Miami Spice 2012: The Good, the Great, and the Grudging, Part One

Over the next three days, in the runup to the August 1 rollout of Miami Spice, I will rate the deals of some 50-plus menus as either good, great, or grudging.

There has been a split in price categories this year, meaning there is now a "fine dining" grouping as well as a "luxury" grouping. The fine-dining price point drops $2 from the prior Spice price to $19 for lunch and $33 for dinner. The "luxury" spots -- meaning most of the places you'll want to go to for Spice -- have hiked the price $4: $23 for lunch, $39 for dinner. Both restaurant groupings are appraised separately in each good, great, and grudging list.

I'll start today with the good deals -- 22 of 'em.

The Good

$39 Spice Menu:

1500 at Eden Roc
Available nightly, the three-course sample menu looks awfully tempting: Charred mixed spring asparagus with crispy farm egg, Benton's ham, and truffle vinaigrette for first course; roasted Alaskan halibut with Swank Farms vegetables as the entrée, and banana cream tart with dulce de leche ice cream for dessert. Great menu, but in the "good" category because there is no choice.

Asia de Cuba
Jeffrey Chodorow's Spice menus are always the most complex. This year brings the same convoluted formula: Parties of two get a choice of two starters, two entrées, and one side. Parties of three also get two entrées, but an additional starter and side. And on it goes, up to parties of six, which get six starters, five entrées, and three sides. Still, the choices in each category are many, and the items include Asia de Cuba specialties such as "ropa vieja" of duck confit, honey-rum glazed Kurobuta pork belly, tuna tartare picadillo-style, pan-seared ahi tuna, Cuban barbecue chicken, char siu beef short ribs, crispy tofu for vegetarians, and lots more. If you dine here with people of similar tastes, this could work out to be a great meal. The deal is not available Fridays or Saturdays.

First-course selections are big eye tuna crudo; zucchini flowers filled with ricotta/lobster; and truffle fonduta with grilled country bread. Entrees lead off with spaghetti pomodoro, then segue into veal ravioli; chicken with olives and capers; osso bucco with roasted bone marrow and goat cheese polenta; and hanger steak. Dessert brings no choice, but gelato cones with shaved seasonal truffles sounds good enough for me. Not available Friday, Saturday, or Sunday dinner.

The Capital Grille
This is being listed as "good," but if portions are plentiful and you choose wisely, it could turn into a great meal. Starters are clam chowder, Caesar salad, or field green salad. A bit on the boring side, but this is, after all, a traditional steak house. Four entree selections are sliced filet mignon, seared scallops, ancho-rubbed sirloin and cedar-planked salmon. Mashed potatoes or fresh creamed spinach comes as an accompaniment, and dessert choices are créme brulee, flourless chocolate-espresso cake, ice cream or sorbet.

The Dining Room
Appetizers are fetching: shrimp ceviche with citrus-tomato water; pork belly with blue potato puree; and heirloom tomato salad with feta cheese. Main courses bring corvina with squid, clams and shrimp; sweet potato gnocchi with goat cheese foam; and lamb Milanese with lemon-goat cheese vinaigrette. No choice for dessert: Brazo gitano, or sponge cake with milk caramel, mango ceviche, and green apple granita. It's all good. Not available Saturday dinner.

Essensia Restaurant at the Palms Hotel & Spa
Very creative menu, starting with starters: cauliflower/leek bisque with shaved truffle and crab; grilled stone fruit and local burrata salad with pistachio oil and fig balsamic dressing; and seared diver scallop with orange-miso reduction. That's great. Main course is a choice between Amazone paiche (seabass), herb-crusted Ashley Farms chicken breast, and six-ounce sirloin filet, each with innovative and generous accompaniments (lots of vegetables). Dessert is either chocolate-chile mousse with strawberry cayenne frozen yogurt, cheesecake with drunken cherries, or housemade ice creams and sorbets.

The Forge
Like many of these menus, The Forge will be changing selections on a regular basis. The opening bill of fare is solid, if short on selections. First course is either Caesar salad or lobster corn chowder. Dessert is turron nougat cheesecake. Period. Entrees bring a choice of steamed local snapper en papillote; spice rubbed duck; grilled Creekstone filet mignon with gorgonzola beet salad; and three mushroom risotto (including porcini) and white truffle oil. Not available Saturday dinner.

Gotham Steak at Fontainebleu
Ingredients are quality, but there's still a holding back of sorts with this menu. Apps are heirloom tomato salad with watermelon and French feta; yellow fin tuna tartar; or beef stroganoff with black truffles. Trio of entrees encompasses braised short rib, garlic-roasted chicken breast, or pan-seared black bass. Eh. Dessert is dark chocolate mousse or a passion fruit cremeaux. Not available for Saturday night dinner.

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Miami New Times' restaurant reviewer for the past decade, and the world's indisputable master of disguise.
Contact: Lee Klein

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