Taco Madness: Taquiza, Coyo, and Bodega Step Up

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Photo by billwisserphoto.com
Steve Santana preparing tortillas at South Beach's Taquiza.
The taco-making begins with a whir and a screech. Late one weekday morning, Steve Santana, the bespectacled chef of Miami Beach's Taquiza, uses a power tool to deepen the narrow channels in two thick rock discs, which wear down every week while crushing corn into masa, the dough that becomes tortillas in this walk-up Collins Avenue taqueria.

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Michelle Bernstein Reappears With Panache at Seagrape

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Photo by billwisserphoto.com
Seagrape's organic lacinato kale salad is a vibrant and vegan starter.
Inside Seagrape's dimly lit dining room at the Thompson Miami Beach, a meticulously plated starter dish is revealed courtesy of our waiter's iPhone flashlight. Veiled in foam are locally grown squash blossoms infused with mousse derived from Florida shrimp. Underneath is a sauce prepared from the shellfish's heads plus plenty of Tabasco. It's a pristine appetizer that the harsh light makes only more alluring.

The restaurant's executive chef is Miami's culinary darling, Michelle Bernstein, who -- like the shrimp dish -- has been briefly lost from view. Michy's, her acclaimed eatery in the MiMo District, is closed for an extensive face-lift, and her Design District tapas spot, Sra. Martinez, is a thing of the past. Seagrape marks the James Beard Award-winning toque's return to the spotlight.

See also: Ten best tacos in Miami

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The Freehand's 27 Restaurant: Broken Shaker Extravaganza

Categories: Review

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Photo by billwisserphoto.com
27 Restaurant's chef James Seyba with local fish in curry broth with Israeli couscous.
The best meals are often found simmering within the welcoming homes of fawning grandmothers. As sunset burns the sky orange and red, slowly cooked roasts and stews that began bubbling at daybreak are hoisted onto well-worn tables before wide-eyed friends and family.

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Midtown Oyster Nails the Raw Bar but Misses in the Kitchen

Categories: Review

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Photo by billwisserphoto.com
Lobster roll at Midtown Oyster Bar.
On a brisk evening, a man with a thick Italian accent, suede wingtips, and a beige scarf attempts to lure passersby off a midtown Miami sidewalk. "Oysters, ladies," he coos to a group while gesturing to the more than half-dozen varieties of gnarled bivalves resting atop crushed ice.

See also: As Oyster Bars Spread Around Miami, the Bivalve Reigns Supreme

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Siena Tavern: Fabio Viviani's New South Beach Spot Is Solid, But Could Be More

Categories: Review

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Photo by CandaceWest.com
Siena Tavern's Fabio Viviani with coccoli.
You can ignore most of the lengthy menu at Siena Tavern, the pricey Italian spot on the corner of Washington Avenue and Fifth Street.

See also: Top Chef's Fabio Viviani Talks Pizza and Plans for Siena Tavern Miami

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Cleo Offers Classy, Affordable Mediterranean Fare in SoBe

Categories: Review, The Critic

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billwisserphoto.com
Chef Danny Elmaleh's lebaneh yogurt with feta and za'atar is a must-have at Cleo
At Cleo, the Redbury Hotel's new eatery, Danny Elmaleh proffers a dip called lebaneh. To make it, the soft-spoken chef-partner lets kefir cheese drain for 48 hours and then adds olive oil, lemon juice, and za'atar (his version is a blend of thyme, sesame seeds, and sumac). Finally, he tosses morsels of creamy feta into the mixture.

Then he hands over a paper bag filled with warm laffa, a type of Middle Eastern flatbread.

Combine the two and you get something tangy, intense, and, frankly, exquisite.

The versatile dip sneaks its way into several dishes at Cleo. Take, for example, the spicy cigars, a traditional Moroccan appetizer featuring ground beef rolled in feuilles de brick, a pastry of Tunisian origin. These piquant, delicately fried sticks would get gobbled up even if they weren't resting atop a bowl of lebaneh, but they're even better with it.

See also: Dewey LoSasso on Schnebly's New Dining Concept

Arriving at Cleo, you might be deterred by the hotel's $25 valet parking fee. Pay it. Or park nearby. You will quickly cozy up to Cleo. Stellar cocktails and mezzes certainly help, while the affordable menu (nothing exceeds $16) and reasonably priced wine list are impressive for South Beach.

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West Miami Seafood Spot Disco Fish is Revived

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Zachary Fagenson
Grouper soup at Disco Fish.
Unless you've time-traveled straight from the Mad Men era, you may not be too familiar with lobster Thermidor. The out-of-date, insanely rich dish made with diced, cooked lobster meat blended with egg yolks, cream, and brandy first appeared in France prior to the turn of the 20th Century and seemed to have gone out of style around the same time as the Jheri curl.

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Southern-Styled Crackers Casual Dining Is a Neighborhood Favorite for Good Reason

Categories: Review

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billwisserphoto.com
Chicken fried chicken and string bean casserole at Crackers.
Jeff Mitnick doesn't hide the fact that part of his cooking technique came from mimicking what he watched for hours on Food Network. He even repurposed some of the made-for-TV dishes for his homey, country-meets-Florida Keys restaurant. The bacon jam, a cult favorite since he and his wife Jo opened Crackers Casual Dining in Miami Springs in 2012, is one of them. It comes smeared generously onto burgers and fried chicken, though it's most popular as an appetizer, encircled by toasted rounds dusted with garlic, paprika, and parsley.

See also: Crackers Casual Dining in Miami Springs (Photos)


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Naoe's Other Half, N, Must Be Experienced to Be Understood

Categories: Review

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Illustration by Jason Crosby
At a sprawling communal table made of old cherry trees, a black-clad figure appears with an unadorned beech-wood box. As you sip green tea tinged with the faint aroma of burning leaves, she sets the box on the table and slips off one of its sides, revealing three trays. She draws them out with the utmost reverence and arranges them neatly in a triangle. Nearby diners look confused and delighted as each of the half-dozen tiny masterpieces held within is explained.

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Proof, Midtown's Casual New Spot, Offers a Fresh Take on Italian Cuisine

Categories: Review

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billwisserphoto.com
The oxtail pizza features myriad bold textures and flavors and is Proof's best-selling pie.
Pause for a moment to inhale the aroma of fresh Burgundy truffles that fleck the frothy soup's surface. Swirls of brown butter diffuse the mushrooms' fragrance, infusing the appetizer with the rich scent and taste of toasted hazelnuts. Both raw and golden tips of cauliflower float atop the dish that is so meticulously plated you almost don't want to dig in. Almost.

Once you do, be sure to scoop up a piece of crunchy vegetable with the unexpectedly light broth. The flavor of Yukon Gold potatoes is barely detectable, but they give the soup its irresistibly creamy texture, chef Justin Flit explains.

Formerly the executive sous-chef at Michael Mina's Bourbon Steak, Flit opened Proof Pizza & Pasta two months ago on North Miami Avenue in midtown. The 30-year-old says the neighborhood's "cool" factor was the ideal setting for the casual, inviting, anti-Italian restaurant he's always envisioned owning.

See also: November's Restaurant Openings and Closings

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