Restaurant Reviews

A Taste of Spice 2010

The Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau (GMCVB), in cahoots with a klatch of corporate sponsors, is orchestrating the eighth-annual Miami Spice event. The two-month program presents diners with a chance to select from discounted prix fixe menus at any of 119 participating restaurants. More specific: a three-course lunch for $22 or three-course dinner for $35. More specific still: After tax, tip, and nonalcoholic beverage (water, coffee, whatever), a Miami Spice dinner costs about $50 (or $100 per couple).

The GMCVB claims the Spice offer "represents an average discount of 30 to 50 percent off the regular value," yet this is not always the case. Although most working-class folks consider $50 to be an extravagant expenditure for eating out, some restaurateurs think it merely warrants a limited selection of small-portioned, no-frills items on restricted days. Others pull out all the stops, hoping to impress newcomers.

We deem the dozen establishments listed below the most generous of those that released Spice selections online in time for the August 1 starting date. (Items at many restaurants change weekly; menu links are provided at

BLT Steak, Betsy Hotel, 1440 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach; 305-673-0044. Offer good Sunday through Thursday. James Beard-nominated Sam Gorenstein tenders a tempting trio of appetizer choices: charred Portuguese octopus, heirloom tomato-watermelon-poblano salad, and classic steak tartare with accompaniments. The main course is your pick of ten-ounce Black Angus flatiron steak, grilled local snapper, or lemon-rosemary organic chicken. Sides include charred shishito peppers, jalapeño mashed potatoes, and spicy barbecue corn. Finish with local mango cheesecake with mango sorbet, Valrhona chocolate mousse with vanilla ice cream, or a piña colada sundae with a raspberry macaroon.

Blue Door, Delano Hotel, 1685 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-674-6400. Offer good Sunday through Thursday. Diners can start with the restaurant's signature appetizer: jumbo ravioli filled with taro root mousseline and sauced with truffle-infused mushroom cappuccino. That's a great one, as are alternatives of salmon tartare with tapioca caviar and wasabi vinaigrette, buffalo mozzarella-tomato salad, and seared yellowfin tuna with marinated daikon. Enticing entrées are mango-marinated pork loin with black Thai risotto; free-range chicken with fingerling potatoes, wild mushrooms, Chinese okra pickles, and black truffles; hearts of palm risotto with giant shrimp, lobster foam, and white truffle oil; and Chilean sea bass with hearts of palm. The finale: raspberry napoleon with bourbon-vanilla ice cream or dulce de leche spring rolls with old Jamaica vanilla rum sauce.

Charlotte Bistro, 264 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables; 305-443-3003. Offer good nightly; closed Sunday. The little bistro that could, does — starting with veal churrasco wrapped in phyllo; crab risotto and truffle oil emulsion; sea bass ceviche with tuna and salmon tartare; or fennel, apple, and crisp Brie salad. Entrées are rack of lamb, double pork chop, salmon fillet, or sea bass-calamari sofrito with mussels. Choice of four desserts includes signature Valrhona chocolate soup with house-made coffee ice cream.

Chef Allen's, 19088 NE 29th Ave., Aventura; 305-935-2900. Offer good every night. To start: blue crab cake with local mango chutney, salad with Maytag blue cheese, or oxtail Bolognese over orecchiette pasta. Mains are blackened mahi-mahi with clam-rock shrimp gumbo and farro risotto, tamarind-glazed pork tenderloin with red bliss potatoes and creamed corn, or grilled hanger steak with house-made pineapple Worcestershire and hand-cut fries. Dessert is a toss between lavender-Riesling crème brûlée with citrus butter cookie or chocolate-peanut butter napoleon with roasted peanut brittle.

Gibraltar, Grove Isle Hotel & Spa, 4 Grove Isle Drive, Coconut Grove; 305-857-5007. Offer good Sunday through Thursday. First course is golden gazpacho with shrimp, steamed littleneck clams with prosciutto, or organic spinach and arugula salad. Mains are swordfish salad; roasted organic chicken breast with potato croquette, heirloom carrots, and leeks; sweet water trout with lemon pine quinoa; and char-grilled petite filet with a fricassee of onion, mushrooms, bacon, and fingerling potatoes. Tempting takes on ricotta cheesecake, Key lime pie, and panna cotta are dessert picks. Bonus: beautiful Biscayne Bay vistas.

