February is filled with so much to do in South Florida for a foodie. As if our minds aren’t already constantly occupied with the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, we have Valentine’s Day to think about next week. If you’re lucky enough to have someone with whom to celebrate it, you probably know that a romantic dinner can truly take this day of love from simply romantic to truly memorable. While attempting to make a gourmet, multi course meal at home is an honorable feat, sometimes it’s best to let some our best chefs work at the food while you enjoy each other’s company. In case you haven't already made plans, here are some of Joonbug’s picks in Miami for Valentine’s Day dinner:
February is upon us, and it’s only a few weeks until the year’s most important food event, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival, begins. Tickets to the nearly countless events have been on sale since before 2013 even started, and while some of the more coveted events are sold out, there are still tickets available to some very exciting dinners, tastings, and parties that are sure to be the highlight of your year. A list of all available events for this year’s Wine & Food Festival can be seen at www.sobefest.com, but here are some highlights that any foodie should definitely not miss:
For some reason, it seems as if time really flew between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, which means that most of us have been scrambling to get our greeting cards and presents in order, as well as trying to keep track of the various holiday functions we feel obliged to attend. When your main preoccupation is trying to find just one good gift for your mom and realizing that you haven’t sent anything to your in-laws while they sent you a box of presents, the last thing on your mind is planning a Christmas (or Noche Buena) feast. Sure, you can do what I do and round up a selection of charcuterie and cheeses from Graziano’s and Epicure to nibble at throughout the holiday - or visit a Blue Sky for your lechón - but with so many fabulous restaurants offering such wonderful Christmas and Christmas Eve dinners, it’s hard not to take the easy way out and leave the preparations to the gourmet chefs. If you’re finding yourself in Miami without dinner plans this Christmas, let Joonbug outline a few suggestions for you:
It might not be the same for everyone, but in my experience, Thanksgiving is that very special holiday when some of the worst cooks consider themselves to be award-winning chefs. I’m sure I’m not the only one who has been a victim of such atrocities as a coleslaw-ambrosia salad combination, an unnaturally colored cool whip and graham cracker crumb dessert, or a casserole so replete with cream, butter, cheese, and bacon that it constitutes one’s allowable fat intake for the entire year. Trying to dissuade these mad scientists turned amateur cooks from contributing to your Thanksgiving feast can quickly become an ugly scene with all the crying, fighting, and emotion of a 90’s talk show. Trying to trick yourself into making your relative’s multicolored congealed salad into a suitable side dish for your chestnut and morel stuffed bird has proven futile...and quite ridiculous. The only solution to make everyone happy is to leave the cooking to the professionals this Thanksgiving and going to a restaurant. If your ideal Turkey Day is one in which there are no dishes to wash and you’re not stuck with a week’s worth of leftovers, then you should definitely check out Joonbug’s recommendations for restaurants offering some of the best Thanksgiving dinners in South Florida this year.
If you live in Miami and love to eat, you're probably well aware that Miami Spice is in our midst right now and will be so until the end of September. The two month restaurant promotion that began on August 1st has been a yearly tradition in Miami for over a decade now and is perhaps one of the most anticipated dining events in South Florida after the South Beach Wine & Food Festival...at least to the bargain hunting gourmand. Nevertheless, perusing each and every menu of the well over one hundred restaurants that are participating this year is a daunting task. There are restaurants that choose the cheapest things from their regular menu to offer on their Miami Spice menus, making the prix fixe dinner barely a bargain, and there are those normally spectacular restaurants that create a special Miami Spice menu featuring dirt-cheap and boring options like Caesar salad and grilled chicken breast with steamed asparagus. Furthermore, this year there are two categories of dining instead of just one, and the prices for lunch and dinner are reflective of which category a restaurant thinks it's part of - luxury dining ($39 dinner, $23 lunch) or fine dining ($33 dinner, $19 lunch). As one can imagine, some of Miami's restaurants are suffering from delusions of grandeur, and while they might be offering a good Miami Spice menu, it is hardly worth the luxury dining price tag.
