Almost 200 Miami-Dade restaurants are participating in this year’s Miami Spice dining promotion ($23 lunch, $39 dinner) that runs through Sept. 30. To help you parse down the choices, our writers have been eating their way through three-course menus, finding great deals and unfortunate also-rans. The first installment of our Spice Scorecard series featured mostly rosy reports, while this batch of 18 mini restaurant reviews includes a few flops. Our grading scale:
A: What a meal! What a deal!
B: I’d go back.
C: Mostly “meh.”
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D: Try again next year.
F: Stinks at Spice.
Can’t-miss dish: Charred Escarole.
Micro review: Tom Colicchio’s Beachcraft serves a Miami Spice menu that showcases the kitchen’s breadth, with robust dishes that appealed to our party of carnivores (wagyu skirt steak), veggie lovers (beets, fava beans) and calorie-counting fish eaters (tuna crudo, roasted snapper). On the surface, some of the dishes sound mundane. Organic vegetables as an appetizer? Ah, but these were as crisp and flavorful as if they’d just come out of the garden, rounded out with quinoa and a delicate mustard vinaigrette. And baby chicken as a main? No dry bird here; the lemon, rosemary and leeks were integral to the moist meat.
While every dish was superb (and graciously served by an attentive waiter), it was the Charred Escarole with Porchetta and Parmesan Aioli that delivered the big surprise. Charred yet juicy, decidedly green yet porcinely decadent. As a last bite, creamy coconut panna cotta left us raving and rating Beachcraft as one of our best Spice meals in memory.
Can’t-miss dish: Maine Lobster Risotto with Sweet Corn.
Micro review: When a restaurant serves a three-course dinner for less than half of what a comparable meal from its regular menu costs, you have to wonder how representative that $39 Miami Spice dinner is. In the case of Bourbon Steak, regular a la carte entrees range from $26 to $89; a side of broccoli is $12. While my Miami Spice dinner was good, it was not so exceptional that I’ll rush to return for the non-Spice price. Quantities were tiny, and the only Spice item offered from the regular menu is a ribeye cap for a $35 upcharge.
But dinner does come with Bourbon Steak’s complimentary starter of duck-fat french fries served with three dipping sauces, and post-dessert chocolate truffles, which made the meal as a whole a little more satisfying. An appetizer billed as figs and Humboldt Fog cheese was mostly bread and greens. Barbecue-glazed ribeye was well flavored but couldn’t have been more than four ounces. Shrimp scampi over fettuccine was bland. Best of the table was the Lobster Risotto, which had some good-size chunks of lobster and a pleasing sweetness from corn.
2500 Ponce De Leon Blvd., Coral Gables; 305-441-0107, bullamiami.com.
Can’t-miss dish: Huevos Bulla.
Micro review: I think of Huevos Bulla as a sort of breakfast nachos, but more delicately flavored. Two kinds of potatoes — chips and foam — plus thin slices of ham, an egg and truffle oil. Next, I had flatbread with garlic shrimp, tetilla cheese and pesto. After the substantial Huevos Bulla, my friend wanted something light and chose Salpicon de Mariscos, seafood salad with grilled octopus, crab, shrimp and tiny crisp ribbons of sweet potato — hold the octopus. I quickly claimed the octopus and put it atop my flatbread, which rounded out the otherwise mild flavor.
We finished with coconut flan served with passion fruit sorbet. The flan was perfect: silky smooth and dense. The sorbet was unnecessary. Overall, portions were generous, the food good if the flavors a little too understated, the service excellent. The Miami Spice menu was a good deal: $23 is about what the first two courses usually cost, so I figure it was like getting dessert free.
Cena by Michy
Can’t-miss dish: Corn Esquites.
Micro review: We didn’t spot in-demand chef Michelle Bernstein during our visit to her Mad Men-chic Cena by Michy. But her award-winning culinary sensibility is certainly in evidence on Cena’s Miami Spice menu. My husband loved the cool white gazpacho accented with the flavor and crunch of marcona almonds. For me, the Corn Esquites were heaven: corn roasted and cut from the cob, topped with queso fresco, chorizo crema, spices and cilantro, all of which devolve into a delicious sauce. Miso-crusted seared wild salmon with a farro-dill-lemon-pea salad and tzatziki was my husband’s healthy choice. I went for churrasco with a foie gras-cherry sauce, smashed-then-fried potatoes and some spicy blackened peppers. Not bad, but the sauce tasted more like gravy with a few cherries placed on top.
