Miami - one night
My girlfriend and I will be passing through Miami to Central America, and decided to come a bit early to have a great meal or two before heading out. We both love food -- everything from Michelin-starred restaurants to ethnic dives. We are value-conscious, but are willing to spend on great food; we prefer not to spend money on ambience or popularity alone. We arrive Saturday afternoon and head out Sunday morning. 2 questions:
1. Suggestions for dinner on Saturday night? We made reservations for Michy's but are also open to other options, especially something that we can't get in DC, Philly, or New York. Possibly Cuban/Latin-American, seafood?
2. Anything great we can grab on Sunday morning prior to getting to the airport for a 10 AM flight?
3. (sorry, one additional question) - good neighborhood to stay in that is convenient to (1) and (2)? I would prefer not to rent a car unnecessarily...
I've found that unless you stay in the neighborhood of South Beach, you really do need to rent a car unless you stay at an airport hotel (where they probably run shuttles to the airport). South Beach has numerous taxis to the airport. There's also a public bus that runs from the airport to South Beach (you'll save money but not time).
To keep this post food related, good stone crab claws are probably difficult to find your area (well, they are in NYC). Joe's in South Beach is famous for them but you can find them at other places as well. They are pricey and Joe's has a ridiculous waiting policy for dinner though you can go to the takeout next door with no wait. Not sure when you're arriving but stone crab season ends around May.
Last time I was here I really enjoyed El Chalan on the Beach, a Peruvian restaurant (mostly seafood) in South Beach. Very economical -- nothing really over $16 or so. You're definitely not paying for ambiance.
I haven't been there yet but Florida Cookery in South Beach is a more upscale restaurant supposed to be concentrating on foods from the region. So that may also be of interest to you.
Off the beach, I've really liked El Mago de Las Fritas for a cuban hamburger -- highly seasoned ground meat topped with shredded fried potato sticks. Never found anything like it in NYC.
Michy's is great but will not fulfill your #3 as there is nowhere close by to stay unless you're considering the type of place that until recently charged by the hour. (Though I'd consider it worth a short cab ride)
If you want to stay somewhere walking distance (or very short taxi distance) to your dining destination, your best bets will be South Beach, Downtown/Brickell, or Coral Gables.
My favorite spot on the Beach right now is Bazaar, but Jose Andres is already king of DC so maybe not ideal for you. Altamare does nice things with local seafood but if I had one meal in Miami I'm not sure that's where it would be. If your focus is on local flavor, you may want to check out Florida Cookery in the James Hotel.
Setai is not the place for a value-conscious diner.
Downtown/Brickell you can go to Nemesis Urban Bistro (though I wouldn't walk there, somewhat dodgy neighborhood), Tuyo, River Oyster Bar, maybe Edge Steak in the Four Seasons.
Coral Gables, I'd consider Eating House, the recently opened Bread & Butter, Graziano's for Argentine parrillada, Francesco for Peruvian, Bulla for Spanish (should be opening this week).
>>>Setai is not the place for a value-conscious diner.<<<
Your experience at Setai must have differed from ours. We found the overall value of the food and service exceeded what we were charged. I think some confuse price with value. A $4 hamburger that is horrible tasting is a terrible value in my mind while a rather expensive dinner where the food, wine and service is excellent and priced appropriately seems like a good value to me.
I have no difficulty discerning between price and value. I have not been to Setai since the latest chef change, but my last experience with their $120 tasting menu was heavy on luxury ingredients and light on flavor. The tasting menu is now $155. For that price, or going a la carte with appetizers ranging from $14-38 and entrees $29-58, they better knock it out of the park.
Part of my problem with Setai is that the menu's Asian bent sets itself up for very difficult comparisons. That least expensive appetizer is a $14 Tom Kha Gai soup. That is probably nearly 3x what it will cost anywhere else. Is it 3x better than the soup at Panya? I really doubt it. They sell dim sum for $12-22 an order. You can probably get dumplings just as good at Philip Ho for 1/3 the price (the chef at Philip Ho made the dim sum at the Setai for 5 yearsi).
The service was excellent when I was there and the space is beautiful.
Trust me, I have no hesitation spending money on a great meal. But particularly for someone who describes themselves as "value-conscious," Setai would not be my recommendation.
Frodnesor, thank you for the reply. Now that I have read your perspective I tend to agree with much of what you said.. While we did not have the soup, I doubt it is 3 times better than the soup of say a little, under the radar Asian restaurant that focuses solely on food and not on ambiance or service. Same with the dim sum, but we did not go to Setai for their dim sum. :-)
You are right and there are other options with great Asian food that have significantly lower prices. I guess when I think of "value" though, I tend to think of many variables that go into the equation and when I leave I say to myself...Ok, was that entire experience from the wine to the service to the food a good value for what it cost?
