Friday, July 30, 2010

(Miami) Spice of Life

Yes, it's that time of year again - when diners go off in search of the elusive $35 dinner that does not involve the same boring roll call of chicken paillard, farmed salmon, and churrasco, served by sneering waitstaff who seem less than eager to get into the spirit. Or, to look at it another way, the season when line cooks go slowly insane, chanting "All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy" as they crank out the same couple of dishes over and over again, while the owners calculate food costs down to the penny in the hope they're at least coming out even, and servers put up with customers expecting to be treated like royalty for their meager $5 per person tip. Ahh, Miami Spice time!

We've been through this before here, but I'll briefly repeat my basic rules for navigating Miami Spice season: (1) there's no reason to bother with restaurants where a $35 menu is not a meaningful discount from their regular prices (though, of course, go to them if you like them; just don't do so because they're offering a Miami Spice menu); (2) the infamous chicken breast/farmed salmon/churrasco (or substitute short rib) "trifecta" is usually a tell; and (3) look for food that actually interests you. If a restaurant doesn't excite you the other 11 months of the year, it is unlikely there's going to be something really inspiring on their Spice menu. I like to see it as a chance to try some places, both new and old, that may not be in your "regular rotation," with limited financial commitment.

There's been some good Miami Spice chatter on the interwebs already, with New Times' Short Order playing "Deal or No Deal,"[1] and MRPR's highly amusing and mostly on-target "Open Letter on the Eve of Miami Spice."[2] So with that said, and with the disclaimer that I've not yet tried any of these menus nor indeed all of these restaurants, here are some Spice menus that looked intriguing to me. I may not have listed all the items, but have linked to each of the menus so you can peruse yourself; and keep in mind as well that many places change their Spice menus regularly, if for no other reason than to keep their line cooks from hurting themselves or others.

(continued ...)

Watermelon Salad
local watermelons, stone fruit, ricotta cheese, minus eight vinegar

Local Yellowtail Snapper
red lentil, sumac, preserved citrus

honeycomb, greek yogurt, local fruit

Crispy ipswich clams, bacon pain perdue, spicy remoulade, butter lettuce
Chilled tomato soup, aged cheddar, toasted brioche
Salmon tataki, green goddess, grilled shallot vinaigrette, radish salad

Squid ink gnocchi, Florida rock shrimp, chorizo, saffron, baby squash
Grilled golden trout, truffled mushroom salad, truffle vinaigrette, artichoke, fried egg

Strawberry rhubarb tart, creme fraiche, mara des bois coulis
Soft almond cake, roasted peach, lavender-honey ice cream

BLT Steak
Charred Portugese Octopus / Tomato-Harissa Compote / Gigande Beans /
Soft Herbs / Lemon Vinaigrette
Classic "BLT" Steak Tartare / Cornichons / Capers / Crispy Shallots

5 Pepper Crusted Black Angus Flat Iron 10 oz. / Chimichurri
Grilled Local Red Snapper / Smoked Eggplant Purée / Citrus Relish

Charred Shishito Peppers / Soy-Lime Glaze / Jalapeño Mashed Potatoes /
Spicy BBQ Corn / Bacon

Local Mango Cheesecake / Mango Sorbet

Bourbon Steak
Tempura Squash Blossoms | Lobster Stuffed, Summer Truffle Vinaigrette
Florida Sweet Corn Soup | Alaskan King Crab, Gypsy Pepper Relish

Crispy Skin Yellowtail Snapper | Scallop Dumplings,
Baby Bok Choy, Mushroom Dashi Broth
American Wagyu Flatiron | Red Swiss Chard,
Yukon Gold Potato Gnocchi, Foie Gras and Sherry Emulsion
($10 supplement)

Coconut Rice Pudding | Local Mango, Chai Ice Cream
Ice Cream Sandwich | Chocolate Chip Cookies, Milk Chocolate Ice Cream

Charlotte Bistro
Crab Risotto and Truffle Oil Emulsion
Hearts of palm and pea sprouts

Double Pork Chop Coriander Seeds Coated
Ginger and Chardonnay Golden Apples and Vermouth Rosso Sauce
Rack of Lamb and Sweet Potatoes Purée
Swiss Chard, Sauté Spring Mushrooms

Chocolate Soup Venezuelan Chocolate (70%), Espresso Aroma
Home Made Coffee Ice Cream and Crispy Butter Tuile

Whole Braised Artichoke "Alla Romagna"
Mint, Garlic, Chili Flake, Olio Verde, Lemon Aioli
Nonna's Meatball
DeVito Tomato Sauce, House Made Whipped Ricotta, Sweet Basil

English Pea Ravioli
Peas, Mascarpone, Pea Tendrils, Prosciutto Bits
Preserved Meyer Lemon Whipped Potatoes, Heirloom Tomato Salsa

