The Best of Miami Spice 2012, Part Three

See also Miami Spice, the Good, the Great and the Grudging, Part One and Part Two

This three-part look at Miami Spice comes just as the dining program gets set to begin 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.

On Thursday, we took a look at 22 good deals; on Friday we dealt with the grudging ones. Today, we examine 13 great Miami Spice menus.

The Great

$39 Menus

Area 31
Loads of mouth-watering choices. Four starter options include a light watermelon gazpacho with smoked grapes and Hanni's goat cheese, and a pork rillette with herb salad, crispy bacon, and cherry mustard. Five -- count 'em, five -- selections swing from vegetarian (summer squash with eggplant, fennel, smoked tomato and pea sprouts) to spiced hanger steak, sous vide pork cheek, shellfish in chili-coconut broth, and crispy skin snapper (with chorizo and shrimp grits). A trio of dessert selections brings a chocolate "crunch bar" with créme fraiche ice cream, caramelized white chocolate with lemon-basil panna cotta, or frozen coconut "yoo-hoo" with vanilla bean bruleé. Plus you can add a martini, cosmo, or Stella Artois draft beer (2 for $15, 3 for $21).

BLT Steak at The Betsy
Creative starters include red snapper ceviche with coconut soubise; compressed watermelon with duck prosciutto; and BBQ duck confit with tempura sticky rice. A ten-ounce CAB Delmonico steak is up for grabs in the entree department, as is a grilled branzino fillet or yellowtail jalapeño roll paired with a spicy tuna roll. Side choices are jalapeño mashed potatoes, BBQ corn with bacon, or a polenta "pyramid" with summer truffle. Chocolate cortadito with mocha mousse or strawberry creamsicle with orange parfait comprise two pretty alluring dessert choices. Not available Friday and Saturday night dinners.

Bourbon Steak
Attention to quality and detail always scores well in these Spice evaluations. Bourbon Steak accompanies a local wahoo appetizer with tomato gelée, pickled onion, and Haas avocado. Grilled peach salad comes with fresh ricotta and spicy coppa. Corn ravioli, the third option, is tossed with brown butter and chanterelles. The entree they'll sell the most of is the Imperial farms Wagyu "eye of rib eye" with roasted eggplant, heirloom tomatoes, and a black garlic-caper vinaigrette. Korean-style BBQ Kurobuta short ribs with green mango/papaya salad sounds good too, as does a curry rock shrimp rice dish. Pecan butterscotch parfait and wild blueberry shortcake are apt summery dessert choices (the latter served with local corn ice cream!).

Rusty Pelican
All you can ask from a restaurant during Spice season is to offer a representative sampling of the regular menu -- and that includes stuff that isn't necessarily the cheapest items available. Rusty Pelican's five appetizer choices include many of the restaurant signatures, like empanadas of duck confit, foie gras, and goat cheese; sea bass ceviche; and sea bass/salmon croquetas. Main courses are shrimp, mussels, and little neck clams en papillote with lobster broth; sauteed local black sea bass with asparagus, basmati rice, and cinnamon broth; roasted organic chicken with sides; and braised Australian lamb shank with bacon-potato hash. The four desserts include key lime pie, mango cheesecake covered in milk chocolate, coconut panna cotta with pasion fruit gelee and berries, or a café con leche/cookies-and-cream ice cream combo. Plus you get the view. Not available for Saturday dinner.

This menu offers more intricate accompaniments than the other Fontainebleau properties. For primi piatti, a swordfish bresaol comes with cara cara oranges and black garlic. Panzanella salad is spruced up with pickled onions (and heirloom tomatoes, natch). Braised short ribs of beef with farro risotto sure sounds like a satisfying start to a meal, as does creamy polenta with a fricasse of truffled mushrooms. Main piatti brings the very famous spaghetti with tomato & basil; yellow tail snapper with eggplant caponatina, mussels and tomato guazzetto; oven roasted chicken with smoked corn spaetzle; or porchetta with cannelini beans. Those sound good even if you think guazzetto is a character from Pinocchio. Dessert offers chocolate terrine with toffee ice cream, Nutella and raspberries; coconut panna cotta with caramelized pineapple and guava "soup"; or a mascarpone custard with mango salad and sorbe.

This restaurant is so geared to tourists that locals often forget it exists. The Spice menu might be just the reminder you need. The "Aprhodisiac Beauty Cuisine" offers choice of sea bass ceviche; crab/rock shrimp cakes; veal pelmeni (dumpling) with creamy truffle-harissa sauce and Paradise Farms pea shoots; and a "Love Apple", which is a layered Caprese salad with Laura Chenel goat cheese in place of mozzarella. For main course, diners can select a surf and turf of butter-poached Caribbean lobster and grilled Angus rib eye steak with yellow curry cream. Or a seafood hot pot, or chicken tikka, or salmon pinwheels with black Thai rice. Desserts are determined daily by the chef. That's a fine selection of dishes -- plus it might improve your looks and sex life. Not too shabby for $39.

