Miami Spice Report Cards: Grading the Restaurants, Part 3

Throughout Miami Spice, our Miami Herald and Miami.com team is spreading out across the county to bring you the highlights and lowlights.

Here’s Part 3 of our Miami Spice Report Cards series, which includes big winners The Bazaar in Miami Beach and J&G Grill in Bal Harbour.  

Our grading scale:  

A: What a meal! What a deal! 

B: I’d go back. 

C: Mostly “meh.”  

D: Try again next year.

F: Stinks at Spice.

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11. Pubbelly

1418 20th St., Miami Beach; 305-532-7555

Grade: A

Dined on: Aug. 21

Meal: Dinner

Can’t-miss dish: Short rib and corn dumplings with black truffle

Mini review: Just before I tried the Miami Spice menu at Pubbelly in Miami Beach, I read an article about how portions in U.S. restaurants have gotten huge and hugely caloric. No worries about that at Pubbelly. True, the brussels sprouts come with bacon and a sweet glaze. The pork belly is, well, belly fat. But portions are tiny. The dumpling appetizer is one dumpling per person; the octopus entrée about four bites. The charm of Pubbelly, purveyor of Asian-influenced small plates, is that you don’t have to put out big bucks to sample something new, to be adventurous. Never had sweetbreads? Here you take just one bite and you’re halfway done. Uneasy about putting octopus tentacles in your mouth? You won’t be wasting much if you push it away after sampling it. But it’s unlikely you’ll push it away.

Here’s what you get for $33 a person (less than the Miami Spice standard of $39): three starters, two kinds of dumplings, two entrees, a vegetable and a dessert, most from the regular menu. The dishes have to be split among all the people at your table (they are sized according to the number of diners), so the entire table has to agree on everything. We had sweetbreads; fried snapper salad; dates with chorizo, goat cream and bacon; duck dumplings with pumpkin; truffled short rib dumplings; brussel sprouts; octopus; pork belly with butterscotch miso; and a “chunky monkey” ice cream dish (dessert is the chef’s choice). With surprising exception of dessert, everything was delicious. I could nitpick — I couldn’t taste the promised corn in the short rib dumplings — but if I went back, I’d probably order the same combination. (BY MARJIE LAMBERT) 

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12. Café Prima Pasta

414 71st St., Miami Beach; 305-867-0106

Grade: A

Dined on: Aug. 23

Meal: Dinner

Can’t-miss dish: Carpaccio di manzo

Mini review: There’s a reason why the carpaccio di manzo at this Surfside staple is dubbed “best in the world” on the menu. It’s hands-down one of the best in Miami, and an appetizer option on the Miami Spice menu. If you haven’t had a chance to visit Café Prima Pasta in the past 20 years, now is the chance. The thin slices of raw filet mignon are moist with an EVOO and lemon dressing that’s as wholesome as it is zesty. A mountain of shredded Parmesan cheese adds robust flavor to every swing of your fork. All mains are quite appetizing, but I go with a veal pizzaiola, which hides the veal beneath a balanced load of peppers, tomatoes, onions and Kalamata olives. The generous portion is served with broccoli, long beans and brussels sprouts so soft I didn’t even need to chew them.

Your other options include a seafood risotto, zucchini roasted snapper and spinach and cheese agnolotti. For dessert, tiramisu is the only option, which at first made us kind of sad. That was until we spooned the homemade ladyfingers and found they are layered between a marsala mascarpone. Service is exceptional from beginning to end, with managers coming up and apologizing for the 20-minute wait time that’s out of their control. Miami Spice is supposed to be all about trying new restaurants and revisiting old favorites. For someone who’s had Café Prima Pasta on her list for a long time and finally had the chance to try what this family-owned Italian joint has to offer, I’ll be going back very soon. (BY CARLA TORRES)

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13. J & G Grill

9703 Collins Ave. (St. Regis), Bal Harbour; 305-993-3333

Grade: A+

Dined on: Aug. 19

Meal: Dinner

Can’t-miss dish: Crispy blue crab with aji amarillo

Mini review: Executive chef Brad Kilgore is undoubtedly one of this city’s rising culinary stars, consistently churning out innovative dishes that stay true to the restaurant’s namesake chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s cuisine. And thankfully Kilgore uses the Miami Spice menu as an opportunity to put the kitchen’s best moves on display, with a selection that’s both exciting and satisfying. Three first-course choices in August included duck leg confit with sunchoke miso purée, hamachi tartare with truffle-yuzu vinaigrette, and — our particular favorite — crispy blue crab formed into a cake in a pool of flavorful aji amarillo and red curry sauce.

