Platano Soup
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.

Cibo Wine Bar

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.

Café Que Rico
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.

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Hidden off the street and out of sight, unless you happen to be strolling through the downtown Miami International Jewelry Center mall, Little Lotus sits amid stalls selling flowers, watches, and so forth. Still lost? The place is in the part of the mall directly across the street from Macy's. The gem: a surprisingly large menu of sushi and small Asian plates from owner Sari Maharani, from Jakarta. Rolls range from $3.95 to $15, which is a great deal. Fancier rolls include creative items such as the "Big Mac" — a crunchy spicy tuna with snow "krab" ($13.95). Other specialties include yaki tori, yaki udon, grilled eel, trigger fish jerky, salad with four types of seaweed, nasi rames (as a nod to the owner's Indonesian roots), and diced taro in coconut milk syrup for dessert. Lunch specials are just $7.95 and include dishes such as spicy braised beef with coconut, and fried Singapore rice noodles. "Japanese Amazing Lunch" ($8.50 to $13.50) includes sushi, sashimi, or a teriyaki bento box. This 40-seater (with some of the tables lined up in the mall hallway) serves delicious, well-priced Asian fare. Plus if you're in the Brickell or downtown area, Little Lotus will deliver — meaning they'll have to find you.

The Federal Food Drink & Provisions

Professor Irving Miller of the American Institute of Enterprising Ideas recently released his groundbreaking thesis titled "5 Key Elements of the Successful Neighborhood Restaurant." When we caught up with the feisty 73-year-old professor at his favorite eatery, the Federal, we asked why he likes this place so much. His response: "It has all five elements necessary, starting with hospitality. Two of the owners are up front greeting customers and making them feel at home; the other is in the kitchen cooking food that makes them feel at home. Very important. Number two is the ambiance — here it's rustic, relaxed, and comfortable. Three: Are you writing this down?"

Yes."Good. Three is the selection of drinks, and the Federal flaunts half a dozen pints of craft draught beers and some hundred bottles of wine solely from family estate producers. And, finally, the food: Jar-o-duck with candied sweet potato and charred marshmallow fluff, Buffalo-style pig wings, and so forth — honest, tasty, accessible, and highly creative." That's only four."Really? Friendly staff, informal environment, great food, drink... Oh, yes, service. Very good service. And free parking in the strip mall lot out front. Crucial for a neighborhood restaurant. Plus the pricing is affordable: smaller plates $6 to $16, larger ones $16 to $36." That's seven."Well, that just goes to show how much the Federal has going for it."
Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
Photo courtesy of Genuine Hospitality Group

It is said that you should strike while the iron is hot, and no Miami chef has sizzled with success like Michael Schwartz. Miami's farm-to-table pioneer and James Beard Award winner has expanded his brand in recent years by way of a cookbook, a pizzeria (Harry's), an MGF&D in the Cayman Islands, and a project in progress with the Raleigh Hotel. Yet through it all, his original Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District hasn't missed a beat. The indoor and outdoor ambiance remains cool in an unpretentious way, service is professional, and the fresh, well-sourced, seasonally sensitive cuisine continues to impress with honest-to-goodness flavors. Pastry chef Hedy Goldsmith is tops in town, which is why she was nominated for a James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chef this year. Her desserts too are peerless and uniquely innovative — who else pairs a milk chocolate candy bar with buttered popcorn gelato? She also has a cookbook out this year, and we're pretty certain no other spot in this neighborhood — let alone the state of Florida — can boast two Beard-credentialed chefs with their own cookbooks. There's a great global wine list, the craft beers are many ($4 and up), and even the RoosRoast Organic Free Speech Coffee, Steven Smith Teamaker's Tea, and homemade sodas are superior. What else could possibly be great about Michael's? The prices, which are quite moderate for the city's most acclaimed dining establishment: Small plates are mostly under $10, medium plates are under $20, and excepting a Harris Ranch New York strip steak, large plates range from $18 to $26. And there's one more wonder: Sunday brunch from 11 to 2:30.

