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.