Villa Azur Restaurant & Lounge

Villa Azur, like the Côte d'Azur it's named for, is beautiful, chic, and stylish. It also has impeccable service. From the moment you stroll through the 12-foot-tall drapes and are greeted by a beautiful hostess, you're treated like the celebrity your mother always hoped you'd become (instead of a part-time barista). Before dining, have a cocktail at the softly lit bar, where an attractive bartender will make you a perfectly poured cocktail. Not sure what to have? Ask for a recommendation. Maybe he or she will recommend the signature drink, made with French champagne and freshly muddled fruit. Or maybe you'll discover a new favorite wine. When you're ready to dine, you'll be assisted by the knowledgeable and helpful waitstaff. Did we mention they too are all good-looking? Don't see your server? No worries, because anyone will answer menu questions, bring you another martini, or deliver an extra plate. It's as if everyone at the restaurant received a master's degree from Cornell and DNA from Villa Azur co-owner Olivier Martinez and his bride-to-be Halle Berry.

Swine Southern Table & Bar
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Taste Bakery & Café, which opened on South Beach in 2001, was John Kunkel's first Miami Beach restaurant. Three years later, he sold Taste, which is still going strong, and started Lime Fresh Mexican Grill. Lime proved very popular, which led to the opening of 15 other locations in Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, and Washington, D.C. Eight years after founding Lime, Kunkel sold the chain to Ruby Tuesday for $24 million. He stepped down as CEO but remains involved with Ruby Tuesday and Lime's further growth. Last year, Kunkel and his 50 Eggs Restaurant Group opened Yardbird Southern Table & Bar to critical and popular acclaim. Next up is Swine, a pork-centric spot in the former Les Halles space on Ponce de Leon Boulevard. And after that, Kunkel is looking to launch another fast-casual chain featuring Southeast Asian street food. He is creative, passionate, successful, and driven to keep doing more. What else could you ask for from a restaurateur?

The Dutch
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The Dutch is an American-roots-inspired restaurant (and oyster bar) that takes homestyle foods such as roast chicken and braised short ribs and then shapes them for big-city palates. It is a partnership among New York restaurateurs Andrew Carmellini, Josh Pickard, and Luke Ostrom (who operate a Dutch in New York's SoHo neighborhood) and Karim Masri and Nicola Siervo of Miami's Quattro Gastronomia Italiana, Sosta, and Wall Lounge. Although the Dutch premiered November 14, 2011, it is new in ways beyond the opening date. For instance, let's compare a typical stale restaurant concept ("old") to the Dutch ("new"):

Old: The head chef previously helmed the kitchen at a place called Fondue & Brew.New: Andrew Carmellini is a two-time James Beard Award winner with a few hugely popular New York City restaurants, a couple of cookbooks under his belt, and national recognition as a topnotch culinary talent.Old: Flowing white drapes, monochromatic décor — a sophisticated-chic look.New: White brick walls lined with bookcases, blond-wood tables, bursts of color, and an elegant yet casual look.Old: Fried calamari ($15), followed by macadamia-crusted grouper in mango sauce ($30).New: Lobster salad with palms hearts, mangoes, and cucumber ($22), followed by crispy branzino ($28).Old: A square of tiramisu ($8) or a commercially produced, sugar-laden wedge of cake with raspberry purée squiggled on the plate ($8).New: Fresh pies baked daily ($12), toasted-almond panna cotta with yuzu sauce and fresh raspberries ($12), or any or all of seven artisanal American cheeses ($12 to $19).Old: Lots of hype, not much else.New: Lots of hype, with the food, drink, ambiance, and attitude to back it up.
Edge Steak & Bar
Photo courtesy of Edge Steak & Bar

It used to be that a steak house was a steak house was a steak house. Now it's a place that uses organics, sears Kobe meat at 1,500 degrees, and offers innovative sides. Edge Steak & Bar does much of this. The dining room is sleek and stylish, with an outdoor terrace and private event rooms. Vegetables are sourced locally, and chef Aaron Brooks brings in prime meats and seafood. There's no Kobe, but you can get a Black Angus filet mignon, a prime churrasco steak, slow-smoked pork ribs, and a Creekstone Farms Edge burger (with homemade pickles and house-cut fries) — all cooked on an infrared grill (that would be 1,800 degrees, if you're counting). Innovative sides? Try quinoa and fire-roasted corn salad or chorizo and cheddar croquetas with romesco sauce. And Edge brings a spin of its own to the modern steak-house formula: Meats (and some fish) are categorized into small, medium, and large cuts. So a six-ounce Boston cut prime strip steak is available for $20, same size filet mignon is $27, a seven-ounce butcher's cut filet is $25. If you're feeling hungry, a 12-ounce New York strip is $33, and a 24-ounce bone-in tomahawk steak is $45. Smaller portion options mean you can opt for a more healthful, better-balanced, and non-obscenely priced meal. That's what we call an edge over the competition.

