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Tips needed for Miami and The Keys

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I am going to be in Miami and then traveling down to Key West (first trip to south FL) later this month and would love some tips on where to eat.

Thus far the plan is to take one night in Miami for a "splurge" meal - as a former Manhattenite I know though that cost often does always equal taste - so the pick doesn't need to be a fancy place. I'd like to have something that I won't be able to find elsewhere or something Miami does especially well. E.g. I'll save pizza for NYC (though I'm sure Miami has some good spots). The restaurant can be "sceney" or not - the food is def more important but I'm not turned off by trendy spots per se. My first choice right now is Michey's as it's been getting a lot of press and seems to be a "home grown" restaurant. I'm also considering OLA, Talula, Chispa and Ortanique and am certainly open to other ideas.

I'd also like advice on more downscale places in Miami - good food, prices and a fun atmosphere. So far my first choice in this area is Tap Tap - esp since good Haitian isn't always easy to come by. Any feed back on Tap Tap or other suggestions would be appreciated. Also I'd love some good breakfast / lunch ideas. I'm staying at The Standard but have a car and am willing to drive.

As to Key West - I'm more interested in the low key local type spots. I'm thinking 1/2 Shell, B.O.'s, 5-Brothers and El Siboney - thoughts? Also does Ambrosia really have good sushi?? And I know this is a bit played out but where does one really get the best key lime pie, preferably made with fresh juice? Lastly for the drive between Miami and Key West I've singled out Alabama Jack's and Craig's - good choices?? Other ideas??

Thanks in advance for any recommendations!

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  1. I haven't been down to the Keys for a while though others can surely respond and a search of this board will probably yield some helpful results. As for Miami, I think you've pegged the high points for an upscale-ish meal.

    I like Michy's very much but am often concerned that folks who have read the national press may come in with overly high expectations. I think of it as a really good neighborhood place that has some excellent dishes, but I'm not convinced it belongs in anyone's "top restaurants in America" type lists. And I really genuinely don't mean to dump on the place, it happens to be one of my favorite local restaurants. If you go, expect a funky, fairly intimate place, with an interesting menu with lots of choices done in small portions so you can sample several. Most importantly, I do suggest you study up here before you go - the dishes are somewhat hit or miss with some items a lot better than others. Here's a good start -
    http://www.chow.com/topics/358521

    By the way, appears that Chow has FINALLY upgraded their search function. Hallelujah!

    The other places you mention - Talula, Ortanique, OLA, Chispa - are exactly the places I would suggest for someone looking for a really good "Miami" restaurant experience. I've named them in my personal order of preference. I would add to that list Timo in Sunny Isles and Michael's Genuine in the Design District.

    Tap Tap is a nice call for funky downscale place, though I've never been knocked out by the food. There's some nice suggestions for budget dining on South Beach here, except you should ignore the suggestion of Nexxt which is a Cheesecake Factory-knock-off-tourist-trap -

    http://www.chow.com/topics/389948
    http://www.chow.com/topics/385330

    For breakfast/brunch, probably one of my favorites on the beach is Front Porch Cafe (one of the few good places to eat on Ocean Drive), which has great pancakes. Ice Box Cafe on Lincoln Road is also nice.

    1. Upper Keys = Calypso
      Middle-Lower Keys = Square Grouper
      Key West = Ricky's Blue Heaven (Breakfast,Lunch and yes Dinner!)

