Sunday, October 28, 2012

Thea's Pizzeria

Restaurateur Thea Goldman (formerly of Joey’s) branches out Downtown with Thea’s Pizzeria, a handsome new spot for pizza and wine. The stylish bistro is located adjacent to the UM Life Science and Technology Park and is an ideal spot for power lunches near downtown. The neo-industrial space is outfitted with molded black chairs, polished concrete floors and a striking Bisazza tile mosaic of flowers behind the bar. A window into the kitchen allows for view of pizza-making at a marble slab. The restaurant is open right now for breakfast and lunch only, with plans to roll out dinner in the next month. The grub: Thin-crust pizzas and gourmet salads. According to Goldman, this is a friendly spot to grab a glass of wine (most are $6 a glass) and a bit of pizza and charcuterie without breaking the bank. Most of the staff are veterans of Joey’s and the menu is short and simple: ten pizzas, a handful of sandwiches, five salads and five entrees. Prices are reasonable with pizzas $11-$14, salads average $7 and mains top out at $16.
There’s gourmet detail here: the Italian bread that comes in the gratis bread basket is made by a former baker at Mario Batali’s Eataly, the pizza maker uses Italian flour for pizza dough and everything seems sourced with quality in mind. Besides the margarita, which is a scrumptious mélange of dough, cheese and tangy tomato sauce, there’s the artichoke pizza made with artichoke purree, grana padano cheese and fresh arugula. Salads include a roasted beet with gorgonzola and walnuts and a oven-roasted tomato with goat cheese. Charcuterie boards come piled with prosciutto, salami and mortadella while mains include a salad Nicoise and a skirt steak. Dessert includes traditional canolli and gelato sourced from Amore Gelato in Brickell. An espresso granita is a playful spin on the usual espresso digestif.
1951 NW 7th Ave Miami, FL 33136. (305) 777-3777

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Shokudo Miami

The Asian street food revolution has spread to Buena Vista with Shokudo, a stylish outpost of sushi, dim sum and sake. After shuttering World Resource Cafe, owner Yoko Takarada transformed the seedy convenience store spot into a bright, airy space with an inviting backyard patio.
The menu includes belly-filling small plates and noodle bowls from Korea, China, Japan, Tibet, The Philippines and Thailand.The menu offers an extensive array of appetizers, six types of dumplings, a handful of buns and eight specialty sushi rolls. Drinks include 15 sakes as well as Thai, Japanese and Korean beer. Prices are neighborhood-friendly with most maki rolls $9, noodle and rice dishes $14-$18. A daily $9 lunch special is a nice touch.
Start with thin-skinned har-go shrimp dumplings, crispy pot-stickers stuffed with turkey, or the Tibetan "momo," filled with curried potato in a tomato dipping sauce. Ramen - the wallet-friendly dish of impoverished college students - gets the gourmet treatment here with a broth made of simmered beef, chicken and pork bones and topped with braised pork belly or shrimp tempura along with scallions, and tamago, half a hard-boiled egg cooked in soy sauce.
Another slurp-worthy dish is the green tea soba noodles with seared duck breast in a dashi broth. The ahi tuna poke, a cone of diced fish with macadamia nuts and avocado, comes with home made taro chips. Korean offerings include a bibimbap rice hot pot with spinach and shiitake mushrooms as well as a Soon du bu, a spicy Korean soup with beef, oyster and shrimp. Korean "banchan," or small side dishes include picked radish, sauteed spinach and kimichi-marinated radish.
Desserts include a green tea matcha custard presented in a tea cup and a coconut cake topped brimming with shaved coconut.
All in all it's nice to see the Buena Vista 'hood diversifying with walle-friendly spots, it's just too bad it's at the expense of greedy landlords on Lincoln Road pushing out local businesses. But if the trend continues (as it has for the last few years), you'll need to venture over the causeway for good food in casual environments.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Dolder Grand, Precise Luxury in Zurich

