February is upon us, and it’s only a few weeks until the year’s most important food event, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, begins. Tickets to the nearly countless events have been on sale since before 2013 even started, and while some of the more coveted events are sold out, there are still tickets available to some very exciting dinners, tastings, and parties that are sure to be the highlight of your year. A list of all available events for this year’s Wine & Food Festival can be seen at www.sobefest.com, but here are some highlights that any foodie should definitely not miss:
It appears as if the new hotspot for foodies on Miami Beach is the South of Fifth neighborhood. Once known for being a quieter, more residential area with only a few venerated classics like Smith & Wollensky and Joe’s, it seems as if more and more restaurants, cafés, bakeries, and bars are forgoing the more popular - and populated - Lincoln Road, Washington, Collins, and Ocean for the southernmost tip of South Beach. To add to the increasing roster of drinking and dining destinations in the neighborhood is The Flat, deemed a “before experience”, slated to open mid February.
There are two things that Miami Beach seems to have a lot of these days: constant change and Italian restaurants. Many Miami natives sometimes wonder whatever happened to the quirky SoBe they knew back when Gianni Versace held court there, and it seems as if for the non Miami Beach resident, every subsequent visit to the southern reaches of Collins Avenue reveals more change, more commercialization, and a sense of frustration. As much as we may not like to hear it, there seems to be no going back to the 90s for Miami Beach, and the few remnants of 20th century seem to get polished up and renovated one by one almost every day. Then there are the denizens of Italian restaurants dotting almost every imaginable storefront and hotel lobby, apparently making South Beach a chic, sexy little Italy of the 21st century. There are, obviously, a great deal of bad restaurants, a great many more mediocre ones, but still enough fantastic Italian restaurants to warrant at least an occasional visit for any foodie. A recent dinner at Dolce in the newly renovated Gale South Beach showed that all the change on SoBe can actually be a good thing and that Miami Beach continues to be a destination for some of the best Italian fare.
If you live in a cosmopolitan city and you love to eat, chances are that you’ve sampled Thai cuisine at one point in your life. Anyone who considers themselves a foodie is most likely very familiar with the coconut milk-enriched curries, the flavors of lemongrass and galangal, the fiery nam prik chilis, and the sweet undertones from the addition of creamy palm sugar. Miami isn’t generally known for having a large Thai constituency, but that doesn’t deter from the fact that we have a generous selection of good Thai restaurants, and with good reason: the complex flavors of Thai cuisine tend to fare well in a tropical climate like that of South Florida. Nevertheless, what many of us think we know about Thai cuisine is just the tip of the iceberg...or in the case of Thailand, the tip of the peninsula. Thailand, while a lot smaller than the US, is a large, very old, and quite diverse country, and the majority of the Thai cuisine that is available in Miami and much of the rest of the country is the fiery, aggressively flavored cuisine of the south. While southern Thai cuisine is arguably delicious, discovering the cuisines of northern Thailand is a true epiphany that will turn any newbie into an instant convert leading them to thumb through the pages of Thai menus looking for sticky rice and Chiang Rai sausages. We used to have an authentic northern Thai restaurant in Kendall many years ago, but it appeared as if Miami just wasn’t quite ready to embrace a Thai cuisine that was dissimilar to the coconut milk curries, pad thai, and heaps of jasmine rice most people were familiar with. It wasn’t until the foodie revolution hit Miami hard that the 305 was ready to embrace regional ethnic cuisines, and that’s when John Kunkel decided to open Khong River House on Lincoln Road in the old Miss Yip’s space.
OTC is one of the few restaurants in Miami that has given me the same kind of satisfaction I received after having meals in Paris, which is saying a lot when one compares our local burgeoning food culture to that of the perhaps the most important food city in the world (read review here). The order-at-the-counter restaurant has been making waves in Brickell’s dining scene ever since it opened with its honest, flavorful, and reasonably priced à la carte menu that enables diners to create their own meals from a variety of proteins, sandwiches, sides, and salads in addition to its ever-changing selection of craft beers. If you have yet to become addicted to this casual eatery’s cuisine, then now is as good a time as ever as OTC has recently unveiled a brunch menu and is launching its Beer Week this coming Tuesday, January 22nd.
I love this DIY craze that’s been hitting the American food scene! With all the attention that consumers are placing on where things come from and how they’re made, it seems as if many individuals have resorted to the notion that the best way to know the exact what, where, and how of a product is to make it yourself. In addition to controlling such things as the quality and sustainability of the food, making it yourself gives you full reign over the flavor and appearance of a finished product, as well as enabling you to add your own unique flourishes. The DIY revolution doesn’t seem to be merely confined to the home, however, as many chefs are finding more and more items that they can make from scratch, attempting everything from jams, pickles, condiments, and even cured meats...and they don’t seem to be turning back. I am so glad to see that, along with sourcing local products, the trend of making things in house is on the rise in South Florida and can be found a lot closer than I had previously thought. Big City Tavern, on the bustling Las Olas Boulevard, has always been a popular spot for good, informal meals and a convivial vibe, but I have often overlooked this restaurant as a mere purveyor of standard pub fare until a recent meal led me to discover otherwise. Local meat and produce coupled with excellently cured house-made charcuterie, along with a delicious array of homey desserts make Big City Tavern perhaps one of Fort Lauderdale’s best “right-under-our-noses” culinary secrets.
If you would have told an average American fifty years ago that this country would be obsessed with hot and spicy flavors in the twenty first century, they’d probably think you were crazy. It really is quite curious how, for a culture whose cuisine doesn’t traditionally embrace spiciness, we have really adapted our palates to the addictive burn that only chili peppers can provide. Sriracha is now almost as ubiquitous in the American pantry as ketchup, and it seems as if no casual dining menu is complete without a chipotle-spiked something or other. Besides embracing heat, Americans have also begun to embrace a lot of other flavors and textures, not least among them being sushi. I don’t think anyone would have ever imagined that a dish of rice, seaweed, and raw seafood would ever become as popular in this country as sushi has. Needless to say, the flavor profiles of American cuisine are changing at a rapidly exciting rate, and there are fewer places to celebrate our new culinary preferences this evening than at SAIA, which is putting on a special “Social Hour” to celebrate all things hot and spicy.
Once upon a time, I lived in a faraway land called Kendall. For those who are unfamiliar with that unincorporated part of Miami-Dade County, Kendall can seem like a faraway land with it’s own culture, expressions, and rules of traffic. For those who know Kendall but have been away for a while, a recent visit will make it seem like it has been “once upon a time” since you’ve last been there. It seems as if every time I return to Kendall, something old has been replaced with something new that is a dramatic improvement from what used to be there. Take Town & Country Mall, for instance. It was a fun hangout in the early nineties, but by the time Y2K came around, it was dead. After the AMC movie theater closed, there seemed to be little hope for reviving what had once promised to be a thriving commercial and nightlife center...that is until the mall rebranded itself as The Palms at Town & Country Mall, polished its image, and invited more upscale retailers like Loehman’s and Nordstrom Rack to move in (trust me, that’s light years ahead of what used to be there). Dining in Kendall is also improving, especially at the new and improved mall, with Devon Seafood + Steak set to open its doors tomorrow.