Finka Table & Tap Takes Bold Flavors to Miami's Hinterland

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Finka owner Eileen Andrade, Cuban bibimbap.
Far beyond Miami International Airport and that tangle of Dolphin Expressway construction traffic, a rising stretch of asphalt threatens to launch you into the sawgrass abyss. Only it doesn't. The road narrows and curves south, spitting you onto SW 137th Avenue and into a maze of low-slung auburn stucco houses and jam-packed strip malls.

Head west on Coral Way and you'll arrive at a bank and a pharmacy. There, in the corner of the parking lot, stands a rust-colored brick-and-wrought-iron building with the faint twinkle of Edison light bulbs crisscrossing a glassed-in patio.

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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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"They Just Didn't Sell:" Richard Hales' Struggle to Keep Blackbrick an Authentic Chinese Eatery

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Courtesy of Richard Hales
Miami, Y U no like stir-fried tripe?
There's little doubt Miami's dining ecosystem has expanded and improved by light years in only a decade or two. Chef-driven concepts and smartly sourced ingredients aren't as pervasive as many would like, but they're here and thriving.

However, gastropubs continue reproducing like rabbits. Miami diners still annoyingly cling to lowest-common-denominator dishes -- salt, fat, and starch bombs -- that people ogle and share on social media.

See also: Blackbrick Named One of Bon Appetit's Top 50 New Restaurants

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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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The Grudging of Miami Spice 2014, Part Three

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Photo by David Cabrera
Where are the real-deal Thai choices, Khong?
For restaurants, Miami Spice's two months of dining deals can be a raging hassle. With $23 for lunch menus and $39 for dinner, there's the possibility of lower check averages for servers. Plus there's extra ordering and menu planning for chefs and kitchen managers and a whole new slew of dishes for sweat-drenched line cooks to master.

We feel your pain; we really do. Still, Spice is a time to let your restaurant shine. Take it as an opportunity to break out of the daily grind. It's a chance to gain a new clientele that otherwise might not see value in your usual offerings.

See also: The Great of Miami Spice 2014, Part Two

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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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The Great of Miami Spice 2014, Part Two

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Courtesy of the Genuine Hospitality Group
Don't miss Michael Schwartz's most refined fare this spice.
Miami Spice's can't miss menus have two things in common: value and creativity. They offer interesting ingredients in combinations that make you eager to learn more and share them with friends. They're also a steal.

You're looking for good range of selections at restaurants where a single course can run the same as an entire spice menu. The more the restaurant can stretch $23 at lunch and $39 at dinner, the more they deserve your attention and support.

See also: The Good of Miami Spice 2014, Part One

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The Good of Miami Spice 2014, Part One

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Courtesy of Milos
Get your fill of Mediterranean fish at Milos.
Another steamy summer, another Miami Spice. The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau is back with the oft-beloved, sometimes maligned dining deals that help fill restaurants during the slow summer months and give less well-to-do diners a way to eat in the city's most lavish spots at a fraction of the price.

Things are bit different this year. Gone is the dual-tiered system that didn't insult any restaurant, but slotted some into a less costly "fine dining" group and others into a higher priced "luxury dining" category. This year lunch is a flat $23 and dinner $39. One chef says this will help cover restaurants' food costs a bit, which hopefully will translate into better menus.

See also: MC Kitchen Launches Bar Menu: Shandys, Calzones, and Light Bites

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River Oyster Bar Moving Out of Brickell in 2015

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David Bracha and charcuterie at Oak Tavern.
David Bracha's River Seafood & Oyster Bar will make its long awaited move out of Brickell sometime in 2015.

Bracha, who also owns Oak Tavern in the Design District, has leased spaced on the ground floor of the rising Flagler on the River Apartment Towers being built by Argentine developer the Melo Group. They hope to secure two more restaurants for the space in the future.

See also: Tobacco Road Property Sold, Bar to Remain Open at Least Three More Years

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NIU Kitchen: Catalan Tapas Spot Shows Promise for Downtown Dining

Categories: Review, The Critic

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billwisserphoto.com
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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