Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Eat It - Bin no. 18, 275 NE 18th St., Miami, FL 786-235-7575

I think these before and after shots pretty much tell the gastronomical story. Bin no. 18 is a great new place that my buddy Dre told me about. It's over in the gentrification-in-process around the new Opera House. Eager staff greeted our party, explained the menu and got us the $14/bottle "featured wine of the week". Our group of 7 polished off 3 World Boards at $38 a pop.

If you like meat and cheese and foie gras and sauces and good bread and great atmosphere to go along with your wine, then I can't see how you could whine about Bin no. 18. They have a parking lot a block away, so you don't have to worry about street parking.

And if you don't believe me, this proves the place is cool. They have a MySpace page. They also won The Miami New Times' "Best Cheap Power Lunch". Our waiter warned us that, if we wanted to go there for lunch, we should get there by noon or the place would be packed.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Eat It - Tap Tap - 819 Fifth Street, Miami Beach, FL 305-672-2898

http://www.taptaprestaurant.com/

Now, you might say to yourself "hey, I expect pretty good service from a Haitian restaurant on Miami Beach while I'm dining with 20 of my friends". Well, you would be wrong. Very wrong.

We really should have had more than one server for such a large group, since an average dinner party is probably 2-4 people. So, my math suggests that we should have had 5 servers. Vivek also should have gotten a reservation more people. What a bad, bad friend. Likely this is a big factor in Avi's imminent departure from MIA. I think we were at the restaurant for a good 3 hours, but the good news is that the per person cost of the meal was $30. That's pretty good considering how much beer I drank.

The Goat Tidbit Episode - Someone at the table (all I remember is that he was extremely handsome) was served a small plate of goat that did not seem at all stewed, to that handsome man's surprise, but his brother told him it was his dish, and so he ate it. He was then very confused when people asked him if he was eating goat tidbits. Hilarity ensued. Turns out it was an appetizer.

Incidentally, I had ordered the stewed goat along with brown rice and beans (recommended to me by our waitress as the more traditional side versus white, fragrant rice). Well, as my brother said "traditional doesn't always mean good". And that's probably doubly accurate when talking about a place like Haiti. No offense to my Haitian readers. The white rice was better. The Englishman to my right had ordered some with his grilled chicken, and so I was fortunate to grab a couple of bites.

On that same note, I imagine that the Ethiopian meal I had in Washington, D.C. a couple of years ago was a bit nontraditional in that there was lots of meat in the dishes. In most poorer countries, there's a lot of rice to fill up the diner, since meat is not as cheap and plentiful as in the good old red meat capital of the world, the U.S. of A.

Back to Tap Tap. The fried plantains (similar to Cuban tostones) were delicious and better than many of the greasy tostones I've had (David's Cafe, Versailles). The Presidente beer was ice cold. The stewed goat (Kabrit Nan Sos, I actually remember that) reminded me of mutton. Mutton, as we all know, is NOT goat, rather it is mature sheep meat. Lamb, on the other hand, is the meat of a young sheep (less than 12 months old). I'm glad we cleared that up. Anyway, the stewed goat was good and it came with a nice sauce. That's about all I have to say about that.

Just wrapping things up, I thought that the food was ok at Tap Tap. Many of us had the insipid fried malang as an appetizer. Malang is...I don't know. I can't find it on line. It might mean flour. I know what you're thinking, because I thought the same thing. "Malang sounds like an Indonesian or Malay word." Well, we're right. Malang is a city in Indonesia, in fact, it's the second largest on East Java. Kudos to us. Mmm, kudos...

Oh yeah, one last thing. if you have young children, don't take them to Tap Tap unless you're prepared for the old "white women being sexually assaulted by well-endowed black men in the street" talk. There's a whole homage to such activity all over the walls of the restaurant. The entrance is practically a porno mural. Sort of a Caribbean kama sutra, you might say. Sure got my appetite up.

This is what tap taps look like -

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Eat It - Emeril's - 1601 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, FL 305-695-4550

emerils.com/restaurants/miamibeach_emerils/

Have you heard of Miami Spice? Well, for once, the fact that things take longer in Miami is a good thing. Our restaurant week lasts two months. I know, I know, how can it be 23 days in and this is my first Spice review? Anyhoo, like most cities, I presume, the Miami Spice menu is a prix fixe of $22 for lunch and $35 for dinner.

The Miami Spice website is great, by the way. There is a map of all participating restaurants and their locations. Some restaurants only offer the Spice menu during certain days, or only for lunch on the weekends. Emeril's is one of the ones that has dinner on Fridays and Saturdays, so that gets them a lot of credit. They also make you feel like a welcome customer, unlike, say, at Delano's Blue Door, one of the places I checked out last summer (before Eat It, Miami was born), where they had the unsurprising attitude of resentment that we would be there to "get a deal".

We were greeted by a welcoming host who put absolutely no pressure on us to take our seats since we were waiting for one of our fellow diners. When we were all there, we took our seats and were immediately given cocktail and wine menus. The waiter brought the Spice menu just after we placed our drink orders and gave us helpful suggestions as we scanned the choices for our 3-course meal. He didn't even roll his eyes when we ordered the house wine, Emeril's Red Red, which only costs $35 a bottle. Compare that with some of the possibilities from the extensive wine list, such as the Chateau Petrus for $4k. It would sort of defeat the purpose of Miami Spice to order that. Otherwise, c'mon, why the hell not? You can't take it with you.

