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Quick Report on Miami Dining


robyn
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We were in Miami - business and shopping trip - Sunday through today. Dined at a few places. Quick summary.

We were staying at the Four Seasons and arriving late Sunday. Met my brother and his wife at Oceanaire in Mary Brickell Village (near the hotel) late Sunday night. Thumbs down. Not that the food was bad - it was just mediocre and outrageously overpriced for what it was - an upscale chain ($400 for 4 people). We get fish at Stonewood Grill (higher end chain) at home for a whole lot less - and the preparations are better. I'd skip it. Note that our server was delightful - and the service was flawless.

Had lunch with a business associate at the Ritz Carlton in Coconut Grove on Monday. Again - mediocre (although prices weren't too bad and setting was nice for a quiet business lunch). Good service.

Dinner Monday at Michael's Genuine. Food wasn't bad (it was fine) - or too pricey - but I can tell you that in terms of this kind of food - it isn't even the best in Florida (our Bistro Aix in Jacksonville is better). And as for it being one of the top 10 new restaurants in the US - per Frank Bruni in the NYT - I can't believe it (unless this has been a very bad year for restaurant openings). IOW - if this were just a nice neighborhood place - I wouldn't have had any complaints. But since it is this week's restaurant of the year in Miami - and extraordinarily crowded with a lot of tourists (we knew they were tourists because they arrived in cabs - not something most locals do) even on a Monday night - we expected more - and it was kind of a let-down. One big point in its favor - it did honor our Opentable reservation at precisely the time we booked. Another is the service was excellent. Some locals we met in the Design District complained that it used to be a fairly inexpensive neighborhood place - but has raised its prices quite a bit since it became a trendy destination restaurant.

One thing I didn't understand. My husband and I had both reviewed the menu before we went - and thought we wanted the whole wood oven roasted chicken (a signature dish). Upon arrival - we were told the chicken would take well over an hour to prepare. If the restaurant is this popular - and this crowded - why do they have to make a signature dish like this from scratch? You'd think they'd have 1 or 2 cooking in the oven on spec (note that we ordered other things because of the cooking time mentioned for this dish). Another signature dish was the whole wood oven roasted snapper. Priced per pound. When we asked - we were told the fish could go from 3 to 11 pounds depending on what was in the kitchen. Didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Another thing I didn't understand is that for a restaurant in the Design District - the layout of the restaurant and the design and the furnishings were totally underwhelming. We dined about 2 inches away from a couple of guys - and found out more than we ever wanted to know about them during our dinner. One fact was that one was a real estate broker from NYC - and the other was a money manager in Miami. Another was that a lot of their meal was comp'd. They were obviously very happy. Wonder if that happened to Bruni - and that was why he was very happy?

Anyway - not a bad place - but I don't know what the big fuss is all about.

Tuesday we were in the Gables and had lunch at Caffe Abbracci. We used to eat there a lot when we lived in Miami - and it seemed time had stood still when we entered the place. It isn't inexpensive - or trendy (in terms of food or clients) - but it serves the same solid Italian stuff it has always served. Packed for lunch with a lot of business types. Seems to be as popular as it was the week it opened.

Tuesday night was the surprise of the trip. We dined at the hotel restaurant - Acqua in the Four Seasons. It has always received rather mediocre reviews - and the a la carte menu is pretty expensive. But we were tired - didn't want to go out - and noted that there was an interesting looking reasonably priced tasting menu. Three courses - each with 2 contrasting items. And it was really excellent (not Michelin star quality - but really good for Miami). Won't go over the particular items on the menu - because the tasting menu changes at least weekly - if not nightly. And it was a relative bargain at $55 without wines - $75 with wines (2 glasses for each course to go with the 2 items in each course). And the wines were wonderful. E.g., an excellent California Roederer sparkling wine and a nice French champagne to go with the first course - a soup and ceviche pairing. Maybe we just lucked out - or this restaurant hasn't received the attention it deserves. FWIW - the hotel and the dining room are both really lovely - and the service was excellent.

Today - lunch on the way home at Toojay's (small Florida chain deli) in Palm Beach Gardens. Excellent pastrami sandwich (impossible to find in Jacksonville). We chatted with the manager a bit and he said there are plans to expand both into Miami and Jacksonville next year. Fingers crossed those plans work out.

Anyway - if I had to sum up our dining - some disappointments and some surprises in terms of food. But overall excellent service (don't know if that would have been true had we ventured to South Beach - which we never liked even when we lived in Miami).

Note that we did spend an evening and an afternoon in the Design District. I can't say whether it's on the way up or the way down. New places opening - but some old stalwarts like Knoll are moving. On a regular night - except for Michael's - the place is dead as a doornail. I wouldn't want to park 2 blocks away from the restaurant. As an aside - I think all of the new condos in the area from downtown to the Design District are grotesque. And I don't know who's going to live in them (maybe renters after vulture funds buy them). What surprised me is stories I heard about lenders redlining a fair number of the places and refusing to lend on them (because they don't think they're stable financially). Not to pick especially on Miami. I live in Florida - and the real estate picture all over the state isn't very pretty these days. Robyn

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Agree the Design District is fairly barren at night, other than at Michael's, although Brosia around the corner is starting to pick up, as is Domo Japones. Then again, Mondays are slow everywhere, and to generalize about the place from one Monday night visit is questionable. The neighborhood, between N. Miami Av and NE 2nd Av, while barren, is quite safe, and there is plenty of valet parking for the timid.

