Restaurant News & Reviews

Miami Spice: Restaurant report cards

With fewer than 12 days left to take advantage of the annual Miami Spice dining promotion, our report cards can help you narrow down your must-try list.

Miami Herald and Miami.com writers spread out across the county and dined anonymously at 18 of the 172 participating restaurants.

That’s a small sample, to be sure, but we tried to visit a mix of new places, old favorites and expensive restaurants where the Spice deal provides a significant value.

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.

Head of the class

The Bazaar by Jose Andres

1701 Collins Ave. (SLS Hotel), Miami Beach; 305-674-1701

Grade: A+

Mini review: I opted for the bagels and lox (salmon roe atop dill cream cheese in a miniature cone), while my dining companion went with kueh pai ti (shrimp, peanuts and chile sauce). Another opener, gazpacho Patricia, is balanced yet acidic, pungent but smooth. 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 and the chistorras patatas fritas. My counterpart went with brussels sprouts with apricots, grapes and banana hidden beneath lemon air. Sautéed shrimp swims in a delicate garlic, parsley and lime sauce. Coffee-rubbed churrasco is topped with a passion fruit foam and is so Miami. For dessert, pan con chocolate features brioche ice cream, which, when combined with olive oil, chocolate cream and cocoa crumble, is extraordinary. But so is everything at The Bazaar. (CT)

J & G Grill

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

Grade: A+

Mini review: Executive chef Brad Kilgore uses Miami Spice as an opportunity to put his kitchen’s best moves on display. Three first-course choices in August (there’s a new menu now) included duck-leg confit with sunchoke miso purée, hamachi tartare with truffle-yuzu vinaigrette, and — our 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. For dessert, pastry chef Antonio Bachour put out 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. (SL)

The A Team

The Cypress Room

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

Grade: A

Mini review: 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.

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 on size or quality, wholly representative of the restaurant’s normal offerings. 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. (MB)

Café Prima Pasta

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

Grade: A

Mini review: There’s a reason why the carpaccio di manzo at this North Beach 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. 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 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. (CT)

Pubbelly

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

Grade: A

Mini review: 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. (ML)

Estiatorio Milos by Costas Spiliadis

730 First St., Miami Beach; 305-604-6800

Grade: A

Mini review: Skip lunch — Milos already has a year-round lunch offering that’s a steal for $25 — and put dinner here at the top of your Spice list. Charcoal-grilled Mediterranean octopus with gigante bean puree is a return hit from last year: beautifully charred and paired with bell peppers and diced mushrooms. Cod fritters or a duo of sashimi and tartare are the other saltwater appetizer alternatives, but there’s also a tomato salad to please simpler palates.

The entree winners are dorado royale and lamb chops. Order your lamb medium-rare and savor every bite of the juicy charbroiled chops. If you think you’ve had Greek yogurt, think again. Milos’ “real Greek yogurt” is dreamily creamy and drenched in thyme honey. (CT)

Restaurant Michael Schwartz

1775 Collins Ave. (The Raleigh), Miami Beach; 305-612-1163

Grade: A

Mini review: The Spice menu reflects Michael Schwartz’s genuine approach to food. A rock shrimp po’boy with savoy cabbage and chili aioli sounds appetizing, as does the refreshing grilled peach salad with hickory almonds, shaved jalapeño and a honey-bourbon vinaigrette.

But I can never pass up a lamb carpaccio: spherical slices of raw meat arrive topped with lemon confit and sprinkles of feta. The Florida cioppino entree with a coconut broth and ginger-lime aioli was stimulating, swimming with head-on prawn, clams, grouper and squid. For dessert, we enjoyed roasted white chocolate bread pudding. Our only complaint was that we wish there had been more — it was that good. (CT)

Terrazza at the Shore Club

1901 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-695-3226

Grade: A

Mini review: The Shore Club’s al fresco Italian spot aims to please with its Miami Spice menu, which changes often and includes full-portion items from the regular menu including a generous tuna tartare dressed with ginger and soy, a refreshing watermelon-feta salad and, on the night we dined, a creamy burrata with tomatoes. We supped on organic roasted chicken, skirt steak and the house specialty chitarra, handmade spaghetti noodles in a pomodoro sauce.

