Showing posts with label Miami Spice. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Miami Spice. Show all posts

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).

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Friday, August 24, 2012

(Miami) Spice of the Week

I've missed the first few weeks of Miami Spice season while on vacation, and frankly, after two weeks in Hawaii, could use some bargain dining. We go over this every year here at FFT, so here's the short-form version of my "Spice Rules":

(1) there's no reason to bother with restaurants where the Spice 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 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.

The Miami Spice format is a bit different this year. There are now two categories: "Luxury Dining" and "Fine Dining," with different price points: $23 lunch / $39 dinner for "Luxury Dining," and $19 lunch / $33 dinner for "Fine Dining." And if you can remember which is which five minutes from now, you're smarter than me.[1]

I decided to do something a little different myself this year as well. I set out to see if I could come up with a "Week of Spice" - a Spice lunch and dinner for each day of the week that satisfied my "Spice Rules." Then for the real bargain hunters, I've added for each day an alternate dinner choice in the lower-priced "Fine Dining" category.[2]

Not that I would actually do this: I sure don't need to eat two desserts every day, nor do I really need to spend $60+ on restaurant meals every day. But it was a good exercise in picking what look like the seven best lunch and dinner menus being offered, including on Fridays and Saturdays (when some places have elected not to offer their Spice menus).

This is not a complete listing of each restaurant's menu (and menus change regularly anyway), just my personal picks of what sounds best. These are not listed in order of preference, and indeed some of the best are saved for the end, so I'd encourage you to wade your way all the way through.

(For an alternative take on this year's Spice menus, don't miss Miami Rankings' "2012 Miami Spice Awards")

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Saturday, July 30, 2011

Spiceonomics v.2011 (Part II)

With Miami Spice season starting on Monday, we've likewise begun our annual tradition here of looking for the most interesting, best value Spice menus local restaurants have put together. A few days ago we did South Beach. Here we'll do the Mainland.

Perhaps the most interesting Spice news to some is that Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, probably the most popular restaurant in town, is back on the list. I'd initially thought Michael's had never done Miami Spice. Chef Schwartz thought they'd skipped the past two years. Turns out it was actually three years, even though they did a Spice-like summer special in 2008 despite not being an official participant. Anyway, they're back, and there will be much rejoicing.

Remember the rules: don't seek out a Spice menu at a restaurant where a regular dinner costs the same thing; and don't settle for boring food. And again, I'm not listing complete menus here, just those choices that sounded most interesting to me (click the name of each restaurant and you'll go through to their Spice page, including the full menu).

There are a couple restaurants that I would have expected to make this list but didn't: DB Bistro Moderne, and Palme d'Or. Both are exactly the kind of places that usually make great Spice values: high end, high class restaurants where it's normally impossible to get out for anywhere close to $50 per person. But both seem to have really skimped on their Spice menus. DB Bistro's appetizers - soupe du jour, mixed green salad, or ceviche - are like a culinary Ambien. And of the entrées, three out of four aren't even what many people would consider a true dinner main course: pasta (spinach farfalle with ricotta and pancetta), salad (frisée aux lardons with duck ragout), or a tarte flambée (basically an Alsatian pizza).

Palme d'Or may not be quite so lacking in value, but doesn't exactly seem drawn up to inspire much interest either: first course options are a "mix beet root carpaccio" with endive and goat cheese, or a  "braised beef terrine;" mains are lemon sole filet with leek confit or beef tenderloin with risotto. Very pedestrian, and not a very well-designed menu (if you're only offering two choices each for appetizers and entrées, does it make sense for one of the options in each category to be a beef dish?).

I have no doubt the food at both of these places will be well-executed, but neither is putting out a very compelling Miami Spice menu. One other menu I found amusing: Loulou Le Petit Bistro. They're pretty vague about what they're serving: appetizers are "soup of the day or appetizer of the day or organic mix green salad," entrées are an equally vague "catch of the day or special of the day or vegan lasagna." They've actually got a lot more to say about what they're not serving than what they are serving: "Loulou 'Le petit Bistro' will not serve Chilean Sea Bass, Shark, North Atlantic Swordfish, Marlin Sail Fish or Wild Bluefin Tuna in support of the Oceania Project NRDC and Seaweb's educational effort to speed the recovery of these endangered and threatened species." So maybe you can figure out what's on the Spice menu by process of elimination.

Without further ado...

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Spiceonomics v.2011 (Part I)

It's that season again: Miami Spice season. For the next two months, diners go hunting for $35 dinner bargains, restaurateurs squeeze every bit of fat out of their food costs, line cooks go quietly crazy cranking out the same three items over and over again, and servers look forward to the generosity of their penny-pinching customers. Ah, what fun.

We've been over this before here, but to quickly reiterate my 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.