There was pulled pork on the appetizer menu, so the other choices became blurry and illegible to me. I followed that with the sirloin with goat cheese mashed potatoes. Oh my goodness. Goat cheese mashed potatoes. Why didn't I think of that? For dessert I went with bread pudding, but I got to sneak a bite of my brother's banana cream pie. I was really stuffed by then, largely due to the delicious and varied rolls that keep coming by the table. There's focaccia, corn bread, sweet potato rolls, crispy dinner rolls...and it just...keeps...coming.

As I have said before, we don't expect good service in Miami, but that doesn't mean we don't greatly appreciate it when we get it. The staff was abundant and professional and the dining experience was a positive one for everyone at the table.

Incidentally, I like the "bam" of Miami Herald's own Dan Le Batard better than Emeril's -

Eat It - Bianca's Gourmet Shop - 9517 Harding Ave., Surfside, FL 305-861-6886

The town of Surfside, home to my parents, is a tiny town nestled between Miami Beach and Bal Harbour. You get a lot of the benefits of Bal Harbour at about half the price. The town starts at 88th St. and ends at 96th, just before the ritzy Bal Harbour Shops. On Harding, an inconveniently designated one-way street, you will find a pretty charming "Main Street". There are florists, a Flannigan's, a Publix (though that one kind of sux), a tailor, some banks, and several good restaurants. There's ample parking west of Harding, plus a bunch of metered spots on Harding itself.

A place of which you likely have not heard is Bianca's Gourmet Shop. It's a wonderful little sandwich place owned by friends of my girlfriend's friend of the family (but not her dog's previous owner's cousin or anything).

Their BBQ Steak Ciabatta might just be the most delicious sandwich I have ever eaten. It has feta cheese, caramelized onions and guacamole on top of tender slices of beef that are surprisingly easy to chew. Anyone who has ever eaten a steak sandwich knows why I am pointing that out.

My brother Brendan is a skeptic, but next time he is visiting from the Left Coast, I shall enlighten him. Maybe we'll do Bianca sandwiches at the pool rather than our traditional medianoches.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Eat It - Versailles - 3555 SW 8th St. (Calle Ocho), Miami, FL (305) 444-0240

Please, whatever you do, don't pronounce it the way they do in French. Miami's Versailles is pronounced "Vair-sah-yes". It's a Cuban restaurant, after all.

I went there recently with Mitzy and her dad, and we had a lovely meal. We had to brave a nice Miami summer torrential downpour, but we made it there and back without getting in an accident, flooding our car, or ruining our espadrilles.

As appetizers, we had a selection of croquetas and some tostones with mojo. The tostones were huge and crispy, but also quite greasy. The mojo sauce was delicious. However, I prefer the tostones at Las Vegas in North Beach (6970 Collins Ave.). Tostones, in case you don't know, are twice-fried plantains (smashed in between fryings).

For main courses, Mitzy's dad had lechon asado (roast pork), which he polished off quite handily. She had the boliche, for which I prepared her by saying that there would be a carrot jammed in the center of it. Boliche is pot roast, heavily marinated and stuffed with tons of garlic. It's delicious.

Well, she was a little surprised when, what appeared to be a carrot, just as I told her, turned out to be chorizo. I thought that was a little gross, actually. The reason for the confusion was that my Cuban grandmother used to make boliche with a carrot in the middle, and she has her own cookbook (A Taste of Old Cuba), so there.

I had the ropa vieja, which is a pretty safe choice at a Cuban restaurant. Even though the name of the dish translates to "old clothes", it is (they are?) actually quite delicious. The dish is stew-like, shredded beef.

Most main courses are served with white rice (short grain), beans, and maduros. Maduros are fried, ripened plantains. They are dark and soft, and fried only once. One caveat is that the rice and beans are often served as "moros", which are beans and rice mixed together. It's a pretty dry dish, and you are going to have a much better eating experience if you order the "arroz, frijoles negros, y maduros" instead of moros. They are really dry. Did I mention that? I cannot stress enough, dry, they're dry. Moros are dry. And I'm realizing as I write that word over and over, that it's probably a racist term, because "Moros" are the Moors, like, from Spain. Black Muslims basically. They don't taste very good, I'll tell you that. Maybe because they hung around Spain for 700 years. Blacks beans, when served separately from the rice are soupy and provide a nice sauce for the rest of the plate.

For dessert (postre), Marguerite and I shared cascitos de guayaba (canned guava slices, served with cream cheese), and her dad had flan con dulce de leche (creme caramel with, uh, caramel on it).

Versailles is such a landmark, located on Calle Ocho, and likely site of one of the biggest parties in town cuando caiga Fidel (when Castro dies), that you should visit it. But there are places on Miami Beach that serve as good, or better, Cuban fare. Those places are David's Cafe II on Lincoln Rd. and Meridian, and the aforementioned Las Vegas.

