Twenty sixteen was a major year for Miami's dining scene. Big-name chefs Michael Schwartz and José Andrés became neighbors at the SLS Brickell thanks to their buzzy new concepts, Fi'lia and Bazaar Mar. Meanwhile, pastry genius Antonio Bachour finally got a place of his own with the opening of Bachour Bakery + Bistro in Brickell. It was also the year Coconut Grove became a legitimate dining destination, and chef Giorgio Rapicavoli of Glass & Vine and Michael Beltran of Ariete deserve much of the credit.
In other 2016 news, health-oriented, fast-casual spots sprouted across Miami-Dade. Two particularly popular concepts are Dirt and Grown, the latter the brainchild of former NBA star Ray Allen and his wife Shannon. It's significantly easier to find a quick, affordable, and nutritious meal in Miami in 2016 versus 2015, and that's something to be proud of.
Simply put, dining in the Magic City improved on all fronts this year. That said, we're still a ways away from becoming a culinary capital like New York City, Los Angeles, or Chicago. That means 2017 isn't the time to rest on our laurels but to continue to expand and improve our dining options. Here are five things (in no particular order) Miami could use in 2017.
1. Remember my name.
How many times have you returned to one of your favorite restaurants only to hear the waiter ask if it's your first time dining there? It's frustrating and disrespectful to be a regular at a place yet be treated like a stranger each time. A quality eatery should take notes of its customers, and services such as OpenTable, Yelp Seat Me, and Resy make doing so especially easy. Miami simply has no excuses for lagging so far behind in this aspect of hospitality.
I can't wait for the day when I return to one of my go-to spots and am greeted by name, given my preferred table, and occasionally offered a complimentary starter, cocktail, or dessert as a thank-you for my loyalty. And if they remember the wine I like, I'll be bowled over. After all, how can a restaurant truly succeed without repeat customers?
2. Serve those sardines.
Miami has no shortage of seafood-centric eateries, so why do so few of them serve fresh sardines? Sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein, and rich in umami flavor — all things that are trending. Grilled sardines from places such as Spain and Portugal are utterly delicious when drizzled with olive oil, splashed with lemon juice, and sprinkled with sea salt, and are totally worthy of a place on Miami menus. It's not difficult to find good sardines in Manhattan or Montreal; now let's get them here. Even canned sardines are proprietary these days thanks to superior product and interesting flavors. Tired of avocado toast? Try sardine toast in 2017.
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3. Bring on the bibimbap.
Broward County has the restaurant Gabose for topnotch, classic Korean dishes such as bibimbap and kimchee pancakes. Miami-Dade, however, comes up short. Korean cuisine is bold in flavor and typically healthier than your average Americanized Chinese fare. Here is a void that needs filling, so listen up, food community.
4. Get that goat.
Did you know goat has way less fat than most other types of meat, including chicken? It's also rich in protein and has the highest level of interstitial collagen. That's the stuff that's supposed to have superproperties for your joints, brain, and gut and is why the bone-broth craze began. Goat's milk items are becoming increasingly popular on supermarket shelves, so why not start cooking some good old goat and offering it at restaurants?
Chicago's beloved Girl & the Goat serves goat empanadas with miso-blue cheese aioli and a squash-apple slaw, while Tail Up Goat in Washington, D.C., proffers lasagna with goat, kale, anchovy, and salsa verde. Goat tastes like fresh lamb but with a texture that more closely resembles beef. It's categorized as a solid meat with a strong flavor, and it happens to be the most widely consumed red meat in the world according to Modern Farmer. Indeed, a couple of years ago, Heritage Food USA started a No Goat Left Behind Program to give the goat industry a boost and have the protein featured on more menus in America. So let's get a leg up and go for the goat in 2017.
5. Send Sweetgreen to the Sunshine State.
Make-your-own-salad concepts are nothing new, yet the Magic City is still seriously lacking in this department. It's unclear why, because Miamians are certainly health-conscious. Besides, who wouldn't want a fast, affordable, and nutritious meal that's conveniently packaged so you can enjoy it at home, at your desk, or on a park bench? And though there are many excellent build-your-own-salad places, the best one is undoubtedly Sweetgreen. Everything just tastes better there, particularly the baked falafel, spicy quinoa, and citrus shrimp. Oh, and the miso-sesame ginger vinaigrette is to die for. What's more, depending upon the season, Sweetgreen will add items such as peaches, watermelon, and blue crab to its list of offerings. This rapidly growing chain already has locations in eight states, so here's hoping nine is Miami's lucky number.