Best Restaurant Comeback 2012 | LouLou Le Petit Bistro | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Miami | Miami New Times

Things were looking up for Jacques Ardisson and his daughter Carla Lou. They had decided to close their longtime downtown restaurant Indochine and replace it with LouLou, a French bistro. But the head chef of the new venture left shortly after the conversion, and things went downhill from there. Rather than sit around wringing their hands, they brought in Victor Passalacqua, who trained with guys named Paul Bocuse and Alain Ducasse, and who played a key role in some of Miami's best restaurants (Le Festival, La Dorada, etc.). The menu was rewritten to include alluring lunchtime specials (sandwich with soup or salad, $9.50; soup, salad, or appetizer with entrée and dessert, $15). The turnaround in cuisine is dramatic. Take the eight-ounce filet mignon with homemade foie gras and haricots verts ($32). It and other dishes — such as mussels in white wine with creamed shallots and herbs, served with house-made pommes frites ($16) — prove LouLou is a whole newnew bistro.

The SLS Miami Beach has been slow to rise from the ashes of endless construction, which leaves us sad. The hotel's restaurant is the Bazaar by José Andrés. Who's Andrés? He made Time's 2012 list of the 100 most influential people in the world (for running his culinary empire combined with altruistic efforts; he feeds the homeless as well as rich people in D.C., Vegas, and the 90210). The menu remained unconfirmed as of press time, but the existing restaurant at the SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills has us dreaming of what wonders will arrive in Miami. Proteins such as sea urchin (with Andalusian vegetables, $14) and king crab in raspberry vinegar ($20) are canned in-house daily. "Bar selections" venture beyond the usual bites: "Ottoman carrot fritters" with apricot and pistachio sauce ($9); Japanese tacos stuffed with eel, shiso leaf, cucumber, wasabi, and chicharrones ($10); and oxtail steamed buns — the only things required are an open mind and a table of adventuresome eaters. Andrés does traditional tapas as well, and it's thrilling to be able to describe a chef as traditional and avant-garde all in the same sentence. Mainstays such as codfish fritters ($10) and chicken wings with Spanish green-olive purée ($10) display an obvious nod to tapas lovers' expectations, yet dishes such as Norwegian lobster with seaweed salad, and a seared veal loin prepared as a tribute to French chef Jacques Maximin ($18) showcase more of a global influence. Designer Philippe Starck is handling the restaurant's environment, envisioned as a "modern-day, European-inspired, indoor piazza." We eagerly await the Bazaar's arrival on South Beach.

Zachary Fagenson

The two wooden signs behind glass beckon you with "ice cold beer" and "home cooking." It's a pair of messages that brings a warm smile to any weary traveler searching for a hearty meal and a cold one on South Dixie Highway. From the oak booths and tables to the sassy waitstaff, Wagons West has all the charm of a roadside diner on the Blue Ridge Parkway in the Appalachians. Of course, it's tucked inside a strip mall in ritzy Pinecrest. Brothers Walter and Steve Muench have been serving up all kinds of comfort food since 1981. "We're like the bar Cheers, where everybody knows your name," Walter says. "We truly appreciate our customers who've made this place such a huge success." At Wagons West, you can order hotcakes and sausage, farmer's omelets, or any breakfast plate any time of day. You can't go wrong with the French toast and crabcakes Benedict, that's for sure. Among lunch and dinner meals, pick anything from the barbecued spare ribs to the homemade meatloaf to the club sandwich with a side of sweet potato fries. The prices are reasonable; no entrée costs more than $10. Wagons West opens at 6:30 in the morning seven days a week. But on Sundays, the joint closes at 4 in the afternoon. Monday through Saturday, Walter keeps the lights on till 9 p.m.

Sung to the tune of "Margaritaville":

A shrimp enchilada

Some carne asada

The food at this Mex place is really divine

But along with my meal, uh

I need some tequila

A margarita would really taste fine.


Wastin' away again in Mercaditoville

Sippin' margarita tradicional

Some people claim the michelada's good too

But I know, side-by-side it would pale.

Êl Jimador Blanco

Grand Marnier, fresh lime juice

Plus agave nectar make up the drink

It'll cost you ten-fifty

Add fruit for one-fifty

Add smoke for three bucks and don't even blink.


Wastin' away again in Mercaditoville

Tippling Bros. cocktails are really deelish

Some people say they are the best in town

Bravo! to the mixologish.

Wastin' away again in Mercaditoville

Pop art on the walls is startin' to blur

The waitress says that I should head on home

Maybe I best listen to her.

The bloody mary at Barceloneta ($12) is as unique as many of the small plates of Catalan cuisine served at this Spanish bistro. What makes it so is the blending of this cocktail's traditional ingredients — vodka, tomato juice, and sundry seasonings — with gazpacho, the famed chilled tomato-cucumber soup from Andalusia. The coupling of these refreshing liquids is as explosively spicy as Russell Brand and Katy Perry. Scratch that. The pairing of gazpacho and bloody mary is as inspired as that of Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins. No, wait — it's as unexpected and sprightly as Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher. Uh, the pastel color and smoothie-like texture of the cocktail are as delightful as Heidi Klum and Seal. Gaah! Barceloneta is a cool neighborhood spot in South Beach where locals sit over all sorts of creative food and drink; there are six variations of gin and tonic alone. But we're unerringly faithful to the distinctive and delicious bloody mary.

