Move over, club scene—the new­est Mi­ami vice? It’s got to be eclec­tic eat­ing

T. Dining by Singapore Tatler - - Contents -

Crit­i­cally ac­claimed chefs and a thriv­ing food scene are mak­ing eclec­tic eat­ing through Mi­ami the city’s hottest at­trac­tion

First, it was a Lam­borgh­ini the colour of freshly farmed corn. Be­hind it trailed a to­mato-red Porsche, fol­lowed by an av­o­cado-tinged Jaguar. Killer heels and short skirts, shiny ox­fords and fat wal­lets sud­denly emerged from the fancy cars, only to walk right past a boom­ing night­club and right into Pao by Paul Qui (3201 Collins Ave, Mi­ami Beach)—the James Beard award-win­ning chef and for­mer Top Chef cham­pion’s restau­rant that of­fers a high-end mix of Filipino, Ja­panese and Texas bar­be­cue cuisine.

It wasn’t the typ­i­cal Mi­ami “scene” this writer was ex­pect­ing at all. Thanks to movies, TV shows and Will Smith, Mi­ami was known to be the city where one would bounce in the club where the heat is on, all night on the beach ’til the break of dawn. A place where par­ty­ing came first and food was sim­ply sus­te­nance to get you to the next shindig. Un­til re­cently, Mi­ami was never on the must-visit list of most culi­nary trav­ellers.

But lo and be­hold, all that’s changed. Over the last sev­eral years, Florida’s south­east­ern cor­ner has qui­etly carved the same rep­u­ta­tion for its crit­i­cally ac­claimed chefs and boom­ing restau­rants as it al­ready had for its sandy beaches and swanky clubs. With a com­bi­na­tion of home­grown tal­ent like Ghee Indian Kitchen’s Niven Pa­tel and award-win­ning names such as Michael Mina and José An­drés, along with a surge of in­ter­na­tional brands in­clud­ing Zuma, La Mar, Scar­petta and Hakkasan, Mi­ami un­der­went a food re­nais­sance to emerge as one of the most vig­or­ous and ex­cit­ing food cities in the States. Be it posh grub, hip­ster eater­ies or tra­di­tional street food, the city con­fi­dently of­fers up a smor­gas­bord of choices.

Wan­der­ing Around Wyn­wood

The first stop of any culi­nary jour­ney through a re­freshed Mi­ami with an old-meets-new flavour pro­file has to be Wyn­wood. The trendy arts dis­trict north of down­town boasts mu­rals and graf­fiti, art gal­leries, con­verted ware­houses turned into craft brew­eries, stylish bistros and stores that all re­flect the spirit of an arts hub that’s in an un­wa­ver­ing, de­li­cious move­ment.

If you’re on a tight sched­ule, max­imise your time by sign­ing up for one of the Mi­ami Culi­nary Tours. Nick­named the “Mi­amian tour”, the Wyn­wood walk­ing route de­parts from Wyn­wood Walls, an out­door mu­seum that has been show­cas­ing large-scale works by some of the world’s best-known street artists since 2009. Af­ter the in­ter­ac­tive art his­tory les­son by your knowl­edge­able guide, a stop at Wyn­wood Kitchen & Bar (2550 NW 2nd Ave) is in order.

Chow­ing down on the most de­li­cious ropa vieja (beef, pep­pers and onions) and chicken with chipo­tle em­panadas, the cheese tequeños, and the sweet maduros (plan­tains) with queso fresco, I learned how the tal­ented chefs of Mi­ami are most ex­cited about cre­at­ing their own ver­sions of the typ­i­cal Latin dishes, dif­fer­ent in taste from the coun­tries where each dish orig­i­nated.

The next stop on the list is Jimmy’z Kitchen (2700 N Mi­ami Ave) by Puerto Ri­can-raised, Ir­ish-amer­i­can owner-chef Jimmy Carey. Jimmy’z might be a chain of Latin-amer­i­can contemporary fu­sion restau­rants, but its boli­tas de queso—creamy cheese balls with a crispy coat­ing, driz­zled with guava sauce—is some­thing else. They were airy, as op­posed to the typ­i­cally dense deep-fried moz­zarella, and when laced with the sweet guava sauce, made all the more de­lec­ta­ble. There’s also the mo­fongo—star­ring the tra­di­tional Puerto Ri­can plan­tain—that is the restau­rant’s spe­cial­ity. I par­tic­u­larly liked the puerco con mojo ver­sion, which ar­rived as a dome

of fried plan­tains with juicy, gar­lic-laden morsels of braised pulled pork with onions and mojo mari­nade seep­ing out.