We went on holiday. Well, I was on holiday. Husband was working and I took a much-needed break. Hadn't had an official vacation in two years. And I wanted something different. A place with deep contrasts to Miami. So we went to Zurich. First impressions of the city: it's like Germany but a little more polished, less harsh. Smooth. Elegant. Everyone speaks perfect English (even my taxi driver from Montenegro).
It's very clean and very quiet. People are soft-spoken. Cars murmur. Trains whisper. No one converses on the tram. There's barely a hushed din in restaurants. The Swiss must have amazing hearing. Or else everyone I grew up with was deaf. Probably a little of both. I definitely prefered the low tones but it's a little off-putting. Especially when you have a toddler toddling about shouting thing like “Truck!” and “Coffee Shop.”
But I digress, because the real star of the show was the place we spent a few glorious days at: The Dolder Grand Hotel, a luxury city resort with a massive spa, a ridiculously grand ballroom where we tried to crash a black-tie event (actually there was no way we would ever have blended in with the dapper-banker crowd), two restaurants and a highly-stylized cocktail bar. The hotel is located on a mountain above the city (we rode the old-school funicular train down the mountain for jaunts to the city) and flanking a nature reserve giving it an exclusive, hilltop hideaway feel.
Walking in to the chateau-like main building with its meticulously-restored marble entryway feels undeniably grand. But there are whimsical touches to this seemingly buttoned-up beauty that break the formality. Curved hallways, tree-branch latticework and a rock and roll-themed Rolling Stones suite lend the place just enough edge to keep things interesting.
An autographed Keith Richards guitar in the Rolling Stones suite.
Like the city of Zurich and the watch making tradition it’s famous for, the Dolder Grand embodies the precise, exacting detail that makes staying at a luxury hotel a worry-free experience. Elevators are appropriately muffled, lighting is well-calibrated, rooms are sound-proof, design is tasteful-yet-comfortable and everything arrives on time. Originally built as a “Curhaus” in 1899, the hotel underwent a massive redesign by famed architect Sir Norman Foster and reopened in 2008 after four years of renovations.
A typical room at the Dolder Grand is a streamlined affair with minimalist décor–dark hard wood floors, cream-colored furniture and marble bathrooms. The bathrooms are a study in Zen opulence with chocolate marble sinks, sparkling fixtures and floor-to-ceiling windows framing mountain views. Large white whirlpool tubs come with complimentary bath salts and soaking oils (with dried flower petals! le sigh).
There are two restaurants–the Garden Restaurant and chef Heiko Nieder’s two-Michelin star award-winning The Restaurant (lobster with shavings of tender strawberries, finely diced beetroot with pomegranate, that sort of thing). There’s also the tranquil lobby where afternoon tea is served in the winter and the noir-ish bar awash in candles and glossy black tables.
Since we were with toddler we passed on the Michelin-starred affair and opted for The Garden Restaurant, helmed by Chef Gion Fetz. It's the all-day restaurant on premises where quiet breakfasts are conducted in the serene dining room and dainty lunches can be had on the terrace. Jetsetting parents take note: toddlers here get to sit in Norwegian-designed Stokke high chairs, possibly the handsomest kid seats on the market.
A typical lunch includes a salad with chanterelles and spring chicken filled with ricotta cheese over tagliolini pasta with olives and tomatoes while dinner veers in haute territory with air-dried Grison beef with watermelon, summer venison patties with spaetzli and mountain cranberries. And for dessert–coconut pudding mixed with strawberries, cassis sorbet and kaffir-lime oil.
Sensational petit-fours for dessert at lunch.

The dining room at the Michelin-starred Restaurant.
More grooviness in the Rolling Stones suite.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Miami Beach Caffe

