The culinary scene in Miami’s South Beach is an international adventure
by Michael Alpiner
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Florida – the Sunshine State – is not always so sun-shiny. Throughout its history the peninsula, and particularly its southern tip, has from time to time been the target of major Atlantic hurricanes. Nevertheless, the (mostly) sunny weather, the beaches and the desire for both are a continual draw for people to south Florida’s shores. And when disaster does strike, these resilient folks have picked up the pieces and gone back to living life in paradise.
That’s certainly the story of South Beach, aka SoBe, a strand of barrier islands between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic. Here, Ferraris of all styles and colors rumble through the streets with unrestrained bravado, women and men parade along the sun-baked sidewalks wearing their well-earned tans and aloof attractiveness, and the chatter from the street-side cafes pronounce man’s temporary dominance over the forces of nature.
The Art Deco style, synonymous with the original South Beach ambience of the 1930s, has been preserved with almost a square mile of the area on the National Registry of Historic Places. Just as the glamorous style coexists with the attributes common to nearly all American cities (not everyone who lives in South Beach can afford Ferraris), so too the food choices are geared for all lifestyles and wallets.
Here, one will find haute cuisine a stone’s throw from inexpensive tapas and happy hour beer and margaritas. Whether beachfront dining at a fancy restaurant or camping out with a hotdog on the beach, the beauty of the Atlantic Ocean is unconditional.
Time Out One highly anticipated gustatory cornucopia in South Beach is Time Out Market Miami. (timeoutmarket.com/miami). This site was chosen as the first US outpost of the original Time Out Market in Lisbon, Portugal, which opened four years ago. The choice was obvious, not only because of South Beach’s ethnic diversity, but also because of its renowned food culture. The opening of Time Out Market was perfectly choreographed to coincide with the South Beach Wine and Food Festival which featured about 100 culinary events over the span of five days. The concept of Time Out Market is simple: The chefs must be local to the city where the market is featured; the chefs must represent the best of their particular cuisine in the city; each chef serves from 5 to 7 dishes from his/her existing menu, or experiments with a dish that will one day appear on his/her restaurant menu. Thus, Time Out market becomes a showcase for current and future cuisine.
Time Out Market Miami features 17 chefs, 3 bars, a demo kitchen for up and coming chefs, and even an art space. The 17,500 square foot space offers room for casual dining at communal tables and a wide range of local, gourmet dishes, affordable and accessible to all. Among the chefs featured at Time Out Market are Norman Van Aken, Antonio Bachour, Giorgio Rapicavoli, Jeremy Ford, Michael Beltran, Alberto Cabrera and Matt Kusher. These acclaimed chefs make this no ordinary food court. The Time Out Market concept is coming soon to New York City, Boston, Chicago and Montreal in 2019, and to Prague and London-Waterloo in 2021.
Festive Spirits A short stroll from Time Out Market will lead the hungry traveler to Espanola Way, (visitespanolaway.com) a pedestrian-only stretch of road about the length of one city block which has the spirit of a perpetual festival of food, drink and exultation. Restaurants stand shoulder to shoulder, each with outdoor and indoor seating, colorful awnings and umbrellas, and menu boards as beautiful women beckon passers-by to sample the delicacies. Strings of lights reminiscent of Mexican fiestas arch overhead, creating a canopy of illumination as the traveler ambles past one tasty option after another.
For the best margaritas (my favorite is the Jalapeno Margarita) and a wide variety of traditional Mexican fare, try Oh! Mexico (ohmexicorestaurant.com), which boasts authentic cuisine served on vibrantly decorated plates or in black stone bowls. Happy hour and Taco Tuesdays are two popular promotions, when $7 margaritas and $3 tacos are featured.
Across the street, a smokin’ hot dining option is Espanola Cigar (espanolacigar.business.site). Though not listed on the Espanola Way website, this eatery offers the rare liberty of presenting patrons a selection of cigars for purchase which they savor from the comfort of plush, leather chairs while they sample Mexican bites, which range from casual, such as toasted spicy fries and guava ketchup, to the formal like banging lobster and cheese.
Cigars are displayed behind glass showcases, as if each rolled leaf were a family heirloom. The service is exceptional with that unique hospitalidad found south of the border, personified in the attention given by the petite, tattooed waitress who doubled as a bartender and whose spirit filled the restaurant faster than the leathery smoke of cigars.
SoBe Stars Two other not-to-miss dining experiences are both found in the SLS Hotel (slshotels.com/southbeach). The first is Katsuya (sbe.com/restaurants), which features a Japanese culinary theme with a twist. For starters, there is nothing like the crispy Brussel sprouts, which raises the humble vegetable to the status of deity. Follow with sea urchin sushi or sashimi and finish with lobster roll or shrimp tempura. However the entire menu is memorable, so consider the Katsuya tasting at $85.
Upstairs from the dining area at Katsuya is Dragon Lounge, which continues the design elements from the downstairs restaurant. A larger-than-life mural with almond-shaped eyes beckons patrons to “come hither,” a Geisha engaging in a staring contest which the restaurant goer doesn’t stand a chance of winning. The lounge accommodates up to 150 people, and is perfect for casual meetings, parties or even formal events.
The next door neighbor of Katsuya is a Spanish-themed restaurant, The Bazaar. (thebazaar.com). This excellent dining experience features the artistry of Michelin-starred chef Jose Andres and his team, set in unique décor with a canvas of plates which displays a gallery of food. Completing the ensemble are thoughtfully crafted cocktails and an elite selection of Spanish wines.
For starters, the caviar cone is almost too pretty to eat, a small cone filled with creme fraiche, capers, onion and caviar, topped with a gold leaf. From the seafood bar, the dragon fruit ceviche combines tuna, pecan, lemons and hibiscus to create a foamy pink facsimile of a dragon fruit. The meat choices are vast, from goat to sheep to chicken to beef, but satisfaction is guaranteed with Croquetas de Jamon, Spanish ham bechamel fritters. As with all the dishes here, the tastes are unique and rich.
A short walk down Collins Avenue will bring the traveler to Shore Club South, where a stroll through the lobby will bring the hungry traveler (assuming hunger pangs have struck once again) to Diez Y Seis. The exterior promenade winds past a koi pond to indoor and outdoor seating in view of a pool lending the place a cabana-like atmosphere of casual luxury.
Chef Joseph Icardi pays homage to the Mexican culinary tradition by creating renegade versions of classic cuisine. For lunch, grilled corn and tortilla soup will spice up any sun-bathed afternoon. The star attraction, though, is the milanesa, breaded chicken sandwich with black bean puree and a slice of an heirloom tomato. It’s hearty and delicious, though the gray black bean puree is a color one never sees on a sandwich.
The staff is part of what makes the dining experience so pleasant. The waiter was excited to work there, amiable and informative. The F&B manager, Elena Moise, sat with me at lunch but assured me that, “the restaurant vibe is amazing for dinner.” She demonstrated one of the best qualities of South Beach in general – an equal passion for food and for living. However my schedule is tight, so her recommendation for the restaurant's enchiladas will have to wait until next time.
The residents, business owners and tourists to South Beach exist as if another storm will never darken the skies again. Such happy oblivion is necessary here in order to make South Beach what it is – a community whose daily adventures are intertwined with the senses, with the sense of taste leading the charge.