Llewellyn's fried chicken with waffles and watermelon
Tracey-Ann Jarrett
Llewellyn's fried chicken with waffles and watermelon

A year ago in this issue, we praised Jeff McInnis for helming Gigi, arguably 2011's hottest Miami restaurant. So when McInnis left that midtown establishment to open Yardbird in South Beach with the 50 Eggs Restaurant group, expectations ran high. Judging from crowds overflowing onto the street since opening night, it would seem those hopes have been realized. The cool farmhouse décor is a refreshing change of pace from designs that too often strain to be SoBe hip. American blues music and friendly service synchronize with the hospitable Southern fare. The menu, produced by McInnis and chef de cuisine Phillip Bryant, brims with big homestyle flavors. We're speaking of dishes such as Brunswick stew with alligator sausage and smoked rabbit, shrimp 'n' grits, and Llewellyn's Fine Fried Chicken with waffles and watermelon. Craft bourbons, beers, and wines are distinctly all-American, as is the overall dining experience. And we're not the only ones mightily impressed: Yardbird and McInnis were nominated for James Beard Awards this year in the Best New Restaurant and Best Chef, South categories.

La Loggia Restaurant

Downtown Miami has enjoyed a dining renaissance in recent years. Heavy hitters such as Zuma, Area 31, and DB Bistro Moderne brought star power to the neighborhood while smaller, more casual restaurants such as Tre Italian Bistro, Ceviche 105, and Sparky's Roadside Barbecue fortified the foundation. Owners Horacio Oliveira and Jennifer Porciello have witnessed it all from La Loggia's power location right across from the Miami-Dade County Courthouse. Their regional Italian oasis is, among other things, astonishingly consistent. The spaghetti Bolognese, veal scaloppine, and chicken Milanese placed on the table nowadays tastes just as delicious as it was on opening day in 2000. Thin-crust pizzas ($12 to $15), homemade pastas ($13 to $16), and meat/seafood entrées (all under $20) are affordably priced and sumptuously prepared. The ambiance hasn't changed a whit either. The lofty ceiling, mosaic floors, Roman columns, and frescoed walls still transport diners to Italy. The new kids on the block are worthy and exciting, but this old-guard, old-world charmer is timelessly great.

Ortanique on the Mile
Photo courtesy of Ortanique on the Mile

We have grown comfortable with Ortanique since it opened "on the Mile" in July 1999. So much so that we tend to take it for granted. It's like a favorite pair of jeans forgotten in the drawer after you buy a succession of new shirts and jackets. Chef/owner Cindy Hutson's Caribbean-influenced "Cuisine of the Sun" never grows old. Cracked conch with plantain chips ($13), Red Stripe-steamed mussels ($14 small, $18 large), signature jerk chicken penne pasta ($17 lunch, $23 dinner), escovitch whole yellowtail snapper with Scotch bonnet pepper (market price), Bahamian mahi-mahi with lemon-orange boniato sweet plantain mash ($23 lunch, $30 dinner), West Indian-style bouillabaisse in curried coconut broth ($23 lunch, $45 dinner) — let's face it, you can't get this sort of fare anywhere else in town. The staff is warm, the décor is set in festive motifs of flowers and ortanique oranges, and the wine list has more gravitas than you'd expect from a modest neighborhood establishment. Cocktails rock too and are $4 off during happy hour (weekdays from 4 to 7 p.m.), which means $7 each. That sure is comfortable.

Peacock Garden Bistro

Like the plume of its eponymous bird, Peacock Garden Café boasts a patio of an almost shockingly bright, colorful fashion. This verdant tropical garden is located on the grounds settled by the Peacock family around 1870 in what became the Village of Coconut Grove. The lush green setting and historic locale make Peacock Garden Café something of a quintessential Grove restaurant — which is just what Lalo Durazo and Oscar del Rivero had in mind when designing the space. Durazo and del Rivero, the team behind the terrific Jaguar Ceviche and Talavera Cocina, this time turned their talents to "garden-inspired" cuisine — and came through once again. The menu includes a soup of the day ($6 Monday through Thursday, $8 Friday through Sunday), a few pastas ($14 to $17), and a great burger and other sandwiches, each accompanied by a choice of tomato salad, celeriac slaw, or skinny fries ($14 to $18). Main courses? Try baby-back ribs, pan-roasted chicken, seared salmon teriyaki, grilled filet mignon, or Black Angus New York steak. Except the steaks ($30 to $32), entrées run $18 to $24. There are beautiful and bountiful salads as well, including a deal called "The Grill and the Garden," where diners can select any grilled item from the menu (chicken, skirt steak, tuna, shrimp, salmon) and pair it with a salad of choice (Chinese, Greek, niçoise, caesar, or pear/blue cheese). The price for this special runs $16 to $30, depending upon the protein you choose. As you sit at Peacock on a sunny day, perhaps while sipping prosecco, you will surely feel a renewed appreciation for serene Coconut Grove.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®