L'echon, the Pubbelly Team's French Brasserie, Is a Glimpse of What's to Come

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Raie à la Grenobloise (skate wing) at L'echon Brasserie. View the full slideshow of photos from L'echon Brasserie.
While navigating Miami Beach's treacherous construction traffic, you zip past the Hilton Cabana. Damn! You circle the block for another pass. The red pin on your cell phone's map must be out of place. It's doesn't seem possible that a hip restaurant sits amid the dozens of hotels on Mid-Beach's chopped-up Collins Avenue. As you turn the corner and creep up the street a second time, you see it. There, on the hotel's white-stucco façade, is a cartoonish pig-head logo bathed in a halo of blood-red light.

See also: Photos of L'echon Brasserie at the Hilton Cabana in Miami Beach

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At Oolite, Kris Wessel Takes Florida's Culinary Influences on a Healthful, Delectable Jaunt

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Kris Wessel's barbecue shrimp at Oolite.
A half-dozen fat, sweet barbecued shrimp arrive bathed in a fragrant, rust-colored sauce.

One bite reveals that their tingling spice is cut by the rich smack of butter as well as lemon and floral rosemary. The plump crustaceans are perfectly cooked, with crisp exteriors and tender, briny interiors. They come with a few triangles of crumbly roti, an Indian flatbread.
You wouldn't know it, but the dish is gluten-free. Chef Kris Wessel's addictive barbecue sauce, which doesn't contain Worcestershire sauce, is often made with soy. And the roti is prepared with chickpea flour instead of traditional whole wheat.

See also: Oolite's Backyard Mango Cocktail and Wessel's BBQ Shrimp: The Perfect Summer Meal


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"A Little Forgotten": On 79th Street, New Restaurants Pave a Better Way Forward

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Clams and chorizo at Tap 79.
By the time Brazil and Croatia kicked off the World Cup, Boteco was bursting at the seams. Sweaty bodies in yellow and green jerseys were squeezed together inside the flag-draped Brazilian restaurant that thumped with samba. More were crammed on the covered patio, which opens onto Miami's sometimes-slummy NE 79th Street.

See also: Boteco: Where Brazil Fans Get Turnt Up for the World Cup

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NIU Kitchen: Catalan Tapas Spot Shows Promise for Downtown Dining

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Co-owners Karina Iglesias and Deme Lomas.
Not long after sunset, downtown Miami is so deserted the click of a changing traffic light echoes like a gunshot. Once-bustling cafeterias and shops closed hours ago. In the inky darkness, steel shutters rattle in the wind.

But then you turn a corner and a cool-yellow glow pours onto the stained sidewalk. A subtle hum becomes boisterous chatter, clinking wine glasses, and clattering dishes. As you step in front of NIU Kitchen's plate-glass façade, you're sucked off the sidewalk and into a buzzing Barcelona-style tapas restaurant. The musical gurgle of emptying bottles of ruby-red tempranillo fills your ears. The nutty scent of toasting bread invades your senses along with the intoxicating aroma of fruity olive oil. After you settle into one of NIU's 26 seats, a warmth overtakes you, mostly thanks to co-owner Karina Iglesias, who with a devilish grin tops off your glass and then adds nothing to the check.

See also: NIU Kitchen: Playful Catalan Cuisine in Downtown Miami

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At AQ in Sunny Isles Beach, Dewey LoSasso Gets Fancy and Fanciful

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Dewey LoSasso inside AQ's kitchen.
Dewey LoSasso likes to have fun.

At AQ by Acqualina, the stylish restaurant that opened in a towering, Venetian-style Sunny Isles Beach hotel-condo this past April, the mustached chef plays with dishes such as green eggs and ham. A 20-minute wait precedes a bubbling martini glass layered with sweet mascarpone cheese tinted emerald green thanks to tiny chopped chives and an egg baked until the white is solid but still jiggly. The luxurious twin slices of fatty, salty jamón ibérico round out the Seuss-inspired starter.

See also: AQ by Acqualina: Dewey LoSasso's Whimsical Food in a Five-Star Hotel

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South Florida Brew Bus Delivers South Florida's Craft Beer Craze

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Photo by Karli Evans
Driver Edgar Revuelta (left), Brew Bus USA events coordinator Aaron Caplan, and Brew Bus South Florida attendants Kimberly Johnson and Matt Davis.
"Drive slow!" shouted several of the more than 20 passengers on a minicoach as it rolled south on I-95 past the sprawling suburbia of southern Palm Beach County. The driver looked back, smiled, and set the cruise control to 55, allowing traffic to pass unabated.

