There are so many restaurants in South Beach that we love, it was really hard to choose one for Best of Miami 2011. But what to do? Well, there could only be one winner, Pubbelly, but we have so many more favorites.
With that in mind, we now present other SoBe favorites.
When a restaurant bills itself as "authentic Staten Island cuisine," we know we're home. The curb appeal ain't that great (the restaurant is in a strip mall that contains a tanning salon, dry cleaner and dog groomer), but walk into the little storefront and be accosted by the sights, sounds, and tastes of the most-forgotten borough in New York City. Red walls are covered by pictures of Italian grandmas, wise guys, and crooners. As Sinatra sings, order from the blackboard that changes daily. Start with a glass of wine and peaches as you wait for your giant meatball. Pastas and Sinatra's shrimp are usually on the menu (market prices prevail), as are Tony Bennet's sausage and peppers and house-made ravioli with green peas. Don't think of dieting or substituting here - just enjoy. It's what Sinatra would have done.
Another Italian entry on our list of favorites, Sardinia features the flavors of the Mediterraean. Meats and cheeses are cut and sliced to order at the bar (three for $18). Pickled vegetables and olives (three for $18) round out a starter platter. Almost all entrees are cooked inside the giant wood-burning oven. Pastas are homemade and delicious. The Pappadelle Cio Ciara topped with a dollop of fresh ricotta ($9/$16) is a personal favorite, as is the Orecchiete with wild boar sausage ($12/16). We especially love that half portions of all the pastas are available so we can indulge in multiple menu items. The lively scene lends itself to one more quartino of Primitivo ($13) and an indulgent Mille Feuille for dessert.
South Beach is all about sitting outside with a glass of wine in a little bistro. People watching is the number one sport at our own version of The Riviera. Here's the problem - most of our little cafes are touristy rip-offs with food not fit for consumption. One exception lies in The Cafe at Books & Books. This bistro proves two things - (1) that an outdoor cafe can serve delicious salads, sandwiches and vegan offerings without becoming a tourist trap and (2) yes, people in South Beach can read.
Chef Bernie Matz combines Floribbean, Asian and Cuban influences into a light yet satisfying menu. Grilled marinated shrimp on tomato grits with yucca fries ($21.95) and guava glazed pork tenderloin ($18.95) bring local ingredients to the table, while the vegan in your life will appreciate the amazingly-tasty vegan curried "chicken" salad ($13.95) and grilled tofu wrap with avocado salsa and caramelized onions ($10.95). Grab a book, sit with a glass of Chardonnay, and watch the people stroll by to your heart's content.
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AltaMare has grown up in the past few years. Its moved from its little corner to a larger venue just up the street. That could have signaled a change from the little place with the freshest fish in the world. Thankfully it didn't AltaMare is like the urban legend of the actress who still loves her grandma - success didn't go to its head. The fish is still delicious and so fresh you can almost hear it backtalk, the ingredients still locally sourced whenever possible. Pan-seared, day-boat scallops ($16) are insanely sweet, local snapper ceviche ($14) is cool and refreshing, and the grilled octopus ($16) is tender and flavorful. For dinner have the terracotta seafood pot ($34), filled with mussels, clams, calamari, rock shrimp and local fish or go for the catch of the day (literally swimming a few hours earlier). There are other non-seafood items, but that would be like asking Eric Ripert for beef jerky.
When John DeLucie took over the restaurant at The Raleigh Hotel we cried for joy. When he left we cried tears of pain. Turns out, things haven't changed much. Chef Jimmy Corona was promoted to Executive Chef and the quality is just as amazing. A tuna nicoise salad includes a perfectly seared piece of tuna and tiny quail eggs topping crisp greens. Pan-seared organic chicken ($26), squid ink fettuccine ($26), and whole snapper a la plancha ($32) round out the menu of well-made food. And, of course, the scenery hasn't changed. This restaurant is literally the most romantic and whimsical places in Miami Beach. If you aren't transported to a faraway place where life is very good indeed, you're lacking a pulse.