Town Kitchen & Bar
Once upon a time, South Miami was a big mall and nothing more. That was, like, a year or two ago. Then something happened, sort of suddenly, and things just started popping up. Things like clubs. And cafés. And restaurants. Even good restaurants, which the former mall-city never had many of. No dining establishment epitomizes the neighborhood's resurgence so much as Town Kitchen & Bar. Its urban-industrial design, with poured concrete floor and walls, looks more up-to-date than earlier area eateries. The big-city bar scene attracts a young and professional clientele who, cocktails in hand, overflow onto the outdoor patio in a way not before seen in these parts. Food is fun and fulsome, a medley of pizzas, pastas, salads, sandwiches, mussel pots, seafoods, and steaks. The last are especially fetching: grain-fed Angus beef from "Stockyard's Packing" in Chicago, sliced in-house, massaged with a wet rub of seasonings, and broiled at 1400 degrees. Prices are kept affordable — a twelve-ounce Delmonico steak dinner is just $22. Key lime pie is a product of The Blond Giraffe Key Lime Pie Factory, ice cream is imported from The Frieze, and espresso is courtesy of Illy. Those are quality goods, which with a healthy dose of joviality and cool urban vibe make this our kind of Town — be it lunch or dinnertime.
Three memorable moments in Key Biscayne history:1. In 1513 Juan Ponce de Leon, poking around for the fountain of youth, discovered Key Biscayne instead. Confused, he named the island Santa Marta, filled his ships' barrels with water, and took off. 2. Some 450 years later Bebe Rebozo moved here. He was pals with Richard Nixon. 3. In 2001, Le Croisic, named after a small town in Brittany, opened its rustic café doors off Crandon Boulevard. It was mostly a crperie back then, and a wispy gold galette, filled with Mediterranean vegetables, is still prepared the Old World way — with sarrasin, a Breton buckwheat that makes for an incomparably nutty batter. Nowadays, though, Croisic's menu goes way beyond crpes to encompass a wide vista of traditional bistro fare such as French onion soup, homemade foie gras terrine, crab quiche, a bouncy bouillabaise (only on Fridays), and a standout steak-frites — the crisp, succulent, shoestring fries alone qualify Croisic for honors, especially when dunked into a supplemental side of tangy, tarragon-flecked béarnaise sauce. Nothing beats a Molire flambé of cognac and strawberries wrapped in a sweet crpe for dessert — although the tarte tatin is exemplary too. Main courses are all kept below $30, service is friendly, the wine list is serviceable and unpretentious. As Molire would say: Ooh-la-la. Or was it Bebe Rebozo who said thatç
An elderly couple sitting on a bench in Sunny Isles:— Do you remember the pumpernickel rollsç— Do I remember the pumpernickel rollsç What kind of question is thatç Why not ask me if I recall our only daughter's weddingç Of course I remember the pumpernickel rolls!— Do you remember how big the pastrami sandwiches wereç— Who could finish such a thingç — And the knishes ...— Your sister Esther, may she rest in peace, used to schlep shopping bags of them back with her to Michigan.— Do you recall the matzo ball soup —— Don't get me started with the soups.— And was that chocolate babka not to die forç— I'd sell that ungrateful son of ours to Hamas — God forbid he should ever give us a call — to Hamas I'd sell him for another wedge of that babka!— Do you remember the blintzesç— Okay, enough already with the "do you remembers"! — I'm just saying, they couldn't let Rascal House stay open a few more yearsç — What, they're going to keep it going just for old birds like usç Who are we, the prince and princess of Monacoç — So many construction cranes. And such noise!— Oy.
Aventura Mall
Photo courtesy of Aventura Mall
A food court is a food court is a food court. All malls follow the same basic template — cookies, cr?pes, and ice cream at the outskirts; Chinese and Japanese counters serving teriyaki and handing out chicken on toothpicks; some kind of baked potato place; and insert your random ethnic-lite option here. The seating area is guaranteed to be crowded on a weekend afternoon, and the grub is overpriced and served fast. So what makes Aventura's better than any other blueprint eatery zoneç Variety and beer.In addition to the expected Häagen-Dazs, Cr?pemaker, and Mrs. Fields Cookies at the court's opening, there's Teavana. A tea lover encountering it for the first time is likely to weep tears of joy that such a wonderful establishment even exists. Sip a free sample of Jasmine Pearls/Rooibos Tropicos blend and ponder the menu. Dudes with big appetites can nosh on Charlie's Grilled Subs — a large cheese steak and steak fries will set you back a Hamilton. Little ones intent on "pasghetti" can get lunch at Che Pasta. Pasha's is coming soon, and it'll be sandwiched between the sample-happy Asian Chao and Shrimp Market. Healthy options are available at an adorable homestyle Chicken Grill (replete with wood kitchen cupboards), and Paradise Café, where a ginormous salad costs $8.59. But the prize is Tropical Express, a Cuban joint that offers an authentic alternative to the traditional "ethnic lite" option. Besides Cuban sandwiches, churrasco served with maduros, and frijoles negros y arroz blanco, they've got coladas and cortaditos for a buck fifty. Plus, miserable shopped-out husbands can drown their sorrows with domestic beers for $3.20 and imports for $3.60.
Azul Restaurant
"God is liberal of color; so should man be." We have it on good authority that when Herman Melville offered these words on interior decorating, he was not referring to Azul, the acclaimed restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental Hotel. For one thing, Melville was long dead when Azul opened. Also, Azul isn't that colorful. Just gorgeous. A big, bright, slightly elevated open kitchen is clad in white marble and stainless steel, as is the ravishingly sexy raw bar. White linens grace the tables, champagne-color cloth upholsters the chairs, floors are of beautiful buffed rosewood, and a lovely lattice of metal screens the dining area from the bar. Azul is surrounded on three sides by bay, the unparalleled spectrum of which floods into the room via floor-to-ceiling windows. Blue and white do not a rainbow make, but Melville's advice has certainly been picked up by chef Clay Conley, who spins the whole color wheel onto his elegantly plated (and delectable) cuisine. Azul is a classic: the Moby Dick of Miami restaurant décor.