      1. Just search keys on this board, lots of good recent info,oh, and enjoy your trip...they're truly a beautiful place.

        1. It sounds like you've already done some searching around on this board, which is a good start since there are plenty of threads asking for suggestions for the Miami-to-Key West trip. Another great stop on the ride down is Robert Is Here, a tropical produce stand/milk shake shop in Florida City. They usually have locally grown kent mangoes this time of year. They're amazing. I've always found the sushi at Ambrosia to be the best in town. If you want to try Blue Heaven, I'd suggest breakfast. However, I always prefer getting a cheese toast and a bucci and having breakfast on the bench outside 5 Brothers. Getting a sandwich there for lunch and finding some shade in the cemetery a block over is also a nice idea. Waterfront Market is good for deli, produce, fish, meat, juice bar, etc. Let us know how it goes.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Nick

            Thanks! I've narrowed down dinner in Miami at bit more. I'm still feeling good about Michy's becuase it sounds like a place where the food is put at the forefront and I've done my research and have a pretty good idea of the dos and don'ts. Next up is Talula becuase everyone seems to love it. The only draw back is that it may be a little more sedate than I'm looking for. Lastly, OLA. I think the scene aspect could be fun (my boyfriend enjoys food but would also appreciate a hipper vibe) and I like the strong nuevo cuisine focus but I have some reservations about the possibility that the food quality may suffer a bit more than I'm willing to trade off for the atmosphere. As to price they all seem about the same with OLA a bit more and Michy's a bit less - correct? So I guess the question I have to answer is whether the "place of the moment" vibe is worth checking out Michy's? Or is the promise of really solid food worth it at Talula even if the scene is a bit more quiet? Or lastly will I be disappointed at the quality and leave hungry (I don't mind spending money on food but hate it when quantity and quality do not support the cost) at OLA?? Decisions, decisions!! Thanks again for everyone's time and guidance!!

            1. re: amyvt

              You are right that Talula's vibe is a bit sedate by South Beach standards. I haven't been to OLA's new location in Sanctuary - I loved the space they had on Biscayne Boulevard and was disappointed by the first place on South Beach they had moved to, but suspect the new space is better.

              You're also probably about on target on pricing, though it really depends at Michy's on how you order. If you do 3 small plates (some of which are more substantial than others) it's probably just slightly less than what you'd spend on an app and a main elsewhere, but the difference is marginal.

              The food is generally pretty good at OLA and you shouldn't leave hungry. Highly recommend you split a sampler of ceviches, and my favorite dish is the "raspado de pato" (a seared duck breast paired with a delicious, semi-crispy rice dish).

              You can't really go wrong with any of them. If you're thinking about Michy's, make reservations - it's constantly busy.

              -----
              Ola Miami
              1745 James Ave, Miami Beach, FL 33139

              Michy's
              6927 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL 33138

              Talula
              210 23rd St, Miami Beach, FL 33139

          2. On your way down to the Keys, stop in Marathon for lunch at Keys Fisheries Market & Marina - stuff is right off the boats, you eat at a picnic bench overlooking the marina - Joe's almost-quality stone crab for 1/4 the price

            1 Reply
            1. re: YosemiteSam

              Thanks again - I'm really looking forward to all the sure-to-be great food and I promise a full write up upon my return! In the meantime feel free to pass along any other ideas that might spring to mind . . .

            2. Hey Amyvt--sounds like we are doing about the same trip. I just read articles about Michy's and am now wanting to go there more than Tuscan Steak. I was completely underwhelmed when I finally made it to Peter Luger's Steak House and am wondering if Tuscan might be the same way.

              11 Replies
              1. re: VAfoodie

                Peter Lugers happens to be my favorite steakhouse (so how dare you :)), but the steaks - and the restaurants - are not very much alike.

                Tuscan is not so much a great steak house rather than a high end italian place that happens to serve a great steak. Michy's is great too but you won't go wrong with either. If you want to stuff your face, I would eat at tuscan. If you want to taste a bunch of different plates - Michy's is the place. If you go to Michy's you must have the baked alaska for dessert. It would be a crime to miss it.

                In my opinion, Tuscan's steak is not nearly as good as Peter Luger so you may like it :).

                1. re: tpigeon

                  I would definitely not do Tuscan over Michy's. I hate the attitude at Tuscan, where you can make a reservation for 8pm and not be seated until 9:30, the "family style" portioning easily gets very expensive, and for me the food while decent is not worth the BS. If you want Italian I'd do Sardinia over Tuscan.

