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

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.

New Deal Kosher Market

George Wilensky started the New Deal Market in 1957. These days, his son Heshey runs it, which makes it — to our knowledge — the only butcher shop in South Florida that has operated under the same ownership and in the same location for more than 50 years. The formula hasn't changed much through the decades: fresh, custom-cut kosher meats and poultry along with old-school, personalized service that links the Wilenskys with their customers through generations. The Deal also dishes deli items, as well as homemade prepared foods such as kreplach, knishes, kugel, kishkas, and kasha varnishkes (if you don't know what these are, all the more reason to visit). The market is open Monday through Thursday 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Friday until 3 p.m. Delivery is free of charge. New Deal is the real deal, and there aren't too many left.

Rare Steakhouse
Devin Peppler

It's about time Miami had a seriously classy joint for kosher denizens to take their significant others for a night of respectable service and even more respectable steaks. Rare Steakhouse, down the street from the Forge but undeniably ensconced in the power hub of Miami Beach's Orthodox Jewish life, is just such a place. A polished wooden bar, handsome gray banquettes, and tasteful black-and-white photographs set the stage for this upscale meatery's offerings of all the fixings of a typical steak house — New York strip, rib eye, creamed spinach — but without the dairy or shellfish accouterments. A 14-ounce rib eye will set you back $34. A private glass-enclosed dining room on the second-floor loft offers additional privacy, in case you don't want the entire neighborhood yenta-ing about your latest squeeze.

New York New York Restaurant

It takes some searching to locate New York New York. It's not nearly as obvious as the Big Apple itself. But once found, this delicatessen hides nothing. From the massive mural of a pre-9/11 NYC skyline to the Statue of Liberty mini-replica standing guard over the salad bar, the whole setup pays homage to classic Manhattan. It's open seven days a week from sunrise to 11 p.m., and there are no bad menu choices. Start with the all-day breakfast staples. There's a straightforward two-egg platter or maybe cream cheese and lox on a warm bagel. Check out the mashed potato omelet. Then come back for lunch and suck down a $5.95 bowl of matzo ball soup before tackling a fist-thick sandwich of fatty brisket, pastrami, or corned beef slammed between two slices of grilled rye. Finally, at dinnertime, go with the kosher franks on a bed of beans. And dessert should be nothing but a big wedge of cherry cheesecake. It's all here, including $1.65 unlimited coffee to keep you awake while catching up on the day's Times and joking loudly with friends until closing.

Pita Plus of Aventura

Pita Plus is not a hut or concession stand or shoebox-size take-out joint. With its spacious quarters and 60 seats, it is more like a falafel arena. It needs to be this large because so many folks flock here for the signature Middle Eastern sandwich. Four cleanly fried falafel bombs go poof into the warmed pita pocket, followed rapid-fire by fire-red tomatoes, cucumbers, shrapnel-like scraps of cabbage, eggplant, pickles — anything you want from the counterperson's arsenal of salads — along with hummus, tahini, and a flash of hot sauce if desired. It all adds up to a disproportionate amount of flavor for the dollar: $6.40, tax included.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®