I have to disagree with the comment that prices have gone up. As a local, I have eaten at Michael's since its inception. It is, in fact, still filled with locals, who know not to go on Monday because that is 'chef's night off', like everywhere else. Why anyone would want to try the best restaurant in town when the Chef isn't cooking is something only tourists do (some, of course, have no choice), so you are probably correct in assuming there were a lot of tourists there.

I have menus in my file dating back a year, and prices are pretty much the same, give-or-take a dollar. The whole wood roasted 'poulet rouge' chicken, in fact, is $31, and is for two. There are also 9 snack items for $5, and the wood oven pizza is $16.

As for the design, I guess that's just a matter of taste.

(Oh, food's great, too.)

Edited by Miami Danny (log)
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I'm over 60 - didn't feel threatened. A boring dead neighborhood isn't the same as a threatening neighborhood. Can't comment on the prices - since I've only eaten there once. I can't recall what the whole chicken cost. We wanted to order one - but were told it would take well over an hour to cook from scratch. This isn't a real menu item IMO (who wants to wait over an hour - which basically means 90 minutes from when you arrive at a restaurant - before you get your main?). Like I said - if this is a signature dish - and the restaurant is overflowing - there should be at least a few of them "in the works" so the wait time isn't so long.

As for the decor - it really isn't a matter of taste. The whole restaurant is kind of done "on the cheap" - without any degree of flair - kind of unusual considering it's in the Design District. I've eaten in this restaurant space before on previous trips - when it was a different restaurant - and it didn't look to me that any substantial amount of money had been invested in refurnishing the place.

Frankly - I don't know whether or not the chef was in the kitchen (and we did not have a choice of days to dine). I do know that people who looked like they were from the kitchen kept dropping by the table next to us - the table with the 2 guys from New York who were being comp'd a lot of dishes (and the reason I know they were being comp'd a lot of dishes was their server said so when they were presented with the bill - it's hard to avoid hearing anything when you're sitting about 6 inches away from the table next to you).

Anyway - I'm not saying it was a bad place - or overpriced. Over-hyped is probably the best way to describe my impression. And - good grief - if you're going to comp your friends for over half of the cost of their meal - don't let people like us know about it (because we wind up feeling like schmucks). Perhaps it wouldn't be a problem if the tables weren't so close together. We met with our accountant this trip - he and his wife dined at the place a month or two ago - and said every time the people next to them had to leave their seats - he and his wife had to get out of their chairs to let them out - that's how close the seating is. Why open a place in a low rent district and arrange tables as if you're in mid-town Manhattan? Robyn

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I'm over 60 - didn't feel threatened.  A boring dead neighborhood isn't the same as a threatening neighborhood.  Can't comment on the prices - since I've only eaten there once.  I can't recall what the whole chicken cost.  We wanted to order one - but were told it would take well over an hour to cook from scratch.  This isn't a real menu item IMO (who wants to wait over an hour - which basically means 90 minutes from when you arrive at a restaurant - before you get your main?).  Like I said - if this is a signature dish - and the restaurant is overflowing - there should be at least a few of them "in the works" so the wait time isn't so long.

As for the decor - it really isn't a matter of taste.  The whole restaurant is kind of done "on the cheap" - without any degree of flair - kind of unusual considering it's in the Design District.  I've eaten in this restaurant space before on previous trips - when it was a different restaurant - and it didn't look to me that any substantial amount of money had been invested in refurnishing the place.

Frankly - I don't know whether or not the chef was in the kitchen (and we did not have a choice of days to dine).  I do know that people who looked like they were from the kitchen kept dropping by the table next to us - the table with the 2 guys from New York who were being comp'd a lot of dishes (and the reason I know they were being comp'd a lot of dishes was their server said so when they were presented with the bill - it's hard to avoid hearing anything when you're sitting about 6 inches away from the table next to you).

Anyway - I'm not saying it was a bad place - or overpriced.  Over-hyped is probably the best way to describe my impression.  And - good grief - if you're going to comp your friends for over half of the cost of their meal - don't let people like us know about it (because we wind up feeling like schmucks).  Perhaps it wouldn't be a problem if the tables weren't so close together.  We met with our accountant this trip - he and his wife dined at the place a month or two ago - and said every time the people next to them had to leave their seats - he and his wife  had to get out of their chairs to let them out - that's how close the seating is.  Why open a place in a low rent district and arrange tables as if you're in mid-town Manhattan?  Robyn

Again-you were in the DD on a Monday night. I'm not saying it's Orchard St., but there is plenty of stuff going on Thursday-Saturday. Miami is like that. There were plenty of people around this evening, including some Major Domos that I saw walking around (Don't ask). I was at the restaurant tonight, and the food, a 'Wood Roasted Double Yolk Farm Egg' ($7), and the Giant Prawn ($13) were both home runs. As were the desserts, a chocolate cremoso and a key lime pie flan.

