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Is Miami really an unsophisticated dining city?

An article in today's Herald about the recent crop of out-of-towners opening branches of successful restaurants from L.A. and N.Y. seems to think so. Here's some quotes and a link to the article. Very sad, but I tend to agree on almost all points. Any comments?

"Their beefs: a lack of culinary sophistication; a dearth of top-quality, locally grown produce; fish purveyors with less-than-exacting standards; a restaurant workforce that's not quite up to speed."

"He serves classic bistro fare (seared foie gras with apple and grape compote, steak tartare and frites), but Delouvrier wishes his customers were a tad more, well, aware."

"But as far as produce is concerned, I was spoiled rotten in L.A. I have great relationships with the local farmers there. Here it's taking more time to set that up."


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  1. Forgot this gem:

    "I am not criticizing. The customer is always king. But I wish they would trust me more. In New York, they come to my restaurant to eat my food. Here I think they just come to eat."

    1. Yes. We are not a real city yet...

      1. What gets me is that Miami is going through the same restaurant buildout as Vegas, chefs with successful restaurants in other cities replicating their concept in a hotel or casino. The one difference is that we actually have an agriculture and aquaculture industry whereas I'm almost positive that Vegas has to import almost everything. Yet no one gripes about this in Vegas. Or maybe I'm missing something?

        6 Replies
        1. re: lax2mia

          I assume most of the product in Vegas comes from the west coast which is not that far off. Many of the restauranteurs are coming from there too (Michael Mina, Tom Keller, Bradley Ogden, Hubert Keller, etc.) and so are probably using the same purveyors and moving everything quickly - and they can recover the cost b/c people are accustomed to spending big money in Vegas (of course, I don't think our restaurant prices are much different here).

          1. re: lax2mia

            First of all, I don't think the food in vegas is very good. I'd frankly rather eat here. Second of all, Vegas is very near california so can get much produce easily without worrying about freshness. Third of all, the employees, in general, are more professional in vegas than they are in miami.

            1. re: tpigeon

              Wow - where have you been eating in Vegas? L'Atelier de Joel Robuchon, which opened in the MGM Grand about a year ago, is one of the best meals I've ever had (and that's his "casual" place, there's a higher-end one too). Bouchon, which is Thomas Keller's French bistro, is excellent. Aureole was very good. There's several more I haven't tried yet which are supposed to be excellent - Michael Mina's place in the Bellagio, Hubert Keller's Fleur de Lys... I have been quite impressed by most of the newer places in Vegas and by the seriousness with which they are taken by the restauranteurs.

              1. re: Frodnesor

                Haven't been to any of those places. Haven't been to vegas in almost 2 years. Will definitely try Robuchon and Bouchon next time I go. Sometimes things can change quickly :).

                1. re: Frodnesor

                  Also try Bradley Ogden at Caesar's Palace next time you're there.

                  1. re: diablita FL

                    Ogden's place was closed for remodeling when I was out last month. I'm not sure whether that's for real or if it just closed. Never seemed that busy any time I was there. I really enjoyed his place One Market in San Francisco when there a couple years ago.

            2. I think there's some merit to this and indeed their complaints are ones many of us voice too: why is it so hard to find good local produce? why is it, when we're surrounded by ocean, so hard to find fresh locally caught fish? why are so many restaurants staffed with vacant slackers?

              On the other hand, I thought the "rebuttal" from Mark Militello was somewhat telling: these folks are coming in from other places and expect everything to be right there for the picking. That's not the case, but if you really work at it you can find good local product. Mark's Place certainly does, I think Brana is also really making an effort too.

              I find the complaints somewhat inconsistent and odd, though. Govind Armstrong can hardly complain about Miami being a "see and be seen" environment when that's exactly what he has in LA and when they're clearly pitching a late night martini & small plate deal here.

              I thought Delouvrier's quote (whch L2M noted above) is actually awfully arrogant and telling. You think people should "come to eat your food" before they've ever had it? He may be a legend in NY but his reputation here is only as good as what's on the plate. Give people good food, and then maybe they'll grow to trust you. And I've got to say, we've been to Goulue once, and while it was good (the hangar steak in particular), it sure wasn't the best French bistro food I've ever had in the US (that honor goes to Bouchon in LV, with a second place to the old Brasserie Le Coze).

              The "see and be seen" atmosphere, and a somewhat unsophisticated clientele, do have a dumbing down effect on restaurants here and there are certain types of places that may never successfully operate here (I'm thinking in particular of the "serious" dining like French Laundry or the Modern in NY, or the deconstructionists like Ferran Adria and other Spaniards or Alinea, WD-50, etc.). But I think there are several places that do serious, sensitively prepared food that have succeeded and show there's a market for it. I'd put Mark's Place, Timo, Talula (and probably others I'm not thinking of right now) in that group.