Desserts of ricotta cheesecake and tiramisu were equally satisfying. Seating is mostly outdoors, overlooking the Shore Club’s pool, and while it’s a bit sultry these days, ample fans keep things manageable. Service was gracious with zero attitude regarding ordering from the Spice menu. An added bonus is $35 bottles of wine offered along with Miami Spice. (SL)

Oolite

1661 Pennsylvania Ave., Miami Beach; 305-907-5535

Grade: A

Mini review: Miami Spice dinner selections include four appetizers and four entrees, most of them from the menu, and they run the gamut from vegetables to steak to fish to fowl. The food pays serious respect to dining trends like gluten-free and farm-to-table, with fresh, inventive tastes and genuine surprises. Foremost in that vein is a chowder made of conch, corn and the parsnip relative salsify, the big bowl of lusciousness a study in textural counterpoint. A straight-ahead ropa vieja is tender and deeply flavored, with tomato and pepper asserting themselves against the strands of rich flank steak. A gigantic deconstructed spinach salad appetizer, with a jumbo poached egg and soft logs of delicious rice flour bread, comes together superbly (you can add bacon to this, as well).

To quote the smarmy real-estate agent on Love it or List it?, desserts really have that “wow factor.” Avocado cheesecake with honey yogurt and pumpkin seed crust sounds leaden but eats light. And “chocolate dance,” a nightly chef’s choice with various chocolate creations and a local fruit, featured an outstanding brownie and dragonfruit on the whimsical plate. (KH)

Zuma at the Epic Hotel

270 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-577-0277

Grade: A

Mini review: This is your chance to power lunch with the most discerning palates in Miami. Zuma’s two-tiered Spice lunch menu ($23 or $36 with upgraded options) offers a remarkably generous array of some of the restaurant’s most popular dishes. It all starts with white miso soup and Japanese mizuna salad, which is dressed with chunks of bacon and maple-miso. Choosing your entree may be difficult considering the quality of these two bowls: the vegetable don buri with fresh truffles and the chirashi don with fresh sashimi diced into bite-size pieces with rice, avocado, asparagus, cucumber and topped with salmon roe.

If you think an upgrade is appropriate, the delightful jumbo tiger prawn with yuzu koshi (spicy, citrusy, herby condiment) is seriously succulent despite its time on the grill and the gindara no miso (black cod with yuzu miso) is arguably one of the best composed fish dishes in town. To complete what will surely be an epic lunch are two desserts with distinct textures: the chawan mushi (playful lightweight custard steamed in a cup) with exotic fruit and the Zuma bamboo with tea ice cream, kinako cake and a thick layer of cocoa crumbles. Reservations are a must — even for lunch — and valet is free with validation. (GM)

No failures here

Cecconi’s at Soho Beach House

4385 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-507-7902

Grade: B+

Mini review: At Cecconi’s, lunch-goers are invited to dine inside the stately lobby area or under the beautiful trees and sunlight in the main dining room. The Spice lunch menu is offered weekdays and features dishes portioned for midday.

Choose from four appetizers: carpaccio, gnocchi, ahi tuna tartare and kale salad. The latter is surprisingly delicious with chunks of fresh mango and shreds of ricotta (aged with a hint of salt) over a bed of hearty kale. It’s nearly impossible to say no to the San Daniele pizzetta, made with a soft prosciutto from the Friuli-Venezia Giuli region of Italy. The delicate ham dovetails nicely with the sweetness from the figs and the salty bite you get from the Italian cheese. We were satisfied with our dessert, a pineapple tart. (GM)

Bistro BE

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

Grade: B

Mini review: This 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, light 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. 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. (JC)

Bocce Bar

3250 NE First Ave., Miami; 786-245-6211

Grade: B

Mini review: Bocce Bar isn’t the most expensive place in town to dine, so the fact that it offers a $39 three-course Miami Spice menu isn’t necessarily notable — a comparable dinner from the regular menu would have been in the same neighborhood. About half the items on the Miami Spice menu (four appetizers, four entrees, three desserts) are from the regular menu of rustic Italian fare, a couple of them slightly tweaked.

