Miami Without a Passport

Yes, you can brave the wilds south of Broward and find an A-list meal

Equally invigorating and inspirational, chef Kris Wessel's concoctions at Elia (9700 Bal Harbour Ave., Bal Harbour; 305-866-2727) also draw largely from the sea -- the Mediterranean Sea, to be exact. A veteran of his own restaurant, the New Orleans stunner Liaison, which closed last year, Wessel has turned his talents to another region that encompasses a broad spectrum of influences. Under the auspices of Greek restaurateur Thanasis Barlos, Wessel has created a "New Mediterranean" menu that ranges from the "ocean trio mista," a succulent collection of baby octopus, baby squid, and baby conch tossed with peppers sofrito, to vibrant lemon-pomegranate-glazed gambas(prawns), to sweetly fleshed skate wing, given a flavorful lift from a dusting of crushed hazelnuts and a braised leek-avgolemono(lemon-egg) sauce.

Elia is in the notoriously upscale Bal Harbour Shops just north of Surfside, but don't let that influence a decision to dine there. The restaurant is sophisticated yet approachable -- a portion of the dining room near the elegant stone bar is given over to couches, settees, and lounge chairs, which extend outdoors -- and expansive patio seating allows for less-formal dining. Significantly, almost certainly owing to Wessel's status as a young father of two daughters, Elia presents an imaginative kids' menu -- just another way to welcome a range of diners from families with baby strollers to exhausted Chanel shoppers.

In Pilar chef Scott Fredel's simplicity, there's so much culinary complexity.
Jonathan Postal
In Pilar chef Scott Fredel's simplicity, there's so much culinary complexity.

Details

Timo: 17624 Collins Ave., Sunny Isles; 305-936-1008. Pilar: 20475 Biscayne Blvd., Aventura; 305-937-2777. Elia: 9700 Bal Habour Ave., Bal Harbour; 305-866-2727. M. Woods: 12953 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami. OLA: 5061 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-758-919.

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If you prefer to wait on dining in northeastern Miami-Dade County until after the holiday hoopla dies down, know that two chefs are about to return to the scene after excused (but lamented) absences while pursuing other goals. Former Savannah (South Beach) chef-proprietor Marvin Woods will be bringing his Low-Country/Caribbean skills -- grilled pulled pork; jerk duck cake; Cajun ribeye -- to the 60-seat M. Woods (12953 Biscayne Blvd., North Miami) in January. And last weekend, Nuevo Latino king Douglas Rodriguez will introduce OLA(5061 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 305-758-9195). The restaurant's name stands for Of Latin America, and Rodriguez's dishes, including calamari "linguine" with smoky aji amarillo vinaigrette or beef tenderloin with chunky crab salad chimichurri, not to mention his dozen ceviches garnished with corn nuts and rice puffs, bear testimony to his widespread influences. Best of all, no passports required.

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