Atelier Monnier

Take it from a dessert connoisseur. Atelier Monnier's chocolate almond croissant ($3) will make an addict of you. In a town full of ersatz pastries, AM is the real deal: buttery, flaky confections dripping with sinfully sweet ingredients. Compared with pan cubano, Monnier is practically manna of the gods. The only question: How to get your fix? Six days without the gooey, chocolatey treat leaves us jonesing for the next dose of the good stuff. French chef Franck Monnier's eponymous gourmet boutique is headquartered in distant Dadeland Plaza. Thankfully, like any good dealer, Monnier will come to you. For travelers flying into or out of the city, there are two outposts at Miami International Airport, at Gates D17 and D20. Mobile pastry mongers also sling croissants and macaroons Sundays at the farmers' market on Lincoln Road. Monnier's pastry oasis also appears Wednesdays at the University of Miami, beginning in October. If you can't make it to the shops or special events, Monnier also caters parties and special events. Prepare for a sugar abuse problem.

Rusty Pelican
Photo courtesy of Rusty Pelican

After taking your seat at the Rusty Pelican, your mate will comment, "Wow, what a beautiful view." Your response? "The most beautiful view is the one I share with you." From this Virginia Key jewel, the Miami skyline beckons with a twinkle across Biscayne Bay. Let's face it: We all love a dazzling vista; even more so when water is involved. When we're sitting at a table filled with great food and drink, this fact is especially true. At Rusty Pelican, the outdoor tables are next to a dramatically lighted fire pit, and indoor seating is in a room brightened by a recent multimillion-dollar renovation. Chef Michael Gilligan's contemporary American menu highlights raw bar selections, sushi, crabcakes, tuna tacos, ceviche, tiraditos, a series of creative small plates (eel and foie gras; pork-belly-and-apple skewers), and main plates such as whole red snapper with crisply fried noodles, and poached duck breast with chanterelles and parsnip quenelles (appetizers and small plates range from $8 to $16, entrées $26 to $35). If you think it can't get any better than that, how about weekday happy hour (4 to 7 p.m.) with $3 beers; $5 well drinks and featured wines; $7 martinis, mojitos, and margaritas; $5 to $9 bar bites; and, of course, that priceless view.

J&G Grill

While sitting on the veranda of J & G Grill, it is easy to get lost in a peaceful state of reverie as the sun sprinkles jeweled reflections upon the mesmerizing ocean. Umbrellas shade the rays, a balmy breeze blows in from the Atlantic, and an attentive waiter refills water glasses and delivers fresh rounds of cocktails as quietly as mist. Any notion of being in a fantasy is only reinforced when the food arrives. After all, if you dreamed up a chef to create the menu for this lovely setting at the St. Regis Bal Harbour, he'd be exactly like Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Granted, J & G Grill is a casual take on his legendary Jean-Georges restaurant, but that makes dining outdoors that much more leisurely and affordable (most dinner entrées are $30 and under; a three-course prix fixe lunch is $28). The American, French, and Asian cuisine showcases luscious offerings such as sautéed pink Florida shrimp with key lime yogurt and red radish, black truffle pizza with fontina cheese, a selection of local fish, and prime meats simply grilled. There are also kumquat mojitos, other cutting-edge cocktails, and an exceptional wine list. Chef de cuisine Richard Gras translates Vongerichten's vision with élan, and the waitstaff is both cordial and professional. J & G not only offers an idyllic environment with a sensational water vista, but also pampers diners with serenity. And just for the record: The food tastes equally good when eaten indoors.