Regardless, I completely understand your point of view and your points are excellent.
What many of these South Beach recommendations are failing to mention is that it'll cost you likely $40 each way to take a cab. Unless you can find a cheap rental option (zipcar is a possibility), I'd stick to Coral Gables, Design District, Midtown, and Downtown/Brickell. Even those areas will be $20-30 cab fare though.
That said, here are some recs, google for more info:
Coral Gables - Su Shin Izakaya (Japanese), El Rey de las Fritas (Cuban)
Design District - Michael's Genuine Food & Drink (local, "American", *my top spot in Miami*)
Midtown - Sakaya Kitchen (fast-casual Korean)
Downtown/Brickell - NAOE (Japanese omakase, intimate experience and awesome), Momi Ramen (ramen joint...duh), neMesis Urban Bistro (eclectic is the best word I can think to describe), River Oyster Bar (seafood), Edge Steak & Bar (plenty of great options besides steaks)
As for your breakfast request... If your flight is departing at 10am out of MIA, I strongly suggest being in line to check in at 8am. The check-in and security screening process at MIA can be a total zoo, especially if flying internationally. Not many places I can think of that will be open at 7am in that area so best bet is breakfast at the airport. Boudevin (sp?) has a pretty good bagel & lox in Terminal D. Also in D is La Carreta where you can get your Cuban fix if you haven't already.
"We arrive Saturday afternoon and head out Sunday morning."
"3. (sorry, one additional question) - good neighborhood to stay in that is convenient to (1) and (2)? I would prefer not to rent a car unnecessarily..."
Why would anyone spend money on a cab ride to stay on South Beach given they wont even be there 1/2 day? To me the poster wanted recs in the airport vicinity or short ride.
re: Blind Mind
OP was looking for a neighborhood to stay that was convenient to (1) dinner on Saturday night; and (2) breakfast Sunday morning, so they could avoid renting a car. That would suggest they want a neighborhood where they can walk to dinner and breakfast - not necessarily one that's convenient to the airport.
If I had one night in Miami and wanted to avoid renting a car, I'd likely stay at the SLS or somewhere nearby, go to Bazaar for dinner, have drinks at Bar Centro, or Gale (isn't that one of your recs?), or the W, or one of the other nice hotel bars nearby (Raleigh, Rose Bar in the Delano ...), and in the morning see if I had time to duck into Paul Bakery or maybe the Dutch bakery counter before leaving. If not, you're right that the eating at MIA is not as terrible as it used to be, I had a perfectly decent breakfast at Beaudevin recently too.
There's about a $10 difference on taxi rates to Downtown v. South Beach ($21.70 vs. $32) ($5 difference if you take a SuperShuttle):
Stay at the Mandarin Oriental, eat at Naoe, then tell everyone how sophisticated Miami is from Brickell Key.
Thanks for all the helpful replies! Unfortunately, Michael's Genuine is booked for Saturday. Given the distances and travelling involved, we decided to get a rental car, so neighborhood is not (much) of an issue now.
Right now, we have reservations at Michy's and Bazaar -- we've actually never been to Jose Andres' restaurants in D.C.. Still considering whether to go to Joe's -- we haven't had stone crab claws. Any other quality purveyors of stone crab claws that maybe are not as touristy?
High-end Japanese we've had and quite enjoyed, but somehow having our one dinner in Miami be Japanese omakase seems like a missed opportunity to experience the more Miami-specific cuisines.
Cuban -- tempted to try El Rey de las Fritas -- maybe at the end of the night.
Seafood -- thoughts on El Chalan or My Ceviche over any of the prior?
Coming this Saturday and will report back -- thanks!!
So you've narrowed it down to Michy's and the Bazaar. Both have their merits and to me it would depend on what you're planning to do the rest of the night. If you want to have a mellow dinner which leans towards more classic dishes and techniques then I'd choose Michy's. If you're looking for something edgier and that's more of a scene head to the Bazaar (even though it's known for inventive takes on Spanish food, I tend to think the classic Spanish dishes are actually better). None of Andres' restaurants in DC are like the Bazaar so even though it's and Andres place, it fills your requirement of something you can't get in DC/NY/PHL.
You won't be disappointed with either, they're just different experiences. Both are about the same in the value scale.
As for stone crabs, it depends what time you get in. If you can fit in a late lunch I'd make a b-line for either Joe's or My Ceviche, get some crab claws and walk a few blocks to South Pointe Park and have an impromptu picnic.