Ciabatta Bread Pudding
Vanilla Sauce
Local Peach Bamboloni
Cinnamon Crumb

Roasted Red Pepper Potato Bisque
Jumbo lump crab, avocado creme fraiche
Essencia's Organic Orchid Petal Salad
Organic nasturtium leaves, orchid petals, mamey, petit tomatoes,
popped hominy, blackberries and key lime lavender honey vinaigrette
Mandarin Smoked Duck Salad
Napa cabbage, organic baby spinach, crispy rice noodles, mandarin orange segments,
mirin soaked dried apricots and mandarin-hoisin vinaigrette

Pan-Roasted Local Yellowtail Snapper
Steamed baby bok choy, black Thai sticky rice and red Thai curry sauce
Sweet and Sour Grilled Lollipop Pork Chop
Granny Smith apple puree, organic spaghetti squash and sundried fruit chutney

Chocolate Chai Pot de Creme
Bing cherry turnover
Coconut Tapioca Soup
Mango sorbet, coconut twigs

Golden Gazpacho
Royal Red Shrimp and Coriander
Steamed Littleneck Clams
Verjus Garlic Butter and Prosciutto

Anise Rubbed Swordfish "Salad"
Cured Tomatoes, Black Olives, Shaved Fennel and String Beans
Balsamic-Basil Dressing
Sweet Water Trout
Lemon Pine Quinoa, Tomato Compote, Shellfish Sauce

Coconut Panna Cotta
Mango Compote and Almond Tuile
"Notorious" Key Lime Pie
Salted Graham Crust and Vanilla Whip

Grilled Shanghai Chicken Dumpling
Vegetarian Dim Sum Platter

Hot and Sour Soup
Sweetcorn Soup
Wild Mushroom Soup

Wok-Fried Silver Cod in XO-Marmite Sauce
Stir-Fry Scallop and Pumpkin in Black Bean
(1 for every 2 people)

Salted Fish and Chive Fried Rice
Wild Mushroom Hand Pulled Noodle
(1 for every 2 people)

Jasmine and Exotic Fruit Soup

Asparagus Stew with Duck Foie with Oporto Sauce and Poached Egg
Octopus Carpaccio over Potatoes a Fiera

Slow Braised Pork Cheeks with Carrot Purée and Onion Crisps

Creamy Baked Chocolate Soufflé with Milk Candy Ice Cream


La Marea
Smoked Tomato Soup
Basil Espuma, Lobster Grilled Cheese
Popper Trios
Hamachi, Tuna, Shrimp / Sriracha, Wasabi, Red Curry and Pineapple

Braised Short Rib[3]
Red Wine and Honey Braised Salsify, Truffled Salsify Purée,
Beurre Rouge, Chervil

Caramelized Mango, Tamarind Coulis, Mexican Vanilla Ice Cream

Meat Market
Alaskan Crab Tail
Pan fried and served with baby bok choy and passion fruit butter sauce
Baby Back Lamb Ribs
Tossed in spicy Hoisin BBQ sauce and topped with peanuts and cilantro

New Zealand Lamb Duo
Wood grilled lamb chop and braised lamb pastry with goat cheese, olives, raisins and sundried tomatoes
Broiled Angus Rib Eye Steak
Grilled asparagus, steak fries and choice of mushroom truffle sauce, peppercorn sauce,
atomic horseradish, or Meat Market A-100 sauce

Milk Chocolate Panna Cotta
Vanilla cream, pecan biscotti and bittersweet chocolate dust

Chilled Corn and Crab Soup - Corn-Crab Beignets
Warm Asparagus - Poached Egg, Jamon Serrano Nage

Veal Scallopine - Fig-Caper Sauce, Sautéed Kale

Chocolate Bread Pudding - Brioche, Chocolate, Raisins

Pascal's on Ponce
Creamy Maine Lobster Bisque with Corn Flan and Tarragon

Braised Colorado Lamb Shank, Roasted Garlic Risotto, Root Vegetable Ragout, Braising Liquid

Bittersweet Chocolate Fondant, Vanilla Ice Cream

Animelle, veal sweetbreads with brown butter sage and Brussels sprouts
Burrata, with fresh tomatoes, basil and string bean salad

Scallopine, medallions of veal with wild mushrooms and asparagus tips
Branzino, Mediterranean sea bass baked in salt crust

Chef's selection of desserts

Creamy Polenta
fricassee of truffled mushrooms

Mediterranean Branzino
zucchini, spring garlic, and lobster fricassee
Bone-In Prime Aged Sirloin of Beef
potato gatto, trumpet royale mushrooms and parmigiano

Amedei Chocolate Cake
toasted almond gelato and salted caramel sauce

Gazpacho de cerezas
Cherry gazpacho, Manila clams and Sherry vinegar
Huevo con migas
Low temperature egg, chick pea broth, bread crumbs and parsley oil
Coco de chorizo y setas
Flat bread of chorizo, quail eggs and mushrooms

Carilleras de ternera
Braised veal cheeks topped with porcini-idiazabal crostini and pine nut vinaigrette
Boneless roasted suckling pig, beets, blackberries and shallot confit
Suquet de pescado
Local seafood stew with asparagus and romesco sauce

