchi, and a sabayon sauce flavored with Mexico's exotic huitlacoche. Maybe next year we'll introduce our own new creation: Best Restaurant in Coral Gables Other Than Norman's.

Norman's
Norman Van Aken's eponymous restaurant has topped this category for so many years you almost wish he'd screw up just once and give someone else a shot at the gold. This past year it actually seemed possible, what with Van Aken expanding to Orlando and California, as well as opening Mundo closer to home at the Village of Merrick Park. That's spreading yourself pretty thin. At the same time, some exceptional new restaurants opened in the Gables. But Norman's still rules. Van Aken (who apparently needs no sleep) remained firmly in control of his flagship kitchen, retaining favorite old dishes while introducing several astonishing new creations. Long-time customers would become homicidal if his classic citrus/saffron-spiked creamy conch chowder disappeared from the menu. But a new, nut-rich Brazilian seafood xinxin (heaven for lobster lovers) is equally divine. Among new entrées is an irresistible, multicultural escolar a la Veracruziana, with oyster mushrooms, Creole mustard gnocchi, and a sabayon sauce flavored with Mexico's exotic huitlacoche. Maybe next year we'll introduce our own new creation: Best Restaurant in Coral Gables Other Than Norman's.

Whenever you have a basically Asian-themed cuisine, such as that offered at the casual, all-day Café Sambal, some clown will refuse to go along with the program, instead wandering around the menu to find the tuna melt and fries. The version served here is worth the excursion, though, as Sambal digresses from the expected grouper with a thick chunk of dolphin served with a mysteriously rich and satisfying sauce. The well-seasoned sandwich arrives with homemade fries as well as predictable but exactingly fresh lettuce, tomato, red onions, and a toasted bun. Given the setting, it's a steal at $17, which includes Café Sambal's attentive but not fawning servers and, if you sit outside, a stunning view of Biscayne Bay and the downtown skyline.

Whenever you have a basically Asian-themed cuisine, such as that offered at the casual, all-day Café Sambal, some clown will refuse to go along with the program, instead wandering around the menu to find the tuna melt and fries. The version served here is worth the excursion, though, as Sambal digresses from the expected grouper with a thick chunk of dolphin served with a mysteriously rich and satisfying sauce. The well-seasoned sandwich arrives with homemade fries as well as predictable but exactingly fresh lettuce, tomato, red onions, and a toasted bun. Given the setting, it's a steal at $17, which includes Café Sambal's attentive but not fawning servers and, if you sit outside, a stunning view of Biscayne Bay and the downtown skyline.

Miami is part of the Sunshine State. Emphasis on warm sunshine. And thanks to geography, there's no shortage of fresh seafood. One plus one equals an eatery that offers everything oceanic and atmospheric any diner could wish for. Sit outside on the kitchy, ultra-informal patio from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. and cram your maw with fat, fresh oysters at two bits apiece. Then step inside and enjoy a tangy, chunky Peruvian ceviche or perfectly broiled snapper fillet. Menu items range from five bucks up toward $50, and each carries well the weight of its price. There are boatloads of thatched-roof, shorts-and-T-shirt joints in Miami that provide mouthwatering shrimp-fish-squid-clam-lobster-oyster fare. And there's a bouillabaisse of dark, wood-hulled, sea-supplied restaurants to enjoy. But Catch of the Day casts its net and hauls in all that is delicious from the bountiful sea.

Catch of the Day
Miami is part of the Sunshine State. Emphasis on warm sunshine. And thanks to geography, there's no shortage of fresh seafood. One plus one equals an eatery that offers everything oceanic and atmospheric any diner could wish for. Sit outside on the kitchy, ultra-informal patio from 3:00 to 7:00 p.m. and cram your maw with fat, fresh oysters at two bits apiece. Then step inside and enjoy a tangy, chunky Peruvian ceviche or perfectly broiled snapper fillet. Menu items range from five bucks up toward $50, and each carries well the weight of its price. There are boatloads of thatched-roof, shorts-and-T-shirt joints in Miami that provide mouthwatering shrimp-fish-squid-clam-lobster-oyster fare. And there's a bouillabaisse of dark, wood-hulled, sea-supplied restaurants to enjoy. But Catch of the Day casts its net and hauls in all that is delicious from the bountiful sea.

Way too many would-be beer lovers have been turned off by microbreweries. If it's not the beers that taste like soap because of poor brewing, it's the atmosphere that seems ordered from the fern bar catalogue. The Abbey, which last won Best Microbrewed Beer in 1999, refreshingly avoids both stereotypes with perfectly crafted brews served in what used to be an old dive. The beer selection is superb and changes slightly throughout the year. If you want to get really concocted, try the 12 Degree. Phew.

Way too many would-be beer lovers have been turned off by microbreweries. If it's not the beers that taste like soap because of poor brewing, it's the atmosphere that seems ordered from the fern bar catalogue. The Abbey, which last won Best Microbrewed Beer in 1999, refreshingly avoids both stereotypes with perfectly crafted brews served in what used to be an old dive. The beer selection is superb and changes slightly throughout the year. If you want to get really concocted, try the 12 Degree. Phew.

BEST RESTAURANT WHEN SOMEONE ELSE IS PAYING

Flute

At this champagne lounge, the food specialty is caviar -- a problem because procuring Caspian caviar has been difficult for years, ever since the Soviet Union's dissolution resulted in phenomenally increased, unpoliced poaching and black-marketing. A lack of quality control has resulted in uneven goods from most suppliers, but Petrossian's caviar reliably tastes as it should, and that's what Flute serves. Beluga here is properly soft and delicate-skinned but not mushy; osetra is richly fruity and nutty; and bracing, briny sevruga can be expected to produce that playful, pronounced pop. But there's another problem. Since Petrossian's caviar retails for two to three times the price of less trustworthy roes, dinner for one connoisseur would run somewhere between $400 and $600. That's not counting the champagne. A bottle of Moët & Chandon's $65 brut rosé would be festive; the rich 1990 Dom Perignon, at $290, would be downright profound. And then there's dessert, maybe half a dozen handmade, ganache-coated chocolates from Paris's La Maison du Chocolat, at $2.50 each. So you're looking at a tab, with tax and tip, that could range from $600 to $1100. But you're not paying. Not a problem.

BEST RESTAURANT WHEN SOMEONE ELSE IS PAYING

Flute

At this champagne lounge, the food specialty is caviar -- a problem because procuring Caspian caviar has been difficult for years, ever since the Soviet Union's dissolution resulted in phenomenally increased, unpoliced poaching and black-marketing. A lack of quality control has resulted in uneven goods from most suppliers, but Petrossian's caviar reliably tastes as it should, and that's what Flute serves. Beluga here is properly soft and delicate-skinned but not mushy; osetra is richly fruity and nutty; and bracing, briny sevruga can be expected to produce that playful, pronounced pop. But there's another problem. Since Petrossian's caviar retails for two to three times the price of less trustworthy roes, dinner for one connoisseur would run somewhere between $400 and $600. That's not counting the champagne. A bottle of Moët & Chandon's $65 brut rosé would be festive; the rich 1990 Dom Perignon, at $290, would be downright profound. And then there's dessert, maybe half a dozen handmade, ganache-coated chocolates from Paris's La Maison du Chocolat, at $2.50 each. So you're looking at a tab, with tax and tip, that could range from $600 to $1100. But you're not paying. Not a problem.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®