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A Championship Season for Food?

Table 8

Coming to a plate near you

David Bouley Evolution, the South Beach outpost of one of New York's finest chefs, and Table 8, the South Beach outpost of one of Los Angeles' finest chefs, have opened their doors, almost simultaneously, less than two blocks apart from each other on Collins Avenue. Does this mean Miami is finally a player in America's elite league of great dining cities? Nah...

But we've come a long way, baby.

Just over a year ago, in "What's The Matter With Miami?" I made the case that our sunny metropolis was nothing more than an overhyped, Mickey Mouse food destination, and that since the initial big bang of Mango Gang/Nuevo Latino cuisine in the early nineties, our local chefs, with very few exceptions, had produced nothing but one confused fusion thud after another.

Then, last year, Michelle Bernstein sort of broke the slump by doing things the old-fashioned way at Michy's: cooking fresh local foods from scratch. Mark Zeitouni of Lido Restaurant At The Standard also relies on small producers and organic greens and grains, as does Jeffrey Brana of the elegantly elemental Restaurant Brana -- both exceptional, not-to-be-missed eateries which opened quietly this past summer. Sean Mohammed of Social Miami gets it too, "it" being an adherence to the mantra of "simple, fresh, and pure."

Mark, Michelle, and Jeffrey are home grown talents, but since the start of this season Miami has attracted top-shelf, free agent chefs from around the world in startling, Steinbrenneresque manner. Quattro Gastronomia Italiana, the great new Italian restaurant on Lincoln Road, imported its twin chefs from Piedmont. The chef/co-owner of Sardinia Enoteca Ristorante, the great new Italian restaurant on Purdy Avenue, came here from Sardinia. Well respected chef Christian Delouvrier flew south from New York to open La Goulue bistro in Bal Harbour. Plus, two fabled veterans of the local dining scene have come back home to roost: Michael Schwartz, with his just-opened Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, and Johnny Vizcente, with his just-opened Johnny V Astor Place. Karu & Y, O Asian Grill, Karma, Yuga -- all new this season, all serious in presenting clean, 21st Century cuisine. And I haven't even yet returned to the duo that got me started, superstar chefs David Bouley and Govind Armstrong.

Bouley is the heavier hitter of the two. When his namesake restaurant premiered in 1987 it instantly became the most critically acclaimed dining establishment in the land -- followed by Bouley Bakery and Market, Bouley Upstairs, and Danube. Evolution, in the Ritz-Carlton South Beach, is, in the culinary master's words, "a celebration of what I've experienced and learned throughout my career and travels" -- meaning contemporary French with Japanese and other global accents.

Govind doesn't have quite the weighty resume, but might be more tuned into the South Beach wavelength -- he was, after all, selected as one of People Magazine's 50 Most Beautiful People. More to the point, he brings his Table 8 restaurant here via L.A.'s trendy Melrose Avenue, where his weekly-changing menu (to better reflect both market and season) of brilliant yet down-to-earth California cuisine has earned him fame among the fabulously glam.

Can the food at these two newcomers actually live up to the hype? We will see soon enough... -Lee Klein

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Frank Houston

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