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Miami Spice Month


Adrienne Carmack
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It's my favorite time of year again! I'm entering my fourth season of Spice Month(s) here in Miami and plan to attack it efficiently and cost-effectively, now that I've had some experience. We have had a range of experiences, from some of the best gourmet dinners to the worst - irritated waiters and completely changed or limited menus.

I'm going to post my dining experiences as they come up - I've made myself a list of the places with the best menus and where I've had the best prior experiences and hope to do one a weekend. Please post your experiences as well!

www.miamirestaurantmonth.com

Bon appetit!

"God give us good taste, why bother?" Captain Jim's Sushi Chef
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First one - Vix for dinner last night (Sunday). We chose this to be our first because I've been there several times and loved it, but my husband was never able to go with me. They had a very extensive menu, with four choices for starters and appetizers and 2 for dessert. Last year, they only had a lunch menu, which was great, but difficult to get to for lunch Monday - Friday. This year's menu is dinner every day but Thursday, and much extended from last year. When we arrived, the waiter actually brought up the change and said they had been disappointed last year (no need to be) and were very excited about this year's menu.

Check out the menu on www.miamirestaurantmonth.com

Bread - the house bread is an Indian nan, very traditional, served with a yogurt mint sauce, a raisin cashew sauce, and a peas and paneer sauce. All were excellent, the bread was perfect.

Starters -

My husband had the Mediterranean palette - basically a salad of mixed greens with lots of arugula on flatbread with shaved pecorino and parmigiano and a nice light dressing with truffle oil. My husband thinks he doesn't like vegetables and salads, but ate this one up. Paired nicely with the tempranillo by the glass.

I had the Indian palette (would have gone for the ceviche if I wasn't pregnant) - a delicious mango soup with light Indian sauces served with 3 crispy puri on the side, each with a little dollop of yogurt, some spices, and chickpeas. I scooped soup up in my puri and the flavors were fantastic together. Since I'm sticking with nonalcoholic beverages, I had the mandarin orange vanilla iced tea - fantastic and much better than the usual water or plain iced tea I've been getting stuck with.

The waiter said the calamari salad was his favorite and that the ceviche was very traditional - if we go back, I'll try the calamari.

Intermezzo - a palate cleanser - we were given a plate and directions to first eat the blackberry off the spoon (which was salted) and then squirt the spiced pineapple juice from the pipette into our mouths - worked wonderfully - my husband had ordered a tempranillo to go with his salad and a riesling to go with his appetizer and was a bit worried, but had no problems tasting the wine after the palate cleanser.

Entrees -

He had the India palette - a very traditional plate. Actually, the best Indian food I've had since I was in India. The chicken was very spicy and paired well with his Riesling. The rice was flavorful. It was also served with a very tasty traditional dal and spinach with paneer, as well as a bit of yogurt. The portion was described by the waiter as the largest of the four - he was right, my husband couldn't even finish it.

I had the Latin palette - salt cod and beef were both excellent and matched well. There was a beautiful roasted tomato full of hot juice and a great crispy fried plantain that tasted wonderful with the beef. The mojo citrus sauce was excellent. The waiter described this as the smallest of the 4 choices, but it was plenty of food for me.

The other 2 choices sounded fantastic - we'll have to go back to try the duck and risotto.

Dessert -

He had the pannetone with sabayon and nectarines. Again, he thinks he doesn't like fruit, but ate almost all of this. The sabayon was full of muscat.

I had the cherries with vanilla cardamom cream. This was a big dish of wonderful custard that again reminded me of India. The waiter explained that they did not have bing cherries, so substituted some other kind (they were golden). They tasted great in the dish. After this, I had the tarragon strawberry sorbet it was served with, which was full of tarragon flavor and really nice after the heavy custard. My husband also loved the sorbet and ate half of it.

Finally - chocolate lollipops. The waiter explained that they send a recipe to

Switzerland and that the chocolates are sent back. We were given a choice of dark chocolate with lime, milk with bitter orange, and white with something I can't remember. We shared a milk and a dark - both were very nice.