                  1. re: Frodnesor

                    Amy>

                    On your way down to Key West, check out
                    Bob's Bunz MM 81.3 Bayside,
                    Harriette's 95710 Overseas Highway
                    Mrs Macs MM 99.4, BS, Key Largo

                    For breakfast, I like the lobster eggs benny at Blue Heaven in KW or Croissants De France on Duval. Later on, check out the tapas menu at 915 Duval.

                    Since you are visiting soon, I can tell you that Miami's most recent loss is your gain. Chef Norman Van Aken - one of the nicest guys in the kitchen - is "in transition" following the closing of 12-year-old Norman's Restaurant in Coral Gables. Right this minute, he is keeping his pans warm at a restaurant called Wrecker's in Key West. Locals recall this spot used to be El Meson de Pepe. The chef has plans to open a place called Tavern and Town - a high brow plus a casual 2-tier dining place at the Beachside Resort. While the new dressy and casual rooms are readied, go say "Hi" to Norman at Wrecker's 3800 N. Roosevelt (lunch weekdays and dinner Thu-Sat).

                    Tell him we miss him.

                    AG

                    1. re: Frodnesor

                      I have been to tuscan over 30 times and never had to wait over 10 minutes. I find the family style portioning to be the opposite of your experience pricewise.

                      Sardinia is one of my favorite restaurants, but is in no way similar to tuscan.

                      1. re: tpigeon

                        OK I've made a reservation at OLA for Thursday night and at Michy's for Friday. Now what to order! From a review of the posts on this board I've compiled a list of good bets at Michy's consisting of: scallops, miso cod, polenta, gazpacho, croquetas, short ribs and the baked Alaska. Does this seem to be on the money or am I off course?? I haven't really found any reference to favorite dishes (or those to avoid) at OLA except that the ceviches seem to be very popular - any other input? Thanks again!

                        1. re: amyvt

                          Personally, I would do talula or table 8, ortanique over ola. I think you are making an error.

                          That being said, the rainbow ceviche is by far the best. You should get the meatballs too - though they are really overpriced, they may be the best meatballs in town. Truth be told the best thing on the menu is the bread they serve in the beginning - some sort of cheesebread. If only they gave you more...

                          1. re: tpigeon

                            Humm - well I'd like to stay more on the South Beach side of town for dinner Thursday so I guess that means Table 8 would be an option and I've been intrigued but I have to say I'm still a bit gun shy given the extremely mixed reviews. It seems like people love it or hate it. I can't seem to get a consensus form chowhound or anywhere - votes for OLA or Table 8 anyone??

                          2. re: amyvt

                            Michy's - don't remember a scallop dish, the gazpacho is a "don't miss", the croquetas and short ribs very good, I don't think the miso cod is still on the menu, and the polenta I thought was only so-so. Yes on the baked alaska.

                            If you go for such things, I thought the sweetbreads were excellent (both a prior incarnation w/ a pea puree, and a new one w/ BBQ pork jowl), and also really liked the orrechiette w/ duck sausage and greens (a nice variation on the traditional orrechiette w/ sausage and broccoli rabe).

                            At OLA, get whatever ceviches sound good, the foie gras & fig empanadas are yummy, the duck (raspado de pato) is my favorite entree. The pork dish was surprisingly disappointing.

                            1. re: amyvt

                              The bread pudding for dessert is a must...I know it sounds like an off choice but it is sooo good!

                            2. re: tpigeon

                              Maybe I just had a bad night at Tuscan and should give it another chance. Few things piss me off as much as waiting more than 10 minutes for a reserved table, however. The food was pretty good, though I am generally not a big fan of high-ticket Italian since it's often done equally well by less expensive places. A good fiorentina is a beautiful thing when done right, though.

                              Agree that Tuscan and Sardinia are very different restaurants - but to the extent they both fall in the Italian genre, I thought Sardinia was infinitely better.