It isn’t often that I become so enchanted by a dinner as I have during my recent experience at Bianca. Located within the iconic Delano hotel on South Beach, Bianca has taken over the space formerly occupied by Blue Door and is making a name for itself as perhaps the best Italian restaurant in Miami, which is a tough claim considering that Miami has so many celebrated authentic Italian restaurants. I admit that I don’t have an absolute favorite when it comes to cucina italiana, especially noting that Miami’s many Italian eateries offer different regional styles of the cuisine ranging from Piedmontese to Sardinian. However, after sampling Bianca’s Miami Spice prix fixe menu, not only do I have a new favorite to add to my list of Italian restaurants, I also have a restaurant to add to the top of my list of Miami Spice destinations this year.
Philippe Starck’s design is present throughout the Delano hotel, and it’s advisable to spend some time before or after dinner to lounge in the whimsical lobby or relax by the pool or in the garden, perhaps enjoying a cocktail at the bistro table located a few inches inside the hotel’s swimming pool. In contrast to the rest of the hotel’s fantastical atmosphere, the décor of Bianca is elegantly understated. The dining room is covered in a chocolatey carpet that helps absorb the sound and makes for a quieter dining experience. The high ceilings, along with the brown and beige drapes, tall mirrors, and plush banquettes make for an ambiance that is both warm and cool at the same time - a look that evokes the colors and warmth of the sands of the nearby beach while retaining the elegance of an almost regal dining room. The blond wood tables are perhaps the most refreshing detail in the décor in that they provide ample space for all the accoutrements of a fine dinner - wine, water, cocktails, napkins, silverware, plates, bread baskets, condiments - without making diners feel cramped. As my dining partner put it, Bianca never lets you feel crowded or claustrophobic, even with a table of nearly twelve sitting right next to us.
We commenced our dinner with a couple of cocktails: the Tuscan Sunset and the Diavolo. The Diavolo consisted of a combination of vodka, passion fruit, and chile served in a martini glass, and it offered a tart, sweet, and ever so slightly piquant libation that had an almost creamy mouthfeel to it despite the fact that it contained no cream or creme liqueur. The Tuscan Sunset was a simply inspired cocktail containing Jack Daniels, blood orange juice, and ginger beer that offered a perfect balance of smokiness from Jack Daniels, tartness from the blood orange, and warmth from the ginger beer. The cocktail is garnished with a fresh sprig of tarragon that you smell upon each sip of this long drink thus adding a subtle herbal element to the experience. It is definitely a perfect summer cocktail, and if choosing to dine al fresco, it is a must!
Shortly after our cocktails arrived, we were served a basket containing slices of crusty rustic bread and a piece of house-made olive bread along with a pat of butter, and saucer into which a server poured a generous measure of rich extra virgin olive oil and a swirl of balsamic vinegar. We then proceeded to order our first courses: I had the a Fonduta di Tartufo, and my dining partner had the Burrata & Prosciutto. Both appetizers arrived at the table on raised wooden platforms offering a rustic backdrop to the luxurious dishes resting on top. My dining partner adores burrata and orders it whenever she sees it on a menu. She conceded that Bianca’s imported burrata is better than any she’s had anywhere else, and after sampling a bite with a piece of imported prosciutto and a drizzle of balsamic reduction, I was compelled to agree. While most burratas exhibit a clear definition between the stretchy exterior and the creamy curds within, this particular one seamlessly melded the two layers offering a very subtle resistance on the exterior that yielded a smooth and creamy interior. My fonduta was finished with a server’s tableside addition of summer truffles and was served with grilled slices of the same rustic country bread that was present in our bread basket. The fonduta offered a creamy emulsion of texture and an initial burst of savoriness, followed by the tang of fontina cheese, and rounded out by the unmistakable flavor of fresh truffles. While I am usually one to share my courses with other diners, this was one dish that I kept almost entirely to myself, and it was at this moment that I began to realize that Bianca has a particular affinity for truffles, which is something that would pique any foodie’s interest.