Prague restaurateur Tomas Johanovsky wants to bring fine dining back to Ocean Drive with Miami Beach Caffe, a French-inspired spot on the north end of the touristy strip. And yes, the name lacks creativity, or a sense of SEO significance, for that matter, but the place is churning some interesting food. The interior has a mod feel with white-on-white décor of shell-shaped white chairs, teardrop crystal chandeliers and mounted iPads on the walls. There’s ample indoor seating and a glossy bar that specializes in European cocktails like Caipiroshkas and prosecco complimented by strawberry “ravioli,” a nod to the restaurant’s slight molecular gastronomy leanings.
The menu comprises familiar globe-trotting dishes with fancy preparations. The kitchen is headed by Czech Republic-born Executive Chef Ludek Munzar, the former sous chef at the Fish Market in Prague. Prices are in keeping with the high-end vibe: starters are $14-$16, mains $27-$36.
Complimentary bread service includes a marinara dipping sauce and an herbed crème fraiche. The caprese salad is an upscale take with fresh buffalo mozzarella and a cone of tomato tartar served with a mix of sprouts and red balsamic vinegar reduction while the tuna tartar comes with mango puree and not-too-spicy wasabi biscuits. Mains include a grilled tuna with bacon lasagna (above) that adds smoky notes and braised beef cheeks in a cauliflower puree. Dessert includes a bit of kitchen theater as Chef Ludek creates strawberry, dark chocolate and Bailey’s flavored ice cream, at a tableside cart using liquid nitrogen, creating a cloud of smoke.
1412 Ocean Dr. Miami Beach, FL 33139 T: 786.691.1020

Friday, June 01, 2012

Jean Paul's House

Jean Paul’s House, a date-friendly restaurant from former La Cofradia chef Jean Paul Desmaison, occupies a quaint cottage in Wynwood. The space is decked out in artfully-scuffed chairs, circular mirrors and a communal picnic table. An L-shaped bar provides ample room for solo diners or those popping in for happy hour cocktails. There are plans for a gourmet market in the back as well as takeout pizza counter and a small wine-tasting bar.
Italian, American and Latin dishes pepper the menu but Peruvian classics like ceviche and lomo saltado (steak stir-fry) anchor the offerings. And the Peruvian spirit pisco find its way into dishes like the crispy pork belly and the passion fruit tart. Prices are wallet-friendly with snacks for $3, starters $9-$11 and mains $16-$29.
Start things off with the homemade potato chips and black mint sauce or the garbanzos sautéed with spinach and chorizo. Starters include three types of cured fish – a flounder tiradito topped with avocado, a salmon sashimi and a traditional ceviche. The eggplant carpaccio brings thinly sliced grilled eggplant topped with shaved reggiano cheese and a drizzle of olive oil while the beet salad is a colorful combo of yellow beets, avocado and blood orange. Mains include braised short ribs over polenta, a bouillabaisse with lobster stock and red snapper cooked with white wine and grilled lemon.

Pastry chef Lamyaa Samir (Soho Beach House) curates a dessert menu with items like Peppercorn Genoise, an Italian sponge cake topped with figs and balsamic glaze and a passion fruit tartelette with a mango piscojito sauce and toasted meringue.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

J + G Grill, Bal Harbour

Miami gets another celeb-chef restaurant with the first Florida outpost of J + G Grill, a bistro from French toque Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Housed in the opulent new St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort the cathedral-like dining room overlooks the ocean and the resort’s pools through double-height floor-to-ceiling windows. The room exudes a soothing Zen mix of grey herringbone wall panels, slate-colored banquettes, plush carpeting and oversized silver pendant lights. An outdoor patio with lush landscaping and mod furniture works well in the evenings.

The kitchen is helmed by chef de cuisine Richard Gras (Ritz Carlton Half Moon Bay) who executes classics from the Jean-Georges canon like hamachi sashimi and black truffle pizza. Prices are in line with the posh surroundings with starters $10-$32, mains $24-$45 and sides $8-$10.

Dinner starts with slices of crusty baguette and multi-grain bread and a soybean spread. From there starters like parsnip soup with coconut foam and peekytoe crab cake with pink grapefruit showcase the chef’s farm-to-table approach. Florida hearts of palm and heirloom tomatoes are showcased in a delicate salad dressed with shards of coconut while the black truffle pizza with fontina cheese could easily be a main dish. Fish dishes include a local red snapper with sweet and sour jus and a roasted grouper with black beans and cilantro. Meat lovers can go for the Flintstones-sized milk-fed veal chop in a sherry marinade nestled in a pistachio pesto along with roasted cauliflower. The soy-glazed short rib with apple-jalapeno pueree is hearty enough to be shared.

