Don’t gamble with your dining dollars during Miami Spice.
With nearly 240 restaurants participating in the two-month dining promotion by the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, naturally some restaurants will do better than others at offering the best bang for the buck at $23 for lunch and brunch, $39 for dinner.
We asked several writers to share their experiences as we reach the halfway point. The promotion runs through Sept. 30.
What we had: The white-on-blue Greek restaurant at the posh St. Regis Bal Harbour evokes Mykonos with a polished, serene atmosphere. The spice menu here is served for dinner seven nights a week and highlights fish and seafood. A choice of three appetizers includes a royal dorade tartare, feta meli and marinated octopus. We went with the tartare, which went well with a citrusy pergamont juice, chives and capers. The bread service here includes a generous pour of Greek olive oil, black olive tapenade and a roasted pepper coulis. Octopus and royal dorade show up in the mains again, along with slow-braised short rib, which comes with carrot horseradish mousseline. For dessert try something different with the Bougatsa, a phyllo crust stuffed with semolina cream, cinnamon, orange gel, Greek yogurt sorbet. Overall a great fine dining experience that touches on the best of Greek cuisine with modern techniques.
Who should go to this venue: Since this is a hotel, families would be welcome here, though the prices and atmosphere lean more to subdued conversation and intimate meetings.
— Sara Liss
What we had: My eyes went immediately to the French grilled cheese sandwich made with brie, tomato and caramelized onions and served with French fries, an indulgent cry from my usual lunchtime salad. But with a kale and roasted beet salad with pears, Montrachet cheese, pistachio and wild honey dijon vinaigrette on the first course, I’d get my leafy greens in, too. You won’t leave hungry and you’ll definitely get your money’s worth. Portions are generous and I probably would have been satisfied with just the kale salad. The grilled cheese wasn’t quite worth the calories. The cheese-to-bread ratio was off with thickly sliced buttery toast and not enough satisfying ooey-gooey cheese. I only ate half of it (and took the other half to go).
In a town where good key lime pie is easy to come by, Bakehouse’s was a little too sweet and served a little too chilled for my taste, though the merengue started melting almost immediately. The portion is smaller than the standard slice based on my dining companions who ordered it from the regular menu.
Who should go to this venue: Hungry South Beach ladies who lunch who want to try a little bit of everything.
Bird & Bone
What we had: The anticipation to sample Richard Hales’ Nashville hot chicken and biscuits at Bird & Bone in the Confidante Miami Beach was too much. Once they brought it out, biting into this moist hot fried chicken was transformative. Chef Hales spent time in the South learning how to prepare this dish and he nailed it. The perfect accompaniment for it? The Florida cheddar and chive biscuits, baked to order and served with a side of Hales’ wife’s strawberry preserves. The casual atmosphere of this restaurant matches perfectly with the menu.
Who should go to this venue: This place is actually good for a date night, with a group of friends and even with kids. The menu is downhome comfort food that will appeal to just about anyone.
— Josie Gulliksen
Bourbon Steak and Corsair Kitchen & Bar
What we had: Since they share space at Turnberry Isle, the restaurants offered a joint menu. The volume of their wine collection is impressive, then there’s the food, prepared by chef Gabriel Fenton of Bourbon Steak and Chef Steve Sprague of Corsair Kitchen & Bar. Corsair’s delicate handmade cavatelli is the ideal bed for asparagus, peas, leeks, beans, cheese and is topped with a poached egg that provides that wow factor when you break into it. Then from Bourbon Steak the buttery 5 ounce angus New York Strip barely requires a knife to cut it. It is paired with a silky smooth cauliflower puree, Romanesco and foie emulsion.
Who should go to this venue: Best reserved for date nights and a night with friends for an upscale dinner experience.
What we had: This “Middleterranean” spot is offering Miami Spice for dinner seven nights a week, and it’s one of the most generous menus we’ve seen. Diners can choose up to five dishes — two mezzes, one main, one side and one dessert — from an extensive menu that includes new and classic dishes off the menu. From the mezzes we loved the spicy tomato shakshuka dish and the sujuk pide flatbread topped with Turkish sausage. We were already full by the time our main dish of short rib kabab over braised green beans and our side of sweet jeweled rice arrived, but we soldiered on, mostly because everything was so delicious. The dessert of strawberry cheesecake qutayef was a beautiful dish of sumac-spiced strawberries flanking phyllo-wrapped cheesecake fritters in a honey syrup. Considering a dinner like this could easily add up to $70 per person this was a considerable deal.
Who should go to this venue: The restaurant’s swanky decor is great for dates but also works really well for a group — although the upstairs dining room tends to get loud when packed.
Kiki on the River
What we had: The Miami Spice menu at Kiki (only available during dinner) showcases its most popular dishes. We started our meal with the grilled octopus appetizer (olive-oil-braised octopus, red onions, Greek oregano, fried capers, fava bean puree), which was tender and perfectly seasoned with the right amount of salty flavors. For our main course, we indulged in the pan-seared scallops. They were generous, filling and hearty. The asparagus pureed orzo pasta was a well-balanced side dish to the entree. We went traditional with the restaurant’s most popular dessert, the baklava, a sweet taste of Greece.