For an entrée, I ordered the ossubucco on the manager’s recommendation, which I am glad I took. Ossobucco is one of those dishes that teeters on the edge of a knife between being underdone or overdone, and being too rich or too lean, yet Bianca’s version manages to remain perfectly balanced. The nearly four inch high shank arrived at the table on a bed of goat cheese-infused polenta drizzled with jus and melted in my mouth with just the right formula of meat, gelatin, and fat. The bone marrow was thoughtfully impaled with a demitasse spoon and crowned with a small mound of pine nut gremolata that offered just the right amount of textural contrast to the rest of the dish. The marrow was pure velvet in my mouth, and I was gleefully dipping my spoon into the bone like a child enjoying a sundae.
My dining partner had ordered the veal ravioli dressed with smoked ricotta and guanciale breadcrumbs. Although my ossobucco was magnificent, being a pasta lover I found myself having covetous thoughts about my dining partner’s entrée, which is what I will definitely be ordering on my next visit to Bianca. The smokiness of the ricotta reaches your palate before you even take a bite of the ravioli, creating a backdrop for the the layers of flavors and textures that are to come. Once a piece of the ravioli is in your mouth, you instantly feel the texture of the breadcrumbs and tiny bits of guanciale before biting into the slightly elastic pasta and finishing with the smooth and subtly meaty veal filling. As with my fonduta, this pasta dish was also topped with a shaving of fresh summer truffles at the table, along with a whisper of parmesan, which both enhance a dish that was already perfect.
I had seen truffles mentioned throughout the menu at Bianca but was a little skeptical about their use. I am a truffle aficionado. It is a glorious ingredient, but it is one that has been so often misused and abused in restaurants to the point of almost being cheapened. It seems as if any restaurant can make something luxe (and charge accordingly) by adding a few shavings of truffle or a drizzle of truffle oil. While the rest of our dinner at Bianca was nothing short of amazing, and I did appreciate the use of truffles throughout, I was skeptical about the use of truffles in their dessert and was asking myself whether this was just a overly decadent gimmick. Our waitress explained to us that the dessert offered during Miami Spice is something very different and new to the menu, and definitely unique, but the tone in her voice suggested that this was something that she felt very proud about. With that said, we were brought two trays each holding three miniature cake cones containing a swirl of truffle infused homemade ice cream topped with candied truffle bits that gave the effect of sprinkles. This was no gimmick! This was divinely inspired and demonstrated a respect for the fungus, as well as mastery of the ingredient. The chef doesn’t just know the truffle, he is intimately acquainted with it.
Having mentioned my love of truffles to our waitress and having seen how much we enjoyed our dessert, she offered us a new cocktail that they had just premiered that day called the Tartufo. Again I found myself thinking that now this has to be too much, and this is when things start to get out of hand. As with dessert at Bianca, I was more than pleasantly surprised at this concoction of truffle-infused vodka and a touch of cream with a rim of dark chocolate and salt. It was surprisingly light, not too sweet, and the bitterness of the chocolate along with the salt really brought out the complexity of truffle in this drink. It appears as if the kitchen isn’t the only place that has mastered the truffle!
Whether you are a lover of truffles or not, all of the cuisine at Bianca is impeccably prepared and demonstrates such a perfect balance of flavors and textures that play in varied layers and harmonies in your mouth. The chef not only commands an understanding of the truffle, but a mastery of the art of fine Italian cuisine. Bianca is a true gem in South Florida’s dining scene and a requirement for any serious gourmand during Miami Spice.
(ADVICE: Valet is $24 at the Delano and $15 when validated at the restaurant, and there is a minimum 15 minute wait to get your car when you’re ready to leave. It’s advisable to find street or garage parking if you wish to avoid a steep valet fee and long wait times)
Miami Spice prix fixe dinner is $39 per person at Bianca. Certain dishes have supplemental surcharges. For more information and to see the complete Miami Spice Menu for Bianca, please visit http://ilovemiamispice.com/participants/bianca.html.
