Farewell 2011: We laughed, we cried, but mostly we ate. And there were a lot of very good meals to eat throughout the year. This coming week, the Cafe review will feature a look back at the past twelve months. In the meantime, let's chew over the ten best restaurants we visited.
10. Sustain Restaurant + Bar
"One bite into Sustain's 50-mile salad and any thoughts of gimmickry evaporate like morning dew. The bright medley is made of wood-roasted beets, pickled red onions, caramelized carrots, mixed brassica greens from Paradise Farms, and soft crumbles of fromage blanc from Hani's -- all sourced within the namesake distance. It seems midtown Miami residents have yet another fine restaurant in the neighborhood."
"Soft serve ice cream is prepared on premise, and serves as the base for a couple of desserts -- including one dandy topped with diced brownies and a pinch of bacon bits that adds a slight contrasting bite of salt. Like so much of the preceding food, it was fresh, homespun, tasty, and a legit value at $6. Pubbelly has figured out the secret to success."
8. Chef Philip Ho
"Chinese dim sum restaurant Chef Philip Ho debuted in Sunny Isles Beach a little more than one month ago, and already the name is burning on the tongues of local food trenders like too much Chinese mustard. Ho hit the social-network jackpot: Chowhounders, Yelpers, bloggers, and tweeters posted instant reviews, whose extrapolation would read like a rallying cry -- Go to Ho! If you like Chinese food, this is very good advice indeed."
7. Jimmy'z Kitchen Wynwood
"Mofongo aficionados will cheer the presence of this Puerto Rican specialty served daily (it's available only certain days at Jimmy'z on the Beach). The puerco con mojo version is one of about a half-dozen offered and, like the others, arrives as a dome of fried plantains. Seeping from the crusty crown of starch were juicy, garlic-laden morsels of pulled, braised pork with onions and mojo marinade. The shrimp creole version boasted loads of plump crustaceans tossed with red and green peppers in a terrific tomato-based sauce...Jimmy'z is the sort of place you can hardly wait to recommend to friends."
6. Haven Gastro-Lounge
"Like the ambiance, the cuisine pulsates too. Haven flashes a bright young chef in Todd Erickson, whose gastronomic smarts make this place more than just a kick-ass 21st century psychedelic lounge. Erickson was formerly sous chef at Zuma and before that had been named "Best Chef Under 27" by our sister paper, the Dallas Observer. Erickson's menu of globally inspired small plates satisfies via innovative, delicately crafted flavor pairings (molecular fireworks are reserved for drinks and desserts...For people seeking scintillating snacks and drinks in a stimulating environment, Haven should be heaven."
5. Tudor House
"Pea soup exemplifies the Tudor cuisine: delicate, full-flavored, and portioned in a more-than-modest manner. The warm vibrant-green purée is poured into a wide, shallow bowl buoyed by lime marshmallows, fresh English peas, and crackly coriander seeds. The marshmallows melt into the flow of pea essence while the brittle seeds snap with aromatics...Dainty dining is not for everyone. Still, those who emphasize quality over quantity will feel right at home in this house."
"Makoto, a new Japanese restaurant in the Bal Harbour Shops, is sure to bring comparisons to Nobu, Zuma, and Sugarcane. Like those popular spots, it is orchestrated by a noteworthy chef with a yen for producing pristine sushi and exquisite contemporary Asian cuisine...Okuwa is a serious practitioner of his craft, yet a sense of whimsy weaves its way through many dishes...the competition has nothing on Makoto."
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3. DB Bistro Moderne
"Once seated, diners are brought fresh country and sourdough breads with softened butter -- something to nibble on while they await complimentary cheese gougéres. The latter are steamy, eggy popovers pinched with cayenne...pâté de campagne -- a coarse, fresh, pork-dominant slice crusted with peppery, pastrami-like seasonings ('French four spice'). Served with dabs of tarragon mustard and a hazelnut-studded rémoulade of crisp, julienned celery root, DB's rendition was the best I've had in years."
2. The Dining Room
"A restaurant needn't be complicated. To start one, you need a kitchen area and a space with tables and chairs. Basic personnel requirements: chef and waiter. That's it. Of course, opening a really good restaurant requires a bit more: The chef and waiter need to be really good. Voila! If this seems too simplistic, allow us to present the Dining Room...Service is smooth, knowledgeable, and so personable you might think you're in the dining room of a friend's house...dinner at the Dining Room is really good. It is that simple."
1. Yardbird Southern Table & Bar
"As with Gigi, Yardbird appeals by way of factors beyond the buoyant bill of fare. The décor, music, and overall ambiance are synchronized with the style of food to enhance the meals like a secret seasoning...Beer, bourbon, blues, and Southern American fare, at an affordable price point, in a fetching farmhouse environment -- a distinct and integrated vision completely realized."