Fine Nine

by Pamela Robin Brandt

Spring’s the season, at most publications, for “hot lists” of the newest and tastiest. So here’s our personal Fine Nine—our favorite Miami eateries that opened in roughly the past year. (We were going for Top Ten, but one folded.)

Afterglo [1200 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach; 305-695-1717]: The concept’s “beautritional cuisine”, so presumably you look better after pigging out here than when you waddled in. The real skinny: chef Michael Schwartz’s stuff tastes as good as you look.

Vix [1144 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach; 305-779-8888]: The astonishingly inventive and elegant dishes are global, but not fusion. Items like Chinese-style chau mien (chewy fresh coriander noodles topped with barbecued duck and lobster), or a Nuevo Latino-type diver scallop and gala melon ceviche with tamarind/chile sorbet, have defined roots in what chef James Wierzelewski calls “the four palates”: Asia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and Latin America. Worth a splurge.

Clarke’s [840 First St., Miami Beach; 305-538-9885]: The vibe’s so friendly you can’t believe this neighborhood hangout is in South Beach. The imaginative pub grub’s so tasty you can’t believe it’s Irish. Don’t miss the bacon-potato cake with garlic aioli and basil sour cream.

Madiba [1766 Bay Rd., Miami Beach; 695-1566]: South African cuisine sounds too weird for Miami, but dishes here are remarkably accessible once you’re past the names. Bobotie? Think mami’s picadillo, but Indian-spiced, and topped with savory baked flan. Biltong, chewy/tender air-dried beef, is like a cross between jerky and real serrano ham; it’s also addictive. Buttery imported lobster may be the best thing you’ve ever had in your mouth. (But a tip: Bring your hearing aid. Acoustics suck.)

Creek 28 [2727 Indian Creek Drive; 305-531-2727]; Entrees at this neighborhood jewel in the Indian Creek Hotel cost about as much as a drink at some of the fancier beach hotels five or ten blocks south. True, the interior dining room’s so tiny it verges on depressing. But, on the lushly planted outdoor patio, former Abbey Hotel chef Kira Volz’s vibrantly flavored Mediterranean-influenced creations (butternut squash ravioli with sage brown butter sauce, parmesan/Dijon mustard vinaigrette-dressed grilled romaine and oven-dried tomato salad, chocolate-cherry bread pudding with brandy sauce), plus a bottle from the excellent eclectic wine list, make a meal as elegant as it is reasonably priced.

Sushi Square [7244 Biscayne Boulevard; 305-754-3100]: Similar in size to fast-food sushi take-out joints, it’s similar in quality to an upscale South Beach sushi bar. And when a backyard dining garden’s complete, the place will have Sobe style, too. Makis on the menu are genuinely inventive and elegant, but it’s even more fun to put yourself in the talented Japanese chef’s hands and let him rip.

The Restaurant at the Setai [2001 Collins Ave.; 305-520-6400]: You will have to sell half your house to pay the bill for this glam global-fusion repast. But heck, hurricane season’s coming, anyway; might as well be full of exotic East/West wok-seared lobster and black truffle pizza when you lose the roof.

Oishi Thai [14841 Biscayne Boulevard, North Miami Beach; 305-947-4338] The Thai food’s authentic, and the regular sushi’s impeccably fresh. But stick to the list of daily chef’s specials for Nobu-like dishes (like miso-marinated black cod) at a fraction of the price.

Michy’s [6927 Biscayne Blvd.; 305-759-2001] Celebrity chef Michelle Bernstein could have opened an expensive, fancy-schmancy place, like previous posts Azul and Tantra. Instead, this neighborhood restaurant (in her own neighborhood) features the kind of unpretentious yet perfect food she personally likes to eat—plus reasonable prices, and absolutely no Attitude. Now that’s what we’re talkin’ about.

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