Gotham Steak, Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 305-674-4780. Offer good nightly except Saturday. Begin with heirloom tomato salad, yellowfin tuna tartare, or summer corn-jumbo lump crab risotto. A trio of entrées entails grilled hanger steak with fingerling potatoes and béarnaise sauce; miso-marinated black cod with Asian vegetables and sticky rice; or Berkshire pork ribs with barbecue habanero sauce and corn bread. Desserts are passion-fruit mousse with coconut sorbet, tiramisu brownie with espresso gelato, and milk-chocolate candy bar with salted caramel sorbet.

Hakkasan, Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-276-1388. Offer good Sunday through Thursday. Guests ease into the meal with a pair each of chicken and vegetable dumplings for the first course. Hot-and-sour soup or sweet corn soup comes next, followed by crispy sea bass, silver cod in Marmite XO sauce, sweet-and-sour pork, Szechuan shredded rib eye, or a stir-fry of scallops and pumpkin in black bean sauce. Choice of starches includes hand-pulled noodles with wild mushrooms or salted fish-and-chive-fried rice, followed by jasmine-scented fruit soup with lemon verbena sorbet. A separate vegetarian menu is also offered (dim sum is the lunch Spice menu).

La Marea, the Tides South Beach, 1220 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach; 305-604-5070. Offer good Sunday through Thursday. Start with seafood-jícama salad, tomato soup with lobster grilled cheese, or a popper trio with hamachi, tuna, and shrimp. Mains are either yellowtail snapper with jasmine rice and edamame, braised short rib with truffled salsify purée, or New York strip steak with foie gras, tempura, and wild mushroom fricassee. Dessert: cheesecake lollipops or buñuelos with Mexican vanilla ice cream.

La Palma Ristorante, 116 Alhambra Circle, Coral Gables; 305-445-8777. Offer good every night. Apps are choice of crab cakes, caesar salad, or prosciutto di Parma with Parmesan mousse and fruit. Mains include 14-ounce New York strip, veal scaloppine, tortelloni, and salmon. Dessert is any item from the pastry trolley.

Meat Market, 915 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach; 305-532-0088. Offer good Sunday through Thursday. Alaskan crab tail with baby bok choy and passion fruit butter sauce is one of four first-course options. Others are ceviche, caesar salad, or baby-back lamb ribs in spicy hoisin barbecue sauce. The main course brings Harris Ranch short ribs with polenta fries, a New Zealand lamb duo (grilled chops and meat braised in pastry), broiled Angus rib eye steak, or striped bass with Asian-style bok choy. Dessert is milk chocolate panna cotta with pecan biscotti.

Scarpetta, Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-276-1388. Offer good nightly except Saturday. The Fontainebleau scores a triple play. Perhaps that's not fair, but how can we turn down these selections? Raw yellowtail with baby greens, burrata cheese with heirloom tomatoes, braised beef short ribs with vegetable and farro risotto, and creamy polenta with truffled mushrooms. Next comes signature spaghetti with tomato and basil, branzino with lobster fricassee, spice-roasted chicken with polenta and morel mushrooms, or bone-in prime aged sirloin of beef with Trumpet Royale mushrooms. Dessert is either chocolate cake with toasted almond gelato and salted caramel sauce or mocha swirl cheesecake with espresso sorbet.

Tuna's Raw Bar & Grille, 17850 W. Dixie Highway, North Miami Beach; 305-932-0630. Offer good nightly except Friday. There are seven starters to choose from, including Blue Point oyters Rockefeller and escargots bourguignon in mushroom caps. A classy intermezzo of lemon sorbet with a splash of champagne follows. Among the entrées: one-and-a-half-pound Maine lobster, prime New York steak, shrimp Française, lamb chops Provençale, and veal medallions forestière. Funny that Tuna's should tout the most French-sounding fare. Swiss chocolate mousse cake, peach melba, and apple strudel à la mode are the dessert picks.