Tomorrow, August 7th, from 8:00 to 11:00 PM guests can enjoy a complimentary Bianca Bellini with their meals while listening to live music on the terrace courtesy of The Alex Fox Trio
Bianca at Delano
1685 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 3313
Taking over the former space of Blue Sea in the lobby of the iconic Delano hotel in South Beach, Umi Sushi is sure to become a destination for sushi aficionados and style-seekers, alike. At the helm of the new communal-style sushi bar is chef Toshi Motoyama, formerly of Zuma and Makoto, and trained by Chef Akira Back of Yellowtail in Las Vegas. Sushi rolls make use of non-traditional ingredients like black truffle and wagyu beef alongside poached Maine lobster in Chef Motoyama’s Delano roll. The FDR roll offers a combination of tuna, salmon, yellowtail, and crab wrapped in soy paper, making for a striking visual presentation.
Justin D’Angelo mans the bar and tempts diners with a carefully-selected collection of premium Japanese sakes, as well as some very creative cocktails, such as the Sunset - an elixir of Grey Goose L’Orange, blood orange purée, and yuzu. Diners can also take their taste buds back in time with Art Deco-era cocktails to match the surrounding locale. D’Angelo’s take on the nearly forgotten Aviation cocktail blends Plymouth gin, Luxardo Maraschino liqeur, and strawberry purée for a fruity, refreshing spin on an old classic.
Umi is open from Sunday to Thursday from 7:00 PM to 12:00 AM, and from 7:00 PM to 1:00 AM on Fridays and Saturdays.
1685 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33139
It comes as no surprise that one of the sexiest places on earth would take Valentine’s Day very seriously. While couples up north will be celebrating in layers of wool coats, huddling close to a fireplace trying to make their teeth stop chattering long enough to sip their hot cocoas, we in South Florida will be enjoying our mild “winter” with picnics and walks on the beach, al fresco dining, linen slacks, skimpy dresses, and strappy heels. Valentine’s Day in the world’s sexiest place is definitely very sexy, and for foodies the dining options are equally as sensual. Whether you want to share in the the raw eroticism of sushi, the classic romance of Italian cuisine, or the warm and exotic spices from the land of the Kama Sutra, South Florida has the perfect place for you and your date to begin your romantic evening, and may of the area’s finest restaurants will be featuring special menus to help set the mood. Here are some of my picks for getting the evening started in good taste:
Sugarcane Raw Bar and Grill
One of Miami’s most innovative restaurants located in the heart of Midtown will be featuring special additions to their already daring menu that evoke sensuous images and provide luscious flavors and textures, like a beef tenderloin with melting foie gras and roasted root vegetables ($36) or triggerfish crudo with “bleeding” pomegrante and white soy ($10). Additionally, Chef Timon Balloo will be offering sweetheart petit fours ($8) that will include a chocolate chili bar, passionfruit pâte de fruit and rose water macaroon, making a sweet end to a romantic gourmet experience.
3250 NE 1st Ave
Miami, Florida 33127
Sushi Samba Dromo
Lincoln Road is an ideal place for a Valentine’s Day dinner, offering the opportunity for an intimate stroll and exemplary al fresco dining. Sushi Samba has long been a favorite on this strip for their exemplary fusion of Japanese, Brazilian, and Peruvian flavors and techniques. This Valentine’s Day, Sushi Samba will be offering a few sexy specials to help heat up couples’ special night, including a lamb loin tataki with yuzu-mint gelée, spicy tobanjan-dijon mustard, and celery sprouts ($16), as well as an elegant dessert of rose water meringue with chocolate truffle mousse, dragon fruit-kiwi-strawberry salsa and sake gelée ($12). To drink, don’t miss that night’s special cocktail comrpised of pisco, Domaine de Canton, fresh pineapple and freshly muddled raspberry ($11).
600 Lincoln Road
Miami Beach, FL 33139-2916
Long-known for providing diners with some of the most breath-taking views of the ocean, the newly revamped Rusty Pelican is offering a prix-fixe V-Day dinner for $85 per person and will be available from Friday, February 10th up until the 14th. You might need to leave dinner early and find a hotel room after sampling Rusty Pelican’s aphrodisiac first courses like “Ménage à Foie” consisting of foie gras pâté, both seared and torchon, brioche toast, and honey marmalade, or the “Oysters & Pearls” that include poached Kumamotos, tapioca pearls, spinach, and Osetra caviar.