                              1. re: Frodnesor

                                So the grand plan is: Michy's and Table 8 in Miami for dinner and probably Front Porch and Ice Box for lunch. Key West is a bit up in the air but thus far the goal is to try for B.O.'s, 5 Brothers, 1/2 Shell, Blue Heaven, 915 Duval and maybe Wrecker's. I'll also be in the Cocoa Beach area for a while and though it definitely seems to be a bit weaker in the culinary arena I'll try my best! Thinking Mango Tree, Black Tulip, Asian Gourmet or Siam Orchid (there seem to be a lot of promising Vietnamese places) and then maybe Murdocks and/or Corky Bells. I'm not sure I'll stick to the list but I promise a full review when I return at the end of the month! Thanks again for everyone's help!!

                      2. I've only been to the keys once, ate in couple of places, but one of the things that stuck in my head was the breakfast I had at Rooftop Cafe, beautiful place and very yummy. Alonzo's Oyster bar was fun, fresh oysters and different types. Blue Heaven for breakfast, I only had toast but everyone else on the table said it was very good. Louie's Backyard for drinks, very calm and pretty place to be on the afternoon. I am trying hard to remember but for some reason escaped my mind...it was a little italian place on Duval, it was fun and food was good. They have a piano bar kind of environment apart from the restaurant. Also tried the Blonde Giraffe key lime pie, it was delicious! And also tried the key west home made gelattos, weird flavors yet they are still home made with honey. Hope this helps somehow!

                        3 Replies
                        1. re: SarahOM

                          Hi Amy>

                          We hit the Keys this past weekend. Had the fried grouper, basted eggs & grits for breakfast at Bob's (MM81 - Islamorada Bakery serves til 2pm). Sounds weird - tastes just heavenly. Had coconut shrimp and drinks later on at Key's Fisheries in Marathon (mentioned above - turn right on 35th street and drive to the dock). In KW we went to Wrecker's which is just over the first bridge into KW on Roosevelt.

                          It is a stoppping off point for Norman who is training his staff there. In other words - it TASTES like Normans and looks like Denny's. No matter. The food was wonderful. Tiny Vietamese pork meatballs, yuca frita style shrimp, crisp duck breast over sweet potato mash and delicious Frenched baby lambchops over an orzo and med-syle veggies.

                          The secret dessert Norman is working on is something he is TRADEMARKING called Spice Cream (TM) - new home made ice cream flavors paired with spices. We had a scoop of chocolate habanero that was absolute perfection in a bowl (oh - did I mention it was $3?) The taste starts out as a bittersweet dark chocolate ultra-creamy mousse feeling in your mouth - very rich. Then as it passes your palate, the habanero just blooms. It was so amazingly good we wanted to order a second bowl. Then the creme brulee showed up and we devoured that instead.

                          Check it out - feel free to dress casually. They serve lunch and dinner. Our other KW pick is 915 Duval. And definitely do not miss no-name pub.
                          http://www.nonamepub.com/index.html

                          AG

                          1. re: advisor_Girl

                            Been thinking of doing a Key West venture just to check out Wrecker's. However, I hate to rock Norman's world, but he's not exactly ahead of the curve on putting some spice in ice cream. Even Haagen Dazs has a Mexican Chocolate w/ cinnamon -
                            http://www.haagendazs.com/products/pr...

                            It's not habanero, but they do suggest serving with a jalapeno fruit salsa!

                            I should note, though, that Norman has always been a master at getting some spice and heat into his desserts. I remember years ago (many years - I will date myself with this reference) I had a fantastic dinner at his place in the Betsy Ross Hotel on South Beach ... the place was called A Mano ... which finished off with a bananas foster type dish with honey and hot chilies. Great stuff.

                            1. re: Frodnesor

                              Fro>

                              The Mexican Chocolate ice cream at the Frieze (Michigan Ave just south of Lincoln) is infused with cinnamon. Delicious...