              1. Wow, how shocking. Folks coming into Florida and complaining things aren't as great as where they're from. Never heard THAT before...

                While it's great to have these top chefs here I suppose, I really don't worry too much about these new locations for chefs that made their reps elsewhere - I'd hate for us to follow the Vegas model.

                Rather, I root for the local chefs to grow on their own and deliver us another homegrown wave of acclaim a la Norman, Mark M., Johnny V etc. Restaurants that are South Florida based, not the latest sidebar from budding chef moguls. Local chefs know the local produce, seafood, etc and can do amazing things with what they've always had to work with. Miami will never have the fresh produce of California - nowhere else in the States does. So why bash us for it? The seafood however? Indefensible.

                That said, I'd die if Keller opened a place here :)

                1. I've not spent enough time in Florida, but I would have thought the climate was ideal for growing just about everything that can be grown in CA - if not more so. Maybe not on a commercial basis, but it's a climate that is very plant friendly. Am I wrong?

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: tastyjon

                    Yes - you're wrong. A lot of edibles require warm days and cool nights. And no hard freezes. In south Florida - most of the year - the days are hot and the nights are warm (or hot). Up here in north Florida - we're much the same about half the year - but we can be cool or cold or freezing in winter. The biggest crops up where I live are cabbage and potatoes - and they are winter/spring crops. I grow some stuff at home. Lettuce? OK in the fall/winter as long as we don't get a hard freeze. Maybe ok in south Florida a few months a year. Tomatoes? Forget it (I don't like to spray - which you have to do to raise tomatoes here). Won't go on at length. Think you get the point. What kinds of crops did you have in mind?

                  2. It does not seem that the locally grown produce is nearly as varied as what you find in farmer's markets in CA or Northwest. That said, there's stuff to work with, and I agree with Y. Sam, the best restaurants usually are those that are genuinely locally based.

                    Here's a link to to a publication showing what's grown here and when:


                    1. I defintely think (1) Florida has the potential to grow almost whatever produce it wants but (2) the industry thrived on a mass market model which is geared toward quantity and not quality. Note that the vast majority of citrus juice product comes from Florida but the vast majority of whole citrus comes from California (domestically speaking, I'm not including imports). My theory is that the bulk of the farmers here have the mentality of growing for the masses and never opted for variety or quality.

                      There are, however, a few places making inroads. Some farmers at the Gardner's market have arrays of vegetables (heirloom tomatoes, carrots and beans) comporable to what I've seen in Cali, but also expensive. Paradise farms is hosting dinners with local chefs at their place in Homestead but I've never seen their products around.

                      In general, I think the more demanding and educated consumers are, the market will follow. However, if consumers are happy with the status quo, then there's no impetus for change.

                      1. I lived in Miami for over 20 years (have been gone 10 years). And I agree - Miami is an unsophisticated dining city. I read some of your threads - and - in one of them - someone remarked on the vibrant dining scene that existed when Mark Militello and Norman Van Aken first hit the area. The poster said that was 10 years ago. Actually - it was more like 25 years ago - when Militello opened his first place and Van Aken was in Key West. It was a promising start - but it fizzled.

                        So why did this happen? A number of reasons IMO. First - the area is huge geographically - the population is spread out and the traffic is terrible. If I lived in Coconut Grove or Key Biscayne (lived in both places) today - would I go to NE Miami like I used to do when Mark Militello opened there? Get on I-95 at 7 pm if I didn't have to? Are you kidding?

                        So you will get clusters of good restaurants near population areas where people have money. Like Coral Gables. But there will be too many restaurants to support the local population groups. And there will be all kinds of frictions. My friends in Pinecrest don't want to go to Coral Gables and dump a lot of money for dinner at a place where no one speaks English - and where the service is awful. As it is in most Miami restaurants (we went to Van Aken's short-lived restaurant Mundo - and the service - although bilingual - was hideously incompetent in terms of getting the food on our table).

                        Then of course - there are affluent population centers which could never support good restaurants. Like Aventura - where everyone is over 70 and their idea of adventurous is a meal with salt. Or Miami Beach - where almost everyone is a tourist who is more interested in a mojito and a model than a decent meal.

                        So who's going to support a La Broche? Or a Mosaico? La Broche opened and closed so quickly I never had a chance to dine there. I did get to Mosaico - but it was clear that it was doomed (the place was half empty on a Friday at 8). FYI - the chef from Mosaico is now up at the Ritz Carlton at Amelia Island.

