begins today. Some restaurants embrace the $35 prix fixe three-course menu with more relish than others. We categorize those that are generous with choices and availability as "great." Worthwhile deals offered in the right spirit are "good." And those whose Spice deal looks to be the result of a severely twisted arm 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.
Today we'll take a peek at some menus that were released after we began. Tomorrow: a composite listing of the Good, the Great, and the Grudging.
Bourbon Steak: The items on this menu are quite appetizing; too bad there's a $10 supplement for one of the three entrées -- a Wagyu NY strip with jasmine rice. That leaves the main course selections as chicken confit pappardelle with burrata cheese, or grilled local wahoo with Thai lobster consommé. Apps are American artisan speck with grilled figs and arugula; heirloom tomato gazpacho with Alaskan king crab; or house-smoked salmon with roasted beets and a confit of fingerling potatoes (most prevalent starch of Spice 2011). Bourbon and peach bread pudding with vanilla bean ice cream; Valrhona chocolate torte with wild blueberry ice cream; or a selection of ice creams and sorbets is a fetching dessert selection. Valid every night of the week.
China Grill: Last week we graded the CG menu as "grudging" due to two people having to share one main course and one side. We asked, "Would it kill CGM to offer smaller portions of two main courses and two sides?" Happy to say that China Grill has answered by upgrading the deal to two appetizers, two main courses, two sides, and two desserts per couple. That's the attitude! We're upgrading the deal to good -- and it's pretty close to being great.
Red the Steakhouse: An appropriately meaty menu. Starters: tomato bisque; house salad; caesar salad; watermelon salad with Andante Dairy Ballad goat cheese; or clams casino. Main course is heart of C.A.B. rib eye; five-ounce filet mignon; Atlantic salmon; brined and roasted Ashley Farms chicken breast; double-cut pork chop; bucatini, meatball, and red sauce; or linguine and red or white clam sauce. That's a lot of choices. Finale can be baked hot chocolate with whipped cream or key lime pie. Good every night.
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Tantra Restaurant & Lounge: The Spice menu starts with tempting dishes such as Vietnamese noodle soup; "love apple" that is a sort of Caprese with vine-ripe tomatoes and Laura Chenel goat cheese; grilled baby-back ribs Asian style with warm bok choy salad; or mussels steamed "Moroccan" style with harissa sauce and black Thai rice. Main course quartet is beef tenderloin with porcini confit, black truffle mashed potatoes finished with Cuban coffee glaze and coriander cream sauce; chicken tikka; grilled salmon with gingered black Thai rice; or a seafood hot pot with lobster, mussels, and catch of the day in coconut broth. Dessert is "chef's daily selections."
The Dining Room: The regular menu at this little bistro is lovely and thoughtful. Some of the Spice offerings are less compelling. Starters: blue marlin ceviche, crab empanada, or beet salad with goat cheese and black pepper marshmallows. Entrées: rice with sherry-marinated duck breast, duck confit, and morel mushrooms; grouper with fried yuca and mango slaw; or sweet potato gnocchi. Dessert is coffee tres leches with mandarin foam -- whether you like it or not! Available every night (closed Monday).
Continue to the next page for the Great and the Grudging.
660 at the Angler's: These foods sound so great you just want to run out and eat here -- which is sort of what one would think every restaurant would try to do. First course is choice of barbecued Maple Leaf Farms duck wings with buttermilk slaw; poached egg carbonara with potato cream, black truffle, and applewood-smoked bacon; avocado-local mozzarella bruschetta; or sea scallop/Kurobuta pork belly "surf & turf" with Dr. Pepper hoisin sauce and vanilla bean miso. Entrées: black truffle risotto with short rib ragu; "free-form 'lasagna'" with crustaceans; Bell & Evans half-chicken under a brick with grilled escarole "Caesar"; or grilled ten-ounce Angus flat-iron steak with barbecue dry rub, baked-bean purée, and fried corn on the cob. Panna cotta, Mexican chocolate bread pudding with cinnamon ice cream, or bananas Foster pudding with salted caramel chantilly are dessert picks. Good every night (closed Monday).