Overall, a fantastic spice experience. It was a wonderful meal with great service that paralleled the quality of non-spice menu meals I've had there. The final bill with tip was $111 for the 2 of us.

"God give us good taste, why bother?" Captain Jim's Sushi Chef
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I've gone to 2 Miami Spice restaurants with vastly different experiences.

Wish was one that I had missed (I don't think they participated last year) that I wanted to try. It was worth it. Not out of this world, but good. Apps were a potato latke in miso broth with friend dried mushrooms. Sounds gross, but really good. Other was a lobster spring roll which I was dissapointed with. Mains were duck leg on strawberry gazpacho (suprisingly more tart than sweet) and octopus-stuffed squid (oxtail stuffed squid is one of my favorites, this version was lighter with ground octopus and rice). Desserts were very good. Service was good as well as the atmosphere (except for the beligerent tourist). Would recommend a visit.

Pacific Time is another story. Appetizers were disappointing, the entrees were worse, and dessert was simple. Drinks were awful and overly strong. The only saving grace was the service, but that will never make up for a mediocre meal. Two of us ordered beef fillets, one medium rare, one medium. They came out well done (and about 3/4 inch thick, looking more like a strip steak) and medium (about 3 inches thick, looking like a tenderloin fillet). Portions were tiny. Dessert was the only passable course, and only because they had substituted a regular dessert for a Miami Spice one which had run out. Otherwise, exotic sorbets (which for Miami means sorbets you can get anywhere) were the other choice. And lastly, their wine list is horrible! I can deal with wine markups, some outrageous, as long as it's something that's worth it. But literally, there was a Spanish Verdejo that I buy for $9 that was on the menu for $50!!! An Albarino, which rarely goes over $20 a bottle, was marked up to $70!! At least if they offered hard to find or obscure wines that were that marked up I might've thought about ordering, but these prices were obscene!

Next up, based on a glowing recommendation, Vix baby!

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Went to Azul for lunch on Monday. It unfortunately did not meet the expectations I had based on last year's experience, though the food was really pretty good, and the entree was exceptional. The main problem was the service - last year, I had a fantastic waitress, we were given an amuse bouche, then our three courses, then complementary chocolates that were all fabulous. This year, no extras, and the waiter forgot to bring the tea I ordered. Not what I'd expect from Azul.

For food, I had the gazpacho appetizer, which was good, though a bit acidic. The shrimp toast wasn't great. 2 co-workers had the ceviche, and they both raved about it. One of them is from Peru and said it was very authentic and great. Another had the calamari and seemed to like it well.

3 of us chose the flounder entree, which was fantastic. It was a very southern style meal, which you don't see much in Miami. Another had the wild mushroom pasta, which was good as well.

Desserts were good, though one of my friends saw mold on a raspberry so had to send hers back. The chocolate tarts were very good, as was the caramel-coconut ice cream.

Not a bad experience, definitely worth $20, but a bit disappointing for one of Miami's best restaurants.

"God give us good taste, why bother?" Captain Jim's Sushi Chef
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Went to North One Ten for dinner last night. The web page states to call for their spice menu as it changes daily, which we did, and they promptly ran through the menu with us. It was our first time there - the environment and menu were very nice. Overall it was a very solid experience. All of the spice menu items were basically regular menu items.

Appetizers -

He had the steamed white river clams, which he really enjoyed.

I had the mushroom-stuffed mushrooms with a chayote slaw in a BBQ sauce. They were fantastic, tasted very meaty.

Entrees -

He had the roasted duck with dried figs, gorgonzola, etc. It was quite tasty, reminded me of a Thanksgiving turkey with the fixings. Unfortunately, he didn't chose the right wine (the duck was not as heavy as he anticipated), but it was still good.

I had the basil crusted mahi with mashed sweets. Alone, the fish wasn't very flavorful, but eating it with the sweets was very tasty.