3201 Rickenbacker Causewy
Key Biscayne, FL 33149
One of Miami’s newest - and hottest - dining destinations will also be offering a prix-fixe, 3-course menu for $80 per person that also features some traditionally sensual appetizers with a twist, including a foie gras brûlée and beef tartare. Chef Andrew Carmellini will also be offering entrée choices that include simply-prepared comfort dishes, like Guiness-braised shortribs with Yukon gold mash and sprout leaf salad, or lighter options like roasted pompano with crème frâiche and caviar.
2201 Collins Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Miami’s newest shrine to haute Japanese cuisine, located inside the exclusive Bal Harbour Shops. Offering a relative bargain prix-fixe menu at $55 per person, diners will be able to indulge in fire and ice oysters with yamamomo granita and serrano chili, a surf and turf consisting of lobster and a 12 oz. NY strip steak, and chocolate yuzu for dessert. For an additional $30, diners can partake in a drink pairing for each course, that includes exciting spirits like a sparkling sake.
9700 Collins Avenue #107
Bal Harbour, FL 33154
One of the restaurants on the forefront of Ft. Lauderdale’s emerging fine dining scene offering some of the most innovative cocktails and creative preparations of sushi and seafood, SAIA will be presenting a special V-Day dinner in collaboration with Hanahouhoushu Sparkling Pink Sake. Available February 10th through the 14th, will be able to partake in a five-course prix-fixe dinner with Hanahouhoushu’s unique sparkling pink sake for only $159 per couple. Start with a salmon & hamachi miso and ginger chicken soup and end with a strawberry fruit salad featuring fresh strawberries with ginger melon sauce a coconut sorbet in a crispy wonton shell with mint granita while gazing off into the Atlantic ocean just steps away.
999 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304
East End Brasserie
There is no cuisine more closely-associated simultaneously with elegance and romance than French cuisine. This Valentine’s Day, savor Chef Steve Zobel’s three-course prix-fixe menu with amuse bouch and champagne toast for $75 per person featuring such luscious dishes as ricotta gnocchi with Roquefort cream sauce, and sole and asparagus on a bed of wild mushrooms topped with lobster hollandaise sauce. Finish dinner with a chocolate fondue for two! Wine lovers can have dinner with wine pairings for $95 per person.
601 N Fort Lauderdale Beach Blvd
Fort Lauderdale, FL 33304
One of the newest reasons to visit Brickell is Mare Nostrum, a Mediterranean-inspired restaurant specializing in the freshest seafood imaginable. For $150, a couple can enjoy a complimentary bottle of Moet Chandon champagne, as well as a sumptuous four-course dinner, including seared tuna rolled in Moroccan spices with seafood risotto cake, lemon buerre blanc, and red wine reduction. To cleanse the palate between course, refresh yourself with a mojito granizado!
1111 SW First Avenue
Miami, FL 33131
For those intending to fly solo for Valentine’s Day, Edge Steak & Bar has just the menu for you, which avoids using any cutesy, lovey-dovey language...it actually does quite the opposite. For $65 per person, celebrate (or wallow in) your singleness with dishes like “love shucks” (East Coast seafood tower flavored by sour orange mojo, stinking rose aioli and angry habanero hot sauce) or “burnt, bitter, blue” (salad of bitter greens, burnt almond praline, and crumbles of Point Reyes blue cheese, drizzled with two-timing balsamic dressing). Only parties of one will be seated in the restaurant’s private dining rooms, and festive event will provide single diners the opportunity to mingle and possibly find that perfect somebody.
1435 Brickell Avenue
Miami, FL 33131
No matter where you go in this iconic Miami Beach resort, you will not be disappointment. Perhaps the most exemplary Italian restaurant in South Florida, Scarpetta will be offering its regular menu including its signature spaghetti with tomato and basil that will win over any heart. Hakkasan’s dark ambiance and private dining rooms separated by a labyrinth of carved wooden partitions, along with its gourmet Chinese cuisine, make it an ideal dining destination for this special day. Solo, perhaps one of Miami’s finest pastry shops, will also be offering special Valentine’s Day-themed pastries, including raspberry and white chocolate macaron hearts. Of course, there is no better way to end the evening than with a stroll on the boardwalk!
