By Victoria Pesce Elliott
Miami Spice is stuffed this year — bursting at the seams with more than 100 restaurants participating — and choosing well can have you feasting on 50 percent savings. More often, it amounts to a free dessert or appetizer. At the very least, it’s a reason to get out on the town despite a depressing economy.
Lovers of short ribs and salmon are in luck, judging by the menus posted so far, while meatless Miamians will have to look hard for pastas, risottos and salad options. With top Miami restaurants and promising new entrants on the roster, it’s a real treasure hunt. The trick is to study the website, ilovemiamispice.com, and call in advance to verify posted menus. Many places — including stalwarts Pascal’s on Ponce, North One 10 and Talula — change menus weekly, even if the GMCVB webmaster doesn’t. Also be sure to note which days the specials are offered. Some restaurants exclude weekend nights — though fewer, it would appear, than in previous years.
One tried and true Spice strategy is to target places with the stiffest checks in town — Palme d’Or at the Biltmore, Maison d’Azur, Azul, Chef Allen’s or DeVito South Beach, for example.
Most impressive high-ender has got to be Kobe Club adjacent to China Grill, with five and six options for appetizer and entree plus a dessert sampler platter. Reasonably priced upgrades include 4-ounce tastes of their incredibly rich namesake Kobe (Wagyu) beef from U.S., Australian and Japanese suppliers ($30-$80 extra).
Govind Armstrong’s Table 8 also puts out for this party, especially for lamb lovers, who can find crispy lamb sausage with stuffed green olives and pickled jicama to start followed by spiced lamb loin, bulgur wheat salad, kalamata olives, piquillo peppers and organic arugula.
With only one appetizer (a blue cheese, bacon and avocado salad) and two mains (short ribs and snapper), Bourbon Steak has the stingiest Spice menu I have ever seen. Still, it’s an affordable way to enjoy a place where ordering from the à la carte menu would cost you way north of 100 bucks.
Doug Rodriguez offers his incredible cuisine seven nights a week at a super discount at OLA, now at the Sanctuary Hotel. Menu highlights include octopus ceviche with oven-dried grape tomatoes, lime juice, caper berries and crispy shallot espuma as well as gazpacho blanco topped with cantaloupe sorbet.
Miami Spice is also a great way to scope out new restaurants. Tops among them are the reincarnated Pacific Time, where Jonathan Eismann is offering a Mediterranean menu, Joley in The Hotel Astor and Por Fin, the Spanish sensation in Coral Gables. Badrutt’s Place and 1 Bleu in the Regent Hotel also beckon.
In the category of unknowns, the most alluring is The Trapiche Room at JW Marriott Hotel on Brickell, where chef Eric Sala gets huge marks for a drool-inducing Spice menu with super high-end products including Niman Ranch rack of lamb, Point Reyes blue-cheese mousse and Sweet Briar Farm organic pork tenderloin stuffed with Maine lobster.
B.E.D. and Soyka are among the veteran restaurants new to Miami Spice this year. Notably absent are past participants Touch and Neomi’s Grill.
Favorites I have not yet mentioned include Timo, Ortanique on The Mile, Cacao, Sardinia, Michy’s and The River Oyster Bar, which is offering delectable and thoughtfully farmed Loch Duart Scottish salmon.
It should go without saying that customers taking advantage of this program must not ask for special preparations or substitutions. Also, tip as if you were paying full price. I only skimp on the gratuity when restaurants don’t graciously offer the Miami Spice menu to guests without being asked.
Have you Miami Spiced somewhere? Leave a review!