Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Bienvenido A Miami, ETC.

I spent the week following Christmas in Miami with my mother. Ever wonder how long it would take for your parents to drive you insane? I estimate one week. She would probably say the same about me.

I will run through the many worthy dining experiences I enjoyed during my week in the sun, though it bears noting that the so-called "local" food movement does not exist in Florida. I understand that the climate is warmer and that produce is seasonal for more of the year, but isn't this citrus season? Why, then, were tomatoes such a prominent part of every menu? Hudson Valley foie gras down south? What's the point? When I did see the word local used--and it was few and far between--it generally referred to corvina, snapper, or grouper. Yikes.

Which isn't to say that the Miamians aren't doing good things with food, because they are. But my trip south codified my belief that New York is lightyears ahead of all other American food cultures. Argue amongst yourselves.

Our first night warranted a trip to Sra. Martinez, Michelle Bernstein's tapas restaurant in the Design District. A plate of "pickles" was hardly enough to nibble on, though I'll forgive the mistake because the deep-fried eggplant disks were so good. Korean short ribs were, indeed, Hagi-style, with the bone in and the grill marks intact. You eat them with your hands. Don't confuse these with the Americanized "fall off the bone" version. I could have done without the overly sweet duck sausage, which came with large white beans, but I never would have passed on the charred and lemony Brussels sprouts--their aioli might have made the meal. Head-on prawns were messy, but worth it. The flan was entirely ordinary (and not my first choice).

Next up: News Cafe for lunch. I was underwhelmed with my extremely expensive egg-white omelet. I did enjoy watching the Ferraris on Ocean Drive, which may be the only reason this place is full all the time.

Then it was Wish for dinner. They serve their frozen mojitos (thumbs-up) in martini glasses with glowing green ice-cubes, an ecto-cooler for adults. Sliced hamachi was heaven: fresh, complimented by the modest heat of jalapeno. My scallops drowned in a sea of squash and (gasp!) whipped cream. That turned me off. Plus, the portions were too big. Maybe I'd stick to appetizers next time, and, of course, the lovely vanilla panna cotta, which arrived with a basil reduction. Delish.

Night three: Douglas Rodriguez' Ola. Lovely ceviche of cobia over Asian pear granita. It might sound weird, but it worked. The waiter dropped the ball on our second ceviche, which arrived with our entrees (boo!), and it wasn't as good as the first, anyway: tuna, corvina, and salmon served over sweet potato. It lacked something. Our foie gras empanadas didn't sit right with me. Something about the idea of eating foie gras as a quasi-eggroll turned me off. I passed on my second half. But our pork Milanese was just as good as the best veal versions I've had. And the yelpers who recommended the deconstructed key lime pie were right on. It came with a separate crust and charred marshmallow. Not to be missed: the watermelon mojito.

For lunch the next day, I dragged my mother to little Havana for a Cuban sandwich at Versailles, the opulent Cuban diner on the far outreaches of Calle Ocho. It was the perfect sandwich (pork, ham, cheese, mustard, pickles, supple-yet-crusty white bread), complimented by sweet Cuban coffee. On the way out, I bought a buttery guava jam cookie. The caramelized sugar on top stuck to the inside of my mouth like the best peanut butter ever.

For dinner, it was Michelle Bernstein again, but this time her high-end outpost, Michy's. Brilliant concept: offer half portions of everything. This way, people like me can eat more. I had sweetbreads (fried) with mushroom escabeche, while my mother guarded her polenta/soft-cooked egg/lardon/truffles with her life--she allowed me one glorious bite. We shared a decadent carbonara, pasta made in house and decorated with crispy proscuitto and other porkiness, as well as a massive churrasco. For dessert, I insisted on jam and chocolate-filled donut holes. Pedestrian, but worth the trip down nostalgic "New York desserts of 2006" lane.

On Wednesday, it was Emeril's, our worst meal by far. My shrimp appetizer, served with a tiny biscuit, was too sweet, owing to the over-generous helping of barbecue sauce. My whole fish--a "local" snapper--was the best part of the meal, de-boned but served with head and tail and complimented by tagiasca olives, lemon, tomatoes, and summer squash (isn't it the wrong season?). My mother's duck, however, was massive--her plate was the size of a proper Thanksgiving serving dish--and sickly sweet, served over even sweeter mashed sweet potatoes. Our banana cream pie tasted completely pre-fab and the table in front of us had an absent sense of propriety, having arrived at dinner in very, very short jean cutoffs. Worse, a table in front of us remained uncleared and dirty for over an hour. Gross. I won't be trying my luck with Mr. Bam again anytime soon.

Thursday was New Year's Eve, and we ate at La Marea at The Tides. This meal, a holiday prix fixe, was not, I don't think, representative of the restaurant's potential, and so I will not mention it here. Suffice to say that New Year's Eve is a rip-off no matter where you dine.

I had been looking forward to our last meal, at Michael's Genuine Food and Drink, all week. This place has gotten a lot of press, so I thought I would be amply impressed. Not so much. Ok, the country pate with spicy mustard and cornichon was great, but it was also pretty boring. A rice cake (kind of like a fried risotto patty) with rock shrimp and egg was confusing. Tuna tartare with a quail egg was too finely chopped and really had no taste. The double-yolk wood-oven cooked egg was good, but very basic. Crispy slivers of fried pig ears may have been the best part of the show. I liked the chicken wings, but they were kind of sweet-and-sour saucy, a bit too much "sweet" for my taste. The Mounds Bar tart was the meal's redemption, served with a miniature root-beer float (most of which my mother drank).

Conclusion: Miami ain't New York.

Sra. Martinez
4000 NE 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33137

News Cafe
800 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139

801 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139

1745 James Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Versailles Restaurant
3555 SW 8th Street
Miami, FL 33135

6927 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL 33138

Emeril's Miami Beach
1601 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139

La Marea at The Tides
1220 Ocean Drive
Miami Beach, FL 33139

Michael's Genuine Food and Drink
130 NE 40th Street
Miami, FL 33137

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