4441 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33140
Just recently celebrating its grand opening with a star-studded party, The Delano’s newest restaurant addition will be offering a prix-fixe V-Day menu laden with one of the most sensual ingredients in the world that is perhaps the most treasured by any foodie: TRUFFLES! From truffle tagliatelle to a sirloin steak served with crispy black truffle potatoes and a side dish of spinach in a truffle cream sauce, Bianca is sure to leave any truffle-lover lovestruck.
1685 Collins Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33139
Known for its glamour and exclusivity, the Delano Hotel in South Beach is not really familiar with the phrase “low key”. With that said, it’s no wonder that the grand opening of its new Italian restaurant, Bianca called for a party filled with celebrities, artists and some of Miami’s most beautiful people.
Party goers noshed on savory hors d’oeuvre such as tender meatballs, crab cake BLT, yellow fin tuna crisp and grilled octopus alongside celebrities like Kevin Connoly and Michelle Rodriguez. But it didn’t end there, as world renowned jazz trumpeter, Chris Botti enchanted the crowd with a live performance in the middle of the pool patio amidst the whimsical décor that we all know and love from the outdoor space at the Delano. Attendees were also able to sample some of the cocktails to be featured on the Bianca cocktail list such as a mixture of Jack Daniels, blood orange puree, lemon juice and ginger beer known as the Tuscan Sunset. Just as beautiful as it is tasty, this drink had everyone in the party mood.
To what do we owe such an extravagant celebration, you wonder? Well, Bianca is not your typical Italian restaurant. Besides its prime location and beautiful décor, the chefs at Bianca have embraced the farm to table concept and are in participation with the Slow Food Movement, an international non-profit network that is committed to improving the way food is cultivated, distributed and even perceived. Brought to you by nightlife and hospitality company, The Light Group, Bianca’s Chef Brian Massie is bringing South Florida diners simple yet savory cuisine, which will include signature dishes like wood-grilled langoustines and handmade pasta with seasonal truffles and a hint of cream. Choose from a selection of entrees like salt roasted Branzino with roasted potatoes and all natural sirloin bistecca with black truffle potatoes. Guests can also pair their meal with Bianca’s carefully selected wine list and cocktail menu. As for the décor, The Delano definitely did not fall short (as if it ever has). The egg shell-toned seats, drapes, walls and napkins create a surreal yet comforting ambiance that contrasts particularly well with the dark wooden tables and crystal clear glassware. Choose to sit inside the hotel or venture out on the patio near the pool deck. Either way, you will be able to soak up the Delano atmosphere in all its modern glory.
Bianca is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Reservations are suggested.
1685 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139
Although it's not yet December 31st, the countdown has already begun. The days are rapidly disappearing as you try to decide what to wear, where to go and who to celebrate with. We can't pick your clothes or your friends, but we can tell you where the hottest parties will be happening in Miami this New Year's Eve. (Click on venue name for more info and to reserve tickets + tables.)
Fontainebleau 4441 Collins Ave
Miami Beach, FL 33140-3227 The Fontainebleau is one of the most posh and popular party spots in Miami so naturally have booked some top talent for their NYE poolside bash. Swedish DJ Axwell, part of the Swedish House Mafia, will deliver an unforgettable, exclusive mix of house, electro and club music to welcome the New Year. The party lasts from 7PM to 2AM with premium open bar from 9-12. Tickets: general admission starts at $325 with private cabanas and stage-side tables costing five figures. Or, take the party inside to Fontainebleau's ulta-club LIV where Busta Rhymes and Sebastian Ingrosso will be helping you celebrate the new year. This is one of the most expensive and exclusive parties in Miami with general admission starting at $575 which includes admission and premium open bar from 9PM - midnight (the price drops to $375 after 1AM). There are tons of tables available both downstairs and on the mezzanine where you'll pop bottles of Belvedere and Dom Perignon for prices between 8 and 20 grand. The party will last until after the sun comes up again at 7AM. Tickets and tables can be booked here.