Is anyone you know serving Roasted Double-Yolk Farm-Fresh Eggs for dinner? That's not hype. That's commitment to the farm, and, let's face it, courage to serve something so unusual. And, by the way, the place was packed.

(Design done on the cheap? That's laughable. The place is $1 Million better than the lunch joint that preceded it. Perhaps you are remembering incorrectly, because she wasn't even open for dinner. The artwork alone has to be in the $100K's.)

Edited by Miami Danny (log)
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I had the chocolate dessert (I love chocolate). It was ok. Nothing to rave about.

I had lunch at the previous incarnation - don't have a clue whether it was open for dinner. As for design - well our "Bistro" in Jacksonville just opened a new room (doubling its size). All Philippe Starck and the like. Serious dollars. This place? Well - it was comfy - that's about it (except that the tables were too small and too close together).

Guess I'll say it for the 3rd time. Not a bad place - or overpriced - just over-hyped. It is really regrettable that this is thought to be the best new place in Miami (a large metro area) this year. But that is the fault of Miami - and the people who live - visit and dine there - not the restaurant. I suspect people who travel to places to eat would be very disappointed with a place like this.

FWIW - we live almost exactly half-way between Atlanta and Miami - we travel to both cities - and if I had to choose a place solely on the basis of restaurants - no question Atlanta is the winner - by a lot. A place like Michael's can't hold a candle to a place like Bacchanalia.

BTW - have you dined at Acqua? Certainly not the same scene as Michael's (the place was really dead when we went there on Tuesday). No D list celebs. But much better food IMO. And excellent wine pairings (at bargain prices too). We met a lot of people staying at the Four Seasons who were dining at Michael's - and lots of other trendy places - but they didn't want to dine at the hotel - because it wasn't trendy. And that just about sums up Miami in a nutshell. People are more interested in "the scene" than the food. Which is why - IMO - dining in Miami is worse now than it was 20+ years ago. Robyn

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I had the chocolate dessert (I love chocolate).  It was ok.  Nothing to rave about.

I had lunch at the previous incarnation - don't have a clue whether it was open for dinner.  As for design - well our "Bistro" in Jacksonville just opened a new room (doubling its size).  All Philippe Starck and the like.  Serious dollars.  This place?  Well - it was comfy - that's about it (except that the tables were too small and too close together).

Guess I'll say it for the 3rd time.  Not a bad place - or overpriced - just over-hyped.  It is really regrettable that this is thought to be the best new place in Miami (a large metro area) this year.  But that is the fault of Miami - and the people who live - visit and dine there - not the restaurant.  I suspect people who travel to places to eat would be very disappointed with a place like this.

FWIW - we live almost exactly half-way between Atlanta and Miami - we travel to both cities - and if I had to choose a place solely on the basis of restaurants - no question Atlanta is the winner - by a lot.  A place like Michael's can't hold a candle to a place like Bacchanalia.

BTW - have you dined at Acqua?  Certainly not the same scene as Michael's (the place was really dead when we went there on Tuesday).  No D list celebs.  But much better food IMO.  And excellent wine pairings (at bargain prices too).  We met a lot of people staying at the Four Seasons who were dining at Michael's - and lots of other trendy places - but they didn't want to dine at the hotel - because it wasn't trendy.  And that just about sums up Miami in a nutshell.  People are more interested in "the scene" than the food.  Which is why - IMO - dining in Miami is worse now than it was 20+ years ago.  Robyn

C'mon. Show us a little love. You're staying at the Four Seasons and you're hating on little Michael's? Acqua Shmacqua. It's dead for a reason, just why Michael's is packed for a reason. Your point, as I take it, is that you don't have any respect for Miami restuarants or the people who live in Miami, or other tourists who are staying at the Four Seasons, who don't want to dine at the dreary hotel restaurant. I can understand that. But MGFD is not 'trendy' because of the celebrity factor, because there isn't one. It's just damn good.

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OK - let's turn the tables. How many times have you dined at Acqua - and what do you dislike about it? I've dined there about 3 times (usually once each time we stay at the FS). Thought the old chef was a total bore - and have high hopes for the new chef (our meal last week was a lot better than any we've had there - both in terms of concept and execution). We used to stay at the RC Coconut Grove - don't these days because it's a no-smoking hotel - and the last chef there was excellent. The lunch we had there this trip (new chef) was mediocre. We wound up dining at the RC for lunch because our business meeting with our accountant was a couple of blocks away. We usually have lunch at Monty's with our accountant - it's across the street from his office - mediocre food - nice setting - but the outside part of the restaurant (the only place to eat at Monty's) was closed the day of our meeting for a movie shoot.

