Miami Spice 2012: The Good, The Great and The Grudging, Part Two

See also: "Miami Spice 2012: The Good"

This three-part look at Miami Spice comes just as the dining program gets set to begin on August 1. 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 had the price hiked $4: $23 for lunch, $39 for dinner. Both restaurant groupings are appraised separately in each good, great, and grudging list.

Yesterday, we took a look at 22 good deals. Today: 18 Spice deals handed out with what I think is a somewhat grudging attitude.

The Grudging

$39 Menus

The three choices in each category are decent, but excepting the desserts, certainly not what one would normally order if dining at this elegant restaurant in the Mandarin Oriental. Diners can begin with choice of Asian-style seaweed salad, corvina ceviche, or a bay scallop bisque. Main course is either squid ink ravioli (with halibut mousse, which is admittedly a nice touch); "Hong Kongnese" fried rice with rock shrimp; and braised Wagyu beef cheek with Oriental mushroom ragout. Dessert brings a pick between mascarpone semifredo, soft-baked chocolate cake, or buttermilk panna cotta. Each comes garnished with alluring ice cream or sorbet (the panna cotta with white-peach-sauterne sorbet). Only available at dinner, and not on Saturday or Sunday evenings.

Caffe Abbracci
Apps bring a choice of penne with pink sauce, fried calamari, or Caesar salad. Entree is salmon with champagne/mustard sauce or veal or chicken scaloppine. Fruit sherbert or profiteroles are the dessert picks. On the plus side, American coffee is included.

Caffe Vialetto
Polenta and meatball, salmon crudo, or calamari tempura as a start. Fish of the day, ravioli, or chicken teriyaki is the main course. Dessert is dulce de leche flan or homemade chocolate cake ("the bomb").

Db Bistro Moderne
I don't doubt that a delicious dinner can be delivered via this Spice menu, but entrees and desserts are too bottom end for so high-end a restaurant. Starting with desserts: chocolate brownie, créme fraiche panna cotta, or a cheese plate. Granted, sorbet and ice cream respectively pair with the first two, but it's still sort of dull. Main course selections are quiche Lorraine; rainbow trout; herb-crusted chicken breast and peppered hanger steak. Starters are fine: soupe du jour, roasted beet salad, chicken liver mousse or crab salad with tomato consommé. Still, db can do better. Not available for Sunday dinner.

Sesame-crusted ahi tuna is OK for a starter, but beet carpaccio or a mezze plate are sort of cheap. Second course is between chicken tajine, salmon fillet, or beef tenderloin Madagascar. Dessert is baklava tart with honey-vanilla ice cream. (yawn). Not available Friday or Saturday dinner.

J & G Grill
Just two options in each category, and the dessert selections are downright wimpy: Molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream or cheesecake with rhubarb sorbet (although the sorbet sounds good). First course is wild salmon tartare or steamed shrimp salad. Second course is roasted mahi mahi or Wagyu flat iron steak. This is not what I go to J & G for. Not available for Friday or Saturday dinner.

Boy, talk about grudging: Spice is only offered for lunch, and the choice is between five bento boxes. On behalf of all the locals in town: Gee, thanks.

Mochi for dessert? Is that the best you can do? First course is hamachi ponzu or shishito peppers, cold sesame noodles, tuna air bread or house salad. At least there are lots of choices. Main course is between a flimsy five-ounce rib eye, crispy fish, hot pepper chicken or chef's choice of sushi. Oh Makoto, you disappoint.

Morton's The Steak House
House salad, onion soup, or Caesar salad, followed by a six-ounce filet mignon, salmon fillet, or chicken "bianco." Dessert is chocolate mousse or créme brulee. I'm getting bored just writing this.

Mr. Chow
"Each guest choose 1 dish from each course." First: fish dumplings, squab, chicken satay or Mr. Chow noodles. Second: Oyster beef, sweet & sour pork, velvet chicken or green prawns. Rice and vegetables come with each entree. Dessert is mixed sorbet or ice cream. Each guest get cheap meal for $39. Not available Friday or Saturday.