And then there’s Al­ter (223 NW 23rd St), the buzzy restau­rant that epit­o­mises Wyn­wood to a tee—splashy, slick and in­cred­i­bly cool. You’d best book ahead if you want to try the ex­per­i­men­tal cuisine made with lo­cally sourced in­gre­di­ents by chef Bradley Kil­gore, named one of Food & Wine mag­a­zine’s Best New Chefs for 2016. On the menu are ritzy, unique Floridain­spired flavour com­bos, served up in an in­dus­trial-chic ware­house that is a tes­ta­ment to the hip­ster neigh­bour­hood it in­hab­its. It’s re­fine­ment meets rock ‘n’ roll, with rous­ing dishes like shaved co­bia with mus­tard oil and olive “snow”, or lus­cious Florida prawns and white corn grits topped with huit­la­coche cream, chorizo oil and a lime-green mole sauce.

An­other pair of Wyn­wood must-visit eats are The Deli (405 NW 26th Street) and The Bak­ery (295 NW 26th Street)—both the brain­child of Mi­ami na­tive Zak Stern, who many say has the best bread in the city. Zak the Baker, as he’s pop­u­larly known, hon­ours his East­ern Euro­pean Ashke­nazi roots by pre­serv­ing his an­ces­tors’ cuisine—his kosher deli serves up the likes of home­made brined corn beef slathered on Jewish corn rye bread.

No epi­curean trip to Wyn­wood would be com­plete with­out a slice of pie from Fire­man Derek’s (2818 N. Mi­ami Ave). It’s a tiny spot that can only fit about eight to ten peo­ple at a time, but no­body minds the squeeze be­cause their pie-laden shelves are a gift from baked-goods heaven. The real-life Mi­ami firefighter be­gan by sell­ing key lime pies out of a food truck—this dish re­mains the star of the show to­day. Creamy and tart, this pie (which boasts no sugar in the crust) is one of full-bod­ied sweet­ness that isn’t cloy­ing, with just the right amount of cit­rus punch from the limes.

A Taste of Cuba in Lit­tle Havana

Florida’s south­east­ern cor­ner has qui­etly carved the same rep­u­ta­tion for its crit­i­cally ac­claimed chefs and boom­ing restau­rants as it al­ready had for its sandy beaches and swanky clubs

Any jaunt to Lit­tle Havana, one of Mi­ami’s old­est neigh­bour­hoods, must be­gin at Old’s Havana Cuban Bar & Cocina (1442 SW 8th Street). The restau­rant is on Calle Ocho, next to the iconic Domino Park, where sep­tu­a­ge­nar­i­ans throw down domi­noes daily. A visit to Old’s is the real deal—a bona fide fam­ily-run restau­rant that’s a trib­ute to the Cuba of yes­ter­year, right down to the blackand-white pho­tos adorn­ing the walls and the blar­ing sound­track of Cuban clas­sics—but it’s also a de­lec­ta­ble mix of the rus­tic with the contemporary. You’ll find your­self dou­ble­fist­ing crispy chicken and ham cro­quettes and mouth-wa­ter­ing Cubano sand­wiches, and wash­ing them all down with mo­ji­tos af­ter sam­pling some ce­viche with ar­roz and fri­joles (rice and beans).

Like the taste of tra­di­tion? Cross the street to Azu­car Ice Cream Com­pany (1503 SW 8th Street), where the fa­cade of a gi­ant ice cream cone will draw cheers from young and old alike. The scent of freshly made waf­fle cones when the door swings open teases, but it’s re­ally the va­ri­ety of ar­ti­sanal gourmet ice creams and sor­bets in Cuban and other Latin flavours that will in­spire. Ask for the Abuela Maria ice cream—be­cause who doesn’t like the win­ning com­bi­na­tion of vanilla, guava and grandma’s spe­cial cook­ies?