That restaurants die is a given. Just the same, the number of fatalities this past year seemed especially high, and cut across every ethnicity imaginable. The French bistro L'Entrecôte de Paris. The Italian Parioli Café. The Spanish Mosaico and, months later, its sister tapas bar, Salero. Madiba, the South African shebeen in South Beach. SouthWest NY, the Southwestern spot in the Dolphin Mall. The kosher Restaurant Juliette in Surfside. Even reliable restaurateurs like Dennis Max and Tom Billante experienced failure (Café Max in the Gables, Suga in SoBe). OLA South Beach closed and reopened a few blocks away (where Suga used to be). But nothing disappointed us more than the shuttering of Restaurant Brana after just six months in business. Chef Jeffrey Brana (formerly of Norman's) and his wife Anna Elena put their heart and soul into this elegant Coral Gables establishment, which boasted indigenous ingredients such as Indian River honey and Loxahatchee frogs' legs, and fresh produce hauled in from Homestead and nearby organic farms. Everything was homemade, from the whole grain bread to delectably dense Jamaican mint ice cream. Service was exceptional, as were the selections of artisanal cheeses and boutique wines. Gone, gone, gone. But there is a potentially happy ending to this story: The Branas are reputedly shopping around for a new location.
Saddam Hussein's last meal consisted of boiled chicken and rice. Adolf Eichmann simply swilled half a bottle of Carmel — an Israeli wine. John Wayne Gacy chowed down on fried chicken, fried shrimp, French fries, and strawberries (always healthy to finish with fresh fruit). Fried chicken, in case you were dying to know, is among the most popular last meal requests of the condemned. The most frightening final snack was Timothy McVeigh asking for two pints of Ben & Jerry's mint chocolate-chip ice cream — scary because it's so sane! Everyone exhibits their own uniquely personal style when it comes to a last supper choice, and you needn't be a convicted mass murderer to dwell upon what yours would ideally be. Ours: Well, pretty similar to that of mass murderer McVeigh's — after all, what could be more immediately refreshing and mind-numbingly satisfying than ice cream to have lingering on your lips as life slips awayç Rocky's Italian Ices, that's what. The closet-size takeout shop on Ocean Drive, with photos of Rocky Marciano and Rocky Balboa on its red, white, and green-tile walls, boasts the finest Italian ices south of Mulberry Street. Lemon, watermelon, banana, canteloupe, and a half-dozen or so other scintillating flavors are made from fresh fruit, and run $2.75 for a six-ounce cup, up to $7.95 for the sixteen-ounce size. We'd ask for one of those little plastic spoonfuls of every flavor to taste, and then request one pint of each.
If a cup of lobster bisque with an apple, piece of multigrain baguette, and little ball of Lindt chocolate doesn't seem like the best deal in town at $8.95 for a cup ($10.95 for a bowl), it's only because you haven't tasted the lobster bisque. The velvety, coral-color soup is chockablock with 22 percent shellfish by content — which adds up to what seems like a full, lush lobster in every cup (the cup is supposed to hold eight ounces, but you get more than that). The creator of this classic bisque is Al Yeganeh, immortalized as the "Soup Nazi" in a Seinfeld episode and now franchising his startling talent for making delicious soups nationwide. This Aventura branch is Florida's first, and, as we say, it is home of the best meal for under ten bucks. Of course some might consider one of the other dozen or so daily soups for this honor, all of which cost less than the bisque. A cup of peerless chicken barley, for instance, with fruit, chocolate, and half a sandwich, can be had for the same price of $8.95. So can New England clam chowder, sausage gumbo, chicken noodle, vichyssoise ... but the very very best deal is — and we don't want to have to say this again — the lobster bisque.
Burger Bob's
Burger Beast
A homey café in the clubhouse of the public Granada Golf Course, Burger Bob's isn't known for decor: green formica chairs, white plastic tables. But where in Coral Gables — or anywhere for that matter — can you get a $4 cheeseburger and an amazing view of the beautiful first fairwayç Homemade soups and "Granada Melts" (such as roast beef with onions and melted cheese for $6.25) are par for the course.

Best Restaurant to Take Out-of-Towners

Sushisamba Dromo

Dear Chowdog: Friends are coming to visit. Picky people. Very discerning about their food. From Los Angeles. Always quoting Zagat this, Zagat that. Snobby bastards. They love Asian cuisine, natch, but they insist as much upon scene as sashimi. I mean, God forbid they just sit down and enjoy a meal with a little conversation, but no, these sybarites have to be simultaneously stimulated visually, audibly, orally, and gastronomically. Where can I take them for dinnerç Signed, Anxious in AventuraDear Anxious: Sushisamba Dromo is the only place guaranteed to please pampered voluptuaries such as these. After all, the dynamic fusion of Japanese, Brazilian, and Peruvian cuisine is unique even to the most jaded of Los Angelenos. Let them try to find lobster ceviche with mango and lime, or torched salmon tiraditos, or yellowtail carpaccio with black truffle oil back where they come from. Or a churrasco platter with hangar steak, chorizo, rib eye, pork, linguia, and malagueta pepper oil. Or as scintillating a sake selection, or as colorful a Cosplayer club scene, or as boisterous a party as the one that takes place here nightly. Best part: When you travel west and return the visit, you can comment on how the L.A. dining landscape seems ... a little on the dull side.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®