Pan-seared scallops
Nobu Matsuhisa is to fish what Harry Winston is to diamonds: the go-to guy for gorgeous, expensive jewels. Each has built an international reputation as master of his craft and gained renown for sparkling presentations. There are differences, to be sure. For starters, Harry mines his gems from the earth; Nobu fishes his from the sea. For another, Winston doesn't offer a chic array of boutique sakes. And, to state the obvious, oh boy do Nobu's diaphanous foods taste great. The South Beach outpost, nestled within the über-hip Shore Club hotel, draws acclaim for its classic Japanese cuisine expertly prepared with contemporary, multinational twists (and especially peppered with Peruvian touches). In particular, the Nobu name has become synonymous with exquisite seafood, and it doesn't matter which pearl on the menu you choose: yellowtail sashimi with yuzu jalapeño or freshwater eel nigiri; rock shrimp tempura with piquant cream sauce or arctic char with crisp baby spinach; diver scallops with wasabi pepper sauce or the signature Alaskan black cod infused with sweet, buttery miso (imitated by many, equaled by none). If you can't decide among the multitude of glittery options, surrender to the omakase, a chef's tasting menu ($100 or $140, based on the number of courses). Might seem a tad pricey, but it is still a lot cheaper than anything at Harry Winston's.
Even in a town swimming with cutting-edge sushi establishments, it is not every day you stumble on sun-dried-tomato-and-avocado rolls with garlic ponzu oil and green tea salt. If this sounds particularly healthy, perhaps it is because Bond Street is helmed by Japanese chef Hiro Asano, a graduate of the Hattori School of Nutrition (owned by Yukio Hattori of Iron Chef fame). After its first four years in the Townhouse Hotel, this South Beach outpost of the famed Manhattan restaurant had already built a reputation for sassy, highly creative sushi. When Asano came on board last year, he retained menu favorites such as spicy tuna rolls with chili mayonnaise ($8), and lobster tempura rolls with yellow tomato dressing and chive oil ($14). At the same time, he contributed his own sparkling new additions, like yellowtail sashimi with Szechuan pepper ponzu ($10) and spicy, crisp shrimp with chipotle aioli ($14). Yet it is not sheer inventiveness that allows Bond Street to roll past the competition. Sushi's delicate nature requires meticulous attention to detail: the pristine nature of the fish; the way it is handled and sliced; cooking the rice just right; getting the nori wrappings to retain their crispness. All require subtle sleights of hand, all are vital to the proper balance of tastes and textures, and all are evidenced daily at Bond Street. An extensive spectrum of sakes, some exclusive to the restaurant, complement the seafood in style. One warning, though: Sushi is pricey enough that dinner at the Townhouse might land you in the poorhouse.
Does OLA Steak grill up a better slab of beef than Morton's, The Palm, Prime One Twelve, The Capital Grille, Fleming's, or Ruth's Chris? In a word: no. But none of the above serves a house bread made from yuca flour and mozzarella cheese (pan de bono) that is out of this world. And though there is nothing wrong with a jumbo shrimp cocktail to jump-start your steak dinner, it is much more Miami to begin with yuca-and-leek vichyssoise dabbed with bacalao; or oxtail meatballs; or a $20 medianoche pressed with foie gras, duck Serrano ham, truffled cheese, and guava mustard. Other meat joints don't offer Doug Rodriguez's wacky and delectable ceviches either, like lime-and-cilantro-soaked corvina with red onions, pickled poblano peppers, spicy kernels of Peruvian corn, and a shocking scoop of Guinness sorbet. Starches include delicate yuca hash browns and creamy malanga purée, and -- oh yeah -- the steaks: a choice of dry-aged, USDA-certified Black Angus; or natural, grass-fed Uruguayan, accompanied with chimichurri, pungent huacatay sauce, and tamarind panca pepper sauce (think A1 Steak Sauce with balls). Yes, the meats here are undeniably dee-lish and sanely priced ($25 to $34), but it is the rest of the house fare that sets this steak house apart.

Best Wine Selection in a Restaurant

Vino Miami

Part wine bar, part restaurant, Vino Miami could embody the worst of both worlds -- the snobby cork-dorkery of a wine bar and the cooler-than-thou attitude of so many South Beach eateries. But it does not. In fact there is not a speck of snobbery or attitude to go along with the 50 wines by the glass, an eclectic selection from New World and Old that changes daily (prices range from $9 to $13). In addition, Vino offers another 350 or so wines sold by the bottle at nominal markup. Instead of putting on airs, Vino is as inviting and likable as a glass of unctuous California Chardonnay or robust Sicilian Negro Amaro. The wine-friendly dishes are easy to like too -- cheese fondue, tuna tartare, smoked salmon rolls, chocolate fondue -- all of which make Vino a perfect place to stop before heading home or out to paint the town red. Or Burgundy.

Best Selection of Liquor in a Restaurant

Two Chefs

Since opening in South Miami in 1996, this charming, unpretentious American bistro has earned a reputation for serving robust, heartwarming dishes such as escargot potpie, bacon-wrapped meat loaf, and creamy risotto with duck confit and a poached farm egg. Chef/owner Jan Jorgensen's signature souffles are fairly renowned as well, and the wine list is as delightfully eclectic as any in town. In other words, it is no secret that Two Chefs is an absolute gem of a restaurant. Many folks might not realize, however, that Jorgensen has steadily built up his bar stock to the point it is without peer in these parts. More than 1000 bottles of vodka, whiskey, gin, rum, and tequila provide imbibers with limitless options, and the collection of single-malt scotch whiskeys is more comprehensive than any other in the Southeast. That's right -- the whole Southeast! Let's toast: three cheers to Two Chefs!
Great service is a first-time diner being made to feel like one of the restaurant's regular customers. It is a waitstaff nonchalantly maintaining the tenuous balance between personable and professional, and seeing to needs without being intrusive -- to the extent you are not even aware of them doing their jobs. It is having water and wine poured at appropriate moments, not every time you take a sip. It is having a waiter knowledgeable about the cuisine, and one who will ask, "May I take your plate away now?" instead of "Are you done picking at that?" It is bringing the check on time. Great service is hospitality -- a warm greeting at the door when you enter, a heartfelt salutation as you leave, and sincerity in between. This is as good a description of any we have heard for service at La Cofradia, the swank new Mediterranean/Peruvian restaurant in Coral Gables.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®