And moros are dry.

Friday, June 8, 2007

Eat It Alert! - Cafeteria

I have not found any specifics on the matter, but I was just alerted to the fact that Cafeteria, the 24 hour/day restaurant that served upscale comfort food has closed. I tried going to their website, cafeteriagroup.com, but the site is down. Does this mean that even the New York location, in trendy Chelsea, has closed as well? Has the company gone under? I can't find any news about it. If you have, please leave a comment so all of us are on the same page.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Don't Eat It/Eat It - Sum Yum Gai - 1403 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 305-604-8889

So, the reason we went to Sum Yum Gai is that they have a deal on Thursday nights. You must order at least $10 of food, and that allows you to drink all the beer you want. There's only one choice, though, and it comes from a keg that sits out near the entrance of the restaurant.

I don't want to waste too much of your time on a forgettable eating experience. I will point out that the service was pretty good and the decor is, too. It's a little bit dingy, but this adds to the authentic feeling of the place.

The food is another matter. I don't know how they managed it, but Sum Yum Gai served up an insipid Kung Pao Chicken. That's quite a feat for something known to make George Costanza sweat through a board meeting. The Crab Rangoon tasted like it was filled with artichoke dip, and the Mu-shu Pork was just not very good. The pork had bad texture and the vegetables were not properly proportioned. There was too much onion, if I recall correctly. It just wasn't quite right.

If you're going to go to a restaurant for Chinese food, go to Miss Yip's. It's twice as expensive as Sum Yum Gai, but it's probably 10 times better.

My friends Avi and Vivek have been raving about Yeung's (954 41st St., Miami Beach, FL 305-672-1144) as a cheaper alternative to Miss Yip's. It is their preferred Chinese takeout joint, and they liken it to New York City's affordable, but good, Chinese eateries. Here's the review from the New Times. They gave Yeung's Best Takeout Chinese in 2000.

*Update - For some reason, when you order takeout from Sum Yum Gai, it's great! The General Chong's chicken is delish, as is the wonton soup. The fried rice is average but the spring rolls are too greasy. For some reason I still always get one with my combination dinner. Not sure why. By the way, I ordered from Yeung's once and it was not good. Not good.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Eat It - A la Folie Cafe Francais - 516 Espanola Way, Miami Beach, FL 305-538-4484

www.alafoliecafe.com

Oh la la. When my friend Ciaran showed up at the Flamingo on Monday evening, I had forgotten that he and his girlfriend were visiting from NYC. Well, if my friend Ben reads this, I am in trouble, because I didn't go to dinner with him at Tapas y Tintos, just down Espanola Way from A la Folie. I'll make it up to you, dude.

The French-owned and very authentic A la Folie is not to be missed. If you're looking for a spot that is different than any food or atmosphere you've experienced on the Beach (that's what we Miamenses call Miami Beach), try this place out. Not only is it located on the very quiet Espanola Way, but it is located at the western (quietest) end of it, just east of Pennsylvania, where Tantra is located.

When Mitzy and I arrived, the dinner party had already started in on a fabulous-looking salad, topped with meats and cheeses that look like they came from the streets of Paris. Well, not like, on the street, but from a charcuterie or fromagerie. You feel almost like you're in another country (even though Miami already feels like something other than the US) when you come to this restaurant, I mean, cafe. I all of sudden feel self conscious about using French words. I can't say that you'll feel like you're in Paris, since the owner is from Toulouse.

I ordered the escargots au fromage (I think that's what they were called) to start. They tasted as good as any I have ever had. They arrived way too hot to eat, just as any time I have ordered them in France or Quebec. Absolutely delicious. And the best part was sopping up the cheesy, oily sauce afterward with pieces of crusty baguette (the best bread I have eaten in Miami, incidentally).

For our main courses, we ordered savory crepes. Marguerite ordered the seemingly most popular Dijonnaise, filled with chicken, potatoes and creamy mustard and pepper sauce. I had one with ham, spinach, mushrooms and Swiss cheese. Marguerite had the presence of mind to order vinaigrette to sauce it up even more (she's a saucy one, tu sais quoi). It was some of the best vinaigrette I have tasted. You will probably keep saying to yourself all meal, "that's the best ____ I have ever had".

For dessert, we shared the classic butter and sugar crepe and also one with Nutella and banana. Both absolutely delicious.

The prices are moderate at A la Folie. The savory crepes cost around 9 or 10 dollars; the dessert ones a little less. I can't think of a much better place for a romantic date. I will be back fo' sho'. I kind of want to go there right now, having finished up this post.

DiningOut has a short list of some menu items, as well as some nice photos.

Monday, May 7, 2007

Eat It - Doraku, 1104 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach, FL 305-695-8383

http://dorakusushi.com/

If you're a young professional or still a student, I have a deal for you. Our buddy Lana, another PhD student, so you know she's pretty smart, turned our group of friends on to what is sure to be a Friday night tradition.

Doraku, located just east of the movie theater on Lincoln Rd., has a happy hour from 5-8pm, every Friday, during which drinks are 2-for-1 and chef Hiro serves up complimentary hors d'oeuvres such as maki rolls, spring rolls, and chicken wings. I hope that not that many people read this, come to think of it, and I'm considering deleting this entry altogether.

