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Mar 9, 2008 01:58 PM

South Beach Trip Report (Long)

Was in South Beach (via Manhattan) for the past week, half business/half vacation, and went to a wide range of restaurants, many of which I found from this board. Figured I'd repay the favor with a long, boring recap:

First off, I know this isn't travelocity, for anyone planning a trip to South Beach, please do me a favor and don't stay at The Loews. Only stayed there because it was booked for a work conference, but it is a generic "upscale" hotel. Could have been anywhere. The pool was nice but nothing special, the poolside $8 mango-guava-passion fruit smoothies were actually almost worth the cost, but otherwise, either stay at a small art-deco place and save $300+ a night or, if you need something with more cachet, at least stay at the Delano or National or anywhere else that actually lets you know you're in the Art Deco district.

Onto the food, in order:

CJ's Crab Shack
Perfectly acceptable, not too touristy (relatively speaking) place on Ocean Drive. Needed somewhere within walking distance. Drunken shrimp were great. Raw oysters are well-priced for the location. Baked oysters were non-descript. Stone crab claws were fine, although I have to say, I really don't understand the love for stone crabs. I'd pay less for blue crabs any day. Fisherman's platter was decent. Nondescript batter, but everything was fresh and well-fried. The crab "cake" in the shell was wonderfully light and almost all crab. Hush puppies were crisp and flavorful. Key lime pie was too cream-cheesy for my taste.

Nexxt Cafe (1)
Went here because my wife was craving a "big salad". Her big salad was 99% lettuce and not worth the trouble. My spicy fried calamari salad was a little better. Only 70% lettuce and decently fried calamari, just not in any way spicy. The buffalo chicken roll appetizer was as good as anything else fried and dipped in Frank's and blue cheese dressing would be.

Nexxt Cafe (2)
Yes, we went back despite the mediocre first experience. In-laws came to visit and needed somewhere casual and affordable with a variety of menu options. From the day before, we figured sandwiches were the way to go and were rewarded. Cuban was huge with good quality ingredients. Navajo spicy chicken sandwich was much the same. Rigatoni with marinara was unexpectedly spicy/peppery. Lunch special of half a chicken salad sandwich (augmented with avocado and hot sauce), a passable lobster bisque, and a huge caesar salad was a good value, fresh, and filling. That being said, I won't be going back on my next trip to Miami.

Luckily, we had a friend with a car to drive us out, because this was my favorite meal of the trip. Granted, family style, "upscale comfort food" is right in my wheelhouse. There were 4 of us, a perfect number for everyone to get a good taste of even the half-portion orders.
* Appetizers
Pork Belly w/ Clams: Grabbed one of the last portions and was rewarded. Crispy cubes of pork belly with a complex, flavorful broth.
Truffled Polenta: As good as everyone has said. Best non-bread pudding-related dish of the night.
Bibb Lettuce Salad: Nicely composed, lightly spicy, completely unhealthy salad.
* Entrees
Steak Frites: Perfectly rare and flavorful.
Pasta Carbonara: Not carbonara by any stretch of the imagination, but wonderfully unctuous goodness. Who doesn't love loads of cheese, cream, and a sheet of crispy smoked pork?
Short Rib: My least favorite savory dish. It was still quite good, but the meat was closer to stringy/dry than to moist, melted gelatinous goodness (see Table 8 for what short ribs should be).
* Dessert
Bread pudding: I love bread pudding in general, and really, really love this particular version. From the wonderful vanilla ice cream to the creamy, wonderful pudding itself: perfection.
"Molten" chocolate cake: Not molten, underwhelming. A chocolate-lover in the group couldn't pass it up though.
Overall, the meal wasn't perfect, just close to perfect for me.

Front Porch Cafe
Very good, lemon custardy french toast.
Decent breakfast burrito.

Monty's South Beach
Great for Happy Hour, not sure if I'd go otherwise. Can't beat cheap beer and reasonably priced peel-and-eat shrimp and (especially) raw oysters. Good conch fritters (I happen to like these big, doughy versions, big pieces of conch be damned). Nice, bacony, overly salty she-crab soup. Bland conch salad. Even blander house salad.