Sides like black truffle cheese fritters and sautéed maitake mushrooms round out the eclectic feast.

Pastry chef Antonio Bachour (W South Beach) gets creative with sweets like the key lime vacherin made with coconut meringue and chunks of mango and the Grand Marnier soufflé with mandarin orange sorbet. But ice cream lovers shouldn’t miss the salted caramel sundae made with homemade ice cream topped with popcorn and peanuts.

9703 Collins Ave Bal Harbour, FL 33154 (305) 993-3333

Monday, May 28, 2012

Unknwn, A Store

It turns out LeBron James is quite the retailer and his baby Unknwn is packed with unique finds. To help you understand this retail miracle, here's some vital data…
Seconds it will take to walk across the corridor from J. Crew to the store: 30
Number of LeBron’s friends who are collaborating on the store: 4
Per cent of that team that have worked with Kanye on clothing lines: 25
Percent chance you’ll catch LeBron there stocking the shelves: 0
Percent chance you’ll catch him hosting a paparazzi-packed opening party: 100
iPads festooned to the sneaker display wall: 45
Vintage Miami Hurricanes t-shirts in stock: 1
Percent chance you’ll pair it with the 60’s aviation jacket for sale: 50
Listening stations where you’ll try out Beats by Dr. Dre headphones: 1
Tables stocked with Barbara Kruger art books, Jay-Z’s Decoded and old LIFE mags: 2
Percent chance you’ll curl up with all three and a mug of eggnog: 95
19501 Biscayne Blvd Aventura, FL 33180

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Nine, Hotel Breakwater

Newsflash: there's actually good Italian food on Ocean Drive. Crazy, I know. But consider Nine, an alfresco Italian enclave now open at the Hotel Breakwater your new excuse to sit outside on Ocean Drive.
So yes, it’s time to take the touristy strip back from the t-shirt hawkers and the daiquiri swillers. Because this place is legit. The chef’s from the Amalfi Coast. He worked at Escopazzo. And he makes his own bread, pasta and burrata cheese in house.
Inside the restored hotel there’s a tasteful dining room with polished terrazzo floors and cushy purple couches but we’d like to draw your attention to the spacious outdoor terrace. And the menu of rustic, greatest-hits-of Italy cuisine.
This is where you'll go on lazy evenings when you feel like sitting outside and sharing a bottle of Chianti with good company while supping on bowls of tagliatelle pasta with lobster and chili sauce.
 Hotel Breakwater 940 Ocean Drive Miami Beach, Florida 33139 305-532-2362

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Vesper American Brasserie

The revamped Shelborne on South Beach is now to the polished Vesper, a clandestine supper club serving upscale American standards. Tucked away in the back of the hotel by the pool, the restaurant is entered via the kitchen, giving it a mafia-movie vibe (although the name is a reference from an Ian Fleming James Bond novels). The petite dining room done up in wood paneling, leather banquettes and black and white photos feels like the interior of a yacht or an underground gentlemen’s club. A large patio offers al fresco seating with white couches and candlelight, as well as ocean breezes and pool views.

Chef Frank Ferreiro (Prime Italian) presides over the menu of upscale comfort food by keeping things simple and portions generous. Prices are on par with SoBe hotel dining spots. Starters are $12-$16, mains $25-$52, sides are $7-$9.

The gratis bread basket features homemade corn bread, cheese bread and ciabatta rolls. The artichoke-spinach dip served warm in a mini-casserole dish is large enough for four while seafood lovers will appreciate the colossal crab cocktail. The Caesar salad doesn’t break the mold with its sourdough croutons and well-dressed romaine and the iceberg wedge comes with Nuskee bacon. Mains include a gargantuan platter of shrimp scampi over linguine, a Shepherd’s pie made with Kobe beef wagyu and a grilled branzino bathed in a champagne lemon-butter sauce over roasted corn. Four cuts of steak available include a twelve-ounce filet with choice of black truffle or gorgonzola butters.