Cafeteria (546 Lincoln Rd. at the intersection of Lincoln and Pennsylvania) has an open bar from 1030 to 1130 on Friday nights, so you just have to fill a couple of hours before commencing an extremely cheap South Beach night on the town.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Joe's Stone Crab (Revisited)

Funny story about my dad and Joe's Stone Crab. We decided to have a family dinner at my apartment this past Saturday and my father instructed my younger brother to get 5 mediums from the takeout area of Joe's. When Sean showed up with the Joe's takeout in hand, my father berated him, stating that he meant "selects", the medium size, since "medium" at Joe's is the smallest size. Our father's contention was that my brother should have known what he meant.

Well, the last time I went to the famous crab shack, I ate in the actual restaurant, and Big Bucks Bella always orders larges. They really are a lot better, and eating the mediums gets tedious long before you are full (which could be a good thing if you are calorically challenged). So, the long and short of it is that I have changed my tune and recommend that you order at least the selects, and the larges are even better.

Joe's Stone Crab on Urbanspoon

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Eat It - Hofbrau Haus, Lincoln Road, South Beach (Revisited)

Jeff and I were recently on Lincoln Road after checking out a certain (disappointing) convention that had come to town and decided to give South Beach's branch of Germany's most famous beer garden another shot. What a turn of events! There must be a very long German word for "wow, this restaurant used to suck, have unprofessional staff, lousy service and all of a sudden it's awesome".

We were greeted cheerfully by two lovely young German hostesses who seated us immediately. Our drink orders were taken not 2 minutes after that by a poised young German man with an accent that reassured us that HB Haus had received a shot of authentic discipline straight from Deutschland. Our beers came out fresh and cold in another 2 minutes, after which our dinner orders were jotted down with a nod and more smiling.

We had barely had time to work on the liter of beer we each had in front of us and enjoy some Lincoln Road people watching, when our dinners came to the table. You know the service is good when you don't think about the fact that you are waiting to be served. All around, it was a great experience.

By the way, this is an actual German word, which means "beef labeling oversight transfer law" - Rindfleischetikettierungsüberwachungsaufgabenübertragungsgesetz

Monday, March 19, 2007

Eat It - Joes' Stone Crab, 11 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, FL 800-780-CRAB(2722)

joesstonecrab.com (great website with history, menu, recipes, and online ordering to anywhere in the country from October to May)

Joe's is an institution, and not just for crazy people. It's been around a little less than a hundred years, and although I'm no expert (even though I'm a writer on this phenomenal blog), I think that is a good length of time for a restaurant to be in business. I frankly have no idea how they made it through the 1910's, since no one really lived in Miami then.

My good college buddy, Rich, was in town for his annual pilgrimage to the St. Patrick's Day capital of the world. I am, of course, speaking of Miami Beach. Part of that tradition is a stop at Joe's takeout, which people in the know have found to be a cheaper and easier way to enjoy Joe's staple dishes: stone crabs, hash browns, grilled tomatoes, etc. It's just down the street from the restaurant, west of the parking garage.

Well, our late start on Friday got us to the restaurant too late for takeout, and we prayed (yes prayed, Joe's is that good, my girlfriend is now quite surprised that I have not yet taken her there, and by "surprised" I mean "enraged", just kidding sweetie, you're beautiful and patient and we will go there soon, besides no one reads this anyway) that we would be able to be seated in the restaurant. Incidentally, the hours of operation are as follows:

Lunch:

11:30am-2:00 pm Tuesday-Saturday

Dinner:

5pm-10pm Monday-Thursday
5pm-11pm Friday and Saturday
4pm-10pm Sunday
(305) 673-0365

Sunday Bar Service 3pm (I don't know what this means)

Joe's Stone Crab Take-away:

7:30am-9pm Sunday-Thursday
7:30am-10pm Friday and Saturday

Breakfast Served Daily 7:30am-10am
(305) 673-4611

We arrived at just after 10:30pm on Friday night and were seated immediately. If you don't mind eating late, that has to be a great way to do it. Joe's doesn't take reservations, and some people wait for hours to be seated.

So, why don't I get down to the review already? Well, soooooorry! I hope you added a nice cadence to "sorry". It's like, totally sarcastic. What was I talking about again? Right, sarcasm. Oh right, I'M the weird one. You're the one reading this, weirdo.

Anyhoo, we were greeted immediately by our waiter, who was an extremely professional and polite guy. He took our drink order and was followed shortly by the busboy who brought water and bread. Living in Miami makes you appreciate little things like that at a restaurant (see any review of Hofbrau Haus by anyone who has the ability to eat and/or write).

Rich and I both ordered the seafood bisque, which is basically heaven in a bowl. It tastes like there's a stick of butter dissolved in each. Hmmm, maybe butter really does make it better...

We each ordered a medium (sizes of stone crab are medium, select, large, and jumbo, which refer to the size of the claws themselves, and not the number you are served), and I assure you, it will be plenty to eat and taste quite delicious. I consider it a waste to order the larger, more expensive claws. Just my humble opinion. I suggest you heed my advice since I'm really, really smart. The claws are served with Joe's signature mustard sauce, which is one of the tastiest condiments you will ever have.