There’s also the 40-year-old Ver­sailles (3501 SW 8th Street), which is self-styled as the “world’s most fa­mous Cuban restau­rant”. It’s worth a visit, if not for its slightly tacky decor of chan­de­liers, gilt-framed mir­rors and 1970s cafe­te­ria-style ta­bles and chairs. Must-tries at this clas­sic are its Cubanos and pael­las—and its pi­cadillo, a soupy, zesty, minced beef dish, is es­pe­cially tasty.

And there’s no way one can leave Lit­tle Havana with­out try­ing La Ca­maronera (1952 W Fla­gler Street), the iconic fried-fish joint known for its pan con min­uta (fried snap­per sand­wich) on a soft white Cuban roll. Also, don’t miss the frita Cubana at El Rey de Las Fri­tas (1821 SW 8th Street)—the best place to get the Cuban in­ter­pre­ta­tion of the Amer­i­can ham­burger, which con­sists of a patty of beef and chorizo in a bun, stuffed to the brim with shoe­string fries.

Stal­warts, Gas­trop­ubs and Be­yond

It’s been a Mi­ami favourite for­ever—and for good rea­son. South Beach in­sti­tu­tion Joe’s Stone Crab (11 Washington Ave) knows ex­actly how to cook the per­fect stone crab claw. And who would have guessed that hash browns are a match made in heaven with crus­taceans? It’s ev­ery­thing they say it is: af­ford­able, de­li­cious food with pro­fes­sional service.

What re­ally el­e­vates Mi­ami as an eclec­tic epi­curean city is the jux­ta­po­si­tion of a trendy new culi­nary kid on the block against an un­fail­ing stal­wart like Joe’s. Take James Beard award-win­ning chef José Mendin’s Pubbelly Noo­dle Bar (1418 20th Street), the Asian-latino fu­sion-in­spired gas­tropub that opened on Mi­ami Beach in 2010. The suc­cess of the orig­i­nal—which boasts dishes such as oc­to­pus sous vide in duck fat, buffalo sweet­breads and veal brains me­u­nière—has since spawned an em­pire that now in­cludes sushi restau­rants, a food truck, a steak­house, a bistro and a taque­ria.

Or con­sider John Kunkel, the na­tive of the US state of Ge­or­gia who ig­nited Mi­ami’s south­ern food craze with Yard­bird South­ern Ta­ble & Bar (1600 Lenox Ave). The south­ern belle of the beach brought comfort food to Florida in the form of a beau­ti­fully brined chicken cov­ered in spiced flour, fried to per­fec­tion and served up with green toma­toes and ched­dar waf­fles.

Also prov­ing it can hold its own is 27 Restau­rant (2727 Indian Creek Dr), which serves in­spired Mi­ami-style cuisine with a Mid­dle East­ern twist in a re­stored 1930s art deco house. The fam­ily-style menu is pep­pered with Jewish, Caribbean and Cuban in­flu­ences. Look for plates such as lamb ribs with pome­gran­ate mo­lasses and pick­led cau­li­flower, braised oc­to­pus with pa­pas, Huan­caína sauce and aji verde (green salsa), or Florida mid­dle­neck clams in sam­bal miso, lemon­grass and kaf­fir lime.

With such a plethora of restau­rant at choices, the neon-lit, vodka-laden club venues are no longer Mi­ami’s only draw—the city has well and truly turned into an eater’s par­adise. “Wel­come to Mi­ami, bi­en­venidos a Mi­ami” in­deed!

Chefs here are not merely repli­cat­ing pop­u­lar Latin dishes but cre­at­ing stun­ning ren­di­tions they can call their own

From the tra­di­tional to the ex­per­i­men­tal, Wyn­wood’s delectably splashy neigh­bour­hood is also a haven for gour­mands look­ing for that bal­ance of colour and class—where re­fine­ment meets rock ‘n’ roll

You’ve not been to Mi­ami if you haven’t ex­plored one of its old­est neigh­bour­hoods, Lit­tle Havana, which usu­ally in­volves a mouth­wa­ter­ing Cubano

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