Mains were just as enticing, with a wagyu tri-tip au poivre accompanied by vadouvan cauliflower, a wild sockeye salmon in lemon carbonara and a local snapper with a nut and seed crust that our table fought over. (See recommendations from Kilgore’s September Spice menu.) Pastry chef Antonio Bachour has already garnered a reputation for his overachieving and colorful desserts, and he doesn’t skimp on the details here either. We sampled a Key lime bar with coconut sorbet, carrot cake with cream cheese sorbet and the crema Catalana with cinnamon ice cream. All three were beautifully presented with edible flowers and delicious even beyond their delicate styling. (BY SARA LISS)

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14. Makoto

9700 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour; 305-864-8600

Grade: B

Dined on: Aug. 11

Meal: Lunch

Can’t-miss dish: Spicy tuna crispy rice 

Mini review: You’ve got to know the menu at this popular power lunch/fashion destination spot to make the right choices for Spice. The $18 lunch bento is already a good deal, so in order for the Spice deal to be worthwhile, it’s best to order big-ticket items like the spicy tuna crispy rice: a full-size portion of four pieces of crunchy rice topped with luscious tuna. Other starters include spicy edamame and the Makoto house salad. Mains include crispy short rib and kale salad, chicken robata, a garden maki roll and — our choice — a fresh and delicious rainbow roll stuffed with crab and topped with salmon, yellowtail, shrimp and avocado. There’s only one choice for dessert at lunch, a petite portion of matcha tiramisu made with layers of green tea sponge cake and the tea-flavored cream. (BY SARA LISS)

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15. Bistro BE

1111 SW First Ave., Miami; 305-375-0975 

Grade: B

Dined on: Aug. 1

Meal: Dinner

Can’t-miss dish: Duinkerks Gegratineerd Visserspotje Cassoulet Du Possons: grated fish pan with scallops, cod, salmon, mussels and veggies in a tomato and cream sauce

Mini review: Open only two weeks when we dined, Bistro BE was buzzing in the neighborhood just off Brickell. The Belgian fare and flair is new to Miami, with its French- and German-inspired dishes. The Spice menu includes mussels, frites and, of course, Belgian waffles, lig
ht as a feather with a lush, homemade whipped cream, strawberries and powdered sugar. Befitting its Belgian roots, Bistro BE features European beers in abundance, some of which even find their way into the food, like a beef stew cooked in Stella Artois and gingerbread. This was one of the favorites among my crowd. Also popular on the Spice menu: fish served in the tomato cream sauce, with gorgeous mussels, scallops, salmon and cod. Sauces are big, given its French influence. Another favorite on the Spice menu: chicken stew with button mushrooms, Duvel mousseline, and veal meatballs in a veloute cream sauce, served in puff pastry The presentation was beautiful, as was the taste. One nit: We had to wait an hour for our food, due to the unexpected big crowd and newness of the restaurant. The staff was very accommodating, kept checking on us, plying us with bread and beer and, in a complete surprise, the manager comped our entire meal, apologizing for the long wait. He said he wanted to make sure we would return. We most certainly will. (BY JOAN CHRISSOS)

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16. The Cypress Room

3620 NE Second Ave., Miami; 305-520-5197

Grade: A

Dined on: Aug. 11

Meal: Dinner

Can’t-miss dish: Cypress Room burger

Mini review: The grown-up brother to Michael’s Genuine, The Cypress Room is a vintage gem discreetly nestled into the heart of Miami’s Design District. From the ambiance to the menu and service, this is simply a cannot miss on the Miami Spice trail. History enthusiasts will love the old images and taxidermy that adorn the walls, or the appropriately placed items on the back of the bar. An amuse-bouche of chicken pate on crostini sets the meal off on the right note. On that night, a seasonal appetizer of cold cauliflower soup topped with smoked fish and truffle oil was available. Always opt for these seasonal offerings when on the menu.