De rigeur sides are grilled tomatoes and hash browns. Did I mention that yet? Some people like the creamed spinach, but I don't think it's that great. It's kind of sour tasting. The lyonnaise version of the hash browns is, I think, better, but a lot of people find onions disagreeable and they are heaped into that dish. We ordered a large hash browns and that was a mistake. A small is plenty for two people.

When I asked the waiter for a chardonnay recommendation, he suggested the second least expensive one (by the glass) and it was wonderful. This was a relief to me as I half-expected to get what I will henceforth call "the Barton G treatment", which is being told to order the most expensive thing on the menu. I shouldn't have fretted, since Joe's has such an excellent reputation, up to which it certainly lives.

There was no room for dessert, but you have to try the key lime pie if you've managed to somehow not stuff yourself to near-sickness. A meal at Joe's runs about $50-60 per person, depending on how much alcohol you consume. Rich insisted on paying. I insisted on accepting. Everyone was happy.

Joe's Stone Crab on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Eat it - Prime 112, 112 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach, FL 305-532-8112

prime112.com

I had the pleasure of eating at Prime 112 on Friday night. I know what you're thinking, "Friday night at Prime 112. How did he swing that?" Well, I'm not quite sure how to say this, but I'm kind of a big deal around here; people know me. Actually, we were supposed to have a reservation, but something got screwed up. So we did the old walk-in instead at about 6:30 and were seated almost immediately outside. It was a nice night, so sitting outside was very pleasant. They accept walk-ins only for the patio so if you go early you can get a table.

I started with foie-gras. I'm not sure exactly what that is, but it was delicious. It was garnished with pineapple. Mmmm. My buddy Jon had steak tartar, which was also good, but I preferred the foie-gras.

For my main course I had the ribeye, as did Jon. The waiter recommended it and it was delicious. One thing that has always upset me is ordering a la carte. If I'm buying a $48 steak, can't the restaurant throw some potatoes or vegetables on there for me? No, instead I have to pay $11 a side and then have too much too eat. We ordered asparagus, tater tots, and truffled corn. The waiter recommended the corn and it was the best corn I have ever had. No dessert; we were too full.

The waiter's recommendations were excellent. The food was delicious and the service was fantastic, especially for Miami. My two criticisms would be that we had to order sides a la carte and that it was extremely expensive. I would certainly recommend Prime 112, but expect to pay $100-150 per person.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Eat It - Primarepa, 1570 Alton Rd. #2, Miami Beach, FL 305-532-9862

I asked my half-Colombian buddy, Diego, what he thought of Primarepa (a Colombian restaurant chain) and he said it was good. I decided to try it out with a friend before going to a movie on Lincoln Road, since there's one on the way from my apartment.

The service was quick and friendly and when I asked what the most popular dish was, the waitress told me "bandeja paisa", which consists of either ground beef or steak (I got the steak), red beans, rice, an arepa, fried plantains, some fatty pork, and a fried egg. Um, in case you need it spelled out, this is not a healthy place to eat. There wasn't anything in this dish that I would describe as exemplary in any way, but I enjoyed the novelty of my first Colombian meal. I would go there again. The food was ok and the service was good. I got a whole tray (that's what "bandeja" means) of food for $10.95, so that makes up for it. The restaurant has the feel of a fast food place, but it's clean. I also saw a lot of Latins eating there, so that's a pretty reliable indicator.

I think that Colombian food is probably not that good, all of these things considered. No offense, Diego.

Take a look for yourself at the Primarepa Menu posted on Restaurantplace.com.

Saturday, March 3, 2007

Social at Sagamore - 1671 Collins Ave, Miami Beach


When I was born, the doctor held me up in front of my exhausted mother, and said "Mrs Norton, you have a beautiful baby boy". And while it is likely that he said this to most new mothers, he did not, as far as I know, have cause to contact social services to warn them about the half boy, half ape-like creature he had just delivered.

I am not beautiful, I know that. Cars do not slow down in the middle of the road when I walk past. Nobody has ever asked me if I am a model. If I have had any secret admirers, then they have done an undeniably excellent job of keeping themselves secret.

However, I have a beautiful wife who is definitely not married to me for the money and power. I have taken my clothes off in front of various people, and thus far, nobody has vomited on themselves at the very sight. It's fair to say that like most of you, I am an average looking person.

Until that is, I enter the Sagamore Hotel.

Here, I take on a new role. I am not an underwear model, playboy, actor, or porn star. And in the Sagamore, this means that you are probably the ugliest creature in the building. In this way, the hotel acts as microcosm of the South Beach experience - beautiful people in a beautiful setting, talking about beautiful things. OK, taking it too far with the last bit, but I am sure you understand.

Everything that is good about South Beach, is here. But, like all good microcosms, the bad of Sobe is here in equal measure. Nobody who is as amazing as a Sagamore person would give a normal person (normo's, as I believe they call us) the time of day. They absolutely have every right to ignore our existence.