Dessert -

I had a mango sorbet with strawberries, just cause I was in the mood for something light.

He had one of the best cheesecakes we've ever had, a mascarpone-ricotta crustless cheesecake. It was only about an inch high but otherwise looked and tasted like a cheesecake without a crust. It was delicious.

Would definitely recommend this for a good spice experience, I'm sure the other menus will be good as well judging from their other regular menu items.

"God give us good taste, why bother?" Captain Jim's Sushi Chef
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  • 2 weeks later...

Today, we went to Mark's for lunch. We've had great experiences there over the last 2 years for dinner and were not disappointed. The courses were all items off of the regular menu. We had one of each, the salad and clams for appetizers, which were both tasty, the salmon with pea risotto, which was perfectly cooked and had a delicious beurre rouge on the side, and the chicken with spinach and gorgonzola, also perfectly cooked.

We both had the molten chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream for dessert, which was beautifully presented and tasted just as great as it looked.

"God give us good taste, why bother?" Captain Jim's Sushi Chef
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Tried OLA on the beach last week. I was disappointed when it moved from Biscayne as that area seems to need an upscale restaurant more than South Beach. The furnishings were identical to the original location; however, I kept thinking about how much cooler the Biscayne location looked with the upstairs dining, the bar at the entrance, the long communal table in the center. Oh well. What hasn't changed is the food and service. Both were spot on. Items seemed to be chosen from the regular dinner menu (both of us had the shrimp ceviche and crispy pork). The ceviche actually seemed a little too raw and was spicier than expected. Also, it was served with popcorn instead of choclo. I tend to prefer the latter as the popcorn basically disintegrates when mixed with the ceviche. The pork dish was good; however, I think I've hit my limit on vertical presentations. The pork came on a bed of mashed yuca which came a swath of black bean sauce and the pork was covered by a chayote slaw and then by pieces of pork rind. I would've liked to have been able to get to the pork w/o touching the yuca mash but it was impossible. Lame gripe, I know, but it's starting to get to me. How many times did mom lay down ketchup then put mashed potatoes on it, then lay over the meatloaf then top it with a green salad? Again the food and service were good and one nice touch is the offer of a mojito or glass of wine with dinner for an additional $5. I'd recommend a try.

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Timo last night. It was my first time there; my husband used to go frequently with his job for Friday lunches and always raved about them. I've been wanting to try it for a while - actually, their regular menu looks fantastic and I hope to go back for it after Spice Month(s).

Apps were a fettucine with shrimp that was quite good, and a tomato and arugula salad with lots of thin sliced manchego cheese that I really enjoyed. I have been on a salad kick since I got pregnant and this definitely fulfilled that need.

My husband did the wine pairings, which was $25 extra. A rose was served with the appetizer, which I sipped and wasn't really impressed with, but he liked it with his fettucine.

For the entrees, we both had the pork loin. Thankfully, the waiter warned me that it was spicy and accommodated my request to make it not so. The pork was perfectly cooked, and mine was not spicy at all (as I requested), while my husband's had a nice kick to it. It was served with spinach, artichokes, and kalamata olives, which made a nice accompaniment, although the strong flavor of the olives kept me from being able to eat them all.

The wine was a Spanish grenache that was really nice with the pork.

Desserts were a roasted peach with a mascarpone cream served in a soupy sauce with a little scoop of peach sorbet, and with some crunchy crumbled lady fingers on top. It was delicious. The other was macadamia nut ice cream with caramelized bananas, a coconut sauce, and macadamia brittle - also fantastic.

Served with a sweet, honeyed dessert wine that was very good by itself.

My only disappointment was the bread - the focaccia just didn't taste good to me (though my husband liked it) and the sourdough was too chewy. The cracker-style bread they served was very good, but I prefer risen breads to crackers.

Overall, a very nice experience with good food and service, definitely a place I will go back to after spice month.

"God give us good taste, why bother?" Captain Jim's Sushi Chef
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