For dessert, Michy’s Bread Pudding was a beautifully balanced blend of cognac, raisins, chocolate and orange rind, topped with a scoop of vanilla ice cream. Hubby’s peach-cherry cobbler sported a fabulous ball of ginger-vanilla ice cream, but the cobbler itself was a combination of a bland topping over a fruity goo. Still, a three-course dinner at Cena for $39 is a treat. And there are no extra charges, not counting the $5 for valet parking behind the building.
51 Chart House Dr., Coconut Grove; 305-856-9741, chart-house.com.
Can’t-miss dish: Snapper Hemingway.
Micro review: At the bayfront Chart House, the staff is attentive and the overall dining experience is pleasant, even if there is a buffet in the corner and the easy-listening ’90s soundtrack could use a freshening-up. While the Miami Spice menu is somewhat predictable — Caesar salad, short ribs, chocolate lava cake — overall the menu is a good deal. Stick with the house special Snapper Hemingway: A whole filet encrusted with parmesan and breadcrumbs and topped with a generous portion of chive-laced jumbo crab meat will arrive at your table alongside a surprisingly good coconut rice.
Get the Caesar to start (skip the gazpacho), and finish off with that chocolate lava cake. It’s the only dessert on the menu, but it’s a fond throwback to more happening times in the Grove. Pair it all with a martini, slightly dirty, and enjoy.
Chef Rolf’s Tuna’s Seafood Restaurant
17850 W. Dixie Hwy., North Miami Beach; 305-932-0630, tunasseafoodrestaurant.com.
Can’t-miss dish: Whole Grilled Fish.
Micro review: This gem of a restaurant near Greynolds Park evokes ’70s and ’80s Miami while providing a thoroughly modern gastronomic experience. Our friendly server, when informed of one guest’s shellfish allergy, offered to substitute as an appetizer Chef Rolf’s European salad, a very tasty medley with a sweet and tangy dressing. I opted for a pair of bacon-wrapped scallops served with mango chutney. They were big, tender and meaty.
Entrees naturally center on fish, along with veal, lamb, steak and lobster. The day’s fresh catch included mahi, hog snapper and lionfish, either grilled, fried or served over angel hair pasta with tomatoes, capers and mushrooms. Chef Rolf’s grilled lionfish was superb and well-paired with a California chardonnay for $8 a glass or $28 a bottle. All desserts except Key lime pie are made in-house. Flan was light and flavorful, and chocolate mousse pie also stayed light despite its creaminess.
Cibo Wine Bar
Can’t-miss dish: Chianti-braised Short Ribs.
Micro review: A slightly less-sweltering September makes rooftop dining at Cibo Wine Bar in South of Fifth a good bet. The Spice menu at this trendy Italian restaurant gives diners three appetizer choices, four main-course options and two possible desserts. Caesar salad had a creamy, rich dressing, and fried jumbo shrimp were served on a bed of zucchini and thinly sliced, lightly fried lemon wheels that made the app a standout. Tender, mushroom-crusted, Chianti-braised Short Ribs accompanied by crispy onions and polenta subtly flavored with gorgonzola was the best dish of the night. Seafood linguine was full of clams, calamari, mussels and shrimp, but its tomato sauce overwhelmed the clean ocean flavor.
Neither dessert option — cannoli siciliani with mascarpone and orange zest and a hazelnut praline called the chocolate baci bombe — lived up to the previous courses. Go hungry: Portions are generous. We had more than enough for lunch the next day.
2004 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-764-3130, cityhalltherestaurant.com.
Can’t-miss dish: Shrimp Tempura.
Micro review: City Hall’s Miami Spice menu had eight choices when we dined: half-size portions for lunch and full-size for dinner. We opted for a N.Y. steak, which includes mashed potatoes with mushrooms, roasted shallots and French beans. Despite the generous portion, the meat itself was pretty standard, good but not great. The seafood fra diablo, which had heaps of shrimp, clams and calamari over linguine, wasn’t all that spicy. Maybe it’s worth trying it in a caper-garlic-chardonnay sauce, which was an alternative on the menu.
Dessert is par for the course: Chocolate-chip croissant bread pudding, which is on the regular menu, is excellent, and there’s a nectarine double cream cheesecake as well. The place was jammed with the Sunday brunch crowd, making drink refills hard to come by.
1776 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-534-2536, theredbury.com.
Can’t-miss dish: Brussels Sprout Hearts.