Which is not a problem, but for the fact that that the staff at Social, the hotels restaurant, are infected by the same superiority complex. On a recent visit, our waiter was not just bad- - he was obnoxious, disinterested, unfriendly and unhelpful. Any questions that we had about the menu, or the fact that our food took 45 minutes to arrive were greeted with the same response: He registered us with a look that would not have been out of place had he just caught me keying his car while simultaneously enjoying a menage-a-trois with his wife and mother.

It's an uncomfortable analogy, but I really cannot overstate my loathing for the experience at Social. The food is dull at best: Greek salad (yawn), Ceviche (big wow) and meats are all served up in a way that, at best, is pretentious, and at worst, is basically taking the piss out of the people that are prepared to pay $20 and upwards for an appetizer.

I challenge anybody to find a meal on the menu that you can look back on and describe as above average. All of the dishes are exactly as you expect them to be, just a bit smaller, and slightly less interesting.

All in all, this restaurant and hotel need to understand that they are not even half as good as they think they are. They are not in the same class as the New York, London and Paris establishments that they aspire to be like. And even locally, you will get a better up-market hotel eating experience at The Shore Club (Ago & Nobu), The Delano (Blue Door), The Raleigh and the Townhouse (Bond St. Lounge). Not one of these is further than three blocks from the Sagamore, so there really is no excuse to waste your time with this entirely boring experience.

You look good though.........

Monday, February 26, 2007

Eat it - Taco Rico Alton Rd. Miami Beach, FL

Taco Rico is quickly becoming one of our staples. It is by no means a place for formal dinning. If one is looking for fancy Mexican food look elsewhere. That is not to say that it is without merit, it is certainly far superior to its predecessor. It is also quite reasonable, especially when my friend Boden picks up the tab as he did on our most recent trip. I thoroughly enjoyed my enchilada, quesadillas, and flautas. Dishes also include refried beans and rice; but my brother would prefer that I avoid the former as evidenced in previous reviews. My one word of caution would be against coupling Taco Rico with too many cervezas.

Rico is particularly attractive for Flamingo residents, because of its location. Delicious, convenient, and economical, this is an excellent combination for us Whealth Watchers.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Don't Eat It - Barton G, 1427 West Ave., Miami Beach, FL 305-672-8881 (Why do I bother with the info when I'm telling you not to eat it?)

"Barton G can be summed up by saying the following: beautiful venue, stupid food."
-James Norton

If you're looking for a tourist trap rip-off with rude service, Barton G is the place for you. I know what you're thinking: "But Colin, how can the piss-poor service, with side order of 'tude, I normally receive on South Beach get any worse?" Barton G epitomizes the "I'm entitled to a huge tip because I work at a trendy restaurant and I really want to be a model/outsourcer to India/China and I wear big sunglasses and True Religion jeans" mentality that permeates Miami-Dade county.

Cocktails -

"Oh cool, there's a chocolate monkey on my martini glass." - my friend Dan
"Actually, that's a chimpanzee." - the busboy

My friend and PhD student (and bio major in college), Jeff, upon hearing this anecdote asked me "did it have a tail?" to which I replied "yes". Well, Jeff pointed out, and I double checked , that chimpanzees are not monkeys, and monkeys have tails, apes (gorillas and chimpanzees) do not, so not only was the busboy's reply rude, but it was incorrect. That's doubly insulting.

The Wine -

"We'll have the La Crema." - me
"May I suggest something a little better?" - our waiter

Uh, excuse me? Am I the customer in this situation? I would have left the restaurant at this point, had there not been out of town guests dining with us that evening. As seems to be the usual course of action at Barton G, the waiter suggested a $90 bottle of wine, when I had ordered one that merely cost $60. Tacky!

The Appetizers -

"Oh, you simply MUST try the popcorn shrimp." - everyone

The popcorn shrimp is an insult to one's intelligence. A small handful of breaded shrimp that would be better at Long John Silver's is presented ever so cleverly on...who'd have thunk it...popcorn! What creative genius came up with that one?

Overall we found the appetizers to be overpriced, long on show, and short on substance. The plates and trays on which the meals are served take up far more room on the table than is necessary, and so the feeling of having the contents of your wallet dumped out is heightened. Maybe that's one of the sensory experiences they are trying to pull off.

















The Main Course -

I actually don't remember what I had. It was some sort of southwestern-style fish, and it was actually quite delicious, but the experience was so unpleasant that I don't recall enjoying it very much. It's irrelevant at this point.

The Dessert -

My brother, as he often does, asked the waiter for his recommendation, and guess what, he suggested the most expensive food item on the menu. Wow, I'm soooooo surprised. It was a chocolate fondue that cost maybe $85-90. I'm not 100% sure and the Barton G website doesn't list prices. I'm not bothering to put the link on this review.

Just before we asked for the check, our waiter was magically transformed into an attentive and polite individual. Amazing how that happened, hmmm...

You might just feel like the victim of a mugging at the end of your meal at Barton G. I think I'll end this one with some more James Norton words of wisdom:

"If I were you, I would definitely take the time to visit Hofbrau Haus. Have a big beer. Then go to Miss Yip's for dinner..."