Desserts include the diet-busting “zeppoli” fried oreos encased in fluffy fried dough served with chocolate dipping sauce, a platter of donuts accompanied by a vanilla milkshake and key lime cheesecake.

1801 Collins Avenue, 305-341-1500

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

MLT: A Grilled Cheese Joint in South Beach

There's a new grilled cheese joint in town (actually, it's probably the only grilled cheese joint in town that's not a food truck) and it's name is, appropriately, MLT. It's on a clubby stretch of Washington which is perfect for the genre, considering plenty of tipsy nightlifers will find hangover-curing solace in their gut-busting menu of Philly Cheesesteaks, fried chicken on biscuits and namesake gooey sandwiches.
Despite the blue collar leanings, the place actually makes an effort to make everything from scratch, including the maple gravy drizzled over the fried chicken and waffles, the tomato bisque that comes with the grilled cheese and the key lime mayo dipping sauce you'll receive with an order of onion rings.

1541 Washington Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(305) 672-1541

Monday, January 23, 2012

A Look Inside the New St. Regis Bal Harbour

It's been over four years since we bid farewell to the old Sheraton Bal Harbour, the Morris Lapidus hotel originally known at the Americana. During that time I watched the new St. Regis go up in my neighborhood, one concrete mixer at a time. Walked down the beach path flanking its pool deck and wondered how the new place would feel compared to the old, which was loosing a bit of its glamour but still held on to its retro cool by virtue of its unique design.
Last Thursday was the ribbon-cutting ceremony for the new structure - a three-tower campus that includes the luxury hotel sandwiched between two condo towers. There was the traditional champagne-sabering associated with the St. Regis brand (they saber a bottle every day. That day it was a pricey Krug. I made sure to have a glass.)
The post-opening reception was a congenial way to see the interior of the hotel. Fancy bites of salmon tartar and key lime tarts, plenty of champagne and a crowd that was clearly interested in seeing the new product.
I'll reserve the opinion on the design of the new building until I've been there a few more times and had a chance to really soak up the vibe. One thing is for sure - we're not in Lapidus territory anymore. The interiors were designed by Yabu Pushelberg, a firm known for other local projects like DB Bistro Moderne at the JW Marriott downtown, with trademark muted tones and double-height scale. Walking in, you're meant to feel like you've entered someone's home (albeit a multi-million dollar home) so there's no grand lobby and traditional reception desk. Instead you'll find this sitting area and then a corridor of mirrors festooned with chandeliers.
Further in, you come across this deer sculpture made of crystal balls and the check-in desks - which are sit-down desks. Introductory room rates start at $675, by the way, and expect those to climb to $800 for peak season. And all 243 guest rooms face the ocean.
There's a glass-enclosed wine cellar in the lobby cocktail bar (they've got 2500 labels in stock). And a nice terrace overlooking the ocean. There's also J+G Grill, a restaurant developed by celeb chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten (more on that at another time).
Do I miss the old Sheraton? Sure, it's sad to see architectural gems go. But I'm gratified by new development and hopeful this place will succeed. If they bring their trademark level of top-notch service and studied elegance to the city, it's certainly something to celebrate. Lord knows, the beach could use a few places where everyone from the valet to the cocktail server treats you with respect.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

The Latest in Happy Hours

China Grill, South Beach
The thrill of happy hour is that it lasts for a short window of time. But it’s also thrilling to crack that window wide open. Like eight hours open, every day of the week. It’s happening at China Grill’s bar where cocktails are two for one and apps like Lobster Pancakes and Spicy Beef & Scallion Dumplings go for less than $10.
Daily from 12-8pm, China Grill, 404 Washington Ave, 305-534-2211

Crave, Coral Gables
Happy hour is usually a weekday blow-off-some-steam kind of thing. But we’re not opposed to getting Sunday in on the action. So consider Crave’s three-hour window of drink specials–beers are $4 and sliders, sushi and wings go for less than $6–a precursor to the week…or a really late brunch.
Sundays-Fridays, 3-6pm, Crave, 4250 Salzedo St, 305-444-4595