Thursday, October 31, 2013

Miami review: finding good food

Over Columbus Day weekend in October, Matt and I took a five-day, four-night trip to Miami to enjoy some baby-free time together before baby #2 makes his appearance this winter. We stayed at a fancy-schmancy resort (more to come on that later) and decided to spend our days at the beach and by the pool. The only other plans we made involved eating.


Matt spends a good amount of his time reading food blogs and restaurant reviews, so he happily accepted the task of booking all dinner and brunch reservations for us. We're the kind of people who eat two big meals -- breakfast/brunch and dinner -- while on vacation, and we graze as needed for a mid-day snack. We always prefer to visit restaurants that are highly reviewed by locals rather than eating at touristy spots or overly stuffy, fancy places. In booking our meals, Matt took into consideration several recommendations from friends who either have lived in Miami or have visited a few times, and he relied heavily on the 38 Essential Miami Restaurants from eater.com. I tip my hat to my husband for doing an excellent job with all our dining choices.


Here's what we ate and where we ate it in case you're planning a getaway to Miami any time soon.

Gigi
A restaurant that defies easy categorizing, claiming to be a noodle bar with BBQ and beer. That's about right.
Dinner: $67 for three drinks, four dishes
This restaurant kicked off our Miami vacation. It serves small-ish drinks that are actually affordable and a great size. The ambiance is loud -- loud kitchen, loud music -- but it's the perfect atmosphere for an un-stuffy restaurant catering to a young crowd. I was happy to start our celebration here.

  • Brussels sprouts with cauliflower, soy and bacon, $9 -- amazing! Cooked perfectly, great combination of flavors. This is one of my favorite dishes from our entire trip.
  • Cubano special with brie, $15 -- worth it, large portion, brie was a nice touch
  •  Roasted pork bun with peanut sauce and carrots, $9 -- OK, but too similar to the Cuban special for me, and too much bread, not enough meat.
  • Drumsticks, $13 -- a little spicy, just right for us, surprisingly big portion (5 large drumsticks with lots of meat)
We were considering ordering some udon noodles, too, but the waiter advised against it, both because he dislikes the dish (I appreciate his honesty) and because we had ordered enough for two people (he was right).

Yardbird
Southern food, but not overly heavy/fried/covered in gravy. Fancy drinks, some with moonshine!
Dinner: I can't tell you the bill total on this one, because a generous friend picked up the tab, but I'm pretty sure it wasn't cheap.
This is far and away the restaurant I would say you have to go to out of all the ones we tried -- a very memorable dining experience.
  • Kitchen pickle jar, $6 -- several types of pickled items, including carrots, tomatoes, onions, horseradish (we think), plus served with some hearty bread with salted butter.
  • Fried Everglades' frog legs, $14 -- Eh. I would not have ordered this, but our dinner partners had sampled them before and wanted more. I tried a bit of one of Matt's frogs' legs, and it was definitely not offensive in flavor, but it was really chewy. I didn't want to risk my pregnant self throwing up in the bathroom over the gross-out factor.
  • Fried green tomato BLT, $14 -- I loved everything about this. Big slab of bacon, over pimento cheese, over a perfectly fried tomato? Yes.
  • Chicken 'N Watermelon 'N Waffles, $36 -- enough for four people to share. The chicken was appropriately fried, not too heavy on the breading. The watermelon cubes were an ideal amount of spicy. I've never had the classic chicken-and-waffles southern combo, and I don't seek out waffles in general, but these cheddar ones were pretty awesome.
  • Buttermilk biscuits, $9 -- with a honey butter that may have forever changed the way I'll look at the possibilities butter can present. As with waffles, I do not actively seek out biscuits, but I had more than my share of these. This is another favorite food item from the whole trip.
  • Charred okra, $8 -- Who knew? I've only had slimy okra. There was nothing slimy about this side. It was incredibly salty, though, but I am not one to complain about salt.