                              BTW - I think the trademark is simply the term (name) Spice Cream - not the concept. We just found it funny he went to the trouble to trademark it - unless there is a commercial venture in packaged ice cream in the works. I would definitely buy Spice Cream if I found it at Publix.

                              AG

                        2. El Siboney is my favorite Key West restaurant. Fabulous Cuban home cooking at a very reasonable price. Off the beaten track, filled with locals....don't miss it! Follow your nose.....

                          1 Reply
                          1. re: 1stmakearoux

                            Trip Review:
                            OK so I'm finally getting around to this but here's the low down.
                            Stared out in Cocoa Beach. Ate dinner one night at a Siam Orchid outpost in Cocoa Beach. I really must say that they actaully tried and a few dished worked very well for a low key local spot. An appitezer of white tuna wrapped in paper thin cucmuber and served with a ponzu based sauce was really excellent. The shushi boat was a very solid value and though it was very kitchy in presentation the fish was fresh and offered a pretty good selection - though I found the rice to be too sweet. The sashimi was very good though for the most part.
                            Also had dinner at a new place in downtown Cocoa called the Fat Snook. They were definitely trying to have a trendy vibe and it kinda worked. The restaurant had just opened though and didn't seem to have caught their stride. Actually some of it was kinda funny like the fact that they served an amuse of pea soup that was pretty good if a tad salty but though an elegant idea the effect was diluted by the fact that they served it in a mini souffle dish. This was especially odd given that the salt was brought to the table in a lovely demi tasse cup - a much better choice for the soup!! Had a few starters - nothing to write home about. Bacon wrapped scallops were just that and a manchego guava "purse" was way too sweet. However my boyfriend and I shared the two market fish and they were very very fresh and quite tasty but again this was diluted by the fact that the plating was just silly. The fish was accompanied by a few pieces of purple potato and a few small pieces of broccoli and strips of carrot. It all tasted to good but looked like the sides at a Holiday Inn (save maybe the purple color of the potatoes I guess). Had the key lime pie for dessert - not good. The filling was way runny and there was not even a tang of lime. But all in all I think the restaurant might pick up some refinement as it gets it's groove down becuase to be fair I think when I visited it had only been open a few days and you really could tell they wanted to make it work - so hey, maybe it will. Anyway it has a much hipper atmosphere than most places in the area.
                            Down to Key West.
                            Stopped at Alabama Jack's on the way down. Fun atmosphere. Good super not stuffy service. We had a great table looking out on the marsh but I have to say the food was underwhelming, especially the conch fritters which were 99% bread. The grouper bites though were quite tasty. I would go back but now I know to just order a big plate of those bites and a bucket of cold beer.
                            Fist night in Key West we ate at 915 Duval, mostly becuase we had a late start on the evening and they serve late. Over all the atmosphere was enjoyable, definitely more suave and less tourist-trap-like than a lot of spots. The service was very good and the food pretty solid. Everything was very fresh down to the lettuce. The best thing on the menu was the tuna "dome" - I really liked the green apple in the crab salad at the center of the dome. It ended up being pretty pricey though - not sure I'd go back for dinner given the cost to taste ratio. They do have a nice upstairs lounge though where we had a couple of drinks after dinner. Strangely, it was almost empty besides the fact that it offered a nice selection of wines and a lovely second floor porch from which to view the action on Duval. We did though meet some cool locals who were the only other people up there. All in all I'd say 915 Duval is a great sport to grab an app and a drink and watch the people strolling by.
                            Lunch day two was at B.O.'s Fish Wagon. Holy God - that is the BEST fish sandwich ever made. I ordered the conch sandwich which had recently received a great review in the NY Times and it was good don't get me wrong but my boyfriend (who has much healthier dietary habits than I) ordered the grilled fish sandwich which consisted of wonderfully seasoned impossibly fresh fish (it had been grouper until a fisherman brought in snapper about 30 min before we ordered) grilled and served on soft cuban bread with gooey grilled onions, fresh crisp lettuce and tomato and a generous slathering of key lime mayo. Seriously, and I do not say this lightly it was one of the best things I've eaten in memory. Yum!! And though at $12 it's not a cheap sandwich it is well worth the price - so, so good.