Angelique Euro Café: Four starters to choose from: shrimp scampi; fried calamari; escargots à la Provençal; and chorizo with sautéed shallots and red wine. Five entrée selections are seafood bouillabaisse with chorizo served over Valencia rice; free-range chicken breast cooked "au bière" with Guinness Stout; salmon piccata; New Zealand rack of lamb with red wine demi-glace, vegetables, and smashed potatoes; or a mixed parrillada of lamb chops, skirt steak, and chorizo over saffron rice. Diners can finish with crème brûlée, red velvet cake, or Belgian chocolate ice cream. You could build a great dinner from these components. Available nightly (closed Sunday).
Area 31: This is a mouthwatering Spice menu with no skimping on detail. First-course quartet of choices: chopped market veggies with bacon and Hani's goat cheese; chilled watermelon-tomato soup with smoked grapes and Hani's goat cheese; Wahoo crudo with quinoa salad, trout roe, and cucumber-jalapeño broth; and shrimp ceviche with avocado. Next comes braised pork shoulder with chorizo, calabaza hash, pickled shallots and mizuna greens; Amazonian paice with eggplant, white water clams, calamari, and braised tomatoes; barley risotto with ratatouille, arugula pesto, wilted romaine and truffle cheese; or hanger steak with pork belly, curried carrot purée, and crisp green beans. Dessert is dehydrated chocolate mousse with pistachio ice cream, cherry sorbet, and Marcona almond crumble; lemon curd with olive oil sponge cake, coconut sorbet, and guava gelée; or carrot cake with brown butter powder, cream cheese ice cream, and butterscotch. A wine pairing of two cocktails can be added for $15. Available every night.
Essensia Restaurant & Lounge at the Palms: Another generous bill of fare: Beginnings are chilled cucumber and avocado soup; arugula and grilled peach salad with prosciutto and goat cheese; or kimchi barbecued jumbo shrimp with savoy cabbage slaw. Mains: pan-seared local cobia with quinoa salad with enoki mushrooms and orange-infused oil; grilled eight-ounce butcher steak with vanilla-boniato purée, grilled asparagus, and green peppercorn cognac sauce; or anise-honey glazed pork tenderloin with carrot-English pea risotto, Caribbean ratatouille, and black currant jam. Pineapple semifreddo with coconut macaroons; bittersweet chocolate pudding with cocoa nib tuile and bing cherry frozen yogurt; or plum crisp with honey oat streusel, ginger cream puffs, and toasted almond gelato. Available every night.
Meat Market: To start, diners can select from sushi-grade tuna with jalapeño, yuzu, and truffle; caesar salad; Alaskan king crab tail pan-fried with bok choy; or American Kobe skirt steak skewers with baby vegetables and dipping sauces. Second course: buttermilk-fried Whiskey Farms chicken with chipotle honey sauce, green papaya salad, and white cheddar cornbread; New Zealand lamb chop duo with lamb chop and harissa-spiced lamb slider; grilled Angus rib eye steak with grilled asparagus, crispy onions, and choice of sauces; or wood-grilled, blackened Arctic char with tomatoes and compressed watermelon salsa. No dessert choice -- just white chocolate key lime pie. Not available Friday or Saturday nights.
Kane Steakhouse: A new restaurant such as this might want to offer a relatively wide array of popular choices so Spice customers can gauge what the kitchen is all about. Or not. Appetizer picks are salt cod dumpling or house salad. Entrées are grilled branzino with tabbouleh salad, an eight-ounce filet, or a "tomahawk" short rib with "brocoflower" purée. Choice of side dish -- cauliflower gratin, jalapeño corn pudding, or duck-fat hash browns -- is admittedly a nice touch. Dessert is caramelia-marzipan mousse with bourbon ice cream or grilled pineapple upside-down cake with rum-raisin ice cream.