CULINARY TOUR OF SOMI!
SOMI HAS IT ALL FROM CHINESE TO PERUVIAN TO GOOD OLE BURGERS
When cultures meet, one of the best things to happen is a magical exchange and the eventual melding of cuisines. In South Miami Town Center, eating establishments feature the flavors of countries ranging from Japan to Venezuela. The variety of international flavors runs the gamut from comfort food, and fine dining, to wonderful snacks to relish from the early hours of the morning to late at night. In this issue we proffer a sampling of local favorites, signature dishes, and “must try” foods available right here that don’t require a flight out of town or a passport.
Here, it is a simple matter to treat your palate to exotic foods from Europe, Asia (both “near” and “far”), the Caribbean, Mexico and South America. And not to ignore the truly inventive and honest tastes of our own “melting pot,” we pay homage to food from the good old U.S.A. For as American writer Jean Shepherd once proclaimed about our natural bounty and national dishes, “There is more to life than a Hostess Twinkie.”
France is renowned for its haute cuisine, down-to-earth bistro and regional fare, and impossible-to-resist pastries.
George’s is an upbeat restaurant and late night venue for the young and beautiful, but that doesn’t stop it from offering Coq au Vin, a historic staple from the region of Burgundy. The traditional sautéed chicken cooked for hours in red wine with mushrooms and herbs is a favorite here–a fall-off-the-bone tenderness worthy of maman’s kitchen.
The origin of the word “bistro” is in some dispute, but the French have claimed it as
their own to mean, “quick.” Dining for lunch or dinner at Café Pastis is an experience that is best described as the total immersion into a Marseille bistro. Sunny yellow and deep Mediterranean blue décor, helpful French waiters, and a plate of exquisitely-prepared Moules Marinièrespaired with just the right cold white wine will keep you coming back to this little slice of Provence.
French bread, quiche, and salads are available at La Crepe Bistro who offer a tempting array of Savory Crepes—something to try if you have always considered these pancake-like affairs as dessert only. A variety of delicious Viennoiseries, baked goods make from yeast-leavened dough in the Viennese manner, are available from La Provence Artisanal French Bakery and Café, along with cakes and sandwiches. And don’t forget a visit to Le Royal Bakeryon Red Road, a popular spot for years serving up great homemade pastries and breads.
When it comes to the Pantheon of Desserts, the country of France surely holds one of the highest places. Chocolate Fashion is revered for its Chocolate Truffle Cake, a dark chocolate cake, soaked in rum syrup, layered with rich, dark chocolate mousse and covered in chocolate ganache. The recently-opened Le Macaron sells cookies that go far beyond those coconut meringue concoctions we call “macaroons.” Here they are round, lightly crisp shells created from ground almonds and soft meringue in a variety of natural flavors. The centers are filled with rich creams, fruit jams or chocolate.
Fast food has been with us long before the Golden Arches first made their appearance. Once such is the mid-nineteenth century working man’s treat, Fish and Chips. Lightly battered cod is quickly fried in hot oil and served up with hand-cut potatoes for a comforting repast at The Irish Times. Complete this traditional dish with a pint of Guinness’s creamy stout and all will be right with the world.
Italy, the country that claims its chefs taught the French how to cook, is home to regional foods unsurpassed on the planet. Fortunately for us, Italians chose the United States as an ideal place in which to settle. However because the majority of Italian immigrants came from the south (Campania and Sicily), most Americans are unaware of the broad range of flavors and the seemingly infinite glories that can be bestowed on a plate of pasta. And speaking of pasta, there are two basic types: fresh (usually homemade) and dried (from a package or box).
Fall brings out the pumpkins, and at Trattoria Sole, a must this season is the Zucca di ravioli. Sole has been the Italian restaurant in town for the past fifteen years, and well-known for its delightful treatment of dishes developed in the Piedmont and other regions of Italy. (see feature, New Tastes in SOMI).
At Emilio’s Casa Toscano, the menu is a tribute to many Italian dishes that come from Tuscany. One of these is the Pappardella Verdi e Bianche ai Funghi Porcini. Broadly cut pasta served with the rich, earthy flavors of wild mushrooms and truffles makes for a delightful change from the sometimes all-too-familiar spaghetti in tomato sauce.
