Thursday, August 1, 2013

Spiceonomics - Navigating Miami Spice, 2013 Edition

With August upon us, it's that time once again: Miami Spice. Now in its twelfth year, Miami Spice remains something of a culinary version of Russian Roulette: you might have a very good meal that's a great value at a restaurant that's excited to offer it to you; or you might have a mediocre meal that's not very different from the restaurant's regular prices, served by a resentful and begrudging waitstaff who are not impressed by your 15% tip on a $33 per person tab.

How to tell the difference? Over the years I've repeatedly proposed and refined three basic rules by which to approach Miami Spice:

(1) there's no reason to bother with restaurants where the Spice menu is not a meaningful discount from their regular prices (though, by all means, 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 that a restaurant doesn't have its heart in it; and

(3) look for food that actually interests you. If a restaurant doesn't excite you the other ten months of the year, it is unlikely there's going to be something really inspiring on their Spice menu.

To those three basic rules I would add a couple corollaries:

(a) Tip on the value of the meal, not the price. If you're dining at a place where the Spice menu is a meaningful discount from their usual going rate - i.e., if your $33 meal would normally cost $50 - be a sport and drop a $10 tip. The servers are working just as hard as ever.

(b) There's no rule that everyone at the table has to order the Spice menu. (Well, except at some places like Pubbelly where they assume everyone is sharing and offer multiple small plates) Consider it an opportunity to do a little splurging and dollar-cost averaging at the same time, so you can eat at a high-end place without completely breaking the bank.

Last year, rather than just say "Here are 10 places to go for Miami Spice," I plotted out a "Week of Spice" - seven actual lunches and dinners that I'd want to eat from the universe of Miami Spice menus. Even though I didn't actually eat all those meals, I still like the format, and will do it again here. Once again, these are not the complete menus of any of the places listed, only the things I thought sounded most interesting. And once again, I've not actually tried any of these menus yet, so caveat emptor, etc. (though for the most part these are restaurants I know and would generally trust).

(continued ...)

Like last year, Miami Spice now has two categories of restaurants: "Fine Dining," with $19 lunch and $33 dinner menus; and "Luxury Dining," with $23 lunch and $39 dinner menus. And after a year, I still can't remember off the top of my head whether "Fine" is better than "Luxury." Nonetheless, I've chosen a "Luxury" and "Fine" dining option for each day of the week, as well as a Lunch option.

As a side note: the new format of the Miami Spice website is an absolute abomination, just horrible for customers and restaurant owners alike. Most egregious: there is no way whatsoever - even clicking the link that says "View All Participating Restaurants" - to actually, well, view all participating restaurants. Instead, you are forced to scroll through the list, five fifteen (no, it's back to) five at a time. So if you want to find out all of the 197 restaurants that are participating, you will have to click, at a minimum, thirteen forty times. If you actually want to see the menu of any of those places, you'll have to click at least twice more for each one - once to click on "View Details," then another time to view the menu. Oh, and also - it doesn't appear to save "Favorites" between browser sessions. Other than that, it's just great.

It is hard to imagine a system that is more user-unfriendly while simultaneously obscuring the visibility of all the participating restaurants (each of whom has paid thousands of dollars to participate in the program).

UPDATE - Looks like they have tweaked the website, which now has a complete list of all participating Miami Spice restaurants. Bravo.

All the more reason to have a guide (be sure to go all the way through, as some of the best are saved for the end):



Lunch - Restaurant Michael Schwartz (South Beach)

Grass Fed Beef Carpaccio
Parmesan, preserved lemon, capers, arugula

Harvey Cedars Fish Stew
Saffron aioli, parsley croutons

Corn and Blueberry Bread Pudding
Buttermilk gelato, candied pistachios

Dinner - Bazaar (South Beach)

Keuh Pai Ti
Singapore's favorite street food, shrimp, peanuts, chili sauce

Mediterranean Mussels
Olive oil, sherry vinegar, pimento

Embutidos Platter
Served with Catalan-style toasted bread, tomato Ibérico ham, Ibérico loin, chorizo

Sautéed Shrimp
Garlic, parsley, lemon, guindilla pepper

Pan con Chocolate
Chocolate cream, cocoa crumble, brioche ice cream, olive oil

(Note: Bazaar offers a choice of one "starter" and three tapas items per person, so two people could have double the variety, with several additional items included in the Spice menu)

$33 Dinner - Tongue & Cheek (South Beach)

