Denny's: A Diner With Something for Everyone

Categories: The Critic

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The famous Denny's yellow and red sign.
The yellow and red sign beckons you, but it's the staff at Denny's that makes you feel right at home. On a sunny Thursday afternoon, the location in midtown Miami (Biscayne Boulevard at NE 36th Street) was packed with parents and their broods, hungover teenagers, and elderly couples, but that didn't stop one of the servers from telling me about his family and career aspirations. I was even offered a job at his future company. To say the service at Denny's is friendly would be an understatement.

It's also efficient. You can be in and out in 30 minutes. If you prefer, however, you can just as easily sit back and unwind in one of the spacious, slightly distressed brown vinyl banquettes. Catch a glimpse of a customer in a bikini top and cut-off denim shorts while you're at it. Denny's is what you make it.

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Shaddai Fine Lebanese Cuisine: A Culinary Oasis in a Pinecrest Strip Mall

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Photo by billwisserphoto.com
Lamb kabob.
Tucked away in the corner of a Pinecrest strip mall is the urban culinary oasis Shaddai Fine Lebanese Cuisine. You'll find three floor lamps of varying heights and colors, three wooden camel statues, and a wall adorned with three swords. Nearby are three booths. Are these trios symbolic of the Holy Trinity? Perhaps.

The Bethlehem-born owner, Anton Sammour, known as Chef Tony, has been cooking Lebanese food since he was 8 years old. His wife, Elizabeth, who works the front of the house, is from Guatemala. You might remember the couple from Arabian Nights in Doral, which closed a few years ago. After that, Tony spent two years and a lot of money trying to open a new Arabian Nights on Miracle Mile. It didn't work out. Last June, he suffered a stroke and lost feeling in his hand. Elizabeth had a dream in which the Lord spoke to her and said, "Tony will be OK. Good luck is coming, and you have to name the new restaurant Shaddai," which translates to "God almighty."

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Perfecto in Brickell Gets It Right With Tapas and a Snappy DJ

Categories: The Critic

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Photo by billwisserphoto.com
The seafood fideuĂ  is an angel hair pasta paella.
A man in a pink button-up and slicked-back hair raises a flute of rosé cava and whispers into the ear of the young blonde perched beside him. She sports a perfectly teased topknot and tilts her head ever so slightly to angle her cheek in the direction of his lips. Four other people sit at their table, but the impeccably groomed lovers pay them little heed. To their left, a large Spanish-speaking party with rambunctious children passes around tapas and toasts to another occasion.

Over by the freestanding bar, 20 or so fresh-faced guys with loosened ties and girls in pencil skirts mingle long after happy hour has ended. The office crowd seems oblivious to the basketball game playing on the flat-screen TV sets.

Near the open kitchen, Ferran Lozano, the resident DJ from Barcelona, spins house music. His hair is the color of salt and pepper, and his T-shirt depicts a scantily clad female from the waist down. She wears a garter belt and a videogame console stuffed down her panties. Like the DJ's work? You can find Lozano's playlists on the restaurant's website.

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Semilla Eatery & Bar: A Strong Seedling With Room to Grow

Categories: Review, The Critic

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Photo by billwisserphoto.com
New York strip steak.
The first thing you experience when entering Semilla Eatery & Bar is the sweet aroma emanating from a wall of potted herbs. They're a welcome respite from the construction craziness on Alton Road.

You'll also be relieved to hear "Wrecking Ball" sung by someone other than Miley Cyrus and see the large metal horseshoe bar, showcasing an open kitchen with chefs wearing checkered fedoras while working the centralized teppanyaki station.

Executive chef and owner Frederic Joulin was French President Jacques Chirac's private chef for two years and worked with three-Michelin-star chef Guy Savoy in Paris. Joulin knows tough customers and conditions. Yet asked about the construction outside, he utters, "Horrible, horrible," in a heavy French accent.