FWIW - I like good values. Our stay at the Four Seasons cost $250/night. And the chef's menu there - like I said before - was $55 without wine and $75 with - the cheapest dinner of our trip. Oceanaire was by far the most expensive of our 3 dinners - and the worst (in terms of food - service was quite excellent).

BTW - for people reading this thread - our trips to Miami are basically business trips - not vacations. That's why we stay on Brickell or in Coconut Grove.

So - can you compare these restaurants head to head?

When it comes to love - I have none for Miami in terms of the food scene. It dismissed Jordi Vallès from Mosaico (best meal we've had in Miami in the last decade). He wound up here at the Ritz Carlton at Amelia Island (not a good fit). Don't know where he is today. Miami wouldn't know a good chef if he or she threw 3 star Michelin dishes in its face. Just my opinion. OTOH - since I have to take trips there - I am always open to what's new and good. Robyn

And P.S. I ate Michelle Bernstein's food at Azul and was totally underwhelmed. I really long for the old days when Mark Militello had only one place at 135th Street - and Norman Van Aken was doing his thing in Key West. Of course - that was a *very* long time ago.

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Some folks are definitely underwhelmed by MGFD. It's not particularly showy food, just good stuff, well-prepared. But some of your particular complaints are puzzling to me:

Upon arrival - we were told the chicken would take well over an hour to prepare. If the restaurant is this popular - and this crowded - why do they have to make a signature dish like this from scratch? You'd think they'd have 1 or 2 cooking in the oven on spec (note that we ordered other things because of the cooking time mentioned for this dish).

Somewhat unusual complaint, to be griping that a dish is made from scratch rather than pre-cooked. I've happily ordered the chicken at MGFD and noshed on snacks and apps while waiting for it. I've also had the roast chicken at Zuni Cafe in SF (where it is a signature dish) and they likewise warned that it takes a while, and it did take nearly an hour.

Another signature dish was the whole wood oven roasted snapper. Priced per pound. When we asked - we were told the fish could go from 3 to 11 pounds depending on what was in the kitchen. Didn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

What doesn't make sense? Fish come in different sizes. The kitchen brings in fresh catch daily. Sometimes they're big, sometimes they're small. It's not "filet O fish" which comes in a nice prefabricated square. If you were interested in the fish, they would have found out what they had and you could have decided if your table wanted to split one if they only had the bigger ones.

I've also not particularly noticed much of a price increase at MGFD - unless you want to count the "snacks" going from $5/per to $6.

Interesting to hear about Acqua in the Four Seasons. I rarely get into the hotel restaurants along Brickell, good to know you had a good experience there.

Edited by drosendorf (log)
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Either this is a casual place - or it isn't. If casual - a signature dish shouldn't take over an hour (75 minutes+ we were told) to cook. A casual signature dish like a roast chicken which takes time to cook should be "in the works" for restaurant patrons. If you have a full house every night - and a certain percentage of people order roast chicken (a good restaurant should have a handle on this) - what's so hard about having some in the oven so the prep time is less than an hour? We're not talking about a 3 star Michelin bresse chicken in France here.

I realize fish come in different sizes. But 3 to 11 pounds? A fish for 2 should be about 2-4 pounds. Why on earth would a restaurant have an 11 pound fish meant to be served to a single table? This is an issue of the kitchen ordering intelligently from its suppliers. FWIW - if you're talking 3-11 pounds - you're talking different species of snapper. The world record for a yellowtail (an excellent fish IMO) is 11 pounds. Many lesser species of snapper are bigger - some a whole lot bigger. As a long time Florida resident - and occasional fisherman - the "snapper" designation is kind of meaningless. It would be like if a restaurant had a dish that was entitled "beef for 2 - 3-11 pounds). On my part - I'll eat yellowtail snapper any day of the week. As for some other snappers - I'd consider them racoon food at best.

I talked with my accountant yesterday (reason for the trip was a meeting with him). We both had pretty much the same views about the restaurants I wrote up. A lot of our impressions and reactions have to do with patron demographics (and - if I detail them - this message will most likely be deleted). Robyn

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We've had the Roasted Chicken - only took about 45 minutes, we enjoyed our cocktails and nibblers - and the prices (as of about 6 weeks ago, height of tourist season) were as reasonable as always. We enjoyed it very much, and appreciated that it was prepared to order. Deviled Eggs and Crispy Hominy - yum.

I think Michael Schwartz has done a good job at achieving his stated goal:

"With Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, I set out to create a neighborhood place that feels like the real deal - where there's always something you want on the menu and what goes into the dishes is simple, fresh and pure."

- Michael Schwartz, chef/owner Michael's Genuine Food & Drink

I was concerned that things would change after all the exposure he got from last season's "Top Chef" - but have been pleased to find it consistent with visits I made before Top Chef.

I particularly am pleased to see him feature Florida food stuffs, and do so very successfully. He is very active, and very supportive of Florida Agriculture and Aquaculture, in the buy local and organic philosophy. We like the outdoor dining room.

