Area 31

A five-way tie, testament to Miami's rapidly expanding universe of stellar dining options.

There are flowing silk gowns, dangling earrings, subtly applied makeup on chiseled cheekbones... and that's just the men who traipse through the Delano Hotel's lobby late at night. Plat Bleu affords a front-row seat to the parade and also offers a damn good meal of French brasserie fare created by consulting chef Claude Troisgros and executive chef Maria Manso. Although it's open for lunch and dinner, Plat Bleu is our favorite post-midnight haunt because we like the idea of consuming a duck confit medianoche at medianoche, or skirt steak with Brazilian sea salt or onion soup gratinée with a lobster club until 2 a.m. There's also the up-tempo music, up-to-the-minute cocktails, up-to-the-second fashions, and 1940s French salon décor. Anything resembling a main course runs $23 to $39, which is more than a similar bistro in Paris might charge. Plat Bleu's scintillating scene, however, provides a value that doesn't show up on the bill.

North One 10

Bad: Polka and potluck Tuesdays. Good: Beer and barbecue Fridays at North One 10.

Bad: St. Patrick's Day dinner featuring all the green corned beef you can eat. Good: Passover Seder with kasha-stuffed turkey and three-potato kugel (purple, white, and sweet).

Bad: Star Trek dinner with "Captain Kirk corn dogs." Good: Godfather dinner with "swims with the fishes swordfish."

Bad: Karaoke night with shoddy singers and deep-fried mozzarella sticks. Good: Poetry night with reputable wordsmiths and "Ferlinghetti spaghetti."

Bad: An evening with Bobby Jindal and crudités. Good: An evening with Edna Buchanan and "Never Let Them See You Cry" onion soup.

North One 10's chef/proprietor Dewey LoSasso has few peers when it comes to forging delicious and innovative New American cuisine, and no competition whatsoever in conjuring delicious and innovative theme nights such as the "good" ones mentioned above (his Passover menu was named one of the top ten in America by USA Today). Wine dinners are held regularly as well, inevitably hosted by a top-flight independent vintner. Special events generally run $45 to $65, which includes North One 10's terrific food, fine wine, stellar service, and the evening's main attraction. That's not bad.

Asia De Cuba

The first impression is that of whiteness. During the daytime, it's a near-blinding whiteness, sunlight ricocheting off white marble floors. Don't worry: The clientele here is the type that wears sunglasses. Once you glean more of the décor, it may dawn on you that this dramatically inventive room can best be described as Liberace in Wonderland. The restaurant's signature, 24-seat communal table is surrounded by high-backed chairs and golden bells set within crystal chandeliers; furniture is oversize and whimsical; and the outdoor terrace affords bayside vistas and trippy poolside cabanas. Asia de Cuba, whose first branch opened in New York City in 1997, is a trip, and these attributes are what make it the coolest setting for quaffing cocktails. What makes it even better is that the cocktails are as wildly inventive as the interior design. Try a margarita made with jalapeño/cilantro-infused Milagro tequila, Cointreau, lime, and pineapple juice. Or the Caribbean Cooler, culled from Hangar One kaffir lime vodka, muddled pineapple, and coconut water. Or an eminently refreshing elixir of Bombay Sapphire gin, muddled cucumber, fresh lemon juice, and soda. Cost per drink is around $15, and Asia de Cuba keeps shaking and pouring until 11 p.m. weeknights and until midnight weekends.

Best Restaurant When Someone Else Pays

Gaia Ristorante

Gaia Ristorante

So a bailed-out corporate CEO has invited you to dinner. First question: Do you have him pay for the meal before you leave home? Followed by: Where to go? We would take the son-of-a-gun to Gaia Ristorante, and on behalf of swindled taxpayers everywhere, we'd first order Hudson Valley foie gras with lobster, porcini mushrooms, and aged balsamic ($28). From there, a smooth segue into linguine with fresh Mediterranean clams ($21). Fish course: Black cod fillet, porcini mushrooms, carmelized onion, and artichoke heart ($36). Meat course: Milk-fed veal chop ($42). Broccolini ($8) and truffled mashed potatoes ($8) will serve nicely as side dishes. For dessert: sweet San Marzano tomato jam with fennel salad and biscotti ($12). A bottle or two of one of Gaia's reserve Italian wines should suffice (we wouldn't even look at the list, but just tell the sommelier we wanted the best). Then, once the hefty bill is taken care of, with an appropriately hefty tip, we would beat this guy up good. But if someone else with deep pockets invites you to dinner — like, say, a decent human being — we recommend you plot a similar scenario as aforementioned, only instead of capping things off with fisticuffs, do so with deep, heartfelt appreciation.

