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 Restaurant When Someone Else is Paying

Table 8 South Beach

Z Ocean Hotel South Beach
From the exterior, the new Regent Hotel looks like a luxury cruise ship. Knowing that Govind Armstrong is helming the restaurant within makes you want to get onboard. Badly. But ... can you swing a $26 appetizer, even if you know the seared foie gras on brioche French toast, with glazed apples and persimmon reduction, will make you woozy with delightç There isn't much question whether a main course of Kobe beef is gonna be tasty, especially when richly matched with creamed chard, oven-crisped potatoes, and mushroom ragout — but that's another $37, my friend. You can't have cuisine of this level without washing it down with a decent wine, but even a modest selection such as a 2004 Hess Estate Cabernet will tack an additional $65 onto the bill. Desserts start at $9. Oh, sure, you probably can afford to eat here at least once. And it is definitely worthwhile to do so. But why rush out and put a strain on your budget, when you can just be patient and wait for the next time that deep-pocketed friend or relative comes a-callingç Do you know of a good place for dinnerç Why yes, you know the perfect spot!
El Pollo Inka
When you tell your guest that they simply must try the house specialty, rotisserie chicken, there is no need to mention that a quarter bird, con papas y ensalada, is just $5.99. With skin so crisp and meat this juicy, they won't believe you anyway. In fact be a sport and encourage them to go for the half-chicken, also with potatoes and salad, for $7.99. "The papa rellena is without peer," you'll crow, knowing that the potato stuffed with a seasoned sauté of beef, onions, tomatoes, and raisins, although only $6.99, will taste like a million bucks. But don't stop there. This extensive menu warrants an open mind and adventurous spirit, stocked as it is with all manner of meat, fish, chicken, and vegetarian dishes prepared with Peruvian flair. And with prices under $10 for just about anything, you can act like a big shot. Order one of the ceviches, the lime-infused fish freshly dressed with yam and corn on the cob. Insist on some aji de gallina, moist morsels of chicken in what can only be described as a walnut-garlic gravy. Get some lomo saltado, too — it's another specialty of the house that reeks of authenticity. A round of pisco soursç Believe us, it won't break the bank. When you graciously pick up the check at evening's end, your dinnermates will no doubt have a newfound respect for both your generosity and savvy in selecting special dining spots. That you are a cheapskate at heart won't even enter their minds.
Barton G. the Restaurant
Max Shapovalov
Barton G's cuisine has always been about pushing the envelope, and now, thanks to cutting-edge molecular mixology, the cocktails at this crazy popular South Beach restaurant are over the top, too. The Below Zero Nitro Bar utilizes liquid nitrogen to manipulate the temperatures, textures, and tastes of mixed drinks. Our favorites are the Classic Nitro-tini Ciroc Vodka, garnished by a frozen vodka swizzle stick and frozen pearls of olive juice and blue cheese; and the Pink Elephant Nitro-tini, with an Absolut Red Vodka popsicle for swirling through ruby red grapefruit juice and fresh grapefruit segments. All nitro-cocktails have a high potency score, given that frozen alcohol is used for the ice cubes (not frozen water, which dilutes a drink). The future is now, and only available at Barton G.
The Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne, Miami
Tiberio Lobo-Navia is, in fact, the only tequilier in this neck of the woods, and in every other neck of America, too. A tequilier, as some of the more astute among you may have guessed, is just like a sommelier, but recommends tequila instead of wine. That might seem an unexpectedly upscale amenity for an eatery housed in a thatched-roof palapa and illuminated by tiki torches, but this is, after all, the Ritz-Carlton. Tiberio, who trained in the Tequila region of Mexico, will enthusiastically share his expertise and assist you in pairing one of more than 80 premium, 100 percent agave spirits with any of Cantina Beach's cool, coastal-inspired, Baja menu items — from fish tacos with chipotle peppers to guajillo-infused octopus ceviche. Of course some might want to stop by for Tequila Thursdays or Agave Sundays and just knock down some shots, or any time at all to sip margaritas while soaking in stunning sunsets over the ocean — not a bad idea at all. But if you want to unlock the secrets of this seductive Mexican spirit, Tiberio holds the key.

Best Wine Selection in a Restaurant

Maroosh

Maroosh
Okay, there are restaurants with bigger wine lists, more comprehensive wine lists, wine lists that are compendiums of rare and expensive vintages from around the world, an enophile's wet dream. Trouble is, most of us can't afford to eat in those restaurants, let alone shell out hundreds (or even thousands) of dollars for a well-aged Chateau Petrus or Haut-Brion. So this classy Middle Eastern/Mediterranean eatery gets the nod because its compact, thoughtfully chosen, admirably multiculti wine list not only complements its hearty, richly seasoned cuisine, but also offers a number of unexpected treats. And it does so at prices ranging from a modest $28 to a not-quite-so-modest (but reasonable for the quality) $60 a bottle (with one outlier costing $180). Want some examplesç Maso Canali Pinot Grigio, Rex Hill Pinot Noir, Edmeades Zinfandel, Pine Ridge Merlot, Stonestreet Cabernet Sauvignon, Batasiolo Barolo. All that wine, plus the food is pretty good, too.
Since becoming executive chef of the Four Seasons Hotel last year, Patrick Duff has taken the haute Asian and Latin-accented fare of its signature restaurant, Acqua, soaring to new heights. Too often desserts can crash land such high-flying meals, but pastry chef Charles Froke keeps diners' spirits up by way of heavenly treats like Valrhona chocolate-hazelnut dome with caramel-créme brûlée center and dulce de leche gelato; honeybell orange custard; warm banana-bittersweet chocolate tart; and fantastic French macaroons — one of a number of mini desserts offered at lunch for $4 each (dinner desserts are $9). Although any of these pastries will assure a smooth landing from your first-class gastronomic flight, coming down from the sugar rush might take a bit longer. Not to worry — a savory finale is available via an assortment of artisanal cheeses such as Tomme de Boudenne and Mt. Tam. You may now loosen your seat belts.
Out of the Blue Cafe & Wine Bar
Fuck Starbucks. Out of the Blue Café is way too good to be true. Great coffee, flaky pastries, tasty sandwiches on fresh baguettes, salads, fruit smoothies, homemade soups, and free wi-fi. Hell, they even have wine. Nestled in a beautifully redone little house, Out of the Blue has a tranquil, art-lined interior and a groovy, SoBe-style outdoor patio often decorated with fresh flowers. The café's freshly painted pastel exterior sticks out like a delicate bud of gentrification in this somewhat raunchy neighborhood. Owner Carmen Miranda (no fruit headgear) cares a lot. Quick, competent service is sometimes complemented by surprising little touches: Don't be surprised if free biscotti show up with your café au lait.
Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
Photo courtesy of Genuine Hospitality Group
— STOP THE PRESSES! We need to get Michael's new restaurant into this "Best Of" issue.— Too late. We're ready to ship.— We'll look out of the loop if we don't include this season's hottest ticket, the indoor/outdoor contemporary American bistro run by Michael Schwartz. He is, after all, one of Miami's most popular and respected chefs. His unpretentious restaurant — with fresh, simple, impeccably executed cuisine (much of which is cooked in a wood-burning hearth), well-priced boutique wines, and friendly neighborhood service —has singlehandedly kick-started Design District café life the way Al Gore revived the global warming debate. — Sorry, wait till next year.— But his slow-roasted Berkshire pork shoulder and cheese grits, and wood-roasted black grouper with brussels spr

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®