Top Ten Most Important Miami Restaurants of the Decade

Photo by Simon Hare
Michael's Genuine pioneered fine dining in Miami's Design District.
Let's end the year with a bang-bang look at the most important restaurants of the decade. Caveat: It must still be in business. And we're skipping those historically important places (like China Grill, Joe's Stone Crab, Versailles, etc.) whose main impact occurred prior to 2000. So, alphabetically:

Barton G
In the early years of the decade, when so many chefs around town still thought cutting edge meant papaya salsa on fish, Barton G was spinning out one outrageously inventive dish after another after another -- always staying at least a few steps ahead of the competition on the latest gastronomic trends and technologies. And still is.

Giancarla Bodoni has quietly led the way towards use of organic and local product -- this is the first organic Italian restaurant in America  -- while maintaining Escopazzo's reputation since 1993 as one of the consistent go-to places for great contemporary Italian cuisine.

The River Oyster Bar
There was a time, not that long ago but before Oceanaire and the very recent Cape Cod Room and Fin, that David Bracha was about the only person serving fresh seafood in classic yet contemporary manner. It should also be noted that he was on the Brickell side of downtown before the Brickell side of downtown was cool. Bracha also pioneered the idea of an "oyster bar" -- well, not really, but The River remains one of the few places that has a reputable one.

Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
Influential in so many ways, but perhaps most importantly it just about single-handedly jump-started the once-moribund, now-riveting Design District dining scene. Along with Giancarla, Michael Schwartz likewise championed local sourcing, and made pure, fresh, healthily-prepared foods really really fashionable.

Michelle Bernstein was Miami's most nationally celebrated chef of the decade, which makes this flagship restaurant of hers very important indeed. Michy's was also one of the first of our serious chef-driven neighborhood eateries, and helped to kick-start the MiMo area.

When it comes to brand name chefs, Miami is the Second Hand Rose of American cities. Quite frankly this can be a drag, but nobody complains about Nobu Matsuhisa coming to town -- his restaurant was one of the very first and is still pretty much the best of our imports. It could be argued, in fact, that Nobu's arrival first signaled to the rest of the country that Miami was ready to become a legitimate food city.

Palme d'Or
Philippe Ruiz has been at the helm of this Biltmore gem for the whole decade, and throughout this time Palme has served as the benchmark for fine dining in Miami. Period. Its Zagat sweep this year shows it remains relevant as ever.

Pascal's On Ponce/Red Light
We're pairing these two because the respective chef/owners, Pascal Oudin and Kris Wessel, have forged their personal visions into highly influential restaurants that serve as beacons of pure, honest cuisine. Plus they demonstrate just how far talent, dedication, and integrity can get you, which is an important lesson in any decade.

Prime One Twelve
The highest grossing restaurant in South Florida was a trailblazer in the SoFi scene, swung open the corral gates to the contemporary steak house craze, and remains top-of-the-list for those looking for an upscale South Beach dining experience.

Most obvious distinction might be that this is the only Sardinian restaurant in South Florida. But the reason we deem it important is that it was a forerunner to the whole wood-burning hearth oven pizza thing as well as one of the first sophisticated regional restaurants around these parts. Plus it sparked the Sunset Harbour area of South Beach, formerly home only to Joe Allen but now a hopping hood.

I didn't leave anyone out, did I?

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