Top Five Mid Beach Restaurants

Our Snackdown smackdown continues. Voting on South Beach vs. Coconut Grove has closed today as the Grove handily defeated SoBe, but we also still have a race going on between downtown and Mid Beach -- as of this morning, the former is whupping the latter. Far be it for me to get involved in trying to sway votes; I'll just note that we've already discussed the Top Five Inexpensive Downtown Restaurants, so it's only fair to go over the five best places to eat in Mid Beach. This quintet is admittedly composed of expensive places to dine, so if you're on a budget, you might consider our honorable mention, Pita Hut.

5. Scarpetta
Chef Scott Conant's "Italian soul food" at the Fontainebleau is basic, rustic, and delicious. The signature spaghetti pomodoro is emblematic of the approach: thick strands of the homemade pasta twirled into a nest with a sauce culled from fresh tomatoes, basil, butter, olive oil, and a pinch of Parmesan. And of course there are many more great pastas, as well as a whole menu of finely prepared cuisine -- from turbot with salsify and mussels to veal loin with saffron semolina and bone marrow. Even Scarpetta's bread cops awards.

4. Cecconi's Miami Beach
To dine under the stars is divine. To do so with a retractable roof overhead in case the stars disappear behind rain clouds is even better. To do so in a gorgeous patio garden with really great food is the best. Chef Sergio Sigala stays with the same philosophy that made him so popular at Casa Tua -- which is to use fresh, quality ingredients in a clean, uncomplicated manner that brings out the pure, basic flavors. Poulet rouge gilded with shaved truffles is masterful, as is the braised lamb rack in syrupy demi-glace. And Sigala was one of the early proponents of using local Swank Farms vegetables in his salads. Just think: a breezy, romantic, outdoor dinner with luscious Italian food -- just in time for Valentine's Day!

3. 1500 Degrees at Eden Roc
Although we deemed 1500 Miami's best steak house last year, it is really more than that. The menu is dubbed "farm-to-table eating with a heavy steakhouse sensibility." This means that besides ordering a prime top sirloin picanha (which like all meats gets seared on the namesake 1,500-degree F grill), you can get local vegetables prepared with a delicate and delectable touch --- peppers with just a touch of salt and lime, or charred Brussels sprouts, or roasted beets with Hani's goat cheese. Kudos to executive chef Paula DaSilva, who has gotten so much attention that coming in third in this list probably won't even warrant that huge a celebration.

2. The Forge
That $10 million renovation a few years ago lightened, brightened, and invigorated this institution. So did the hiring of Dewey LoSasso to take the landmark restaurant into the 21st Century. LoSasso tossed the stuffy old steak-house menu and began anew with modern eye-openers such as a lobster peanut butter and jelly sandwich, or a quinoa pancake with fig marmalade, or a po'boy plumped with oysters. Don't fret -- you can still get your Super Steak, the 16-ounce, 21-day-aged, oak-grilled New York strip. And you can get double-cut Colorado lamb chops, and local seafood dishes, and of course great wine -- good enough to get our attention as 2010 Best Wine Selection.

1. Hakkasan
Hakkasan serves the most distinctive cuisine on this list, serves the most-difficult-to-find-prepared-well cuisine, and has arguably the most stunning décor and ambiance too. And it is well established that Hakkasan presents the very finest Chinese food (we deemed it the best in 2010). We can give you a whole list of great stuff to try: roast duck breast with mango, stir-fry XO prawns, braised Kurobuta pork belly, jasmine tea-smoked pork ribs, hand-pulled noodle, silver cod with champagne and honey sauce, padan leaf soufflé with coconut sorbet for dessert, just about every single item on the dandy dim sum list -- but you really should just go and decide for yourself. This is a menu where you can't go wrong, but you can go really, really right.

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