Is it fine dining? No, its not supposed to be - it is supposed to be homemade and delicious. Bistro dining. An hour is a reasonable time frame for a roast chicken at home, and Mom wouldn't "cheat" by pre cooking. I'm sure Michael Schwartz has enough expertise in the kitchen to know what is advisable for prep concerns.

Hard to argue with success.

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Either this is a casual place - or it isn't.  If casual - a signature dish shouldn't take over an hour (75 minutes+ we were told) to cook.  A casual signature dish like a roast chicken which takes time to cook should be "in the works" for restaurant patrons.  If you have a full house every night - and a certain percentage of people order roast chicken (a good restaurant should have a handle on this) - what's so hard about having some in the oven so the prep time is less than an hour?  We're not talking about a 3 star Michelin bresse chicken in France here.

I don't quite get what "casual" has to do with it. You don't need tuxedo'd waiters and linen tablecloths to cook food from scratch (thankfully). MGFD is no more, or less, casual than a place like Chez Panisse or Zuni Cafe in SF - which handle food much the same way.

I realize fish come in different sizes.  But 3 to 11 pounds?  A fish for 2 should be about 2-4 pounds.  Why on earth would a restaurant have an 11 pound fish meant to be served to a single table?  This is an issue of the kitchen ordering intelligently from its suppliers.  FWIW - if you're talking 3-11 pounds - you're talking different species of snapper.  The world record for a yellowtail (an excellent fish IMO) is 11 pounds.  Many lesser species of snapper are bigger - some a whole lot bigger.  As a long time Florida resident - and occasional fisherman - the "snapper" designation is kind of meaningless.  It would be like if a restaurant had a dish that was entitled "beef for 2 - 3-11 pounds).  On my part - I'll eat yellowtail snapper any day of the week.  As for some other snappers - I'd consider them racoon food at best.

I'm confident if you asked that your server would tell you what type of snapper they had. You very well may be right that they were not all the same variety. As you note, they pretty surely weren't yellowtail as I'm accustomed to them not being more than about 3-4 lbs. (but most restaurants locally would call a yellowtail a "yellowtail", not a "snapper"). As for what the point is of an 11 lb. fish - I have seen some pretty big bad boys coming out of the wood-burning oven and it is an awe inspiring sight. But my guess is, they probably have it for a night if there's a group that wants it, and if not, it gets portioned out for the next day's service as filets.

I talked with my accountant yesterday (reason for the trip was a meeting with him).  We both had pretty much the same views about the restaurants I wrote up.  A lot of our impressions and reactions have to do with patron demographics (and - if I detail them - this message will most likely be deleted).  Robyn

Can't help you there - wish I could.

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We've had the Roasted Chicken - only took about 45 minutes, we enjoyed our cocktails and nibblers - and the prices (as of about 6 weeks ago, height of tourist season) were as reasonable as always. We enjoyed it very much, and appreciated that it was prepared to order. Deviled Eggs and Crispy Hominy - yum.

I think Michael Schwartz has done a good job at achieving his stated goal:

"With Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, I set out to create a neighborhood place that feels like the real deal - where there's always something you want on the menu and what goes into the dishes is simple, fresh and pure."

- Michael Schwartz, chef/owner Michael's Genuine Food & Drink

I was concerned that things would change after all the exposure he got from last season's "Top Chef" - but have been pleased to find it consistent with visits I made before Top Chef.

I particularly am pleased to see him feature Florida food stuffs, and do so very successfully. He is very active, and very supportive of Florida Agriculture and Aquaculture, in the buy local and organic philosophy. We like the outdoor dining room.

Is it fine dining? No, its not supposed to be - it is supposed to be homemade and delicious. Bistro dining. An hour is a reasonable time frame for a roast chicken at home, and Mom wouldn't "cheat" by pre cooking. I'm sure Michael Schwartz has enough expertise in the kitchen to know what is advisable for prep concerns.

Hard to argue with success.

Success does not mean that we have to wait an hour and a half for roast chicken and the manager and waitstaff waiting for an hour to tell us the oven was not hot enough

and the chicken being burnt on one corner when it arrived.I like the place but it is not the ultimate dining experience as many here seem to make it.

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Anyway - not a bad place - but I don't know what the big fuss is all about.

Alas, I fear that Michael's Genuine F+D is suffering from deflated experiences due to over-hype. There are very few holy grails in the restaurant industry. I enjoyed my dinner there, but of the three dinners I had in Miami, it was not my favorite.

...Maybe we just lucked out - or this restaurant hasn't received the attention it deserves.  FWIW - the hotel and the dining room are both really lovely - and the service was excellent.

I enjoyed my stay there last October. I did peek into the restaurant, and the menu did look rather pricey. Glad to hear it wasn't a disappointment.

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UE - next trip to the Four Seasons - look for the Chef's menu (it's in a little tiny box at the bottom of the menu if I recall correctly - my husband missed it too when he looked over the menu in the lobby).