Two Chefs
Looks like they're practically putting up the whole menu to choose from: eight starters and nine entrees. The former includes pulled pork Bolognese with pasta, a seaffod terrine of scallops and shrimp, and a stew of Little Neck clams. Entrees on the weekly-changing menu include tuna loin; coq au vin; pork loin with apple/sundried tomato stuffing; meatloaf; short ribs; and more. For dessert, it's a choice between apple strudel with ice cream or any of three signature soufflés: Grand Marnier, bittersweet chocolate, or hazelnut. That's the way to do it.

$33 Spice Menus

Bond Street Lounge
A bowl of edamame starts diners off, followed by typical starter choices: Miso soup, green salad, or shishito peppers. Next course brings either spicy crispy shrimp, tuna/avocado wontons, goat cheese crabcakes, a tuna tart with truffle oil, or kanpachi jalapeño. Chef's selection of sushi follows: Three pieces of nigiri, spicy tuna roll, and shrimp roll. Dessert is choice between lychee panna cotta or assorted ice creams. Bond Street's sushi is great, and this is an opportunity to enjoy a full dinner here at a nice Spice price.

City Hall Restaurant
Steve Haas, owner of City Hall, is the former two-term chairman of the Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau -- the folks who bring you Miami Spice. So perhaps it's fitting that Haas is being generous with his offer. It's sort of a "best of" from the restaurant menu, which is ideally what Spice menus should bring (within economic reason, of course). The five apps proffered are crab cake, eggplant parmesan, Guinness-braised mussels, seafood-and-andouille gumbo and Caesar salad. Mains bring full plates of accompaniments to go along with filet mignon; pork chop; roast chicken; seared salmon; or shirmp and grits. Desserts feature the signature chocolate chip croissant bread pudding (for two) or any of a trio of cakes: nectarine and plum cheesecake, mascarpone carrot cake, and chocolate crunch cake. You won't leave this Spice meal hungry.

Edge Steak & Bar
Regular prices here are so damn reasonable that Spice is relatively less of a bargain than at other spots. Still, the food here equals that of the $39 Spice steak houses, and the menu is fresh and creative, so it registers as a great deal. Starters are peach-tomato gazpacho with blue crab; Lake Meadow egg with cheesy grits and chorizo; corvina tartare with green apple and yellow pepper sauce. Mains: Pan-seared Florida snapper with charred zucchini salad and mussel vinaigrette; mesquite-smoked ribs with chipotle cole slaw and skillet potatoes; Creekstone farms butcher's filet with roast carrots and red onion chutney; or grilled half-chicken, all natural, with brioche and fennel puree and olive salsa. Hot chocolate mousse with butterscotch custard, bananas, and salted peanut brownie sounds like a fantastic dessert; the other option is yogurt pannacotta with passion fruit sorbet and tropical fruits.

This appears to be one of the very best Spice deals -- certainly within the $33 division. There are six components to the meal, starting with choice of beverage -- from margarita to michelada to Pinot Grigio. Next up is any of five guacamoles (this, and the rest of the dishes, are for the table). Any of three ceviches follow, then either quesadillas, flautas, or queso fundido. The whole menu of taco selections is tendered for selection, as is any of six sides. Yes, choice of dessert too: goat's milk flan or cheesecake with raspberries, hibiscus sugar, and passion fruit sauce. This is what we call generosity of spirit.

Not quite as expansive as Mercadito, but Pubbelly offers an honorable array of small plates meant to be shared by the table. Things start up with 3 of these 5: Shortrib-porcini croquetas; dates with chorizo and goat cream; fried snapper salad; heirloom tomatoes with soft tofu and blueberries; and Japanese amberjack with lemongrass romesco sauce. Diners next get to select any two of four dumplings (duck-pumpkin; pork belly; shortrib-black truffle; pastrami-sauerkraut). Next comes the "pig out" pick -- two of three: BBQ pork wings, pork belly, pork tenderloin. Then choose a veggie: green beans, brussels sprouts, or broccoli rabe. Desserts aren't listed yet, but you get a choice of one. Not available Friday or Saturday.

Tuna's Raw Bar and Grille
Tuna's makes it to our great list every year because it gives customers all it's got. Starters include lobster bisque, seared ahi tuna, oysters, shrimp, or escargot. Sorbet with a splash of champagne serves as intermezzo. A 12-ounce NY steak leads off the entrees, followed by lamb chops, snapper Francaise, lobster tail, veal, or chicken Florentine with hollandaise sauce. Homespun desserts are peach melba, créme caramel, or apple strudel. Seems like one could assemble an enviable dinner for $33, no?

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