Cauliflower Panna Cotta
With pickled vegetables

Florida Grouper "Cheeks and Chips"
With malt vinegar

Cracker Jack Milkshake
Macadamia nut and caramel, chocolate brownies


Lunch - DB Bistro Moderne (Downtown)

Squab Ballotine en Croute
Little gem lettuce, shaved radish, roasted shallot vinaigrette, pistachio oil

Lobster and Shrimp Roll
Bibb lettuce, crudités, tarragon dressing, pickled red onions, dirty old bay chips

Chocolate Cremoso
Hazelnut biscuit, passion fruit, gianduja ice cream

Dinner -The Dutch (South Beach)

Grilled Octopus
Local cranberry beans, tomato, black olive

Crispy Duck Confit
Roasted almond spaetzle,foie jus, pickled cherries

Warm Pecan Pie
Cinnamon anglaise, vanilla chantilly

$33 Dinner - Pubbelly (South Beach)
(no menu posted, though choices are listed in this Short Order post)

Short rib, porcini, mint aioli

Duck and Pumpkin Dumplings
Orange, almonds, cinnamon, soy brown butter

Pastrami and Sauerkraut Dumplings
White cabbage, soy, 1000 island, caraway powder

Pork Belly
Kabocha squash, butterscotch miso, corn powder

Pork Cheeks
Ricotta gnudi, crispy ham, green peas, wasabi butter

Green Beans
Tamari soy, mustard, almonds

(Note: I believe, though it's not clear, that Pubbelly's Spice offerings are intended to be split by two people; otherwise that's an awful lot of pork).


Lunch - Toscana Divino (Brickell)

Parmigiana al Cavolfiore
Roasted and purée of cauliflower, pancetta, pine nuts, raisins, parmigiano reggiano, bottarga, fennel pollen

Maccheroni Livornese
Maccheroni pasta, crab, tomato, raisins, rosemary and parsley

Panna Cotta di Mandorle e Miele Bio Thun
Organic honey almond panna cotta

Dinner - Michy's (Biscayne Corridor)
(menu not on the website, but available here)

Grilled Octopus
Chickpea stew, pickled vegetable salad

Roasted Wild Salmon
Romesco, ragout of summer vegetables, salmon demi

Michy's Bread Pudding
Raisins, cognac, chocolate chunks, orange rind, vanilla ice cream

(Note: go Wednesday to Michy's and you can choose between the Spice menu and the $39 "bottomless" fried chicken night!)

$33 Dinner - Blue Collar (Biscayne Corridor)
(menu not on Spice website but available here)

Marsha's Salad
Romaine, bacon, parm, radish, cuke, carrot, grain mustard

Braised Long Island 1/2 Duck
Lo mein, tart cherries, green curry

Key Lime Pie
Regular whipped cream

(Note: yes, I'm sort of breaking one of my own rules by suggesting Blue Collar, where you can probably routinely eat for about $33 a person, but Chef Danny Serfer is breaking out some off-menu things like the duck here, and will be changing it up every week, which gets bonus points in my book.)


Lunch - Graziano's (West Miami, Coral Gables or Brickell)

Empanada de Morcilla

Sirloin Steak Tagliata
Baked sweet potatoes

Bread Pudding
Orange chantilly, roasted almonds

Dinner - Scarpetta (Miami Beach)

Pancetta Spiced Mackerel
Fennel and citrus

Agnolotti dal Plin
Lamb and minted bread crumbs

Amedei Chocolate Cake
Toasted almond gelato and salted caramel sauce

(Note: Value-hunters may resist ordering a pasta for a main course on a Spice menu, but keep in mind Scarpetta is a place where spaghetti with tomato sauce regularly goes for $24.)

$33 Dinner - Salumeria 104 (Midtown)

Piccola Selezione
Choice of prosciutto and two salumi

Coniglio in Tecia
Braised Florida rabbit with artichokes and Taggiasca olives

Dessert Sampler Plate
Tiramesu, salame alcioccolato, biscotti


Lunch - Makoto (Bal Harbour)

Spicy Tuna Crispy Rice, Serrano Chiles

Seabass Robata, Ume Miso, Crispy Kale

Seasonal Parfait

Dinner - J&G Grill (Bal Harbour)

Fresh Calamari filled with Lamb Sausage
Smoked tomato-caper emulsion, squid ink

Poussin, Pine Nut Foie Gras Jus
Truffle fava bean succotash, chanterelles, house made raisins

Lemon Cremeux
Microwave sponge, greek yogurt, green apple sorbet

(Note: Poussin? Isn't that chicken? Well, yes. But Chef Brad Kilgore, who recently took over the kitchen at J&G Grill, made one of the best birds I've ever eaten at this charity dinner earlier this year.)

