Ortanique on the Mile or Norman's
I've been much more recently and regularly to Ortanique so it's somewhat unfair to compare. The general consensus seems to be that the shine is off Norman's a little and that Van Aken is not paying the Gables location nearly as much attention anymore. Having said that I had a very nice meal last time I was there, which was about 6-8 months ago.
Norman's is a more high-end and elegant experience than Ortanique, which is more casual and noisy. Norman's is a far afield from his original "Mango Gang" roots and now borrows from all different cuisines. Having said that, some of his old "standards" are still some of the best things I've had there - creamy citrusy conch chowder, "down island" french toast w/ curacao flavored foie gras. Portions can be a bit small and the flavors seem somewhat turned down a bit lately.
Where Norman's original influence was more "Nuevo Latino," Ortanique is more "Nuevo Carribean". A little more reasonably priced and less fussy than Norman's. Red Stripe steamed mussels, crab cakes, ceviches are generally always very good as starters, I like the jerk chicken and jerk pork chop for mains.
Both good and have their ups and downs.
lax is right on the money with Normans. For some reason this star chef has lost some of his luster. Maybe because the menu has hardly changed in the last umpteen years?
Their was an incredible post on the LA board a while back about Normans LA, which unfortunately closed. Supposedly on account of the developer/partner selling the building? The LA hounds all theorized as to why this stellar SOFLA chef failed to make it on the Sunset Strip. Theories such as the 'name', 'location' and 'lack of local FLA ingredients" were all floated. Truthfully, I think we could start having that same discussion right here and now. Not that it's going to close here in MIA soon, but one never knows?
I actually LOVE Normans. The dishes lax2mia mentioned are very tasty. Two of my favorites are: the shrimp app and the yellowtail in a citrus butter (piled on top of a nice mound of garlic mashed potatoes and 5 fingers of aspargus). Again, these dishes were very inovative when he first introduced them, but now who doesn;t have coco shrimp apps and garlic mash these days on their menu?
I think ole Norman needs to reinvent himself in a BIG way. I'm not giving my vote to Ortanique, because I have never even been there (although I have heard many contradictory versions of their story).
The last time I went to Normans their was one maybe two tables and me! Granted it was a Tuesday night but STILL-just 3 tables?
I think Frod's on the money too! Why limit your choices to just those two? There are other great places in the Gables and I have heard nothing but good things about Cacao.
Sorry to the OP, I don't think I answered your question! In fact, I may have made your selection even harder?
Good eats nonetheless...
Netmover makes a good point about the menu at Norman's never changing. For locals especially I think we end up skipping these places often because of the "been there done that" factor. If you've never been to either place, though, this won't be a problem.
I think these are 2 good options if you've got one meal in the Gables, really depends what you're looking for. Norman's is more of a dining experience, Ortanique is more casual (although I may have made it sound a lot more rustic and simple than it really is in my earlier description - crab cakes are curried and served w/ "sorrel flower paint and papaya-lime coulis", jerk pork chop is done with a guava-spiced rum sauce, etc.).
Netmover, in response to your speculation, I have heard rumors that Van Aken really just wants to go back to Key West and is tired of running restaurants all over the place. It has been a long run for him. I never went to Louie's Backyard in Key West when he was down there but I remember when he first opened A Mano in the Betsy Ross on South Beach. Had one of my greatest meals ever there. Doesn't seem like it, but that was a long time ago.