Table 8
Went for the short rib grilled cheese. Despite about one stick too much butter on the sandwich, I'm happy to report that there is nothing wrong with short rib grilled cheese. Nicely crisped bread, caramelized onions, overwhelmed cheese, and perfectly succulent pulled short rib. They should exchange tips with Michy's.
Homemade kalamata tapenade was a nice touch as a starter. Turkey club was generic and bland. Skip the truffled chips for the garlicky fries.

Watercress salad: Perfectly dressed. Nice starter salad.
Foie gras: Rightfully praised; was worth the price. Would have appreciated a little more of a crisp crust on the blue corn cakes for added textural contrast, but it's hard to quibble with the overall dish. The combination of the blue corn, figs, and luscious foie gras was wonderfully satisfying.
Sea Bass Special with Beets & Cauliflower, Smoked Duck Sausage Ravioli, and Foie Gras Beurre Blanc: Passed on the Yellowfin Snapper for this special. Everything was cooked just right, but I can't really say that everything actually belonged together on the same plate. Taken as 3 separate mini-dishes though, it was quite good.
Organic Chicken w/ Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts and Corn Bread: Moist, well-brined chicken. Excellent brussel sprouts. Flavorful corn bread. Overly-spiced sweet potatoes. My wife's favorite dish (and meal) of the trip.
Good, traditional key lime pie. Apparently we were on a key lime pie kick.

Las Olas Cafe
Couldn't pass up a visit on the way to the airport. Fantastic, falling-off-the-bone lamb shank. Moist, delicious rice, bean, and chilies, especially with hot sauce and extra sauce from the lamb. Ham & cheese empanada had a flavorful, flaky, nicely deep-fried crust. Cuban sandwich was not as good as my previous visit. The place was packed both inside and at the takeout window, and I feel like they rushed the preparation, because it didn't have the same crispy, almost caramelized exterior that only nice, slow-cooking on the plancha can give you. Overall, a perfect way to end our visit.

Sorry for the length and also the lack of in-depth descriptions outside of "delicious, flavorful, perfect, etc." due to the number of dishes I had to churn through. But a huge thank you to the South Florida Chowhound community. Mostly because of you, we had a thoroughly enjoyable eating tour of South Beach and beyond...

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  1. Glad you liked Michy's. A highlight of my trip to S. Miami last year. We were in SOBE early Jan this year. Stayed at the National. The National was very quite and low key. As we toured the neighboring hotels it was clear the Lowes was a more family oriented hotel, could have been in Orlando. The Delano a bit edgy and the Sagamore was the most hip. Ritz Carlton was very nice. More upscale with an older but wealthier clientele. We had a nice meal at Sardinia but there is a lot of mediocare fare to be had in SOBE but good food is there if you know where to look.

    1. Thanks for the great report. Sounds like you did pretty well despite repeat visits to Nexxt (don't say you weren't warned)!

      1. Technically, the art deco district goes from 5th to 15th street, so neither the Lowes nor the Delano are actually in the art deco district btw.

        Going to Nexxt twice means you must be gluttons for punishment. The fresh juice is the thing I like most at las olas.

        2 Replies
        1. re: tpigeon

          *Technically, the art deco district goes from 5th to 15th street, so neither the Lowes nor the Delano are actually in the art deco district btw.*

          Not sure that's right. National Park Service's website says it extends to 23rd St. ->

          And the map on the Miami Design Preservation Board's website seems to go out to 23rd St. as well ->

          1. re: Frodnesor

            Interesting. I heard 5th to 15th was the art deco district which had 6 story height limitations on all buildings (with 3 or 4 exceptions). I stand corrected.

        2. Love Michy's, especially the Truffled Polenta. Damn, I gotta get back there again soon. Nexxt is basically Cheesecake Factory (and that is a funny/great story) - big menu filled with a lot of crappy/mediocre food. Couldnt agree with you more on Monty's too. Great crowd for drinks after work and decent raw bar but a big "no thanks" on everything else. Glad you enjoyed Miami. With so many new spots opening up, your adventure next time will be totally different!