Khong River House
Thai
Dinner: $110 for two drinks, four dishes, dessert
We're always on the lookout for good Thai food. Northern Virginia has some really wonderful Thai restaurants, so it's hard to find ones that are just as good as the ones we're used to here. Khong River House is good, but I can't say it's much better than what I can get for half the price in our hometown.
  • Burmese fresh noodle wraps, $15 -- my favorite dish! Appropriately spicy, nice blend of peanut sauce and spicy goodness.
  • Korat beef jerky, $12 -- Matt has an affinity for beef jerky (the kind you might find in 7-Eleven during a road trip), but he hardly ever eats it, so I thought this dressed-up version would be fun. It was! The beef was chewy, but not overly so, and the spicy dipping sauce that came with it helped soften it appropriately.
  • Thai crispy duck, $28 -- This was probably the best duck dish I've ever had, though I can't say that duck is ever as good as I want it to be. This duck was not particularly fatty, and it was somewhat crispy.
  • Stir-fried eggplant, $12 -- My least favorite dish. It contains minced pork, FYI, so not a vegetarian option, though that is not a concern for me. I felt that overall this dish lacked flavor, but that's probably because I kept comparing it to a favorite stir-fried eggplant dish that I absolutely love at our neighborhood Thai restaurant.
  • Dessert: Thai doughnuts!, $8 -- three little doughnut orbs with three dipping sauces: dark chocolate, coconut, condensed milk. Skip the condensed milk sauce and you will generally be in love with these perfectly crispy doughnut balls.

Tongue and Cheek
Modern American
Sunday brunch: $45 for one drink, three dishes
The food here was probably the least unique out of the food at all the restaurants we visited during our trip. But, that's not to say it wasn't enjoyable, just not overly memorable, and probably dinner plates here are more unique than the brunch options. The ambiance, however, was the most in step with my style -- classic modern (is that an oxymoron? Probably.)
  • Cuban sandwich with Gruyere cheese and pickles, $12 -- This was an OK Cuban, but I preferred the one at Gigi earlier in our trip. The bread on this one was just too soggy for me to feel really positive about the whole thing.
  • BLTA (bacon, lettuce, tomato and avocado) sandwich, $12 -- Served on thick-sliced olive bread, this was a great sandwich. Challenging/messy to eat, but very satisfying. This and the Cuban were served with a generous helping of house-made potato chips.
  • Freshly baked basket of assorted pastries, $12 -- The basket contained four items: a small sugar-coated doughnut, a blueberry muffin, an indeterminate muffin (that may have been either cream-cheese or coffee based, we're not sure) and a buttermilk scone with honey and sour cream. The scone was far and away the best item in the basket, though they were all pretty awesome.

Sugar Cane Raw Bar and Grill
Eclectic cuisine: raw bar, robata, sushi, tapas, modern American
Dinner: $85 for one drink, 7 dishes
This was our last dinner of the trip, and by this point my third-trimester pregnant belly decided to go on strike. So, we didn't stay too long, but the place was lovely and the food (that I ate) was enjoyable. Sorry to not be overly descriptive on this one. We sat on the beautiful patio, but we didn't factor in the cigar smoke from a few tables down. This may have exacerbated my pregnant stomach sensitivities. Here's what I recall:

  • Marinated olives, $6 -- what you'd expect.
  • Local catch and shrimp ceviche, $14 -- Excellent flavors and portion sizes. This tied for first place for me.
  • Heirloom tomato and bread salad, $10 -- This was a dish I couldn't stomach that night, which is weird because basically combines all my favorite foods -- tomatoes, fresh herds, feta, bread -- but I enjoyed it as my breakfast the next morning on the way to the airport, and it held up quite nicely.
  • Goat cheese croquettes, $7 -- Skip these.
  • Brussels sprouts, $8 -- I've never met a Brussels sprout I didn't like. These were no exception. The orange and sweet soy flavors were wonderful.
  • Bacon-wrapped dates, $11 -- I bet if I had been feeling better these would have been great, but that night I needed them away from me.
  • Sweet potatoes, $7 -- These were made on the robata grill and finished with a maple glaze. It was my first grilled sweet potato experience, and I'd do it again.
When we came back from Miami and reported to several friends that we enjoyed some excellent food, most were surprised, figuring Miami isn't known for its cuisine. I can't say whether that's a fair statement or not, but I can say that you could go to any of the restaurants we visited during our stay and have a great time.

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