A Better Cuban Sandwich: Latin American to Miami Smokers to Little Bread

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Little Bread's Cuban sandwich.
Faded pictures of Cuban sandwiches with pressed ham and pork ooze a taxicab-yellow mustard flash on signs that line the bustling avenues of Little Havana. Follow them and soon you're parked, waiting for one at a ventanilla where an espresso machine hisses in the background.

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Jean-Georges' Matador Room Takes Charge of Its Lavish Surroundings

Categories: Review, The Critic

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The tuna tartare's pristine flavor isn't masked by the sauce at Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Matador Room.
Before it was a month old, Matador Room was named one of the best places to dine among celebrities in the United States by CNN.com. But star diners such as Linda Evangelista and David Schwimmer are just one of many reasons the restaurant has been generating so much buzz. It also shares real estate with an LED-lit indoor ice-skating rink, a bowling alley, and a popular nightclub (Basement). And it's located inside hotelier Ian Schrager's sleek Miami Beach Edition (formerly the Seville Beach Hotel). For those unfamiliar with his work, Schrager cofounded New York's Studio 54 and opened the Delano Hotel.

But when all is said and done, the restaurant is about the food. And Matador Room is almost as ambitious as the Edition hotel itself. After all, at the helm is Jean-Georges Vongerichten, the Michelin-starred chef/entrepreneur whose empire includes nearly 30 restaurants from Chicago to Tokyo.

See also: Guy Fieri: Miami Is One of the Great Food Cities

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Best Eats in Merrick Park: Pascal Oudin's New Brasserie Central

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Chef Pascal Oudin. Brasserie Central trout almondine.
Food isn't all that makes a French brasserie. Sure, there's tangy cheese and the rich, peppery aroma of steak frites. But just as important is the frazzled waitress with a pack of cigarettes peeking from her purse. And then there are the throngs of caf├ęgoers, who crowd the sidewalk to sip wine and chat even on brisk winter nights.

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At Revamped Vagabond, Chef Alex Chang Makes His Mark

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Pan-seared beef heart at the Vagabond.
The chapulines are boiled, sun-dried, and roasted in garlic and chilies before they're vacuum-packed and sent north from Oaxaca. Then these grasshopper slivers are tossed in a pan with citrusy Sichuan peppercorns and topped with cilantro and lime. Broken into pieces and served with peanuts and almonds, the bug bits are mostly innocuous and unidentifiable. They add some crunch and tartness to the little snack and double as a kind of Boy Scout badge for food enthusiasts.

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Taco Madness: Taquiza, Coyo, and Bodega Step Up

Categories: Review, The Critic

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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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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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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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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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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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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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