Micro review: The Miami Spice dinner menu, not available Friday or Saturday, is touted as a six-course experience with “waves” of food. The first wave consists of mezzes like hummus, smoky babaganoush, cucumber and yogurt dip, or tangy labneh. All come with warm laffa bread from Cleo’s wood-burning oven. The next wave keeps things light with borek, phyllo triangles stuffed with three cheeses.
Third wave: fire-roasted Brussels Sprout Hearts with hazelnuts, red fresno chile and a soy-sherry splash. Greek salad is next, and then it’s on to the mains, which included a choice of meatball or chicken tagine and grilled dourade. We loved the fish, which was spiced with vadouvan and came with cauliflower couscous. You can have baklava or sticky toffee pudding for dessert, and you’re a champion if you do, because by that point we were happily stuffed.
999 Brickell Ave., Miami; 305-415-9990, coyarestaurant.com.
Can’t-miss dish: Quinoa-dusted Calamari.
Micro review: A typical dinner for two at this high-end Peruvian stunner can easily set you back over $150, making Spice an especially attractive deal. The Spice menu has enough options to allow for sharing and repeat visits. We loved Pescado Local Clasico, a traditional Peruvian ceviche bathed in leche de tigre and offset by Andean corn, and Quinoa-dusted Calamari, which was lightly fried and super-crisp. Ensalada de Maiz, or corn salad, made with three types of corn and red chiles, should be on every table.
Chicken marinated in aji panca and doused in cilantro aioli and a perfectly cooked branzino served over a bed of potatoes dressed in an herbal sauce were standouts among the entrees. For desserts, be tempted by a platter of salted caramel ganache, pisco-marinated raspberries and raspberry sorbet.
El Gran Inka
3155 NE 163rd St., North Miami Beach; 305-940-4910, graninka.com.
Can’t-miss dish: Martini Salmon Ceviche.
Micro review: We were given regular menus and a wine list but had to ask to see the Miami Spice offerings. For starters, we selected an ahi tuna causa, a Peruvian favorite, and a Martini Salmon Ceviche with mango, yellow pepper and passion fruit. The ceviche was outstanding. Both appetizer portions were generous and beautifully presented. (A third choice was lobster cream soup.)
Main-course selections included a slow-roasted lamb shank served with a spicy and textured quinoa “risotto” and an 8-ounce sirloin that was flavorful, perfectly cooked and came with a fettuccine and an understated pesto. The sole dessert offered was strawberry mousse, an airy but brightly flavorful iteration and a perfect closer for this lovely meal. Service was first-rate and attentive throughout.
Can’t-miss dish: Fooq’s Burger.
Micro review: For an appetizer, a server recommended a shaved vegetable salad, a fresh mix with mint, basil, Parmigiano-Reggiano, toasted kamut, sliced almonds, lemon and extra virgin olive oil. Between the restaurant’s signature burger and a home-style turkey sandwich, the choice was a no-brainer. The Burger, a mixture of short rib, brisket and skirt steak, comes with Jarlsberg cheese, Vidalia onions and special sauce on a brioche bun. It’s just the right size, neither too large nor too small.
For dessert, choose from any of the day’s selections of cookies, pies and cakes. We made like Cookie Monster and opted for a larger-than-life ooey gooey chocolate chip cookie (pictured). Service was attentive but not overbearing. And it’s always nice to see the owner, David Foulquier, active at his establishment. The best part: The efficient Fooq’s is conscious of the fact that lunchtime diners may be on a tight schedule.
Can’t-miss dish: Fish ’n’ Chips.
Micro review: HaVen’s Miami Spice menu has a wide variety, maybe too wide. Sushi, a burger, carbonara and fish ’n’ chips are all in play. The interior left us a little dizzy, with music and lighting that made us unsure if we should get up and dance or sit down and eat. We started with a tuna ceviche and avocado, pretty good, yet missing any discernible lime juice.
Beer-battered Fish ’n’ Chips impressed with the lightness of its breading and freshness of fish, with a spicy aioli and pickled vegetables on the side. Key lime pie had a thick texture, more like a cheesecake, and the bottom crust lacked that crumbly element we desired.
1111 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-763-8272, juviamiami.com.
Can’t-miss dish: Mushroom Risotto.
Micro review: Juvia’s breathtaking views leave you with just enough oxygen to enjoy an excellent Miami Spice menu. For lunch, offered daily, choose the large-portioned watermelon salad, a light and flavorful throng of arugula with feta cheese and cantaloupe, or the iceberg salad with pancetta and gorgonzola dressing. Juvia’s entrees include a Mushroom Risotto that, even without the summer truffle shavings for an extra $7, had a consistent melody of flavors. Lomo saltado, sautéed beef with jasmine rice and mixed vegetables, is also very good.