Who should go to this venue: Not lacking in romance factor, Kiki also manages to offer chic riverfront dining with personality and flavor. Mediterranean lovers who like good food and a trendy scene should add Kiki On the River to their list. The food measures up to the hype.
— Kathy Buccio
LT Steak & Seafood at The Betsy
What we had: The black garlic-charred hangar steak served with smoked corn purée, shishitos and lime. Cut into bite-sized chunks, the steak is as low-maintenance as eating gets. The kick of the salted shishito peppers is a perfect pair for the sweet, creamy goodness of the smoked corn puree it sits upon. For meat lovers, it doesn’t get much better than this tender treat. It’s a perfect precursor for the Dulce de Leche Semifreddo, a chocolate flourless cake served with caramel-bourbon sauce and walnut brittle.
Who should go to this venue: Dates and family get-togethers. Indoor palm trees, eclectically upholstered divans, warm lighting and close-quarter seating make for a lush, intimate and sophisticated space. Wine lovers will find a great selection here, too.
— Amanda Mesa
What we had: Generous, full-sized portions of select menu items including a crispy and satisfying blackened steak and blue cheese flatbread for two, which paired perfectly with the cucumber smash cocktail, followed by the light and tangy romaine/kale Caesar salad. The juicy filet mignon, served with mashed potatoes, a trio of roasted mushrooms and asparagus, made the Miami Spice menu, which is available daily for lunch and dinner, truly worthwhile, as this dish alone was large enough to share and typically costs just a little bit less on its own than as part of the Miami Spice offerings. Of the Seasons 52 signature mini indulgences, the chocolate peanut butter torte completed the meal with just the right amount of sweetness.
Who should go to this venue: Elegant yet cozy, Seasons 52 caters to guests seeking a romantic dinner, an outing with friends or a convivial experience with family. The menu changes regularly to match seasonal ingredients. Servers are attentive and knowledgeable, and each dish is prepared in a health-conscious manner, with its calorie-count printed on the menu.
— Mary Jo Almeida-Shore
What we had: What better time to try Sunset Harbour’s new vegetarian restaurant than post-yoga? Well, that’s exactly what I did with a friend on a recent evening, opting to start with hemp-crusted edamame cakes served with black tahini, fennel, green apple, celery root and pomegranate. They’re like a fresh take on falafel and quite delicious paired with crunchy, fresh vegetables and fruit. I slurped down a hearty bowl of ramen, made with gluten-free yam noodles, mushrooms and veggies. It hit the spot. I also loved the dessert: a fire-roasted strawberry cobbler made with crispy oats and served over mint-calamansi granite. The flavors and textures were complex and satisfying. It turns out that the price of those three items on the regular menu add up to exactly $39, so like many Miami Spice menus, you’re not exactly getting a discount.
Who Should Go: As the evening wore on, the who’s-who of South Beach locals who frequent other hip spots like Sweet Liberty and Basement started filling in. So if you count yourself among them, you should go.
StripSteak by Michael Mina
What we had: The refreshing heirloom tomato salad with watermelon and goat cheese drizzled with maple dressing was the perfect savory starter, with contrasting flavors to prepare the palate for the heavy meal ahead. The grilled beef churrasco (skirt steak) came sizzling in a cast iron skillet, preceded by the scent of melted butter wafting through the air. The steak was one of the best we’ve had at the restaurant, topped with house-made, garlicky chimichuri and accompanied by a side of russet potatoes, which we were too full to finish. We did manage to squeeze in a few bites of the dense and not-too-sweet milk chocolate mousse bar, a fitting ending to a memorable meal. The well-rounded Miami Spice menu, available for dinner every night of the week, is an exceptional value, as a typical meal of salad and skirt steak would cost over $65 dollars, not including of dessert.
Who should go to this venue: This chic, two-story steakhouse at the Fontainebleau, with a lively, bustling vibe, is ideal for date night or a night out with friends. Carnivores will delight in StripSteak’s prime cuts of meat direct from its on-site aging room and seafood lovers can indulge in the extensive raw bar options.
Vagabond Kitchen and Bar
What we had: I was really impressed with the diverse Miami Spice menu here. I went off the beaten path with the vegetarian-friendly Cauliflower Steak (whipped feta, chives, crispy garlic chips and pine nuts) as my appetizer. The whipped feta with the crunchiness of the garlic chips and pine nuts made every bite flavorful and enticing. I couldn’t go wrong with the seared ahi tuna and pineapple glaze (with tomato, sesame seed, pineapple sauce and micro greens). The pineapple glaze gave the dish the perfect mix of salty and sweet and really gave the ahi tuna a pop of flavor. Dessert changes daily. I sampled the Vagabomb, which had Italian meringue, mascarpone, Key lime, cookie crumble, tequila syrup and vanilla ice cream. This was sweetness overload of the good kind.
Who should go to this venue: Non-pretentious foodies who appreciate casual-fine dining and love global cuisine that is laid back and not overwhelming. Those who appreciate and love Miami’s MiMo architecture will love this joint. Stepping into Vagabond Kitchen and Bar, is like stepping back in time to a 1950s retro hotspot that’s energetic and lively. It’s great for groups, for a date night, even dinner with the family. Because it is also opened for lunch, it’s a great spot to come with co-workers or enjoy the happy hour specials at their vintage chic bar.