                        Note that Miami isn't unique. I think all of Florida is more or less like Miami. Only difference up here in northeast Florida (near Jacksonville) is we have a lot fewer nice restaurants. And they tend to be located in affluent population centers which can support them. Decent demand - not much supply. So the best of them do ok.

                        Finally - when one (not the OP - just "one" in general) complains about chains - keep in mind that chains produce a consistent product. Who wants to go to a restaurant that's ok one night - bad the next? Especially if you're a person of limited means who can't afford to throw money away. I have to tell you - the best Italian restaurant in Jacksonville these days is probably Maggione's. It even makes a lot of its own pasta (and it's good pasta) - which is more than you can say about the majority of local places that buy their dinners frozen at Costco. And PF Chang's may well be the best Chinese restaurant in the area. Doubt the situation in Miami is much better than what we have up here these days when it comes to these "everyday places". Robyn

                        P.S. Concerning local produce. I am a gardener. Ever try to grow stuff in Florida? We simply don't have the climate that California does. We can't grow a lot of things - and it's hard to grow the things we can grow (too hot - too wet - too many bugs - etc.). But if I can get decent stuff to cook at home - a restaurant should be able to do the same.

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: pvgirl

                          I'm not sure I agree with all this, though I'm not sure of the answers either.

                          For starters, I don't think the original "Mango Gang" completely fizzled. Many of the originals are still around in one form or another: Mark Militello (just went to Mark's South Beach this weekend and it was very good), Alan Susser (haven't been in ages); Norman's (has gone downhill but mostly from his own neglect, I think he's just ready to pack it in and go back to Key West). There's folks like Johnny Vincenz (Johnny V, moved to FTL but recently reopened in the Astor), Jonathan Eisman (Pacific Time - last time I went was disappointed as the place seems to be stuck in time), Robin Haas (Chispa) still going strong. Then there's a newer generation of folks like Curto & Randazzo at Talula, Michelle Bernstein (formerly Azul now Michy's), and Tim Andriola at Timo, a Susser alum (this place is seriously underrated IMO), Jeffrey Brana, a Norman's alum ...

                          Having said that, though, there does seem to be a dearth of real innovation. I don't think it's necessarily geography, I think the audience is lacking. You can get from most points of Miami to most others in about 30-40 minutes. Certainly you can get to one of the central restaurant spots (Coral Gables, Miami Beach, Aventura) in less.

                          I'be interested in better understanding how some other places, like Chicago, became more serious food cities. The population of the city of Chicago (excluding suburbs) is roughly comparable to that of Miami-Dade County. There seem to be a lot of better and more innovative restaurants than we have here. Why should that be?

                          1. re: Frodnesor

                            I don't have all the answers either. As for Chicago - the "center city" area in terms of eating is relatively compact. A tourist might go from downtown to Alinea or other places not in the middle of downtown (short cab ride). But how many tourists will go from South Beach to Coral Gables? I still think traffic explains a lot of it.

                            But in terms of history - after I wrote my original message - well I mentally went though the recent history of Miami. What did you have in the 70's and early 80's? Cocaine cowboys - riots - the Mariel boatlift. Not conducive to fine restaurants putting down "roots". And just when things seemed to settle down - Hurricane Andrew came along. Messed up a large part of south Dade for a long time. I moved in 1995 - but I used to visit my parents (before my mother died and my father moved here last year) - and just about everything good/promising seemed to fizzle. Not everything - e.g., I really liked Casa Tua and it's still around. But a lot. The old "Mango Gang" is just that - old. And over the hill IMO. I've never been to Mark M's place on South Beach but the one in Boca was very mediocre when we tried it. And there were some places we tried where I didn't agree with the general consensus (e.g., I thought Azul was ok - but nothing terrific - when Michelle Bernstein was there).

                            Our accountant is still in Miami. He's our age - and he likes to travel and dine. Dislikes the scene on Miami Beach for the most part almost as much as we do. And he agrees with what's been said here. Next time I talk with him I'll ask him what he thinks about why things are the way they are. Perhaps he has some ideas we haven't thought about yet. Robyn

                            1. re: pvgirl

                              Agree that much of the "old guard" seem to be resting on their laurels. I did think that Mark's South Beach was pretty good when we went very recently. Also nice is that the menu there still seems to change regularly. They also make a real effort to procure quality ingredients, both locally and from wherever else they can be found.

                              On the other hand, I thought I had been transported in time the last time I went to Pacific Time and about 90% of the menu was exactly the same as it was 10 years ago. Same is true of Nemo.

                        2. The Vegas model might be weird but once the staff of these places move on and start their own places, the cuisine will change/get better. I'd guess they won't all be doing the same thing as their current places. They'll probably open smaller, cooler places with local influences. Just a thought.