My grilled octopus in vinaigrette was bland, the artichoke ravioli with fresh sage leaves tasty and toothsome, and my pistachio panna cotta was overwhelmed by a coat of dark chocolate. My companion’s salmon tartare was overwhelmed by the citrus topping, orecchiette with pulled-lamb ragu lighter and more delicate than you might expect, and the banana millie foglie a crunchy delight. There was no one best bet — unless it was the hot, crusty mini-baguettes — but the artichoke ravioli, pasta with lamb ragu and banana millie foglie are worth going back for. Service was friendly but inconsistent, with some long waits. (ML)

De Rodriguez Cuba

101 Ocean Dr., Miami Beach; 305-672-6624

Grade: B

Mini review: First-course selections are creative and diverse with a Cuban guacamole given a pleasantly smoky kick with grilled diced pineapple and a bright and colorful Cuban salad made with shredded chayote, malanga and hearts of palm. We would have liked to see more creativity in the main courses, which comprised the requisite salmon-chicken-short rib trinity of pedestrian Spice menus (although the vaca frita short rib and pomegranate-glazed salmon were satisfying).

There are a plethora of upgrade fees on the menu — an extra $9 for marlin tacos, $13 for filet mignon, $11 for sugarcane tuna — and that always rub us the wrong way. Only one choice for dessert (cuatro leches cake) also leaves everyone wishing for at least one more option. Wine pairings offered at $9 a glass are a nice touch. (SL)

Macchialina

820 Alton Rd., Miami Beach; 305-534-2124

Grade: B

Mini review: The Spice menu must be ordered family-style. Bummer for my companion, who only wanted wagyu tartare. You get four courses — two appetizers, two first-course dishes, one entree and one dessert — six items in all. A wine pairing is available for $25. Our first round consisted of burrata and arancini; nothing new, but a consistent delivery of flavors. Moving into the second, we ordered the light and crunchy broccolini cesare and, because it’s not on the regular menu, local cabalaza with prosciutto, shallots, long beans and compressed melon.

Entrees feature two pastas, fish and steak, and it’s the tagliolini al funghi with abalone mushrooms in a delightful truffle and parmigiano sauce that shouldn't be missed. It’s a fine representation of chef-owner Michael Pirolo’s talent when it comes to Italian cooking. Dessert wasn’t our favorite, but we still ate the entire thing. A better decision than Spice would be to shell out $10 more a person for Pirolo’s tasting menu: five courses for $50. Like Spice, it must be ordered for the entire table. (CT)

Makoto

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

Grade: B

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. (SL)

Shikany

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

Grade: B

Mini review: Spice options are diverse and representative of the regular menu. 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. Reservations are strongly recommended. (MB)

Meat Market

915 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach; 305-532-0088

Grade: B-

Mini review: Perhaps it would be a better move to order a la carte when visiting Meat Market than to go for the Miami Spice menu, which is laden with upgrade charges. Somewhat boring appetizer options — short rib empanadas, caprese salad — nudged us toward the soup, which changes daily. On our day, it was lobster miso bisque with kale, which pleasantly contained more spice and lobster than we had expected.

Mains include a quinoa avocado salad, buffalo burger, sesame-crusted chicken breast and pan-roasted salmon. A burger ordered medium-rare came thoroughly cooked on an overcharred bun. For dessert, a cinnamon sponge cake drowned in chocolate gazpacho was all right, but not worth the calories. For a real taste of Meat Market, order a la carte. (CT)

More Spice

Visit Miami.com/restaurants for the latest in Miami Spice updates and Top 10 lists. And check iLoveMiamiSpice.com for menu changes and to find out what days the restaurants offer the promotion.

At least one restaurant, 15th and Vine (485 Brickell Ave.), is extending its Spice offerings through October. See 15thandvine.com for details.

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