Dear Design District: Thank you. On any given day, your restaurants know what I want and have what I need. Although I'm not in the habit of picking favorite neighborhoods, your eateries have impressed me the most. And they've done so consistently, which is no simple feat.
It's no secret your small borders are often praised for having the city's highest density of skilled chefs (the Pubbelly empire comes close), but talent in the kitchen isn't the sole ingredient that lures me back. It's the emotional response your restaurants elicit, and that's a result of myriad factors coming together seamlessly: service, atmosphere, creativity, attention to detail, etc.
Here are ten other reasons the Design District is Miami's best dining neighborhood:
1. Reservations are accepted -- and honored.
Be it a weeknight or a weekday, I've always been seated on time at MC Kitchen, Oak Tavern, the Cypress Room, and Michael's Genuine Food & Drink (Harry's Pizzeria doesn't take reservations). These are busy establishments, but they're run like well-oiled machines.
Though I have no problem with restaurants that don't take reservations, I have a low tolerance for those that do and then seat you an hour later anyway. Even worse is when it's blatantly obvious the hosts let their "friends" cut in front. It's happened to me one too many times in South Beach.
2. Hedy Goldsmith's desserts.
The executive pastry chef for the Genuine Hospitality Group (Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, Harry's Pizzeria, and the Cypress Room) has been a James Beard Award finalist the past two years, and her creations are equal parts innovative and delectable. I'm not exaggerating when I say the sweet and salty chocolate cremoso at Michael's Genuine contains transformative healing powers.
3. MC Kitchen rules.
Dena Marino's modern Italian dishes are the sort that linger in my mind for days, and that alone justifies their cost. I haven't met a pasta I haven't enjoyed here, but her fiocchi is the stuff of dreams. A filling of fresh pear and four cheeses -- robiola, grana padano, ricotta, and Taleggio -- is enveloped in homemade pasta shaped like frilly purses that are topped with a white truffle cream sauce.
4. $3 valet parking and an abundance of metered spots.
Need I say more?
5. The Cypress Room makes dining out an occasion.
Inspired by the Jazz Age, Michael Schwartz's high-end eatery boasts white table linens, floral-print china, aqua banquettes, and stuffed deer heads. I instantly felt as if I had left Miami and stepped into a gorgeous French country manor, minus the stuffiness. How often does that happen here?
As someone who relishes any excuse to dress up, especially when fine food and excellent service are involved, I like to celebrate special events at the Cypress Room.
6. It's not a scene.
Every restaurant I've frequented in the Design District is decorated in a manner befitting its fashionable address. These are buzzy venues, no doubt, but you can tell people flock to them first and foremost for the cuisine. I credit the Design District's chefs/owners for ensuring that style never trumps substance at their restaurants.
7. Craft beers and affordable wines.
Oak Tavern, the District Miami, Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, Harry's Pizzeria, the Cypress Room, and MC Kitchen all serve craft suds. And it's refreshing that the more expensive of the bunch -- the Cypress Room and MC Kitchen -- offer a variety of wines in the $50-to-$60 price range.
8. Harry's Pizzeria is a go-to spot for casual date nights and family dinners.
The blend of comforting handmade pies and a laid-back yet thoroughly cool vibe mean I can just as easily eat here with my boyfriend as I can with my young nieces and nephew. Affordable prices and swift service also make it ideal for lunch, while monthly pop-ups with award-winning chefs are another draw.
Everyone's doing it in the Design District, with the exception of the Cypress Room (head there for the $31 prix-fixe lunch, though). I don't know about you, but a hearty brunch plus window-shopping at Prada equals my perfect Sunday afternoon.
10. All hail executive chef and restaurateur Michael Schwartz.
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Even before I knew I was moving to Miami, I heard Montrealers and New Yorkers rave about Michael's Genuine Food & Drink. All it took was one visit, and I was charmed by the restaurant's indoor/outdoor setup, professional service, seasonal grub, and hip ambiance.
I've since been won over by its younger brother, Harry's Pizzeria, its sophisticated older sister, the Cypress Room, and Restaurant Michael Schwartz at the Raleigh. I seriously respect the James Beard Award-winning chef for being a farm-to-table pioneer in the city and for taking a chance on the Design District before it was cool, thus helping pave the way for future foodie tenants.
Follow Valeria Nekhim on Twitter @ValeriaNekhim