Drosendorf - I've only been to the cafe at Chez Panisse for lunch. Michael's isn't anywhere in the same league.

As for the restaurant using "local" ingredients - there aren't many on the menu. A couple of fish (either pompano wasn't offered the night we dined there - or they were out of it - otherwise we would have ordered it) - and tomatoes. Not a cause to complain about a Florida restaurant IMO - since we don't have many good local ingredients here (fish is an exception). And the local ingredients in south Florida are different than those in north Florida. But it's not a reason for a restaurant to boast either. Robyn

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Moderator's note: The point that robyn makes here --

As for the restaurant using "local" ingredients - there aren't many on the menu.  A couple of fish (either pompano wasn't offered the night we dined there - or they were out of it - otherwise we would have ordered it) - and tomatoes.  Not a cause to complain about a Florida restaurant IMO - since we don't have many good local ingredients here (fish is an exception).  And the local ingredients in south Florida are different than those in north Florida.  But it's not a reason for a restaurant to boast either.  Robyn

-- is discussed at greater length in the What Counts as Local in Florida? topic that I've just split off from this one.

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Drosendorf - I've only been to the cafe at Chez Panisse for lunch.  Michael's isn't anywhere in the same league.

Funny - I've been to Chez Panisse for dinner (upstairs a la carte cafe, not restaurant w/ the fixed menu) and I was seriously underwhelmed. I've also had the Zuni Cafe roast chicken and the MGFD roast chicken within about a month of each other, and preferred MGFD's version.

I always fear that when places like this get such high national praise that the expectations become unrealistic. It's good, simple food. That's really all it sets out to be. It is not going to be such an over-the-top dining experience that you come out with your head spinning.

I suspect my perception of Chez Panisse was influenced in the same way. I had heard so much about the legend of the place that I was probably expecting rainbows and stars to come shooting out of my salad.

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Yes - it is always that combination of expectations versus reality - with a touch of value for the money thrown in. I think I probably expected more of dinner at Michael's than of lunch at the Cafe at Chez Panisse. After all - the former is supposed to be one of the 5 best new restaurants in the US! - and Chez Panisse is considered by some to be of historical interest only. But things turned out the other way around.

BTW - the best value roast chicken I have ever had is take-out from Costco. A whole 2-3 pound chicken - very tasty - for less than I'd pay to buy a raw chicken (about 5 bucks). And the best roast chicken I have ever had was a whole roast Bresse chicken at Georges Blanc (which cost a lot more than the chicken at Costco!). Robyn

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As for design - well our "Bistro" in Jacksonville just opened a new room (doubling its size).  All Philippe Starck and the like.  Serious dollars.  This place?  Well - it was comfy - that's about it (except that the tables were too small and too close together).

Ohhh. Philippe Starck! Maybe next you'll get some Romero Britto sculptures! I think the Starck backlash is in full swing in Miami and places like Michael's and Michy's are proving that homey is better.

FWIW - we live almost exactly half-way between Atlanta and Miami - we travel to both cities - and if I had to choose a place solely on the basis of restaurants - no question Atlanta is the winner - by a lot.  A place like Michael's can't hold a candle to a place like Bacchanalia.

Uhhh, yeah. That's why Michael Schwartz was a judge and Richard Blais only a contestant on Top Chef. BTW, let us know when Top Chef Atlanta rolls round. It'll probably be 8 or 9 seasons from now.

Comparing a higher end place like Bacchanalia to Michael's isn't necessarily fair. If you wanna play rough, let's say Bacchanalia doesn't compare to La Tour d'Argent.

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I hope you guys got as much rain in the last couple of days as we did to help with the drought. A welcome soaking.

If Philippe Starck is "out" - no one told the people who have plastered a 3 story picture of his face on a new condo on Brickell Avenue. Anyway - I am not defending him (he's far from my favorite designer) - but the concept of spending some money on making a restaurant interior inviting and comfortable. If those 2 tops in the front of Michael's - which are pretty much 6 inches apart - had been arranged in a nicer way - I wouldn't have had the pleasure of a server constantly leaning over me and my husband and telling the couple next to us - a Manhattan real estate broker and his friend - the chef is sending this over - and the chef is sending that over - and don't worry - you won't be charged for it (they were being comp'd for all or most of their meal). I know chefs comp people - but I don't have to be an intimate part of someone else's "free lunch" - or privy to their life histories either. Note that I have dined in places where tables are tight - like Manhattan - and Tokyo - and I don't think I've ever had tables as close together as I had at Michael's. Wasn't one of the reasons for opening in the Design District because the rents are lower? Presumably - lower rents should lead to a little more elbow room.

You can argue with the people in Atlanta over who has a claim to Chef Blais. First he was in Atlanta - then he was in Miami (Barton G. if I recall correctly) - then back to Atlanta - and who knows where he is now? I only dined with him once - in Atlanta - didn't care for the food - and haven't botherered to track him down again for a meal. And Top Chef? You have got to be kidding. I'd rather have my chefs - no matter what the city - in their kitchens as opposed to gallivanting around on TV.