The Oceanaire Seafood Room

Oceanaire is a national, 16-branch haven for seafood lovers that has been anchored locally in Mary Brickell Village since January 2007. It seems as though every fish in the sea is offered here: corvina, sardines, sea trout, fluke, arctic char, Hawaiian ono, halibut cheeks, Dover sole... and oysters with names like Tatamagouche (from Nova Scotia), shucked at the city's lengthiest oyster bar. Seafood is flown in daily and prepared via cooking method of your choice (generally $25 to $40 per entrée). They do steaks too, along with side dishes such as creamed corn, fried green tomatoes, and hash brown potatoes, plus classic American desserts that range from apple brown Betty to baked Alaska. The wine list is expansive, the service is professional, and the 1930s ocean liner décor is soothing and sophisticated. There may be other Oceanaires, but that won't stop you from having a one-of-a-kind dining experience. Hop aboard for dinner weeknights until 10 p.m., weekends till 11.

Red South Beach
Photo courtesy of Red the Steakhouse

Let's start with a frutti di mare platter of oysters, clams, shrimp, mussels, and calamari and then segue into a house salad of greens, candied walnuts, goat cheese, and raspberry vinaigrette. Pasta course? Of course — a plate of meatballs and bucatini with "red lead" sauce that's so enormous it would have made the late Dom DeLuise demur. Next, a 16-ounce rib eye Oscar-style — meaning topped with asparagus, béarnaise sauce, and a quarter pound of king crab meat. Or, instead, try a 48-ounce Porterhouse that's meant for two but is so gargantuan that a tiger would choose it over Roy. Order it with truffled mashed potatoes and creamed spinach on the side. Pair it all with a nice round red wine from the 700-bottle list and finish with molten chocolate cake for dessert. Gluttonous? Gloriously so, although such sinning does extract a price — in this case, appetizers $14 to $16, steaks $38 to $49 (more for Oscar and that mammoth Porterhouse), and, well, let's just say it will add up. Red stays heady until 1 a.m. weekends.

The pre-dinner cocktail once had cachet in the restaurant world, but then came hard times. Diners began looking at it, meal-wise, as something of a gauche cousin to wine. But the cocktail is back in a big way as folks rediscover its role as stimulating foreplay to a sensual dining experience. These days, you're liable to find behind your favorite bar a master mixologist — part scientist, part artist, part spirit sommelier. At Area 31, you can enjoy a professionally muddled "St. Rosemary," made from Plymouth gin, St. Germain elderflower liqueur, apple juice, and rosemary. Meat Market offers a "Martini de Chèvre," goat cheese-infused vodka shaken with lemongrass, pink and black peppercorns, fennel, and Martini & Rossi dry vermouth — plus a blue-cheese-stuffed olive as garnish. Sra. Martinez serves a "Matador" of Skyy vodka, fresh strawberries, basil, jalapeño syrup, and a twist of lime. Old classics such as the sidecar and Tom Collins are also enjoying a resurgent popularity. These are the same elixirs that ushered in the cocktail lounges of the 1930s — not coincidentally, the last time we all needed a drink this badly.

The Grill on the Alley

With its mahogany floors, dark leather banquettes, horseshoe bar, and brass green-shade lamps, the Grill on the Alley seems as though it's been here cooking chops and stirring martinis since the days of film noir. Executive chef Arnold Dion's menu of traditional American grill items likewise satisfies a yen for yesteryear. When it comes to cuisine and design, one can debate whether modern or classic sensibilities are preferable; when it comes to service, the greeting from an amiable and mature maitre d' beats a chipper host saying "Howdy, y'all" every time. After being escorted to their seats, guests at the Grill are greeted with menus, wine lists, water, rustic sourdough bread, and a dish of marinated peppers and onions — one after the other in rhythmically efficient manner. Specials are recited, specialties noted, and a manager stops by the table to check on things. Cocktails are blended by a professional mixologist, and a wine steward is on hand to aid in selecting from the extensive list of labels. All told, service is so elegantly old-fashioned that you might find yourself surprised that the Grill isn't in black-and-white.

Elie's opened on the ground level of downtown's Galeria Internacional mall in 2006 and a year later moved to roomier quarters one flight up. It remains a relatively undiscovered gem, although if you ask around, you'll find that plenty of folks know about the place's unparalleled falafel — bronzed spheres with greaseless, crisp exteriors and herb- and spice-flecked interiors. Deep-fried triangles of eggplant are likewise seasoned in a sensational manner ($2) and accompany the falafel, along with hummus, tahini, cabbage slaw, Israeli salad, and pita bread on one glorious plate — price: only $7.95. Elie, who hails from Morocco, also dishes out merguez sausages, kebab plates, roast baby chicken (pargiot), and, on Thursdays, authentic couscous. Main courses such as those cost about $12; come with choice of fries, salad, or rice and beans; and are available for lunch from noon until 5 p.m. Food is sanctioned by the Vaad Hakashrus of Miami-Dade, so all is kosher. And very good.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®