Crema Catalana
Caramelized Spanish custard with cinnamon ice cream and orange confit

Sra. Martinez
Shrimp Vuelve la Vida - Spicy Cocktail, Avocado, Cilantro
Wedge Salad - Iceberg Lettuce, Blue Cheese Dressing, Jamon Serrano, Chili Fried Onions

Egg Yolk Carpaccio - Sweet Shrimp, Crispy Potatoes
Mussels al Ajillo - Garlic, Roasted Tomatoes, Sherry Broth
Roasted Bone Marrow - Barbecue Brisket, Pickled Onions, Coleslaw
Garbanzo Stew - Chorizo, Spinach, Tetilla Cheese, Quail Egg
Galbi Pinchos - Korean Style Marinated Short Rib, Green Tomato Slaw
Farm Fresh Vegetables - Bacon Braised Carrots, Brussels Sprouts, Gigante Beans
(choose two)

Torrejas - Rum Sautéed Bananas and Figs, Walnut Ice Cream

Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill
sepia / taggiascha olives / cured lemon

florida snapper / cauliflower / dandelion greens
robata duck breast / somen noodles / chanterelle mushrooms / verbena dashi

homemade el rey chocolate chip ice cream sandwich

House Made Stuffed Naan Bread
Grilled Naan Bread, Sautéed Escarole, Caramelized Onions, Orange Zest, Anise Seed,
Frisee Salad, Toasted Walnuts, Piquillo Pepper Sauce

Grilled Scottish Salmon
Shallot-Thyme Fondue, Yellow Mustard Seed Compote, Pea Shoot Salad
Pan Roasted Hanger Steak
Blue Corn Pancakes, Arugula Salad, Charred Corn, Pickled Shallot,
Toasted Marcona Almonds, Romesco Sauce

Almond Panna Cotta
Macerated Strawberries, Toasted Almonds, Mint, Strawberry-Yuzu Purée
Chocolate Hazelnut Sandwiches
Toasted Hazelnuts, Fresh Raspberries, Frangelico Syrup

[1]Though Lee Klein does some unnecessary mathematical gyrations to conclude that a $35 dinner is actually a $50 dinner once you factor in tax, tip and a beverage, which is actually $100 per couple, and dagnabit, for $100 everyone is entitled to be treated like royalty, with champagne flowing and buckets of caviar. (And that's after-tax dollars you're paying for that meal with! When you factor in what you have to earn to buy that meal, it's probably really a $150 dinner!)

[2]One small point of disagreement: MRPR's suggestion that restaurants should offer their signature dishes on Miami Spice menus, even if it means operating at a loss, is certainly diner-friendly but not exactly realistic. Restaurants, crazy as it sounds, need to make money to do things like buy more food, pay the rent, compensate their staff, and wash out Lee Klein's caviar buckets. It's not exactly a winning proposition to forgo profits on your sales in your slowest months; rather, it's a variant on the classic "We're losing money on every sale but we'll make it up in volume!" Sure, you'll generate some great word of mouth, but you won't be open in the fall to take advantage of it. I'm perfectly fine with a restaurant watching its food costs for its Spice menu, and not necessarily offering "signature dishes," so long as it's putting out interesting food. One more thing: someone already made the "Sporty Spice" joke. Also, Posh Spice, Scary Spice, Old Spice, and Pickling Spice.

[3]Rules are made to be broken. Especially where the underutilized salsify is involved.


  1. Restaurateurs should either participate, ensuring their chefs and staff are properly motivated, or not. The $35 is not the only issue, it is being made to feel like a freeloader when you ask for the menu and receiving sub par service and food.

    However, as we know, many of these restaurants would treat you poorly even if you spent $350 per person.

  2. I should've known that you'd beat me (by a year) to the Sporty Spice joke. Your knowledge of the Spice Girls is vast. As for our point of disagreement regarding "loss leaders," I definitely appreciate your position and recognize that mine is not "chef/owner-friendly." But I do think a few of the Spice participants this year are giving more than $35 worth of grub, at least according to Lee Klein's ongoing series of deals or no-deals.

  3. Confession: I had to Google the Spice Girls to get their names. I could have sworn there was a Skanky Spice, but apparently not.

  4. that's most of them. I think the redhead was supposedly particularly skanky.

  5. Miami spice kick off was terrible!! Very, very disorganized. By 8:30pm most of the Restaurant stands were without samples and had shut down This was a joke !! For the $35.00 that they charge it should have been better organized. The only stands open were the bars of course!! Very expensive a bottle of water $4.00, and the bottle of beer $9.00. We will never ever go again. The little samples they
    gave horrible made me feel as if you were begging for food. Should have gone to McDonald’s.

  6. Frod, The Forge week one menu is up and they hit the Frod trifecta

  7. I wish to answer to anonymous said...
    Miami spice kick off was terrible
    Yes he was the organisation say to do food for 800 peoples and they sale tickets for 2500 peoples already some problem here with food.