Best French Restaurant 2008 | Le Bouchon du Grove | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times
Photo courtesy of Le Bouchon du Grove

Bistros are like antiques: They are supposed to be old. That's why even new ones often look as though they've been around for years. It's easy to find aged bistros in Paris, not so easy in South Florida. Le Bouchon du Grove has been sating patrons with its rustic French fare for breakfast, lunch, and dinner since 1994 — which in local restaurant years translates to having been around since 1846. It looks pretty good for such an old joint. Indoor and outdoor tables spill into one another and create the relaxed and comfortable feel of a perfectly worn pair of jeans. The food is assuaging as well, starting with a crusty baguette with creamy butter and segueing into adeptly executed homemade renditions of country pâté, salad Niçoise, escargots, pommes frites, gratinée Lyonnaise (French onion soup), steak in green peppercorn sauce — all the bistro classics. Other assets include an outgoing staff and exuberant French chef, a laid-back Sunday brunch, friendly French wines, and affordable prices (dinner entrées $20 to $30). Bouchon boasts experience and age, but dining here never gets old.

"I've been doing this a long time," Julien Cesar says about frying chicken. "Since 1991." For its first 16 years, this eatery, which specializes in Haitian-style seafood dishes, was situated at NE 72nd Street and Biscayne Boulevard. Near the end of 2007, Cesar moved to nicer digs in North Miami. "The fried chicken is the same as it's always been," he claims, which is to say provocatively spiced on the outside, incredibly moist within. The secret is removing the skin and setting the bird in hot water before frying. A hefty portion — accompanied by rice and beans, fried plantains, and salad — is presented by a friendly server for an astonishingly low $6. So we have come to praise Cesar, and do so every time we eat his fried chicken.

Tired of pretentious Pan-Everywhere eateries where fusion equals confusion and deconstruction means some sadistic chef screwing with your mind? Try this nonconfusing fusion place, where deconstruction is done for fun — as in congenial, creative chef Edgar Leal's marinated shrimp/mussels/calamari Argentine-style empanada ($14) — and all lunch specials are $11.99. Leal's childhood years — spent swinging back and forth between rural Venezuela and New York City — seem an ideal background for sensibly dealing with the foods of many countries (though mainly Peru, Argentina, and Venezuela) and also imbued him with an instinctive flair for transforming traditional rustic dishes into cosmopolitan contemporary creations — such as his warm "cachapa" soufflé with creamy guayanes cheese ($12), an elegantly lightened take on a common corn cake street snack. New-style ceviches and tiraditos, subtly flash-marinated and garnished to evoke the varying typical flavors of numerous nations, are definitive must-not-misses — an exciting comparative taste test, and a gut-level lesson in the benefits of international coexistence.

We know gelato is just a fancy-schmancy Italian word for ice cream. But the frozen goodness at Roma needs — no, requires — a term of its own. The stuff is smooth, rich, and flavorful, bordering on manna from the Arctic Circle. It's a tad expensive (one scoop costs $4, two scoops $5, three scoops $6), but it's an acceptable splurge. Try the stracciatella, which is similar to chocolate chip but not as cloyingly sweet. Or venture into fruit flavors such as tangy raspberry. Not all varieties are always available; the Italian owners hand-make the gelato daily, so offerings vary. The small shop is also a great place to relax while you enjoy your treat; the décor — featuring model airplanes, balloons, and powder-blue walls — gives a sleek yet adorable European feel.

Photo by Lynn Parks

It takes practice to achieve perfection, particularly with regard to gnocchi. It's an easy recipe — usually just potatoes, eggs, water, and flour. But making it is somehow quite difficult. Add too much water and you need more flour; add too much flour and you get a dumpy mess.

Luckily for gnocchi lovers, George Tavares has been practicing his craft for more than 30 years. He makes the delicate Italian dumplings served at Perricone's. Not only does he have the experience to make them great, but also he has the passion. Rafael Van de Water, a chef at the eatery, says of Tavares: "I have watched him make them numerous times, and it truly is a labor of love."

You can get them served with coral pink, quattro formaggi, or Perricone's famous pomodoro sauce. They're amazing with any of the three. At lunchtime, a plate will cost $12.95; at dinner, $14.95. Perricone's is open Monday 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., Tuesday through Thursday 7 a.m. to 11 p.m., Friday 7 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., Saturday 8 a.m. to 11:30 p.m., and Sunday 11 a.m. to 10 p.m.