Dessert is a winner, too. A Thai basil strawberry “salad” with a flaky-crust palmito cookie and vanilla cream made me sit back in my chair and savor the moment. Other options: fruit clafoutis with warm almond custard and coconut-lime sorbet, and pistachio financier with white chocolate Chantilly and poached apricots. Watch out for the cost of beverages; even a soda will run you about $5 without refills.
La Mar by Gastón Acurio
500 Brickell Key Dr., Miami; 305-913-8358.
Can’t-miss dish: Criollo Sampler.
Micro review: With only one option for appetizer and dessert, the choices for dinner are limited but tasty. A Criollo Sampler, a trio of Peruvian appetizers, started the meal off with a bang. Cebiche criollo (calamari, shrimp, yellow snapper, cancha, ají amarillo pepper and leche de tigre), causa de cangrejo (causa, crab, avocado, huancaina sauce and cherry tomato) and chicken anticuchos (chicken, potatoes, choclo, chalaca and ocopa sauce), pictured, offer a great introduction to the diversity and boldness of the cuisine.
Entrée choices satisfy both meat and fish lovers, and the menu changes weekly. For dessert, a duo of petite sweets — Peruvian chocolate mousse and purple-corn sorbet — ended things on a light note.
Panorama Restaurant & Sky Lounge
2889 McFarlane Rd., Coconut Grove; 305-447-8256.
Can’t-miss dish: Mixed Seafood Ceviche.
Micro review: Step out to Panorama’s rooftop area, with its glass railing wrap-around balcony, and you can see Biscayne Bay, the Miami skyline and more. The food is pretty spectacular, too. Located on the eighth floor of the Sonesta hotel, Panorama serves Peruvian-inspired food. We loved the Mixed Seafood Ceviche, a medley of octopus, shrimp, scallops and squid swimming in citrus juices and olive oil. The watermelon and goat cheese salad was equally refreshing.
For mains, grilled mahi tacos were excellent, as was seared salmon with a kale and green-apple salad. What really stands out is the perfect balance of flavors and the way the dishes appear carefully and lovingly assembled. Of the two desserts, crème brulee was the winner.
Redlander Restaurant at Schnebly Winery
30205 SW 217th Ave., Homestead; 305-242-1224, schneblywinery.com.
Can’t-miss dish: Ultimate Stuffed Avocado with Shrimp.
Micro review: While the Redlander’s open-air prep kitchen and food truck setup doesn’t inspire confidence, its team adeptly executes satisfyingly simple, locally focused dishes. The Miami Spice menu is offered daily for lunch and on Friday and Saturday nights for dinner. The first-course selections at lunch include a local fish ceviche with citrus and sorrel, a serviceable chilled tomato gazpacho and the favorite: spicy guava chicken wings.
The real star is the Ultimate Stuffed Avocado, half of a super-size Florida avocado stuffed with shrimp or chicken salad. For dessert, opt for the mango flan brulee, a perfectly creamy, vanilla-based custard torched and topped with diced local mangos. Skip the rock-hard flourless chocolate torte.
Touché Rooftop Lounge and Restaurant
15 NE 11th St., Miami; 305-358-9848, touchemiami.com.
Can’t-miss dish: Cotoletta di Maiale in Agrodolce.
Micro review: This menu is without a doubt one of the best deals in Miami Spice: appetizer, pasta, entree and dessert, no upcharges. Diners are presented with five choices for an appetizer. The portion of fried calamari and zucchini is more than generous. Polpette tradizionale is a tender, gently spiced meatball. For the pasta course, opt for penne all’arrabiatta or penne alla vodka.
You get five entree choices, but look no further than the 14-ounce pork chop Cotoletta di Maiale in Agrodolce. Scaloppini di pollo alla saltimbocca, a thinly pounded chicken breast blanketed in prosciutto and blistered mozzarella, is also delicious. If you have room for dessert, choose the apple tart. Half an apple sits atop a square of pastry and a slick of salted caramel.
Miami Spice Giveaway
The Miami Herald is giving away vouchers for free Miami Spice dinners good through the end of the month at El Cielo, Macchialina, Mr. Chow, Piripi, Prime Fish, Quattro, Via Verdi, Villa Azur, Vagabond or Zen Sai.
For a chance to win, post a picture on Instagram or Twitter of one of your favorite things to eat in Miami. Be sure to use the hashtag #MyMiamiSpice. Winners will be chosen and contacted Sept. 16, so get your photos up by noon that day.