Pizza, an Italian fast food that has taken the world by storm, is often mistreated with an overabundance of acidic tomato sauce and waxy mozzarella “cheese” on top of bread that resembles cardboard; not so at Blu Pizzeria by Best Friends. Here you can experience all the joys of a true Neapolitan Pizza Margarita, with sweet plum tomato sauce, buffalo mozzarella, olive oil and leaves of fresh basil on bread fit for the queen for which this pizza was named.
The countries of Portugal and Spain are well represented in South Miami. Old Lisbon brings Old World charm to our city and the best Bacalhau Assado na Brasa you ever ate. This traditional treatment results in a soothing blend of Norwegian cod, potatoes, onions, garlic and oil that will make you want to linger over dinner. Order a fine port to complete the experience.
For a change of pace, go to 100 Montaditos for Spanish tapas. Here you can get small sandwiches made on Spanish bread with a variety of fillings. A popular spot, this café offers special low prices on Wednesday evenings. For a real treat, try the Ibérico de Bellota sandwich; one of the world’s best hams made from black Iberian pigs raised on acorns.
The country of Lebanon remains the crossroads of cultures. Under the rule of the Ottoman Empires for almost 300 years and later greatly influenced by the French, Lebanese cuisine is among the finest and most complex in the world. In South Miami we have the good fortune to hosttwo Lebanese restaurants, each with its own style and both with consistently fantastic food. Khoury’s has been part of the scene here for over fifteen years and their food never disappoints. For a real treat, order a plate of appetizers that include Shanklish (homemade cheese) with tomatoes and olive oil, homemade Lebanese Sausage with lemon, and Grapes Leaves stuffed with rice, chick peas and specially-ground spices.
Watch the world go by while dining outdoors on Sunset Drive at Marhaba and enjoy their elegant Samak Mishweh, whole salmon with spices baked in paper and served with lemons and sauces. To complete the experience, enjoy tea, take a puff on a hookah and await the arrival of the belly dancer.
Chances are, when the question arises of where something originally began, the answer is usually “China.” China, large in land mass and numbers of people, has a diversity and complexity of cuisines worthy of its millennia-old culture. Marco Polo purportedly brought the skill of noodle-making to Italy from his trip to Asia. The method of cooking the freshest food rapidly in a wok and serving it steaming hot is a skill appreciated the world over. One restaurant that presents this healthy and delicious food is New Chinatown located on US1. Try Mushu with vegetables or meat. This satisfying dish is a mixture of cabbage, wild mushrooms, eggs and spices served on light, sweet Mandarin pancakes. Begin with a bowl of spicy Hot and Sour soup, sip a cup of Jasmine tea and relax.
Another location for great Cantonese food is Wok Masters on Red Road in Coral Gables (see feature, New Tastes in SOMI).
The food of Japan has increased in popularity in the United States over the last 20 years and has experienced a real boom with Americans’ discovery of sushi. A country long devoted to making everything in their lives a work of art, the Japanese excel at the presentation of their traditional dishes; delighting the eye well in advance of the first chopstick-full of subtly-flavored food.
The interior of the Miyako Restaurant exemplifies the elegant yet restrained nature of Japanese design. This follows through in all their dishes. Traditional foods such as Teriyaki (food broiled or grilled in a sweet soy sauce), Katsu (breaded meats) and Yasai Itame (sautéed vegetables) are offered in addition to an array of Sushi Rolls.
Sushi Maki is known for their dedication to serving fresh food and to running a “green” restaurant. There are many rolls from which to chose, but try the Dragon Roll (a power pack combination of grilled eel, cucumber and avocado) with a glass of refreshing Bubble Tea (a slushy drink made with tea and fruit or milk).
Another great sushi spot in SOMI is Akashi, a traditional Japanese restaurant known for the quality of its ingredients and the beautiful presentation of its dishes. They include a number of signature rolls as well as great traditional fare.
At RA Sushi, try the Viva Las Vegas roll. This extravaganza consists of a crab and cream cheese roll, lightly battered and fried tempura style, and topped with spiced tuna, crab, and sliced lotus root that is then drizzled with eel sauce and spinach tempura flakes. More than your average bowling alley, Splitsville offers terrific appetizers and sushi rolls for you to enjoy between frames. Give the Ninja Roll a try; this delightful mix of salmon tempura, crab and avocado with spicy mayo will be sure to improve your game on the lanes.
Well, what can be said? Cuban cuisine is all around us in the Miami area. Our South Miami purveyors of this island nation’s food is Casa Larios where the Vaca Frita is generous and delicious, and Mojito Grill, the first Cuban restaurant in SOMI, where a Pan con Bistec sandwich is not to be missed. Both establishments enjoy a large and loyal following with plenty of cafecito and conversation to keep you coming back to try more delights on their menus.
