Thursday, March 15, 2012

Food and Fun Two Go: Miami

First we shared every detail we could remember about the South Beach Wine and Food Festival. Now we're back to tell you what you can see and eat in Miami when it's not Festival time.

If it's your first trip and you want to be in the center of the action, there is no better place than Ocean Drive in South Beach. We stayed at the charming art deco Beacon Hotel (below). While it wasn't the fanciest hotel we've ever been in, it was clean, the room was spacious, and the location can't be beat.

And... the hotel was just steps away from this:

The hotel also provides beach chairs and towels so you can pack light and avoid those pesky airline bag fees. When we weren't stuffing our faces at the Festival, we played on the beach and wandered around town to see the sights.

Miami is full of beautiful people. Many are wearing very little clothing (we felt like we were dressed in Victorian outfits compared to the normal attire seen on the streets) and many have been artificially enhanced1. Even the mannequins get in on the fun2!

We were starving when we arrived from DC and immediately Googled a place for lunch. While Yelp does not always lead to good things, it found us a winner in this case. Puerto Sagua is a little Cuban restaurant serving incredibly tasty food in a very casual (some might say dingy) atmosphere3. The service was fast and friendly and we loved every bite of the ropa vieja4 and paella we ordered.

Our waitress said the paella would not be big enough for 2 people to share and then proceeded to bring out a giant vat of paella. She must be used to people with giant appetites because we took about a pound of paella back to our hotel room's fridge.

A B&J trip would not be complete without the obligatory stop at a Best Thing I Ever Ate restaurant or three. First up was Joe's Stone Crab, a 99 year old Miami institution. Joe's is only open during stone crab season (October - May) so we were lucky to hit it during its peak. Not only are the stone crab claws gorgeous, they are delicious5. The claws are served ice cold and easy to open, and are paired with an addictive mustard dipping sauce. Did you know that stone crabs can regenerate their legs? Joe's only removes one leg of the crab and leaves it in the water to regenerate the missing leg over a period of 12 to 24 months. A renewable resource found right offshore in Miami6.

Another Best Thing I Ever Ate pick was Fratelli la Bufala7. Scott Conant said this Italian chain has the best calzone he's ever eaten. We were satisfied but not blown away, and wouldn't consider it a "must try" destination.

If there is one restaurant that is a "must try" in Miami, it is Michael's Genuine Food & Drink8. Recommended by Anthony Bourdain and every other chef on the planet, Michael's serves amazingly delicious seasonal, local cuisine in a totally fuss-free atmosphere.

We were difficult clients and Michael's handled us with such grace. We wanted to squeeze in dinner before our flight home so we arrived at Michael's too early and carrying luggage. The hostess allowed us to stow our luggage under a staircase and showed us to the bar where we sipped cocktails while waiting for the staff to finish their pre-shift meeting. B was enthralled with the giant ice cube in his cocktail9. That's one big cube!

As soon as the restaurant officially opened, we were seated and greeted by Brandon. He was awesome. He recommended great dishes and was so sensitive to our time constraints. You could tell he absolutely loved each dish he served. So much so that he actually took us up on our offer of a bite of the crispy pig ear appetizer. He is our favorite waiter of all time10.

Wait, did I rush over that crispy pig's ear part too fast? Yes, we ate crispy pig's ears and LOVED them. Salty, spicy, crunchy, chewy and not at all squirm-inducing. Just amazing. Also amazing was the burrata cheese with heirloom tomatoes hiding in the back left of this photo:

I know I'm using a lot of frilly adjectives to describe Michael's Genuine but we had a fantastic experience. We're talking best meal of the last few years candidate. This place had 3 different chefs select 3 different desserts on a single episode of Best Thing I Ever Ate. MGF&D is serious business and it was the perfect way to cap off our sun-filled fiesta of food11.

Second Thoughts from B

You may have noticed a few pesky numbers floating around J's summary of our time in Miami. This is what happens when you pair a lawyer and scientist... you get a mutual love of footnotes. These are some of the random things that crossed my mind as J took us down memory lane:
  1. There were lots of beautiful people wearing little more than a handkerchief tied together with dental floss. Unfortunately, there were also a lot of not so beautiful people with just as much... shall we say... self confidence? We're originally from LA. I grew up near Venice Beach and the set of BayWatch. I also worked in Hollywood for a few years. The point is, you'd think I'd be desensitized to all of this... Nope!
  2. Seriously Miami? We need mannequins with triple D's in the windows? Let's be clear, this was one of many t-shirt shops, not a sex store in the red light district.
  3. It is located right across the street from the Jersey Shore house if that's your thing.
  4. To quote Geena Davis in Thelma & Louise after a rendezvous with a young Brad Pitt (it was on cable recently... I don't have the movie memorized), "I finally get what all the fuss is about!" That ropa vieja at Puerto Sagua was unlike any I've had before. The different layers of flavor were tremendous. It was like eating a filet mignon for the first time after having nothing but meatloaf all my life.
  5. Delicious? Not where I sat. They were pretty and they are sustainable, but flavorful? Not so much. There are few things I love more than crab. I love the sweet ocean flavor and unique texture. I also love the challenge of figuring out how to obtain every last ounce from the shell. But for as much crab as I've eaten, I've never felt the need to augment the natural taste with sauce. These stone crabs however, though fresh, tasted like nothing. It was like eating crushed ice. Cold and mostly flavorless. Thank goodness for Joe's fantastic sauce, but I'll take Dungeness or King crab any day.
  6. Stop the train! We're going to talk about Joe's and not mention the Key Lime Pie??? As mediocre as I thought the stone crabs were, the key lime pie more than made up for it. My father--the vanilla king of the world (seriously, he goes to ice cream shops and restaurants and orders a plain scoop of vanilla)--rarely changes his dessert routine. But when he does, it is often for a tart piece of pie like key lime or lemon meringue. This version of key lime might just make his head explode. Just don't tell him that you can get it shipped to you...
  7. Yawn.
  8. I could grab a thesaurus and use every superlative I could find to describe Michael's Genuine. Or, I could tell you that just halfway through the meal J and I were ready to crown it as our favorite restaurant in America.
  9. I'm not much of a drinker (understatement of the year alert!), but when a cocktail is constructed with as much thought and complexity as the ones at Michael's Genuine, I could change my mind. It was like a finely constructed liquid meal.
  10. Brandon was awesome. He read us perfectly. From accommodating our time constraints to being an active participant in our dining experience, the guy was simply outstanding.
  11. Michael's Genuine answered the prototypical hypothetical question: what would be your last meal? After eating there, I certainly felt like I had died and gone to heaven...
Puerto Sagua Puerto Sagua on Urbanspoon
Joe's Stone Crab Joe's Stone Crab on Urbanspoon
Fratelli la Bufala Fratelli la Bufala on Urbanspoon
Michael's Genuine Michael's Genuine Food & Drink on Urbanspoon


Anonymous said...

Puerto Sagua is a must every time I'm on South Beach. Truly a quality, no-frills establishment. Thanks for the tip on Michael's Genuine!

VC said...

I went to Miami a few years ago and the hotel concierge recommended Puerto Sagua which was around the corner. I definitely had the ropa vieja and it was delicious!