Tale of Two Meals: Social and Table 8

My right leg is bouncing up and down rapidly, a nervous tick I've had since high school. The waiter at Social Miami can not bring my check soon enough, and I cannot run out of this den of condescension and superficiality they call a restaurant fast enough.

Social's website advertises it as “the art of the good life.” Well, if the good life is sterile, unimaginative, and full of pretentious people, than they have it down cold. Even though the bottom of the menu tells the diner that the dishes are in the tapas style and are meant to be shared among two to three people, we were asked at least three times if we had eaten there before and if we needed anything “explained to us.”

When it was the hosts turn to do the “have you eaten here before you lowly commoner” routine, he even asked “is it living up to all your expectations” as if to say “you know we are a highly acclaimed hot spot on the Miami food scene don't you?”

All of this posturing did not create a welcoming atmosphere. After a series of mediocre dishes, we turned down desert and coffee and bolted past the status symbol Spencer Tunerick photos on the wall and out the door. I thought that any restaurant that requires a year's worth of saving for a mere mortal to dine at had to be good. Wrong. Luckily, I was able to put my experience at Social behind me the next night when I ate at another celebrity chef's den, the well-regarded SoBe restaurant, Table 8.

Miami can be a mecca for foodies. From Michelle Bernstein (consulting chef for Social) to Barton G, Michael Schwartz, and Govind Armstrong (executive chef for Table 8) high profile chefs have set up shop all over our fair sands. Yet, it can be tough to wade through all the gushing reviews and find a restaurant that meets your style. Although they are both uttered in the same breath along with other top South Florida dining spots, Social and Table 8 offer disparate dining experiences.

Instead of the antiseptic whites and bright lights Social prefers, Table 8's dining room is done in earth tones. Our waitress was friendly and helpful without being condescending. Unlike at Social, where a DJ was blasting house music over an empty nearby dance floor (and diners' conversations), Table 8's atmosphere encourages you to relax and chat.

I could excuse Social for putting on airs – this is South Beach after all – if the food had been spectacular, or even better than average. Of the four dishes I sampled, the honey and balsamic marinated black cod and the oxtail ragu with gnocchi were the best. The honey balsamic marinade for the cod was delicious, the sweet flavor of the honey worked well with the mild flavor of the cod. The thick ox tail ragu was rich and savory. The other two dishes, paella croquettes and grilled lamb chops fell flat. The lamb chops weren't seasoned enough and tasted bland, while the tiny croquettes were simply boring.

At Table 8, however, we found the menu interesting and our choices more than satisfactory. From the large Mediterranean mussels, to the kobe-style flat iron steak and yellowtail snapper in lobster bisque, each plate was well thought out and well executed. The flavors complimented each other and nothing seemed as uninspired as it did at Social.

Social also advertises itself on their Web site as “a modern version of the classic European 'cafe society.'” Social's white furnishings, chain link curtains, and generally cold surroundings felt more like a designer hospital ward than a warm cafe along the Seine. In the end our bill at Table 8 was about a third more than the check at Social, due in part because it was enjoyable and we decided to stick around for coffee and desert.

Social is more style than substance, which probably goes a long way for tourists on South Beach, but when you pay more than $100 for a meal, mediocrity is unacceptable. Maybe, like Table 8, they should focus more on what costumers want and less on force feeding diners their warped idea of the “good life.” -- Tovin Lapan

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