Bay Harbor Fine Foods has been spruced up just in time to celebrate its 50th anniversary. Half a century of catering to a fussy, upscale clientele is just the right sort of experience for a gourmet market. That's plenty of time to fine-tune a selection of artisanal cheeses and fine chocolates from Europe, to make sure the array of imported wines and beers is perfect, and to secure the finest purveyors of meats, seafoods (the shop specializes in stone crab), high-end groceries, and organic produce to stock the modern yet rustic-styled store. Over the decades, the shop has installed an olive bar, tapas bar, sushi bar, coffee bar, and wood-burning pizza oven. Breads and pastries come from the excellent Paul Bakery. Bay Harbor Fine Foods is open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., weekends from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and offers indoor and outdoor seating. It's a wonder folks shop anywhere else.

Natalia Molina

Short of having a Haitian grandmère up to her apron strings in pigs' feet at home, you aren't likely to find better-tasting and less-expensive Haitian comfort food than this. The griot (fried pork) is tender and the stewed goat heavenly. The menu is short and sweet, so just pick the type of meat or fish you want (you can also order grits and legumes as entrées) and place your order. Each plate comes with rice, beans, plantains, and salad. Pound for pound, the fare at this Little Haiti fave is less expensive than fast food and much better for you (add a soft drink and your dinner total still runs under $10), but arrive hungry, because the portions are huge. Soups are offered on the weekends. There's a steady stream of customers, so you might have to wait a bit either in the main restaurant or even at the pick-up window, which thankfully stays open until midnight every night but Sunday.

Last night some reckless gentlemen by the names of Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, and Jack Daniel took a crowbar to your liver and beat the bejesus out of your gastrointestinal tract. Or at least that's how you feel this morning. Like a steaming pile of turd smacked you in the face. Like a small, filthy animal curled up and died in your mouth. Like a freight train ... Okay, okay, we'll stop teasing and tell you what you need to do to get over your stankin' hangover. Get out of bed, take a warm shower, get dressed, and head to the Conrad Miami. It's Sunday brunch from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., and you can feast, be pampered, and rejuvenate your weary, alcohol-poisoned internal organs.

Fifty-five dollars brings you everything you need. Waffles? Check. Sushi? Hell yeah. Spectacular salads with all the toppings you could want? Oh yeah. Omelets and a carving station? Double-check. Besides the typical brunch fixings, there's also a hangover corner. Stock up on fresh fruit so delicious you expect it to be dangling from tree branches, fill your plate with a selection of cured meats and cheeses liberally studded with nuts and berries, and expect to make repeat visits to the dessert station. After that, hit up the balcony for a gander at the gorgeous 25-story-high view. End with Cuban coffee and biscotti, or hot tea served with lemon and a jar of honey for your raw throat. Ah, sweet relief.

Let's face it: Whole Foods is a hassle. It's always crowded, the aisles are tiny, and the atmosphere is more annoyance than ommmm. Enter Delicious Organics. It's a virtual store — locally owned by Jack and Annie Malka — that delivers produce and healthful groceries right to your home or office. There are 4,000 items available — from a giant, $75 "fruit and veggie lovers' box" to a Brillat Savarin Cheese Mini with Truffles for $14.49. Online purchasing is easy, and the site handily remembers your order history. Products are expensive, but no more so than those at Whole Foods — and in some cases, the produce boxes are a much better value than what you would buy at the grocery store. The difference between this and a co-op is that with Delicious Organics, you decide what to get. Quality is high — the folks at Delicious Organics try to buy locally whenever possible, so there's often dirt on your carrots when they arrive on your doorstep. Delivery is a flat rate of $9.95, which seems like a fair price in exchange for not driving to the store, battling the people in the produce aisles, and waiting forever in the checkout lines. If you really want to save on the delivery fee, you can still order online and pick up your groceries at the warehouse in Miami Lakes.

Ana Rabel and Laura Alfonso, proprietors of this health-oriented breakfast and lunch spot in Coral Gables, are a mother and daughter team. That's uncommon in the restaurant world, and so is their dedication to serving organic fruits and vegetables in eco-friendly containers. Green Gables Café is mostly a take-out/delivery joint (open from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays only), but there are 15 seats cozily nestled within. "Saving the world, one bite at a time" is the motto, and while it is fair to wonder whether eating a homemade bran muffin here in the morning will bring salvation to the planet, there is no questioning the muffin's quality. Baked organic eggs and vegetables, organic yogurt and berry parfait, and all manner of smoothies and fresh-squeezed juices can also start your day off right. Freshly prepared soups (green gazpacho is great), salads, sandwiches, wraps, and melts (all served with choice of organic chips or carrot sticks) compose the rest of the menu. There are homemade desserts, too, and organic coffee. Everything is under $10 (actually $9, except for a baked crabcake and mandarin orange salad). So while saving the world, you can also save yourself some money.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®