Wednesday, August 26, 2009

MIAMI: Where in the World Wednesday

After sampling all the local delights in Seoul, we fly off to one of the U.S.'s party spots and beach towns - MIAMI. Today, we have the luck of having TWO guides to show us around -- one of my best friends Michelle and her wonderful boyfriend Joe. They provide some interesting insights for us, and I definitely learned some new things about eating in Miami.

As a sidenote for you readers, Michelle and Joe answered these questions separately without reading each other's answers first... so it should be interesting to see where they are in agreement with one another!

Let's meet the couple!

Michelle: I've lived in Miami for 3 years now (long enough as far as I'm concerned!). I've lived in South Miami for 2 years and now I'm in Brickell. It's the financial district. Very yuppyish. Other places as in during my lifetime? Let's see, I lived in Cleveland for 10 months. Then Philly for 18 years, then Baltimore, then back to Philly, and now Miami!

Joe: I have been living in Miami for 14, going on 15 years....crap. I have spent this time in the N. Miami Beach area, a wonderful place filled with interesting, snobby (rich, annoying, self centered) people. During my 26 years on this planet I have lived in three cities, the first 12 of which were spent in NY, Merrick Long Island to be exact. At the ripe old age of 12, I moved down to Miami to enjoy the sweet life of sun, rain and rain. The next stop in my three city tour was Boston. I spent 4 years in Boston during my stint in BU. Ahh the good times. After this time I came back to Miami to finish up school at FIU, guess I liked the rain, oh and the hurricanes, those are fun too. And now as Michelle has pointed out, I now have to stop procrastinating and answer your questions about the food in Miami.

(1) How would you describe food in Miami in 10 words or less?

Michelle: Inconsistent overpriced cuban beans touristy mediocre unimaginative (can you tell I don't love it??)

Joe: Cuban, expensive, iffy (you never know how good your food will be), and cuban, everything (beans, rice and plantains)

(2) Has the food in Miami has been greatly influenced by certain cultures/ethnicities/religions? If so, which ones?

Michelle: Hmmm...I'm sure there's one culture...can't think of it...hmmm....oh yea, CUBAN! I have never in my life seen more beans and rice and plantains. There's also a significant Brazilian influence. I can only eat so much rice and beans!

Joe: No influence at all, there is a bit of an American influence on the mostly Cuban cuisine I guess, but aside from that not much else.

(3) If you were putting together a food gift basket representative of Miami for a friend that was visiting you from somewhere else, what would you include in it? (Feel free to include perishable items!)

Michelle: Beans, rice, plantains, a burger from the restaurant 8 oz, some curry from Moon Thai, did I say beans? A mojito!

Joe: Rice, beans (black or red), plantains, pork and bananas, orange empanadas (from the Full Moon Cafe, I believe that is the name of the place) and churros (available at any street corner or quick stop).

[Ok, so I accidentally misnumbered my questions and left out a question 4. I thought I'd share their responses with you to my lack of question 4 though :-P
Michelle: You messed up on the numbers, not me ;)
Joe: Phew, thanks for the break, this is tough. I needed the rest.]

(5) Is there anything about food in Miami that you think would surprise people that have never been to Miami?

Michelle: It's not very good! I think that is the most surprising thing. For a pretty major city the place doesn't have a lot of great places to eat. Most of the food on the Beach is very touristy. It's getting better but it's not that great. The biggest problem here is the lack of fresh produce and other fresh ingredients. You'd think that Florida, with all the sunshine, would have a plethora of great stuff, but it doesnt. Everything is shipped in from up north by train and by the time it gets to us it's not so wonderful.

Joe: Yea, its not very good. With the exorbitant prices and all the publicity we get, you'd think the food would be better, but its not. Very strange. And let's not forget the terrible atmosphere in most, pretty much all, of the restaurants. With all the wealthy prissy people here completely absorbed with themselves, no establishment is safe from a hissy fit by a 30 year old child.

(6) Is there a particular drink (alcoholic or non-alcoholic) that you can typically find everywhere in Miami?

Michelle: Mojito and a Caipirinha. A mojito is obvious. A Caipirinha is a brazilian drink, quite tasty. It's a bitter brazilian alcohol ( Cacha├ža), sugar, and lime.

Joe: The drink found everywhere in Miami is the great bottle of Mexican piss, Corona and Corona Lite, for those of us who think that you need a Corona to be on the beach.

(7) Are there any dishes that are served at certain holidays in Miami (or Florida generally) that you think would not normally be served in other areas of the country?

Michelle: I havent spent much time in Miami during the holidays. I don't know what people eat here for the holidays actually. Though the nice thing is that everything is open around Christmas because it's tourist season. So even during Christmas and on New Years Day, the stores and restaurants reopen around 2pm to give the tourists something to do!

Joe: Nope, Miami has nothing original.

(8) Say that you’re taking me around Miami, where would we go for breakfast and what would we have? Where would we go to cap off the night for late night eats and what would we have?

Michelle: For breakfast we would go to Big Pink. Its an all pink diner on the beach. Very tasty. It's been there for ages. I remember actually going there on a family vacation before I moved to Miami. We would have french toast, for sure. We'd be able to split it because it's huge! For late night it's a tough call. There's Pizza Rustica, the most expensive yummy pizza on the beach. It's more like yummy focaccia than pizza. There's also a great chinese place on the beach, Sum Yum Gai which has the best mongolian beef I've ever had.