But instead of "I would definitely take the time to visit Hofbrau Haus" insert "I would not visit Barton G" and instead of "Have [an expensive martini]" insert "don't set foot inside of Barton G".

Barton G. The Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Eat It - Croissants de France, 816 Duval St., Key West, FL 305-294-2624




www.croissantsdefrance.com

I know exactly what you're thinking. How can a restaurant with a name about as banal as "American Cheeseburgers" obtain the coveted "Eat It" designation? I'll tell you why. That's the whole point of this blog, so listen up, or just read it silently to yourself. And I know the word "hamburger" is German, but they're American. Lighten up. You get the point of the analogy.

There were lots of surprises we encountered at this restaurant. At first glance at the sign and modest entrance, one would expect this to be a little bakery/cafe where you can get a coffee and baked good to go, with maybe a little round table and two uncomfortable padded chairs if you're lucky enough to find them unoccupied.

Mais, non non non! Ce n'est pas comme ca! That means "it's not like that" for all of you Philistines who haven't studied French. Croissants de France is a rather large restaurant, capable of handling the Sunday breakfast and brunch crowd. We were seated immediately, and served quickly and with a smile. Key West seems to have spoiled me.

Pictured above is, ironically, the Americano. I upgraded to the Americano with ham and bacon. I'm Cuban and we can't say no to pig products. It's in our DNA. This is the Americano description from the menu:

Americanos:
Open-faced butter Croissants layered with scrambled Eggs, lightly dusted with Paprika and Scallions served with our special Mustard Sauce on the side.

I would really like to eat that for breakfast everyday. Good thing I don't live in Key West. I would not be the sleek junior middleweight that I am (I stole that line from my brother, who is definitely NOT a junior middleweight).
As you can see from the photo, this is not what you'd call a "healthy meal" or something you should "eat regularly" or even "look at". You think buttering a croissant is redundant you say? If by "redundant" you mean "delicious" then I agree.

Also pictured above with my meal is a wonderful cafe au lait, served in a very large mug, just as in France. It was perfect.

Marguerite had a panino. It had basically the same ingredients as mine, but on grilled bread and without the bacon (which was the best either of us had ever tasted). She gobbled that baby up, I'll tell you what. I think by the time I snapped another photo, her plate was clean. I just want to point out that that is her right hand in the foreground. No reason, just you know, pointing it out.















In case you don't believe my description of how delicious the food was, I believe this photo speaks for itself. It appears that I am moaning "soooooo gooooood".

Eat It - Seven Fish, 632 Olivia St., Key West, FL 305-296-2777




www.7fish.com

Seven Fish is the kind of place that everyone likes. I have heard only positive things about it. A quick story to show what a class joint it is-

My girlfriend and I headed to Key West for the weekend after Valentine's Day, and I called well in advance for a reservation on Friday, 2/16, assuming it would be tough to get a table. When we arrived, there was no record of our reservation and I told the hostess that I had received confirmation by email and phone. She looked the list over once, and said "ok, come with me". She sat us immediately without making the slightest fuss. That is exactly what she should have done.

The wait staff is professional and courteous, and the service is conscientious and quick.

I have to tell you that I think the way to get the best value at Seven Fish is to order maybe three appetizers between two diners. I certainly didn't want to look cheap on my Valentine's dinner, but that would have been the smart play (short term, that is). The appetizers are large and cost between $8 and $9. We had the crab cake and the ceviche to start. They were too delicious to have only a few bites, and we rendered ourselves rather full by the time our entrees arrived.

Marguerite and I both ordered specials, and I have the feeling that the specials always sound so enticing at Seven Fish that you can't pass them up. She had wahoo with mango chutney and I had snapper in a light curry sauce. Just writing about those dishes is making me salvate. You just cannot go wrong with this restaurant. I recommend it to anyone visiting Key West.

The only negative thing I have to say about Seven Fish is that they don't have souvenir matches. I know people don't smoke much anymore, but c'mon, matches! That's one of my favorite aspects of eating out. Plus, if your roommate were my brother, you would want to have LOTS of extra matches lying around the house, you know, for the bathroom. Sorry, I don't want you to lose your appetite. But seriously, that dude drops some bombs.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Eat It - Miss Yip Chinese Cafe, 1661 Meridian Ave (off 17th St. & Lincoln Rd.) 305-534-5488

Boden, after(?) hot and sour soup, with Sean

www.missyipchinesecafe.com

As I sat at our table about a half hour into our meal with a frown, my friend and fellow grublogger, James Norton, looked at me and realized immediately what was the matter. I had nothing about which to complain.

James consoled me and pointed out that, although criticism is the best part about being a critic, a fair amount of my blog entry needn't be about the restaurant itself. What he said after that, I don't really remember, thanks to the fairly high number of beers I had consumed up to that point (including some delicious Tiger beers, which were a nice surprise to find on the beer menu).

Tiger Beer is, of course, Singaporean, but Miss Yip has a selection of beers from around Asia: Singha, Sapporo, Tsing Tao, to name a few.