          11 Replies
          1. re: Blind Mind

            Thanks for the report. I'll be in Sobe this weekend and have booked Michy's for Sun night. We have Tantra one night(is the food decent there now? I haven't been there in years(but did love the environment)). Michael's booked for another and Timo for another(although this will probably get cancelled due to a far too lengthy cab ride(unless I can be convinced otherwise). We might need a spot for Monday night or actually do need a spot if I cancel. I'm up for any suggestions, any type of cuisine.(Although might like to be closer to Sobe proper as want to catch Alex Fox on Monday night.)

            A lot of the food mentioned in the review here seems pretty heavy and not very "tropical/south beach'ish" braised short ribs, lamb shanks, truffled polenta all stuff we can find in Boston in March a plenty.

            Thanks for any tips.

            1. re: Wursthof

              You could try Joe's for stone crabs but that means gambling with the wait. I also like Social at the Sagamore, Le Bon for mussel pots on Lincoln Rd, Doraku on Lincoln for sushi, O Asian Grill or Nobu. I think these places have either unique dishes or present a nice SoBe vibe.

              1. re: Wursthof

                Don't go to tantra.

                here are some suggestions for sobe in no particular order: prime112, talula, tuscan steak, osteria del teatro, nobu, grazie, sardinia.

                1. re: tpigeon

                  The only one of these recs which has any "tropical/south beach'ish"-ness to the food is Talula. For some local flavor on the beach I'd also suggest Ola which picks up and updates the Latin American cuisine thang.

                  I'm a big fan of Timo but don't know if I'd recommend it to someone staying in South Beach with only a few days available.

                  1. re: Frodnesor

                    ok marks. Just don't go to tantra.

                2. re: Wursthof

                  Hmmm, aren't we allowed to have short ribs and lamb shanks?

                  1. re: lax2mia

                    Yep, you sure are allowed to have short ribs and lamb shanks but I've been living with that stuff since october and frankly am ready for some "warm weather" cuisine. I guess just fresh and vibrant dishes is what I am looking for. I'll check out the OLA website to see if there are any good ceviche on the menu. Curious about the Tantra comments, last time I went the food was pretty good and it was all about the environment, girlfriend will like it and she hasn't been. Unless something drastic has happened there it should be fine. I am going to check out the Talula website also. Seems that a number of places are closed on Mon night.
                    Any idea how much the cab ride would be from Sobe to Timo in Sunny Isles??

                    1. re: Wursthof

                      You don't go to Tantra on Mondays for the food. T's point is that the food at Tantra is miserable at best. I agree.

                      However, around 11pm and on, it becomes the Monday night go to spot and really picks up around 2am. So if you're not going to be there from 11pm-2am, I agree...don't go to Tantra.

                      1. re: Wursthof

                        This website suggests cab from South Beach to Sunny Isles will be about $30, which sounds about right to me.

                        I am a huge Timo fan but notwithstanding that, it is not someplace I would suggest someone put an extra $50-60 into cab fare to go to if they're on the Beach.

                        The innovative ceviches are among the high points at Ola. I've been less excited about most of their entrees (though I like the duck "raspado" if it's still on the menu, which is a seared duck breast w/ a tomatillo salsa and duck-confit fried rice done in a stone bowl that gets the rice a little crispy around the edges).

                        1. re: Wursthof

                          Just jibing a little about the ribs, etc. We've had a whopping 5 days of cold this year where those things have actually been welcome (but, if you're at Michael's and they have the almond-sauced short rib I highly recommend it).

                          A few places close on Monday's, Michy's being one of them. If you want something casual but good on Monday there's the Cafe at Books and Books. It's nothing out of this world but the food has some Floridian/Latin/Caribbean accents (especially the specials) that make it a bit of a twist from what you'd get in Boston. It's a lot more casual than the other spots you're hitting but it's mostly outdoor seating and you can peoplewatch on Lincoln Rd. fairly easily. It's also a good (if not better than dinner) lunch spot.

                          1. re: lax2mia

                            Thanks for the feedback. I changed things around to include Talula on Sat night, Michy's Sun and Michael's moved to Monday. Now I'm struggling with the Tantra reservation, maybe just go for a couple drinks and apps and then move on to ceviche etc at Ola or sushi somehwere. Has the atmosphere remained the same there? How bad is the food nowadays?