For authentic Mexican food that goes far beyond the taco, try The MexZican Gourmet located in one of South Miami’s historic buildings on Sunset and US 1. Their ceviche verde is highly rated (see feature, New Tastes in SOMI).
Argentina enjoys a great mix of cuisines thanks in part to the Europeans who settled and continue to settle there. Known for its fantastic beef and sausages, the country that brought us the Tango really knows its way around the kitchen. Patagonia Nahuen brings the Pampas to us via a gourmet market, fresh prime meats and delicious prepared treats that can be enjoyed indoors or out on Sunset Drive. A variety of flaky-crusted Empandas are among the winners here. Chose your favorite filling, buy a bottle of fruit juice or wine and enjoy.
Venezuela’s food varies a great deal depending on the region. Like Patagonia, the shop at European Corner sells gourmet foods from the home country and provides ready-made goodies to enjoy on the premises. Pastries and easily-devoured fast food such as Arepas (ground cornmeal dough stuffed with meats, etc.) and Tequeños (cheese sticks) will help get your fiesta started.
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA
In American cuisine, we have a lot to be thankful for: a bounteous land and a dynamic culinary culture that expands with every new wave of immigrant who decide to make this place home. So without further ado, we jump right into one of our glorious accomplishments, fantastic beef. Shula’s 347 is not your father’s steakhouse. It’s a whole lot better! With center cut Premium Black Angus beef in the kitchen, the dish to consider is the Filet Mignon. Enjoy your steak with a nice bottle of red wine in a sophisticated atmosphere and secretly thank generations of breeders who husbanded the Black Angus.
Food of the American South is glorious in its own right. Go to Whisk for Shrimp and Grits with a side of Fried Green Tomatoes and I reckon ya’ll will find out what the fuss is about.
Fox’s on US 1 has been part of the South Miami scene for over 60 years. Known for its great food and the darkest bar in creation, Fox’s has been the scene of many a story; some true, some not. To get the real flavor of down home America, try the juicy Prime Rib and one of their icy martinis, shaken, not stirred.
Town Kitchen and Bar offers gourmet American food simply prepared. A convivial and modern ambiance, Town’s menu has a lot of “musts.” Try the Calamari with its hot and sweet dipping sauce and a cocktail of your choice. Deli Lane on Dorn Avenue occupies one of South Miami’s old post offices. Situated on a street that could come straight from Europe, the outdoor dining and people-watching here are enhanced by their signature Reuben Sandwich and a cold brew.
One glory of our cuisine is the hamburger. And we are not talking about some pallid, flat affair on a gluey bun; we are talking real meat on real bread. ROK:BRGR Burger Bar and Gastropub relies on that king of beef, prime Black Angus for its handmade burgers to order—no frozen patties in sight. Order any of their Burgers with a side of Mac and Cheese with Lobster and drink a premium beer with your premium burger. And now, South Miami has its own star of the Obama administration, OMG! Burgers! While looking for a place to grab a quick bite while campaigning, our Commander-in-Chief stopped here, to have a burger, fries and a Coke. What was once named the tasty American Burger has been forever changed to the Presidential Burger. Try it. It is delicious and famous and right here at home.
THE BEST AND OTHER FAVORITES IN TOWN
Top Row: Reuben Sandwich, Deli Lane | Pan con Bistec, Mojito Grill | Calamari, Town Kitchen+Bar
Volcano Roll, Splitsville’s Sushi Bar | Viva Las Vegas Roll, RA Sushi | Middle Row: Dragon Roll, Bubble Tea, Sushi
Tacos, Sushi Maki | Crab Wontons, WOK Masters | Samak Mishweh, Marhaba Mediterranean Restaurant
Iberico de Bellota Platter with Manchego Cheese, Six Assorted Montaditos, 100 Montaditos |
Pizza Margherita, Blu Pizzeria | Bottom Row: Pappardella Verdie Bianche a Funghi Porcini, Emilio’s Casa Toscana |
Presidental Burger, OMG! Burger | Filet Mignon with potatoes & seasonal vegetables, Shula’s 347 Grill |
Yummy, Yummy: Homemade Chantilly, Strawberries, Banana Nutella, La Crepe Bistro | Assorted Pastries, Le Royal French Bakery