I don't pick the restaurants I dine at on the basis of their chef's TV shows (I don't even know who the chef is at Casa Tua - but I have had a couple of really excellent meals there - of course - Casa Tua is at a different price point.) And I would like to try Chef Jordi Valles' food again (we had an excellent meal at Mosaico when he were there - then he came to the Ritz Carlton up here at Amelia Island - wasn't a good fit - and I understand he is now at the Ritz Carlton in Key Biscayne - where - unfortunately - his talents may be wasted). I doubt you will see Chef Valles on TV - because - last time I saw him - his English wasn't very good. As for Tour d'Argent - it has had a pretty poor reputation for quite a while. I think we'd all be happier dining just about anywhere else than dining there.

Ultimately - this is simply what Ulterior Epicure said. The expectations bar set too high - combined with the reality of an ok - although unexceptional - meal.

And although I agree with you that the comparison with Bacchanalia is somewhat unfair - because Michael's is new - and Bacchanalia has had quite a bit of time to develop - I think that becoming like Bacchanalia is a worthy goal. That restaurant is a fine somewhat informal regional restaurant that isn't too expensive. Not worth a journey - but worth a reservation when you're in Atlanta. I hope that a year or two from now - when all the Bruni hoopla about Michael's dies down - that it hits its stride (I also hope it's still there - trendy restaurants in Miami and other cities have a way of appearing and disappearing very quickly). Robyn

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...<snip>

I'd rather have my chefs - no matter what the city - in their kitchens as opposed to gallivanting around on TV.

Why?

Is this a trick question :smile: ?

If not - because I care more about the quality of the meals I'm paying for than getting trying to get some psychic satisfaction that I have dined at a restaurant where the chef is on TV (frankly - I don't care beans about the latter).

BTW - what's new and good in Gainesville these days (I live near Jacksonville and usually get to Gainesville a couple of times a year)? My favorite food in Gainesville is usually the smoked turkey legs at the fall arts festival (no joke - they're terrific). Robyn

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...<snip>

I'd rather have my chefs - no matter what the city - in their kitchens as opposed to gallivanting around on TV.

Why?

Is this a trick question :smile: ?

If not - because I care more about the quality of the meals I'm paying for than getting trying to get some psychic satisfaction that I have dined at a restaurant where the chef is on TV (frankly - I don't care beans about the latter).

BTW - what's new and good in Gainesville these days (I live near Jacksonville and usually get to Gainesville a couple of times a year)? My favorite food in Gainesville is usually the smoked turkey legs at the fall arts festival (no joke - they're terrific). Robyn

"Trick"? Why it's only one word? :wink:

I follow your logic but believe that your premises are fundamentally flawed-- the unspoken assumption(s) that (either) only the Executive Chef possesses the skill to execute their dishes and/or is conscientious enough for quality control. Any Sous chef worth their salt can execute; and sabotage in the form of knowingly expediting sub-par dishes would only affect their own careers in the long run. I think your view is popular but naive; though I'd bet you have a palate.

For the record I really enjoyed MGFD. Simple, straight-forward and well executed food; not mind blowing but very well done and a good value.

"New and good in Gainesville"? Probably that smoked turkey leg at the arts festival (though I had one at the fair that was in desperate need of salt). Seriously I think the best gig in town currently is Ti Amo, Chef Bert Gill's latest endeavor. It's not great; but the ingredients are good, cooked well and reasonably priced. I have to mention the superb hummus at Gyros Plus when I'm talking Gainesville-- it really is best bite in town.

Eat Well,

-jbl

The Postmodern Soapbox - NominalTopic.blogspot.com

Twitter: jbzepol

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Guess I can't win for losing. Up thread - I was told we shouldn't have expected a great dinner on Monday - since *the* chef wasn't in the kitchen on Mondays. I agree with you though - a good restaurant should be able to function if *the* chef takes a day off. On the third hand - if the named chef is never in residence (many have "chains" in multiple cities these days) - you can't judge a restaurant on the basis of his or her reputation - only on the basis of the food that the people who happen to be in the kitchen are serving up.

And I pretty much agree with you about Michael's. I have never said we had a bad meal there - or an overpriced one. It was a totally ok meal - and I'd recommend the restaurant to anyone who wanted to avoid South Beach - chain restaurants - etc. - as long as they didn't get one of those too-tight 2 tops at the front of the restaurant.

Funny about our perceptions of turkey legs. My husband takes meds for high blood pressure - so we do relatively low (not no) - salt cooking at home (at least by southern standards). And too much salt when we eat elsewhere just overwhelms our taste buds. I like the smoked turkey leg at the Arts Festival because I can actually taste the turkey and the smoke - and am not overwhelmed by salt. I think the same thing applies when we eat dishes that have too much sugar - grease - whatever. We were at the Clay County Fair this weekend - and the greens they offered (for free - showing the way original Florida settlers lived and ate) were probably the sweetest greasiest things at the Fair - even worse than funnel cakes. Couldn't hardly taste the greens - yuck. Guess we're used to kind of medium amounts of things in food - so a lot is too much.

