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No, your choices for food in Miami (specifically during Art Basel Miami Beach) are not relegated to the outrageously expensive cafés inside the Miami Beach Convention Center or the multitude of pizza joints lining Washington Avenue. For those with discerning tastes there are both new and established options that satisfy a wide range of palettes.
Some think its a tough job to screw up a pizza or a plate of pasta, but when Italian food is done right, it becomes an experience versus sustenance. In Miami Beach, near to the main event, Scarpetta (located inside the landmark Fontainebleau Hotel) offers nouveau duck/foie gras ravioli in a Marsala reduction. Terrazza, at the minimalist Shore Club Hotel, features dishes reflecting head chef Stefano Riccioletti’s Roman background: brick oven-fired pizzas and homemade pastas are foolproof choices. For a more traditional Italian experience in a classic Deco setting, Osteria del Teatro (just across from the quaint marketplace of Española Way) serves a delicate Tuna Tartatre, Salmon dressed with arugula salad and a superb wine list lined with Super Tuscans such as Amarone, Brunello Di Montalcino and Chianti Classico Riserva (a fine and rare South Australian Penfolds Grange Shiraz is also available by request from ‘Dino’s Cellar’). On the other side of the MacArthur Causeway in the Wynwood Arts District, Joey’s Italian Café was the original hot spot for those in the know. Baby octopus in a balsamic reduction, linguine in garlicky white clam sauce and chili, and paper-thin pizzas are must-haves.
Japanese fare has a strong presence in the Magic City. The longest-standing restaurant in South Beach is Toni’s (on Washington Avenue), opened in 1987. Outstanding dishes include the tuna naruto appetizer (rare tuna wrapped in cucumber with avocado in a shallow pool of sweet sake), miso-marinated Chilean sea bass and roasted duck with teriyaki and sesame oil. Inside the Epic Hotel in Downtown, Zuma (Miami) is helmed by Rainer Becker fusing Japanese and Continental European cuisine. Served in the informal ‘izakaya’ style, inventions such as chicken yakitori with baby leeks, a sashimi trio over a bowl of crushed ice with edible flowers, and chilled soba with lobster are delightful. With older locations in London, Dubai and Bangkok, this is a trendy, fabulous alternative to the overrated, overpriced Hakkasan (in the Fontainebleau). The Mandarin Oriental Miami (not far from the Epic Hotel) houses Café Sambal, boasting consistently fresh sushi a la carte and some Thai curveballs including Pad Thai and Lotus Chicken Wraps.
Latin cuisine somehow finds its way into every eating establishment in Miami, often with delicious results. Sugarcane, in Midtown Miami, is a two-way split between Japan and Peru with a full Robata grill, scallop tapas, and salted crispy chicken necks. The fig galette dessert (goat’s milk ice cream with candied walnuts) is positively sinful. Known as Miami’s gold standard of Latin ‘luxurious comfort food’ in the historic MiMo District, Michy’s (owned by celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein and husband David Martinez) presents European staples with Caribbean flair including whole Yellowtail Snapper with a curry-mango salsa, white Gazpacho with Marcona almonds and Duck confit with Blood Orange marmalade. The historic Cuban restaurant Versailles (appropriately situated west of Downtown in Little Havana) has attracted exiles, politicians and celebrities alike: the walk-up window, ‘La Ventanita‘ is the place where locals sip tiny cups of Café Cubano gossiping over everything from politics to the crispness of the 35 year-old restaurant’s plantain dishes.
Shana Beth Mason is an art consultant and critic based in Miami. Mason is the Miami editor of Whitehot Magazine and has contributed to HOUSE Magazine, FlashArt (Online), ArtPulse Magazine, ArtVoices Los Angeles, Miami Art Guide, Sculpture and The Art Economist.