Art deco gem the National Hotel was built in 1939 and, coincidentally, the clock above the bar is stopped at 7:39. For all you conspiracy theorists, 7:39 p.m. is 19:39 in 24-hour time. Legend says the clock stopped there so everyone could go back in time to the golden age of romance and glamour. We say the clock stopped there so it's always martini time. A gin martini arrives with tiny slivers of ice floating on the surface, like the wings of an angel. A shaker at your side provides you with a few more sips of this perfect elixir. Your body (along with your iPhone) tells you you're late for a date, but the clock — oh, that clock — says there's plenty of time for another round.

Yeah, yeah, we know. The mojito is Cuban. And in a city rich in Cuban influences, we chose Tap Tap, a Haitian restaurant, as having the best mojitos. Just calm down for a second and take a long sip of your drink, will ya? Ahhh, now we're talking. The perfect mixture of sweet and tart, the Tap Tap mojito ($8) is made the old-fashioned way — with freshly muddled mint, pure cane sugar, and squeezed limes (no sucrose-laden mix here). Then, instead of the usual white rum, they add Barbancourt Five-Star Haitian Rhum. This stuff, aged in oak Cognac barrels, gives the mojito depth, character, and one potent kick in the pants. Sorry, Cuba, but with rum so clearly superior, the Haitian mixologists at Tap Tap have beaten you at your own game.

Photo by Ines Ayra
Platano Soup

Deep in the vast suburban jungle of Kendall lies chef Adrianne Calvo's bistro, named for the vineyard she fantasizes about one day owning. Miami is nowhere near Napa, and the closest winemaker doesn't even use grapes, so you would think the sangria at Chef Adrianne's Vineyard Restaurant & Wine Bar would be like most sangria in South Florida — a mixture of cheap wine, Juicy Juice, and canned fruit cocktail. It's no wonder, then, that we were floored to taste Calvo's nectar of the gods. Her pomegranate sangria is made with fresh organic juice, cognac, wine, and rum. There's no added sugar, and there's not a bit of nasty fruit cocktail to clutter your glass. Are you the only person on earth who's not into pomegranate (or do you simply not want to stain your new veneers)? Chef Calvo also makes a white sangria with passionfruit and white wine. Both are refreshing and cooling with a surprising little kick. Twelve bucks buys a 16-ounce shareable serving.

There's been a lot of fuss over Cibo Wine Bar's unusual method of stowing and salvaging bottles of wine. The temperature-controlled glass "cellar" is stocked with an international laundry list of labels. It's really more of a storage wall, otherwise known as an Enomatic wine dispenser, which allows for dual-temperature control to "modulate temp zones." This means that when Cibo serves your vino, it should be ideal, whether red or white. When an order is placed, the server enters a corresponding bin number into the computerized system so he or she can select the correct bottle the first time. Retrieval involves hoisting the employee 20 feet into the air via a specially designed hydraulic system (very, very tricky). What we like best about the list is the great range available by the glass, making it possible to create your own wine flight appropriate for menu selections. You can begin with a glass of Veneto prosecco ($9) at the bar and then move on to something white for a seafood starter, such as a 2009 Falanghina from Campania (Vinosia, $9). For heavier, more rustic Italian dishes, you can easily commit to a well-priced 2008 Super Tuscan (Brancaia Tre, $12) or treat yourself to something special, such as Antinori Tignanello, a truly superb 2008 Super Tuscan ($45). What else is there to love? Happy hour, which runs seven days a week from 4 to 7 p.m., offers a rotating selection of wines by the glass or bottle at half the cost. The space, like the food it presents, is designed to evoke a sense of unpretentious sophistication and sincerity. Every detail, piece of furniture, and bite has been finely crafted with quality materials.

Cafe Que Rico facebook

It's 2 o'clock on a listless, sleepy afternoon. Your brain is shutting down as if it were closing time. But you need to get things done. And, as it happens, you're in the getting-things-done business, so you need a kick. Not just any one, but a good old-fashioned Miami-style café con leche kick. The kind that sends you soaring like a sparrow. So you hit the streets. Sure, you can go to Calle Ocho, but she's grown stale and hard. She tastes like she's been left out all night — like death. "Don't you wanna drink café con leche with me?" she asks. "Not even a little bit," you answer. So you search elsewhere. And then you find it in the last place you were looking, nestled in a strip mall in North Miami Beach of all places. The joint is called Café Que Rico, and it's just what you need to get your sugar, milk, and caffeine fix. She's hot, sweet, and frothy — the kind of froth that begs you to slurp sugary goodness before you've even had a chance to judge the coffee's temperature. That's a special, delicious kind of danger. And that's why it's perfect. The small costs $1.50, and if you're feeling extra-sluggish, you can buy the large for $2. After all, you know what they say: The larger the craving, the thicker the froth.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®