Haven
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A gastropub is simply a bar serving food and drinks that surpass the sappy snacks usually proffered at such an establishment. Haven does just that. Technically, it is a self-billed "gastro-lounge," which means instead of a stuffy pub atmosphere, the room includes a thousand or so hue-changing ice-cube lights, a Siberian white-onyx bar that likewise changes color, and wraparound walls that immerse diners in HD-projected images of white-capped mountains, the Mediterranean, the South Beach skyline, and other scintillating scenes. On the beverage end, creative cocktails emanate a mist produced by liquid nitrogen (which is also used to blast and freeze ice cream by the order). Chef Todd Erickson's global mix of small plates clears that mist like sunlight bursting through clouds. Whether it be sashimi, ceviche, coconut-crusted rock shrimp with wasabi-peach marmalade ($15), or a "lamburger" slider with lavender, coriander, and honey ($11), the cuisine is electrically charged in flavor. It's a gastropub for the 21st Century and definitely for late-nighters: Haven is open nightly until 5 a.m.

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"Reporter Nick Smooth here at the Sheen Center for Disturbed People, interviewing Ned Kolopsi as to why he was so enthralled with Crazy About You before landing at this facility. As most viewers know, the restaurant is a spinoff of Dolores, but You Can Call Me Lolita (with additional venues in Spain). Crazy name for a restaurant, huh? Anyway, tell us, Ned. What's the story?"

"The story is that for $15.99, I can get a mojo-roasted half-chicken with spinach, artichokes, and any of the dozen soups or starters on the menu. I usually go with the Serrano ham croquettes, the creamiest around." "Well, we should remind our viewers about where we are holding this interview — we'll have to double-check the $15.99 price. That sounds a little too low. But back to you, Ned.""The same items are only $13.99 during lunch. High-rollers can go with the $19.99 dinners, like pork osso buco or sea-salted wild salmon — there are four to six choices in each price category. The highest price is $23.99, which brings veal churrasco, applewood-grilled short ribs, or miso-glazed orange roughy. Did I mention you get your choice of any starter? Plus a glass of house wine is just $4. And the dessert menu arrives in the form of a little Ferris wheel; as you spin it, small cards flip up with sweet options; a textbook cappuccino flan is just $2.50. Plus, the place used to be home to the elegant Spanish restaurant La Broche, so rather than appearing like a budget establishment, it looks like a million bucks — with a drop-dead gorgeous vista of Biscayne Bay. Outdoor tables too.""A little Ferris wheel? Desserts for $2.50 in a million-dollar waterfront setting? You like to embellish, don't you Mr. Kolopsi? Is that why you're here at this center?""No, I'm here because it's the only way they could get me out of the restaurant. I tell you, I'm crazy about Crazy About You."
Tuyo

— Tell me, Master Norman Van Fusion, what is the secret to gathering cuisines from different cultures and melding them as one?

— Well, little grasshopper, one of the secrets is to employ indigenous foods. That's why Tuyo uses growers, producers, and food artisans of Florida and the American Southeast.

— You mean Key West yellowtail, grilled pompano with Cedar Key clams, Lake Meadow chicken mofongo, Brazilian conch chowder, ceviche with papaya, and yuca-stuffed Gulf shrimp?

— I see you've been studying, curious caterpillar. You have discovered some of the ingredients of my New World cuisine. Knowledge is the key; I have been working in the culinary arts for decades and producing Zen-like combinations of flavors since even before my days at Norman's in Coral Gables.

— You are known far and wide for this, Master; I have even seen you on PBS. But how does one know for sure if rhum-and-pepper-painted golden tilefish on mango-habanero mojo will succumb to oneness with boniato-caramelized plantain mash en poblano?

— You cannot take a shower in a parakeet cage, my earnest worm.

— I do not understand.

— As I tell my disciples at Norman's in Orlando: Years of experience are invaluable when it comes to things like this. Once you understand the essence of food and cooking, the path to fusing ingredients will come.

— And what of your vision?

— Tuyo is fusion. Tuyo is vision. It says that right on my menu. And the vision thing extends to the vista of the Freedom Tower and city skyline one can clearly see from Tuyo's perch atop the Miami Culinary Institute. Quite frankly, it's the sort of vision that can knock your chakra into place.

— This vision of yours, Master, you will spread it to all who seek it?

— I shall spread it to all who can afford to pay $16 for an appetizer and $24 to $44 per entrée. But, my naive cricket, that's a lesson for another day.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®