Add-ons like lamb tartare, marrow bone and polenta range from $12 to $15 extra and are served as a midcourse meal. The menu does not skimp out on size or quality, wholly representative of the restaurant’s normal offerings. Because of this, skip this course if you tend to get full quickly. Lamb tartare, smoky, with a quail egg, was indulgent and perfectly balanced. The menu changes weekly, but favorite Cypress Room burger with onion marmalade and Jasper Hill Landaff cheese is always on and never disappoints. For dessert, coconut cake with white chocolate cremeaux, mango, passion fruit and lime meringue offered a delicate finish. The check comes with a flavor-of-the-day macaron. All the extras and the impeccable and attentive service are worth at least one visit during Miami Spice. (BY MANDY BACA)

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17. Shikany

251 NW 25th St., Miami; 305-573-0690

Grade: B

Dined on: Aug. 21

Meal: Dinner

Can’t-miss dish: Braised ‘five’ spiced short rib

Mini review: Shikany offers Miamians a full-fledged course in Molecular Gastronomy 101. Miami Spice options are diverse and representative of the regular menu, but fail to include two of the restaurant’s most popular dishes: scallop and sweetbreads, and butter-poached Maine lobster mac. The menu also serves as a testing zone for new dishes. A beet four ways included smoked, pickled, puréed and foamed preparations come alongside crumbled gorgonzola, gin gel, shiso oil and fennel pollen: fun, albeit a bit difficult to eat. The best dish was the braised ‘five’ spiced short rib with triple-cream goat brie turnip purée, strawberry tomato pate de fruit, crispy leeks, sage parmesan gremolata and fatback powder. The dish is art on the plate and on the palate.

A summer consommé dessert of white chocolate mousse, strawberry, toy box tomato and lemon rose water sorbet was texturally fun, but flavor-wise just OK. Opt for the fruit and cheese instead with mascarpone cream, nitro fourme d’ambert, seared peaches, rose wine-stewed figs, and crispy Serrano ham, offering a likable mix of sweet and salty. The restaurant is only open for dinner and closed Sundays and Mondays, leaving a small window for Miami Spice: Tuesday-Thursday evenings. Reservations are strongly recommended. (BY MANDY BACA)  

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18. The Bazaar by Jose Andres

1701 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-674-1701

Grade: A+ 

Dined on: Aug. 25

Meal: Dinner

Can’t-miss dish: Gazpacho Patricia 

Mini review: The Miami Spice menu at Jose Andres’ outpost at the swanky SLS lets you dive deep into the mind of the eccentric chef whose food is equal parts whimsy and avant-garde. Never having tried the bagels and lox, I opted for that, while my dining companion went with one of the most popular dishes on the menu — the kueh pai ti (shrimp, peanuts and chile sauce). The bagels and lox puts salmon roe atop a foundation of dill cream cheese in a miniature cone. You’ll want more than the one bite. The gazpacho Patricia is balanced yet acidic, pungent but smooth. It’s a true testament to Andres’ harmonious use of flavor and ingredients.  

For an entrée, you are allowed three choices out of 13. Two people can easily try half the offerings while a group of four can practically eat their way through the whole Spice menu. My choices included the splendid Serrano ham and Catalan-style bread with tomato and olive oil, perfectly fried patatas bravas served beside two dollops of a spicy tomato sauce and aioli that are meant to be married, and the chistorras patatas fritas. The Spanish sausage is wrapped in a potato chip and has the texture of a dumpling but with the crunch of a potato chip. It’s as puzzling as it is enjoyable. 

My counterpart went with brussels sprouts with apricots, grapes and banana hidden beneath a lemon air that if not careful enough can be breathed in. They are unlike any other brussels sprouts in the city. Sautéed shrimp is barely tampered with and swims in a delicate garlic, parsley and lime sauce. Cuban coffee-rubbed churrasco is topped with a passion fruit foam and is so Miami. For dessert, Key lime pie is served deconstructed, allowing you to choose how much tart, sweet and bitterness you want in each bite. A pan con chocolate features brioche ice cream, which on its own would be enough. When combined with olive oil, chocolate cream and cocoa crumble, it’s extraordinary. But so is everything at The Bazaar. (BY CARLA TORRES)

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