BTW - we took a peek at Ti Amo during the Fair (if I am thinking of the right place - it had opened recently - the interior was very nice looking - and there was a whole pig cooking on a smoker in front of the restaurant that day). Looked like a place we have to try next time in Gainesville. Robyn

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If those 2 tops in the front of Michael's - which are pretty much 6 inches apart - had been arranged in a nicer way - I wouldn't have had the pleasure of a server constantly leaning over me and my husband and telling the couple next to us - a Manhattan real estate broker and his friend - the chef is sending this over - and the chef is sending that over - and don't worry - you won't be charged for it (they were being comp'd for all or most of their meal).  I know chefs comp people - but I don't have to be an intimate part of someone else's "free lunch" - or privy to their life histories either.

Given your repeated reference back to this, it sure seems like the primary source of your unhappiness with the meal. OK - you didn't like the people sitting next to you and didn't like having to see them get comped - when all is said and done, what does that have to do with the food?

Note that I have dined in places where tables are tight - like Manhattan - and Tokyo - and I don't think I've ever had tables as close together as I had at Michael's.

I just really find that hard to believe. MGF&D may be a little tight, but it's not even remotely close to the most cramped places I've been to.

You can argue with the people in Atlanta over who has a claim to Chef Blais.  First he was in Atlanta - then he was in Miami (Barton G. if I recall correctly) - then back to Atlanta - and who knows where he is now?

Barton G? If that's right, then there's no argument - Atlanta can keep him.

I don't pick the restaurants I dine at on the basis of their chef's TV shows (I don't even know who the chef is at Casa Tua - but I have had a couple of really excellent meals there - of course - Casa Tua is at a different price point.)

Casa Tua is an interesting choice to mention, because regardless of whether their chef is a TV celeb chef (I couldn't pick him/her out of a lineup either), the only people I've ever heard rave about the food there are people on television, and people who saw people on television raving about the food. Most locals have found it overpriced and underwhelming.

Ultimately - this is simply what Ulterior Epicure said.  The expectations bar set too high - combined with the reality of an ok - although unexceptional - meal.

I agree that all the glowing national press causes expectations to be set too high - I disagree that the food's "unexceptional". But to each his own - lots of people love it, some are underwhelmed, as you were.

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If all I wanted was decent food - I would dine at home (I'm a pretty good cook). Being treated like the great unwashed while the people next to you are going first class simply isn't an acceptable dining experience IMO (remember that old ad that caricatured the difference between first class and coach in an airplane?). Note that my opinions aren't that important here - because I don't live in Miami. The opinions that matter are those of people like my accountant and his wife - their friends and neighbors. They are in-town frequent Miami diners - not vacationing trendoids or occasional business travelers like me - and it's people like them that will make or break a restaurant over the long run. And their reaction to the restaurant was almost identical to ours.

Perhaps you and your friends are locals - but feel differently about the restaurant. Suspect you do - judging from this. In which case it will perhaps do ok over the long run. You don't have to please everyone all of the time to be a good successful neighborhood restaurant - just a fair number of people a lot of the time - enough to get them to return to a place repeatedly. That has been/is really a big problem in Miami (I lived there for 20+ years). A lot of people are interested in this week's restaurant of the year for about 10 minutes - then they abandon it - and they're on to next week's restaurant of the year.

As for the food - like I've said - it wasn't bad - but it wasn't anything exceptional either. About on a par with our Bistro Aix here in Jacksonville. Same wood burning oven theme. Bistro Aix is a good - not a great - restaurant. The NYT wrote it up in glowing terms in a 36 hours in Jacksonville piece - but I thought the NYT was a bit excessive. OTOH - if you do like Michael's - I hope you will support it - so it will be around next year and the year after that - and improve year after year. Use it or lose it. We feel that way about Bistro Aix and a couple of our other local restaurants - and we support them with our dining dollars. Florida has a tendency to be a culinary wasteland - so it's important to support local chefs who are at least giving it the old college try or better - even if they don't always hit home runs.

BTW - you can fight with the Atlanta people about Chef Blais. I have never been to Barton G - my sister-in-law likes it - but we don't agree about much of anything - which is one reason I've never tried the place :smile: . I have dined twice at Casa Tua (wrote up my meals here) - last time was about 3 years ago. First time was better than the second. It serves simple elegant authentic (IMO) Italian food. In a lovely setting. Expensive for Miami. Wouldn't call it a good value - but it's a nice dining experience (except for the no-see-ums biting your ankles if you dine outside). Doubly nice for South Beach (where it's hard to have a nice dining experience). Can't tell you what it's like today.

Finally - for those of you who like the fried "hominy" at Michael's - if you are in or passing through the Titusville area - try the corn fritters (which you get as a freebie with your meal) at Dixie Crossroads (really good old fashioned Florida fish place specializing in local rock shrimp). They're fabulous. Robyn

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