Miami Spice 2011: The Good, the Great, and the Grudging (Gables, Grove & South)

We've been perusing upcoming Miami Spice menus (the promo begins Monday) over the past couple of days. Wednesday we looked at some from South Beach and Mid-Beach; Thursday we took notes on restaurants in midtown, the Design District, and up north. This being the tenth year of the Miami Spice deal means most of you know about how some restaurants embrace this $35 prix fixe three-course menu with more gusto than others. Here is how we are categorizing the deals: Those that are generous with choices and availability are deemed "great." Those with solid deals offered in the right spirit are "good." And those whose bills of fare seem grudging are listed under "grudging."

We'll repeat the caveat that we haven't eaten these Miami Spice dinners, so we are not taking portion size into account. And our assumption is that food quality will be fine because we've included the better establishments on the list. We're really judging the menu and attitude more than the meal.

Unless noted otherwise, the Miami Spice deal is not available Friday and Saturday evenings.

Today: Goin' South, with stops in Coral Gables and Coconut Grove. Monday we'll look at menus that have come in last minute, and tally up all the deals we've covered.

The Good

Atrio Restaurant at Conrad Miami: Choice of inventive trio to start: Watermelon chipotle gazpacho; panzanella salad with crispy prosciutto; or tequila cured salmon. Adobo-rubbed skirt steak, shrimp chermoula, and pappardelle pasta with truffle oil and mushroom broth are appealing entrée picks. Dessert selections are pineapple-rum tart with coconut ice cream; passion fruit and berry "meringue crush"; or fruit salad with guava sorbet. Available every night.

Caffe Abbracci: A modest menu that offers basic Italian fare. Appetizers: Penne with pink sauce, fried calamari, or caesar salad. Entrées are veal scaloppine marsala; chicken scaloppine piccata; or Norwegian salmon. Fruit sherbet or profiteroles are the desserts. Bonus points: Cup of coffee included with dessert, and available every night of the week.

DB Bistro Moderne: This market-inspired menu brings choice of soup du jour, mixed green salad, or ceviche du jour to start. Next, spinach farfalle with sheep's milk ricotta, pancetta, and tomato emulsion; roasted snapper with vegetable curry; frisée salad with duck ragout, poached egg, and chicken liver crostini; or herbed goat cheese and Serrano ham tart. Two scoops of either ice cream or sorbet for dessert -- or passion fruit-milk chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream and chocolate sorbet. This is a great selection of foods; we deem it "good" only because the main-course selections, creative as can be, are mostly anchored by inexpensive items (pasta, frisée, etc.)

Novecento 900: To start, tuna tartare or ceviche or ham and cheese empanadas. Entrées: filet mignon or catch of the day or sautéed shrimp over saffron risotto cake. Dessert is orange flan caramel, cheesecake, or chocolate marshmallow mousse. A very direct, uncomplicated menu that nevertheless offers a range of options. Good every night of the week.

Palme d'Or: Can't go wrong with this elegant French restaurant, even if the choices aren't many. Start with a sauté of mixed mushrooms, smoked bacon, and Parmesan foam or chilled tomato soup with avocado and baby shrimp. Segue to "slipper" lobster and sweet corn ragout or grilled beef tenderloin with potato/leek galette. Crispy chocolate mikado with Tahitian vanilla ice cream or "strawberry infusion" with basil and lime sorbet are dessert choices. This isn't the best Ruiz can do, but surely it will be a wonderful dinner. Spice menu runs Friday and Saturday evenings -- great time to try this Biltmore gem if you haven't already.

Ruth's Chris Steak House: Four offerings in each category, and classy ones at that. Starters: Gazpacho with colossal crabmeat; watermelon and mixed-greens salad; steak-house salad; caesar salad. Entrées: Six-ounce filet mignon with shrimp; stuffed chicken; fish du jour; blue crabcakes. Choice of five steak-house sides, and a dessert of strawberry with chocolate and pecan truffles. Offer good nightly, and it's a good offer at that.

Sawa Restaurant & Lounge: A snappy menu of global fare. Trio of appetizer options are spicy tuna tartare on wonton crisp; chicken gyoza; and shrimp tempura roll. Entrées are grilled lamb rack with mashed potatoes, asparagus, and jalapeño mint sauce; curry chicken and chorizo cassoulet; and snapper putanesca with basmati rice. Dessert duo is passion fruit coconut panna cotta or chocolate souffle cake with pistachio ice cream.

Truluck's: Nice balance of steak and seafood on this Miami Spice steak-house/seafood-house menu. Starter choices are crab/corn chowder, and caesar or "Sonoma" salad. Entrées are trout amandine with Parmesan mashed potatoes; scallops with heirloom tomatoes and peaches in spicy vinaigrette and steamed broccolini; Niman Ranch churrasco steak with smoked corn salad and more of that Parmesan mash; and a fried jumbo shrimp platter with French fries. Dessert is either carrot cake or sugar-free coconut cream pie to be shared; they are very large wedges of cake. Available every evening.

Two Chefs: Fetching trio of starter options: New England clam chowder, lump crab daikon roll with ahi tuna, or caesar salad. Ruby Red brook trout with grilled asparagus and lump crab vinaigrette is one main-course offering. Another is coq au vin with Nueske's bacon, and the other is a pork "porterhouse" steak with jalapeño corn bread pudding. These entrées show how one can use less expensive cuts of meat without sacrificing creativity or flavors. Dessert is choice of three signature soufflés: Grand Marnier; bittersweet chocolate; or stone ground pistachio, all served with crème anglaise and chocolate ganache.

Continue to the next page for the Greats and the Grudging.

Por Fin: Lots of options at this romantic Spanish restaurant. Five first-course picks run from fabada asturiana, gazpacho, Serrano ham carpaccio, lamb meatballs, and fresh mozzarella cheese, and fried eggs with potato crisps, potato foam, Serrano ham, and truffle oil. Second course presents picanha steak with grilled asparagus, artichokes, and spring onions; grilled pork chop with guanciale, broccolini, and apricot sauce; poached black grouper with steamed potatoes, stewed tomatoes, and nyoras peppers; and organic salmon with sautéed spinach, chickpeas, and lemon cream sauce. Six dessert selections include flourless soufflé with ice cream, key lime pie with ice cream, apple dome tart with ice cream, and crema catalana with strawberry and raspberry coulis. Offer good seven days a week.

The Grudging

Bizcaya at the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove: This is the chintziest menu of 2011 thus far. No choice of starter or dessert: Diners must begin with a bacon-wrapped scallop and finish with flourless chocolate cake. Choice of main course: grilled chicken breast or braised short ribs. Not available Saturday or Sunday. Why bother at all?

Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar: Granted, beef tournedos with mushroom ravioli is a generous entrée choice. The only other choice for main course is "daily fresh fish special." The rest of the meal consists of caesar salad as starter and cheesecake for dessert. Not a bad meal if you're in the mood for caesar salad and cheesecake.

Lou Lou Le Petite Bistro: It's simple: soup or appetizer du jour, or a mixed salad to start. Catch du jour or special du jour or vegan lasagna for main course. Fruit salad or lemon sorbet or chocolate mousse for dessert. Complimentary homemade liqueur to finish. You would think a new restaurant like Lou Lou would take this opportunity to show off a few of its best menu items -- maybe country pâté or escargots or steak frites. This Spice menu is only as good as the du jour happens to be on any given day. Not offered Saturday.

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