On your way to the airport just stop by a Cuban coffee window. They're attached to pretty much every Cuban restaurant. Order a cortadito and maybe a guava pastry. Should you miss that opportunity there's places at the airport to get your fix (mainly La Carreta outside Terminal E or inside Terminal D or the many Cafe Versailles around the airport).
"On your way to the airport just stop by a Cuban coffee window. They're attached to pretty much every Cuban restaurant. Order a cortadito and maybe a guava pastry."
You can find one such place, for example, located next to La Camarones. On attached photo of strip mall, "LC" is La Camarones, other arrow points to coffee window.
1952 W Flagler St,
Miami, FL 33125
(This window is actually attached to a grocery store).
REPORTING BACK -- First we stopped at Joe's to get some stone crabs (tasty!! Much easier to get the meat compared to the blue crabs we have in Maryland. However, I do prefer the meat in the blue crabs -- it seems sweeter, though much more work to obtain). Then we went to Bazaar's and had their 19 course $125 tasting menu. Very good, with some high-lights, but some other dishes missing the mark, including the rossejat (sadly). We also ended up having a 5 hour layover on the way back and took a cab to Michael's Genuine -- excellent. Detailed report below:
bread with tomato and cured meats. I could eat jamon iberico all day. I don't need the caviar (in another dish)
liquid mozzarella, tomatoes, pesto, croutons -- wow... simply delicious.
"canned" mussels -- delicious and surprisingly large quantity for a small can as it was picked out of the shell.
dragonfruit tuna tartare -- surprising and tasty combination of flavors -- even the dragonfruit foam managed to elevate the flavor of the dish (though I don't usually like dragonfruit or foam). There might have been too much lime juice, though, as overall the balance was just slightly too acidic.
yellow-tail escebache -- perhaps I'm not used to the flavorings, but the vinegar overpowered the fish. I wouldn't be able to tell the difference between yellow-tail, tuna, or any white fish as the spicing was so strong and the fish cut so thinly. I would either increase the thickness of the fish or reduce the amount of sauce to have a better balance.
ikura cones -- fun, not that exciting
rossejaat -- I actually asked to substitute the three desserts for this, as I really wanted to try it based on the reviews here. The first bite was super flavorful, but sadly each subsequent bite of any quantity got saltier and saltier to the point I could not appreciate the flavor. I told the waiter, thinking that it might have been an over-reduced stock, but the reply from the kitchen was that this was the way it was supposed to be. Hard to believe, and I was sad that this great dish wasn't (to my taste) at it's ideal due to oversalting.
Sauteed shrimp -- also way oversalted.
Service was excellent though -- and when I expressed my disappointment with the rossejat, they replaced it with a 3 cheese course (my preference over dessert) with no additional charge.
Excellent service. Overall a really nice meal, though they seemed to have an issue with the timing of the oven -- everything that was grilled seem to come out a little too charred such that the char flavor overwhelmed everything else.
Crispy Pork belly with kimchi -- Very tasty, and well balanced. The "kimchi" (really, pickled cabbage without fermentation) was even better than the pork belly and worked really well with the crushed peanuts. Could have used some spice.
Grilled octopus -- was really looking forward to this one and textures were great, but the char was so strong that it overwhelmed the taste of the octopus.
Pig ears -- yummy crispy appetizers!
Deviled eggs -- a really rich and surprising balance of flavors -- delicious
Wellfleet Oysters -- tasty and a nice slurp with the classic mignonette
country-style pate -- nice flavors though nothing amazing, sadly negated by the over-charred bread that came with it.
Shrimp ceviche -- probably my favorite bite -- really well balanced, shrimp was nicely "cooked" (not clear whether they simply marinated it in the acidic juice or very briefly cooked it before -- but it was perfect)
"rice cakes" with aioli -- I was envisioning the puffed rice cakes that dieters eat, but this was completely different -- it's really a take on arancini (fried rice balls) or risotto cakes... really enjoyable and also very filling.
The server recommended a whole pompano, grilled, that sounded absolutely delicious but at 2-3 pounds, could not in good conscience choose it and forgo trying more dishes due to limited stomach space! And I had a cherry-rosemary house-made soda that was really amazing -- a flavor combination I would not have guessed at would work so well and be so well incorporated into the drink.
And... in the airport, on the way out I got a guava pastry and on the way back grabbed a cubano sandwich to go from La Carrerra. Tasty, but not anything I would dream about (but the guava pastry was definitely nice).
Thanks for all the information!! I wish we had more time that we could have tried more of the restaurants that were suggested... ah, next time. You guys have a great food scene here!