$33 Dinner - Macchialina (South Beach)

Swordfish Carpaccio
Broccolini al Cesare
Creamy Polenta with Spicy Sausage

Slow Roasted Porchetta

Vanlla Panna Cotta
With balsamic strawberries


Lunch - Edge Steak and Bar (Brickell)

Corvina Chowder
Slow cooked tomatoes, saffron, parsley and chilli

Lamb Flank Sandwich
Baby cucumbers, pickled pepper chutney, yoghurt, wholewheat foccacia

Tropical Tres Leches
Pressed pineapple, horchata ice cream, pilloncito

(Note: Bonus points - Edge is a "Fine Dining" venue so that lunch will only set you back $19. Unexpectedly given its location in the Four Seasons, Edge is one of the best values in town.)

Dinner - Bourbon Steak (Aventura)

Sweet Corn Risotto
Brown butter, chanterelle mushrooms, iberico ham broth

6 Oz. Moroccan Spiced Prime NY Strip
Roasted cauliflower, capers

Bourbon Peach Salad and Profiteroles
Vanilla ice cream, caramel

$33 Dinner - Mercadito (Midtown)

Pepino el Pyu Cocktail

Traditional and Toreado Guacamoles

Ceviche Mixto
Octopus, shrimp, mahi mahi, tomatillo pico de gallo, passion fruit-serrano broth

Tacos Estilo Baja, Carnitas de Puerco, and al Pastor

Elote Mexicano
Mexican style corn on the cob

Flan de Cajeta
Goat's milk caramel custard, orange, toasted almonds

(Note: Mercadito's Spice menu includes 1 cocktail, 2 guacamoles, 1 ceviche or botana, 3 tacos, 1 side, and 1 dessert - and aside from sounding like a great deal, represents a welcome deviation from their normal, tyrannical "you must order 4 of the same type of tacos" policy.)


Lunch - Hakkasan (Miami Beach)

Dim Sum Combo
Steamed mini char siew bun, crystal lotus shrimp dumpling and spinach beef shiu mai

Crispy Seabass in Orange Sauce

Stir-Fried Shanghai Bak Choi with Ginger Oil

Spicy sesame bean curd skin cheung fun

Mango Custard
Carbonated lemongrass foam, freeze-dried mango, coconut sorbet

Dinner - PB Steak (South Beach)

Steak Tartare Sliders
Truffle green mustard, parmesan

Pork Cheek Ravioli
Green peas, beets, hazelnuts

Buffalo Style Sweetbreads
Blue cheese dip, pickled celery

Brooklyn Sirloin Steak 5oz. NY Strip

Lamb Chops
Green pea purée, mint tzatziki, cucumber

House Fries

Chef's Daily Selection Dessert

(Note: PB Steak's dinner menu includes a choice of 3 starters, 2 entrées, and a side dish, presumably to be split among 2 people.)

$33 Dinner - The Federal (Biscayne Corridor)
(menu at the Spice website is wonky; look here instead)

Pig Wing
Blue cheese mousse, pickled carrots and celery

Crawfish 'n' Grits
Andouille sausage, corn, creamy cheesy grits

Pickled apples and onions, molasses vinaigrette

Good luck, and be careful out there!


  1. I had dinner at The Federal on Friday night and they did require it to be everyone at the table or none at all.

    We had four people so were we able to order one of everything for each course though and share it all.
    Was disappointed we were only served 2 deserts to share.

    Everything was very good, as always, but serving one scallop as an appetizer was pathetic.

  2. I was thinking the same thing when I tried to navigate that website. It is terrible.

  3. Pubbelly's Miami Spice menu was impressive. Tons of food and great options for each category on the menu. You have to order the same dishes for every person at the table (or for every 2 people not sure) because you do indeed share them. We ordered the croquetas, tomato tofu salad with a crazy sesame oil powder (surprisingly simple and delicious), pork belly, duck ravioli, brussels sprouts, and some chunky monkey sounding name for dessert.

  4. Miami Spice menu was impressive. Tons of food and great options for each category on the menu. So yummy...

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