Joe: For breakfast I would probably take you to Balans, they have phenomenal corned beef hash. [my commentary: Joe! Apparently you DO know me well... I love corned beef hash and would have it for breakfast all the time if I could! :)] They also have some pretty good eggs. Though Miami is not particularly known for its breakfast. Oh and not to forget it, there is my former place of employment, Tasti Cafe in Miami Beach, although it is a little pricey and kosher, the food isn't bad and always fresh, plus they make some real good tuna fish, and their cheesecake is amazing and made fresh. As a night cap I would have to go with the late night classic of Steve's Pizza. It is by far and away the best pizza in all of Miami.

(9) Where was your last amazing meal in the Miami area and what was in it?

Michelle: Id say it was Senora Martinez. [My commentary: Omg, Michi, just looking at the website made me drool... Can we go there the next time I visit, please?] It's a tapas place run by Michelle Bernstein. We got this duck sausage that is absolutely out of this world. It's a duck/foie combo sausage. Unreal. Also got the bone marrow. I'd had bone marrow in Spain and this was even better than that! Plus they have a great cocktail there that's got basil and strawberries and balsamic vinegar in it.

Dessert from my meal with Mich and the girls at another of Michelle Bernstein's restaurants (Michy's)

Joe: Cafe Vialletta, as given to me by Michelle. They had some great pasta dishes, which is surprising for Miami which is pretty much known for its rice.

(10) If you were cooking up a meal for each other, what would you make? (whether this has to do with Miami or not!)

Michelle: Depends on what I've got...I've always got some sort of fish around. Mahi mahi is a popular choice. Also crabcakes will be on tomorrow's menu. I may be far away from Baltimore but I can't ever let go of my love of crabs.

Joe: Most definitely steak. Mich loves her steak, nice and bloody too. If the cow is still attached even better. Maybe a burger if I'm feeling adventurous, corn and veggies are always needed as sides to this meal, and if I want to make her scream with joy its the sweet mashed potatoes with marshmallows both inside and on top. Mmmmm mmmmm good.

(11) Given the current economic times, where would you for a meal and a drink for $15 or less?

Michelle: Realistically, there isnt really anywhere in Miami to get a decent meal and drink for $15 or less. A drink alone is $15. If I want to spend less then I just cook at home. It's an expensive city to go out in.

Joe: Mc Donalds, Burger King. And only those establishments if they do not reside in South Beach, cause in South Beach a Big Mac costs $6, and thats without the fries or drink. As for drinking for under $15, don't ask for anything with hard alcohol, that doesn't exist, any drink in Miami with the hard stuff will run you around $18 without tipping.

(12) What restaurant would you take someone to for a romantic date and why?

Michelle: I think Perricones. It's a tasty place with all kinds of yummy pastas and good wines. It's not too pricey for a change. It's also got a beautiful garden area with white lights and all that cute cheesy stuff. It's nice because it's not too stuffy so you can go as just 2 but I've also been there in a group of 25.

Joe: For a romantic night out...I don't know. And now Michelle is mad at me cause I don't know anywhere to go, thanks...

(13) Everyone that isn't from Miami thinks of Miami as one of the ultimate party towns... Where's the best place to go for fun partying but also good food? What would you have there?

Michelle: Well I love dive bars, so I'd pick SandBar in the Grove. Best Mahi tacos in the WORLD! I recommend the blackened mahi version over the fried. I think on Tuesdays you can get 3 tacos and a beer for $12, but I haven't been there in awhile so that might have changed. It's a sports bar, and there are always a lot of college kids in there.

Joe: For a good night I would go to Tavern Opa. It is a fun and pleasant atmosphere where you can dance on tables and break plates with the best of them. But be sure to only go to the Opa in Hollywood, the Opa in South Beach sucks. It is overcrowded and their service sucks.

(14) What's the best place to catch up with friends over food and/or drinks?

Michelle: Clarke's. It's a small and nice irish pub south of 5th on the Beach. Once you head south of 5th it's a lot less touristy, so there's more of a local flavor. Got a great burger and a pretty good beer selection. The appetizers are also great. They have an amazing mac and cheese. It's just dripping in cheesy goodness.

Joe: To catch up with a friend I would go to the Hardrock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood. They have bars, clubs and food

(15) Finally, where can you find the best mojito (or insert here other popular Miami drink)?

Michelle: I love the mojito at Nikki Beach. It was the first mojito I'd had in Miami right after I moved here first year of law school. I loved it and all other mojitos have been compared to that one.

Joe: What is a mojito?? I have yet to really find a place with good drinks, I am mainly a beer drinker. Though the Yardhouse in brickell does have a nice beer selection, as well as a few bars which make their own microbrews.

THANK YOU to Mich and Joe for their food thoughts! I love all the local recommendations and the (honest) insight into what eating in Miami is really like...


Elaine said...

That was an really interesting read. Thanks for sharing!

Joe - I think you might be able to get away with some brownie points even if you book dinner at Perricones now, worth a try!

Snowbell said...

I went to Miami a few times and don't remember being overly impressed with the food... But hey, at least you get sunshine :)

Debra said...

Fun read! It brought back memories of two years I worked in Miami Lakes. We'd go for Cuban lunch and our admin would know where we'd been by the "fragrance" of we brought back on us. But what I miss is the marvelous Nicaraguan pastries we'd order in for meetings - stuffed with meat or guava and touched with a light, sweet glaze. Yummmy!

OysterCulture said...

Love your Where in the World Wednesdays and Miami is a place I've only zipped through but would love the opportunity to savor.

The Antiques Diva™ said...

Just stumbled upon your blog while doing some research for an article I'm writing and then completely lost my train of thought as your blog was so much fun and so interesting! Delighted to have discovered you... I think, if I weren't The Antiques Diva I might have been The Food Diva - and your mantra of food and travels suits me to a "T".
Ciao for Now,