As the temperature drops in the north some of you may be heading south, or more specifically to Miami -- the hottest of destinations -- home to LeBron James and the Miami Heat. If you are going to be here for a few days you'll need to eat. As a native of Miami (I've been here for 35 years) I have a few recommendations for you...
Let's start with Prime 112, a very good steak house, with large portions, at the beginning of South Beach's famous Ocean Drive. If you can get in, you will run into more basketball players than an NBA convention. Be ready to wait an hour, even if you have a reservation, unless of course you go for lunch. Once inside you'll see some of the most beautiful girls in the world; they'll certainly help you pass the time until your mouthwatering steaks, Chilean sea bass and truffle mac & cheese arrive. Remember, it's not just the food, it's the scene!
Further north at the W Hotel you'll find Mr. Chow. If you thought that getting into Prime 112 was tough, you ain't seen nothing yet. This is by far the best Mr. Chow of them all.
Although cramped, this is one of the few places where you can let the waiter order for you and you don't feel ripped off. The Peking duck is particularly excellent. The other dishes are also good, although not authentic Chinese.
Now that we have talked about the scene that is Miami, let's go for some real food.
Michy's, Chef Michelle Bernstein's cathedral of good cooking in the Biscayne corridor, is one of my favorites. The white gazpacho with almonds is truly amazing, as is her signature foie gras, the blue cheese croquettes with guava sauce, the ceviche and her off-the-bone short rib. For dessert, don't leave without trying the baked alaska and the bread pudding with bits of chocolate inside. The menu is simple but very good. She and her husband David also own Sra. Martinez, an upscale tapas restaurant a few minutes away.
Now we turn to a restaurant that gets more write-ups in the New York Times than any other in South Florida; Michael's Genuine Food in the Design District of Miami. Chef Michael Schwartz's philosophy is to use only the best locally-grown and seasonal products. Go for the burrata with heirloom tomatoes, the baked whole chicken and wood roasted fish. This is not South Beach, nor is the food. It's good old American cuisine that attracts foodies from all over. His Sunday brunch is one of the best in the city. You order small plates a la carte such as egg sandwiches, red velvet cupcakes and pop tarts. Michael is considered a master in Miami and the most recent James Beard recipient.
If you are in Miami you've got to try Cuban food. Let's start with the upscale one.
D. Rodriguez Cuba at the Astor Hotel on Miami Beach is one of my favorites. Cuban-American chef Douglas Rodriguez returned to his roots after conquering New York Years ago he had the first Latino restaurant awarded three stars by the New York Times; Patria.
At D. Rodriguez you eat Cuban malanga tacos, fritta sliders, (small hamburgers made with meat and chorizo), ropa vieja and crispy skin Cuban pork. For appetizers, the ceviches are his specialty. For when it's not hot and humid in Miami, there's a garden courtyard. For when it is, you can sit inside and watch old black & white movies from Cuba.
Douglas also owns OLA a few blocks away, at another boutique hotel. For a totally different experience you also need to head down to the world famous Calle Ocho and visit an institution; the Versailles restaurant. Open until the early hours of the morning, this place has been visited by almost every president elected in the United States. This landmark, located in Little Havana, serves all things Cuban, from coffee, tostadas and pastelitos, to the best chicken, rice and Cuban sandwiches. Amazingly, the quality of the food does not suffer on account of the restaurant's size. Versailles is a must for anyone visiting Miami, whether on a budget or not.
There are many, many others I can recommend; Il Gabiano on the bay in downtown Miami, owned by the original proprietors of Il Mulino in New York City; Scarpetta at the Fontainebleau Hotel; Smith & Wollensky for the perfect setting. There you have an unadulterated view of cruise ships, passing within arm's reach and Fisher Island, the most expensive real estate in Miami. Last but not least there's Joe's Stone Crab. Get ready to wait or bring an extra hundred-dollar bill.
After you're done eating head over to Gloria and Emilio Estefan's Bongos Cuban Café on a weekend night for the best Cuban salsa music. That's where you'll find the local Latins dancing the night away.