                            Dinner night two in Key West was most interesting. Because of some tips from fellow Chowhoundites I had heard about Norman of Norman's recent move so we sought out Wrecker's. It was a bit hard to find and certainly there was no atmosphere - looks like an upscale Denny's (holy oxymoron) and we were one of three tables all night but the food was the best (save my lowly fish sandwich) that I had in Florida. We started out with the conch salad cocktail. It was served with a "spiced foam" and was very light and refreshing though I would have added a little more heat to the dish and perhaps a bit more citrus but the conch was very tender. Also started with the BBQ pork empanadas served with a cumin lime crema and black bean corn salsa. I loved these - the dough was super light and flaky, the filing moist and flavorful and the salsa bright and fresh - it all worked splendidly. My boyfriend had the yellow tail with mashed potatoes, citrus butter sauce and a heart of palm salad. It was very very good - though given the richness of the dish I think a larger portion of the salad would have added a bit more balance to the dish - but really comfort food island style at its best. I had the grilled blackened grouper which was served with purple potatoes, peeled tomatoes, ribbons of romaine, avocado and a sherry vinaigrette. It was a light deconstructed style dish and was very nice with perfectly cooked fish though I think a bit heavier hand with the vinaigrette would have woken up the flavors nicely. To finish we split the key lime pie which was more like a small tart and was amazing - best key lime pie I had the whole trip and I love key lime pie. Loved, loved it!! All in all it was a really fun experience and very reasonable prices for the quality. The whole thing was actually kinda funny too given the quality of the food and setting, a really quirky juxtoposition - for example as we walked in this whole family was walking out and I feel certain they had no idea who was in the kitchen and has just sort of stumbled in especially since the teenage boys informed us as we entered, "You should go in! It's kinda expensive but holy sh*t it's really good!" I'm not even kidding - too funny! I chatted a bit with the sommelier who left Norman's with Norman and who was great with some really interesting recommendations for pairing. He told me they are just working out the menu before opening Tavern and Town (I think I have the names right) and by the taste of it they should be winners!
                            In Miami we had dinner the first night at Table 8 - I wish I had taken notes becuase now I don't really recall what I had. Let's see though - I did have a green bean salad that was very good and my boyfriend had a tomato motz salad that he loved. We both had fish and I recall it being quite good but can't remember how exactly it was prepared - though I do recall that my dish was served with a pea puree that was not good as it was as thick as wall spackeling. One thing that was odd to me though was how empty it was. Granted we were seated at 10:00 (we seemed to be running late the whole trip) but coming from NYC a relatively new trendy spot like Table 8 would have been slammed at 10:00 on a Thursday. Even the lounge was empty. Is this normal? I get the feeling Miami is much more of a weekend town than weeknight and I guess summer in general is probably more quiet. Regardless the food was good and the service was competent and there was no attitude, which is always nice.
                            Night two we went to Michy's. Michy's was good but I'm not sure it lived up to the hype and at $100 a head was a bit steep. I will say the cerviche was incredible - so fresh and lively on the palate! The short ribs were also good but nothing I haven't had before. Oh and all the talk about the gazpacho kinda left me baffled. It was good but not that great. I dunno - strange too becuase I love gazpacho. I will tell you guys though if you happen through Shelburne VT ever The Bearded Frog is serving a gazpacho this summer that is garnished with a basil watermelon sorbet and is one of the best cold soups I've ever had. A bit off topic sorry ; ) All in all Michy's was a good experience though and it was fun to eat where the crowd seemed far more local than on SOBE and I liked the funky decor.
                            Sooo that's the story - hope this is helpful to some. Cheers!!