Palme d'Or
Philippe Ruiz has moved on, and Palme is now peddling a rather piddly Spice menu. Appetizer is melon soup or a tartine of prosciutto, foie gras and figs. Entree is twice-cooked beef or wild Alaskan sockeye salmon. Dessert is chocolate soufflé. My how the mighty have fallen. Not available for Sunday dinner.

Pascal's On Ponce
Maine lobster bisque or haricots verts salad to start; pasta with braised lamb shank or salmon next; white and bittersweet chocolate mille feuille for dessert. We love Pascal's, but we don't love this Spice menu.

Toscana Divino
Miami Spice can perhaps be most effective for new restaurants, which can lure diners with the special prices and then impress enough to elicit a return visit. In this context, Toscana drops the ball -- meaning the menu is pretty good, but entrees are the lesser ones from Toscana's menu. Appetizers are a carpaccio of venison and tartare of porcini mushrooms served with truffle vinaigrette and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese; or shrimp crudo with bottarga, Mandarin liquid gel and beet chips; or Tuscan kale and vegetable soup. Entrees are braised short rib, or braised duck ragu, or organic ricotta/spinach tortelli with zucchini flowers. If you ordered the Tuscan soup with a full order of the tortelli at regular prices, it would come to $31. Switch the braised short rib and it's $34. So the Spice price ain't much of a bargain, eh? Dessert: Zuppa Inglese or lemon ricotta chese cake with black cherries and raspberry sorbet. Not available Friday or Saturday dinner.

Truluck's Seafood, Steak & Crab House
This is a steak and seafood house, meaning it boasts big, juicy steaks and sizzling seafood. There is nothing big or sizzling about the Spice menu. Starter is either one of two simple salads or lobster bisque. Mains are crabcake; crab-crusted whitefish; parmesan-crusted flounder; and trout amandine. Sounds like the choices you might be given at a bar-mitzvah. Dessert is either a warm butter cake with bananas foster and butter pecan ice cream, or sugar-free coconut pie.

Tuyo is presumably at least in part a learning experience for the Miami Culinary Institute, atop which the restaurant sits. One might also presume less economic pressure is exerted upon management here compared to dining establishments with albatross leases. So why not be generous with Spice, and at the same time welcome new diners to try out Norman Van Aken's signature cuisine? Instead, we have a "Miami Spice Voyager Menu" that starts with Mexico. The dishes sound alluring, but there is little choice (none with dessert), and no real generosity of ingredients. First course is a choice between a shrimp, clams, and crab salad or a "potato taco salad" with avocado. Mains are poached red snapper Veracruz-style (tomatoes, capers and olives), or achiote-barbecued pork loin (with ancho-sherry ice cream, which does tempt). Dessert is sopapillas with honey and cinnamon spice cream. Not available Saturday or Sunday.

$33 Spice Menu

Jaguar Ceviche Spoon and Latam Grill
A disappointing lineup from this wonderful restaurant. Appetizer is crab cake or three ceviche spoons of choice. The latter would cost $6 on the regular menu. Entrees are lomo saltado or shrimp sauteed with tomatoes, coconut milk and malagueta peppers. The lomo would cost $20 at regular price. That's $26 so far, and if you estimate $7 for the only dessert choice -- banana-and-cream-filled crepes, you're left with a $33 meal at the special Spice deal of $33. Let's hope the portions are regular size.

Peacock Garden Café
Same owners as Jaguar, and same limited-perspective Spice offerings. First course is crab cake or tuna tartare. Mains are pan-roasted chicken, seared salmon, or short ribs-Shepard's Pie. Flourless chocolate cake is the dessert. And that's that.

Talavera Cocina Mexicana
Don't want to pile on to the Jaguar group, but this is perhaps the shortest Spice menu of all: cochinita pibil for starter, cajeta cheesecake for dessert, and choice of snapper en salsa verde or beef tenderloin medallions with huitlacoche for entree. By the way, If you dine on the Spice menu at all three (Jag, Peacock, Talavera), you get a $25 coupon off your next meal at any of the restaurants -- but food-wise, this is still a chintzy Spice offer.

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