I took a page from the Chinese and rudely left the table to get a shot at Buck 15, the bar that is located above Miss Yip. It's almost too easy to pass up. The bathrooms are shared between the restaurant and bar, so you just run up the stairs and grab a shot, sneak back to the table, and no one's the wiser...unless you announce to everyone that you're going to Buck 15 for a shot and invite people to come with you.

What did we eat, you ask? I thought you'd never! For starters, we ordered the Mama Yip dim sum platter, the pan fried pork dumplings, and the pan fried chicken dumplings. Boden got some soup or something, hot and sour, I believe, to go with his sour personality down at the end of the table. He didn't offer to share, and neither did we. He is only now learning about the deliciousness of the appetizers as he reads this review! All three were big hits. The dim sum tasted as good as the ones I had in Hong Kong, and the fried dumplings as good as any I have had during my travels around Asia. That's all true. Seriously.

The main courses were presented nicely, and the portions were adequate but not obscene, as is often the case at America's eateries. It's nice on a Saturday night not to feel guilty about wasting food, as the doggy bag is not an option when the dinner party is headed out to a bar or club afterward.

My favorite was the Mongolian Beef, Paul a.k.a. Mr. Miami's choice, most of which we ate when he left the table to visit the restroom (or was it Buck 15 for a jager bomb?!). That's the kind of thing you think is hilarious when you're drinking, but would be totally obnoxious when sober. I had the Kung Pao Chicken, a dish made famous during an episode of Seinfeld ("George likes his chicken spicy.").

Main courses run about $16 on average, and the entire meal (with tip) was about $37 a head. We had a lively group of 8, including a pregnant woman and a grad student, so that ain't bad. Service was very good. The food was brought to our table before we even had a chance to think about it, of course, I did run upstairs for another shot at Buck 15 between appetizer and main course...

Turns out we could have used doggy bags, since we didn't even leave the building after dinner and headed right up to Buck 15. DJ Foxx spun her usual mix of 80s dance classics and we hung from the rafters (they're actually joists).

Friday, February 9, 2007

Hofbrau Haus, Lincoln Road, South Beach

If, at conception, you were offered the chance to be born in another country other than your own, which one would you choose? Italy or France perhaps? Or possibly a beautiful island somewhere in the Caribbean?

One country you may not consider is Germany. But why not? What would it be like to be a German citizen? Not so good if you want to tell funny jokes and watch good television. And definitely not the place to be if you like a freshly waxed leg or armpit. However, despite these minor issues, there are many things that the country should be very proud of - it's wonderful ability to make cars, for one. It's culture too - I hear that Beethoven, Bach and Einstein were hugely successful in their respective areas.

But, of course, Germany's biggest gift to the world is it's beer. And the best part is, the whole country gets to enjoy the party. Here in the USA, our biggest holiday is thanksgiving. We get a day off on Thursday, and if you are lucky, somebody somewhere decides that you get Friday off work too. Brilliant! But is it? In Munich, they have Oktoberfest. Where, for two weeks, everyone drinks lots of beer, and falls off tables. That sounds like much more fun.

The country has also given us some imaginative food. Hamburgers for instance - contrary to popular belief, they are not made with ham at all, but beef!!! Who knew? In fact, they were actually brought to the USA by immigrants from Hamburg, Germany. This was obviously a huge success, because they invited their cousins from Frankfurt, and thus another staple of American cuisine is born.

It was the latter gastronomic experience that I had in mind when my wife and I sat down for a stein or two at the new Hofbrau Haus restaurant on Lincoln Road. Purporting to offer a traditional Teutonic eating and drinking experience, the decor immediately drew us away from the fantasy - it's appearance owed far more to it's predecessor, The Lincoln Road Cafe than it did to anything you will ever see in Germany, or for that matter, Europe.

But we didn't let that bother us, - the menu tempted us with a plethora of delicious looking sausages, schnitzels and soups which we could not wait to enjoy.

My wife started with the potato soup, which was a hearty concoction of potato, mushrooms and sausage. Nothing ground breaking, but better than my unexciting chicken broth. It was during this time that we debated the authenticity of our German dining experience. We couldn't work out the nationality of our waiter, so we asked him where he was from. Cuba, as it turned out. Which, for the uninitiated, is not in Alemania.

The main course was first frustrating. Apparently the chef is very insistent that you can not make any changes to the meals on the menu. Which is fine if you are dining at the Ritz, but Hofbrau Haus is certainly not that, which just makes it annoying.

To give the restaurant its due, the main courses were pretty good. We both enjoyed a selection of different bratwursts, frankfurters and sauerkraut. If it wasn't for what followed next, I would recommend these dishes wholeheartedly. In fact, we asked the waiter to box some of the things we hadn't eaten, and looked forward to sharing them with friends that we would see later.

But, as we waited for the check, we happened to look across to the large window at the front of the restaurant, where we saw what appeared to be some sort of giant bug, walking across the inside of the glass.

Appearances, sadly, were not deceptive, and as my wife screamed, and jumped out of her seat, I contemplated the damage that the sight of a huge cockroach can do to your opinion of a particular restaurant. We decided to not share the rest of our sausages.

If I were you, I would definitely take the time to visit Hofbrau Haus. Have a big beer. Then go to Ms Yips for dinner...


James Norton