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Via Verdi Cucina Rustica Lends Italian Charm to the Upper Eastside

Categories: The Critic

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billwisserphoto.com
Tortelli filled with Fontina and Taleggio cheese in a truffle parmesan sauce.
Outfitted in black suits without ties, Fabrizio Carro and Cristiano Vezzoli dart from table to table to inquire about their patrons' meals and to extol the virtues of various regional Italian dishes. As they maneuver between the restaurant's interior and the terrace, their tousled black curls and matching facial scruff render them virtually indistinguishable.

It's Saturday night, and the canopied exterior of Via Verdi Cucina Rustica is full. In the unadorned, candlelit space, elderly couples, 40-somethings with small children, and pretty young things appear at ease. They might as well be lounging in a friend's backyard. When either Fabrizio or Cristiano approaches their table with a cheery "buona sera," they sit up straighter and respond enthusiastically.

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Why Do Miamians Hate Eating Whole Fish?

Categories: The Critic

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billwisserphoto.com
She's a beaut.
Few things are more enjoyable than eating a whole fish. Cooked on the bone, its flesh stays flavorful and succulent -- a far cry from most dry, overcooked fillets. All a whole fish needs is a bit of lemon. All you need alongside it is a cold beer.

Sure, not everyone agrees with me. Commentators on this week's Fish Fish review showed disdain for head- and tail-on eating, and their preference for fillets has become increasingly evident at Miami restaurants.

See also: Fish Fish: Old-School Fried Goodness in North Miami

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Ali Lauria and Chris Padin: Miami's Professional Foragers

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Emily Codik
Chris Padin of Farm To Kitchen
Ali Lauria thought everything would arrive unscathed. It was not long before rush hour on a sunny January evening when she stacked 30 dozen eggs on the passenger seat of a silver Dodge Ram and drove north from Homestead on Florida's Turnpike. Filled with strawberries and tomatoes, the pickup truck's bed glowed red.

By dinnertime, those tomatoes were supposed to be in the hands of a chef.

They didn't make it.

A car cut Lauria off. She lost control, spun across four lanes, and stopped with a cracking thud. Yolks dripped from her hair, her chin, her eyelashes. This was her first day as a full-time forager, and it would be months before she saw the inside of an egg again.

"I'll never forget that smell," she says.

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Ten Reasons the Design District Is Miami's Best Dining Neighborhood

Categories: The Critic

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billwisserphoto.com
Colorado rack of lamb at MC Kitchen
Dear Design District: Thank you. On any given day, your restaurants know what I want and have what I need. Although I'm not in the habit of picking favorite neighborhoods, your eateries have impressed me the most. And they've done so consistently, which is no simple feat.

It's no secret your small borders are often praised for having the city's highest density of skilled chefs (the Pubbelly empire comes close), but talent in the kitchen isn't the sole ingredient that lures me back. It's the emotional response your restaurants elicit, and that's a result of myriad factors coming together seamlessly: service, atmosphere, creativity, attention to detail, etc.

Here are ten other reasons the Design District is Miami's best dining neighborhood:

See also: Sunset Harbour is Miami's Best Dining Neighborhood, and Here's Why

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Sunset Harbour Is Miami's Best Dining Neighborhood, and Here's Why

Categories: The Critic

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billwisserphoto.com
Places like Pubbelly Sushi make this neighborhood great.
Sunset Harbour, you complete me. You're there for me on Friday nights, when nothing but Sardinia's spaghetti alla bottarga will do. You keep me going with Miami's best americano, which is served perfectly every time at Panther Coffee. At Jugofresh, you steer me on the righteous pathway with goji berries and kale juices. They always help me start the week off right.

And when I don't want to start the week off right, you sell bottles of wine half-off on Mondays at Barceloneta. I appreciate that -- I really do. So though this may sound odd, I have to say: Sunset Harbour, I have a crush on you.

See also: Locall's Organic Growth Sells Only Florida-Grown Produce (Photos)

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Five New Year's Resolutions for Miami Food

Categories: The Critic

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wallyg / Flickr CC
We could really use better farmers' markets.
It's that time of year again. You're considering Crossfit and the Master Cleanse as part of your New Year's resolution, and you're certainly not alone. Miami's food scene should be making promises, as well.

The city could use a couple of things. Here are just five of 'em.

See also: In 2013, Miami's Food Scene Finally Blossomed

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