Why the leisurely pace when most people just want to get to wherever the hell they're going? Simple: free beer. As another round of cold ones from Brew Bus Brewing was tossed down the aisle, the adults smiled like kids on Christmas. At the wheel, the driver looked almost preternaturally mellow.

Welcome to the South Florida Brew Bus.

The five-month-old beer tourism operation takes craft-beer-loving citizens on journeys to five local breweries to sample 12 to 16 ounces of beer at each stop, as well as however much they can drink on the bus. The bus has its own line of five beers prepared by Cigar City Brewing in Tampa, such as the award-winning English porter Double Decker, rich with chocolate malt and roasted oat flavors. By the end, sobriety ranges from tipsy to hammered.

See also: Miami's Monthly Sud Swap Is Craft Beer Nirvana

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Tasting Menus: Miami's Gateway to the Big Leagues

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Executive Chef and proprietor Michael R. Shikany; lemon rose sorbet.
Perfectly ironed white tablecloths are topped with open glass orbs holding fresh-cut roses floating in water. The stems are twisted and tied around delicate blooms, creating bows that rise from the bowls. The rich cherry hardwood floor of Palme d'Or -- the opulent, awarded-winning French culinary temple in Coral Gables' iconic Biltmore Hotel -- is reminiscent of Versailles, Louis XIV's palace outside Paris. Wide, square mirrored columns with ornate crown moulding dot the room.

For $175 before wine pairings, patrons can slowly fill themselves with a 12-course meal that includes sea urchin, jamón ibérico, and delicately turned vegetables cooked in butter. Each bite is the creation of 33-year-old Gregory Pugin, who once traveled the world alongside famed chef Joël Robuchon and took the reins in 2011. Each grand meal lasts at least three hours. The fixed menu offers no choices besides the wine.

See also: Buns & Buns: Balance Could Lift Heavy, Rich Dishes

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Naked Taco: SoBe Joint Is Crazy Fun

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Photo by Zachary Fagenson
Mexican pizza with shrimp.
As soon as you sit down at Naked Taco in South Beach, a bubbly waiter toting a frosty shaker measures out two grapefruit-tequila shots in heavy, preplaced glasses. "You have to be a little mad to have fun with us," he says while shaking out the last drops of the precious nectar.

Maybe you're mad. But you wouldn't have to be crazy to like the Pink Tuna ($14), a tongue-in-cheek reference to the lower half of the female anatomy. After all, what could be so bad about bright-red cubes of rare tuna, avocado, mango, and a spicy soy ginger glaze?

See also: Naked Taco: Ralph Pagano's SoBe Spot Opening for SOBEWFF

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Buns & Buns: Balance Could Lift Heavy, Rich Dishes

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Buns and Buns Chef Reuven Sugarman, lamb ribs.
Buns & Buns established its affinity for the misogynistic era of the 1950s early last summer when it released a minute-long teaser video that opened with dozens of women's tanned, oiled backsides sunbathing on an unidentified beach.

"Incontestably, we all like our buns hot and steamy," it said before cutting to beach scenes set to modern surf rock.

See also: Buns & Buns: Value-Priced Fresh Bread and Grilled Meats

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La Mar: Peruvian Classics Elevated to Haute Cuisine

Categories: Review

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Cebiche sampler at La Mar.
The unmistakable snapping of rice in a superheated stone bowl hints at what's to come. The heavy gray-and-white-flecked basin typical of Japanese eateries seems misplaced at first in a Peruvian restaurant. But the nutty, charred scent of crisping grains soon dispenses any concerns about eating a Korean-Japanese mashup of sweet soy, roast pork, Chinese sausage, and pickled ginger.

A black-clad waiter bows and sets the yawning vessel in the middle of a table facing floor-to-ceiling sliding glass doors that open to views of Brickell's condo canyons. He punches through the pale-yellow egg crepe hiding the sweet-smoky combination. With two large serving spoons, he scrapes the almost burned sushi rice stuck to the bottom of the bowl, dispersing its delicious crunch into each bite. It's neither a ceviche nor a taxi-yellow plate of papas a la huancaína. But it's still distinctly Peruvian.

See also: El Atlacatl: A South Florida Institution

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