Salero (Miami) closes - Why do Miamians let this happen?
I'd gone to this spot in Brickell a couple of times and always enjoyed the tapas and atmosphere. The accompanying fine dining restaurant closed a few months back, which was a shame as it was the only restaurant in the city serving avant garde Spanish food. The chef bolted apparently due to lack of interest.
It gets to me that Miami lets places like this go under. First La Broche and now Salero. And meanwhile, a block or two down, there is a one hour wait for a table at PF Changs. This reaffirms my belief that Miami has to have the most uneducated palatte for a large population. And the higher up the affluence ladder you go, the worse it is. How else do you explain the success of PF Changs in Brickell and Benihana in Coral Gables (on Miracle Mile no less). Could you imagine if a California Pizza Kitchen opened up on Park Ave. or if Houston's opened up on Rodeo Dr.?
Miami is not a mecca for high-brow cuisine but I don't blame the chains as much as the audience. The chains are everywhere and they will generally do well wherever they are (and some, I agree, turn out some pretty good food - I would put Houston's, Cheesecake Factory, Capital Grille and Morton's all in that category). And by the way, there's a California Pizza Kitchen 2 blocks off Park Ave. and a Houston's in Century City about a mile from the heart of Beverly Hills so let's not pretend this is exclusively a Miami thing.
Avante garde cuisine (or whatever you choose to call it) has never really worked here. It's certainly not for lack of people with the bucks to spend on it, I think South Florida has a higher concentration of wealth than many cities. But I don't think these folks want an intellectual dining place, they want a "see and be seen" place where they can drop $16 (or more!) on a martini with overpriced vodka and some horrible sweet neon colored mixer in it. And that doesn't necessary mean a chain - some local places have hit that formula quite successfully, like Prime 112.
There are things that have worked here, though, and I actually think the local dining scene is improving quite a bit. About 10 years ago saw the emergence of the "Mango Gang" with Norman Van Aken, Alan Susser, Douglas Rodriguez, Mark Militello, Johnny Vincenz et al. Some genuinely great - and innovative - restaurants came out of that (Norman's, Mark's Place, Chef Allen, etc.) even if some (Norman's in particular) now seem to be in decline.
Some of these are still very good, and some new places are also quite good and even sometimes inspired. My short list:
Mark's South Beach
Michy's (yes this place is a lightning rod for criticism and can be hit or miss, but is often quite good and clever)
Johnny V (back at the Astor, haven't been yet)
Timo (not the most innovative, but fantastic quality and execution)
Then there's a whole other group of new or incoming places I haven't even tried yet, some with celeb chefs from other areas who must believe South Florida is finally ready:
Evolution (David Bouley)
Table 8 (Govind Armstrong)
(Some, on the other hand, look great but the execution has, in my opinion, been poor, such as Vix which we tried a couple months ago).
Daniel Boulud has had a place in the Brazilian Court hotel in Palm Beach for more than a year now.
Eric Ripert did the menu for the Standard Hotel on South Beach (although its pretty basic mediterranean-style stuff).
But I still think the more intellectualized food experiences (like La Broche) will struggle to find a market here. But don't give up hope. A couple weeks ago I was in Las Vegas - a culture which I'd have to say is equally superficial to Miami's - and L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, which is high-end, and high-brow tapas style small plates, was packed. If it can work there, why not here?
I also always liked the place (we lived for 6 months in Brickell when we moved down here), but I knew it was doomed as it was usually empty. I think we'll continue to see places in emerging areas like Brickell close until all the construction is completed - it's tough to be a pioneer.
As for your more interesting question, it's my theory that what we see in places like Florida and Texas are actually at the forefront of trends into consistent, unadventureous dining. If you head to New York or LA, you're beginning to see that the category killers like Barnes & Noble and Target are having huge success in those markets just like in suburbia. And it's also happening in restaurants, as can be seen by the opening of things like the Hawaiian Tropic Zone and the like in New York.
Part of it is rents; in places like Manhattan and probably downtown Miami, only places with huge table turns and a broad appeal can afford to stay open for long.
Finally, I think us foodies need to try and be open minded. I am under no illusion that PF Changs is authentic Chinese food, but I did eat there twice as much as I did at Salero - the food is good, it's reasonable, and I felt comfortable bringing my child there. There's a place for chains, and it's up to the independent restauranteur to create a great experience and then support it with the budgeting, marketing and consistency that will allow a place to build it's own rep. After all, Rosinella's seems in no danger of closing anytime soon, and it's right next door to Salero.
I am with ya lax2mia, I believe that tourism/snowbirds play a part in letting down the non-chain restaurants and shops. When on vacation it is can be hard to find the local gems, unless your a chowhound and do your research beforehand. As far as the affluence ladder goes it has always been my opinion, and I know this is a broad sweeping generalization that I will probly be raked over the coals for, that more money means less taste. The big box store disease has reached our beloved restaurant scene. As chowhounders all we can do is continue to spread the word and fight the good fight.