As I've done the past couple years, here is a list of some places that look like they may be worth a visit based on the menus they've posted. Again, I'm not necessarily even listing all the choices on their menus, just putting together a meal I might eat. Note as well that I've not tried any of these yet, menus may change, there's still plenty of places you can get a good meal for $35 that don't do Miami Spice, and you might just have a more satisfying meal if you simply go to a nice restaurant and order what you like. Having said that, let's start with South Beach (the restaurant name links to their Miami Spice page so you can gander each restaurant's entire Spice menu if you wish):

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Spiceonomics 101

As mentioned peripherally in my last post, it's become increasingly common practice to kvatch about Miami Spice season, and to bemoan the absence of "values" among the $35, 3-course offerings. I'll be the last person to defend the ubiquity of the "Spice Trifecta" (farmed Atlantic salmon, chicken breast, churrasco); but I'm equally underwhelmed by complaints about restaurants not offering their "signature dishes" as part of the Spice menu, or the suggestion that restaurants are generally raking in money through their Spice deals.

As to the latter issue, it's one that Lee Klein of New Times seems to be pushing in his latest Spice post, "Five Annoying Things About Today's Herald Story on Miami Spice." Among other things, he points out that Florida restaurant sales totaled $27 billion last year, a statistic that prompts him to ask: "You kinda have to feel sorry for this industry, right?" It goes from there to a brief rant that restaurants whose non-Spice price points average higher than the typical Spice bill have an "effete, elitist, could-care-less-about-locals" attitude.

This faux populism is really rather unbecoming, particularly from someone who just recently praised a restaurant with $17-23 appetizers and $40-50 entrées.[1] The implicit suggestion that restaurants are getting rich off your precious $35 seems an unlikely premise, particularly for restaurants where the average bill is usually higher.

Let's do some math. I've never run a restaurant, so my assumptions here do not come from experience but rather from some haphazardly researched educated guesses based on reported industry averages. Nonetheless, the information I came across was reasonably consistent. Let's assume that at the typical full-service restaurant, food cost averages around 30%. That means that if the average bill per person is $50, the restaurant's food cost for those items is around $15.[2] So where does the other $35 go? Mostly payroll, then rent, utilities, insurance, maintenance, marketing, financing costs, tattoos, recreational drugs, and ideally, some profit. With a little more guesswork, it's reasonable to hypothesize that the average profit margin (pre-tax) is around 5%. So out of that $50 bill, the restaurant is actually making ... $2.50. And that's for a successful, profitable restaurant.[3]

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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.

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Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Old Spice

Miami Spice I know it feels like it was only yesterday we were talking about "Spring Spice," but the seemingly never-ending seasonal parade of "Spice" specials has finally come full-circle to the original summer Miami Spice program, with a multitude of restaurants committing to the 3-course, $22 lunch, $35 dinner regime for August and September.

I gave my fairly obvious Miami Spice "strategy" in the earlier post - "look for interesting food, and look for places where the Spice menu actually offers a meaningful discount off the regular menu prices." Implicit in that strategy is "avoid the ubiquitous Spice trifecta of farmed salmon, skirt steak and chicken paillard if at all possible." And, as always, keep in mind that restaurants frequently change their Spice menus, so don't kvatch because you saw something different online. This is important if for no other reason than the sanity of the line cooks who grow weary of cranking out the same dish over and over and over again. So without further ado, here's what looks interesting to me:

Area 31 - great idea of a "sustainable dinner" with 4 (!) courses - key west pink shrimp; ricotta gnocchi with tuna bolognese; striped bass with English peas, watermelon radish and long pepper; and key lime curd.

Asia de Cuba - similar to sister restaurant China Grill, I like that they offer several different choices and have adapted the "Spice" concept to their family style servings. Seems a better deal if you go with more than 2 people.

BLT Steak - assuming they're still serving the warm chicken liver mousse and popovers with the Spice menu, worth it for that reason alone.

Bourbon Steak - duck rillette, "American Kobe" Rib Eye ($10 upcharge), and doughnut tiramisu? Sure, even if I'm a little sore that the upcharge seems a bit contrary to the spirit of the thing.

Eos - lunch only, but bonus points for playing the bone marrow card as an accompaniment to a grilled flatiron steak; plus unlimited glasses of Boutari wine (not conducive to afternoon productivity).

Gotham Steak - mostly just because I haven't tried it yet, but there are probably worse meals to be had than a corn soup with lump crab, braised veal cheeks, and cherry clafoutis.

Hakkasan - again mostly because I haven't been there yet, though entree choices of stir-fry black pepper beef or steamed red snapper don't exactly inspire. Early reports suggest they're not exactly encouraging people to take advantage of the Spice menu at the restaurant either.

Michy's - pork belly, nectarines, basil & star anise; grilled short rib w green tomato slaw and gremolata; and Michy's bread pudding? Yes please. A couple other interesting items I've not seen from her before, too - a chilled beet soup (borscht is coming back, baby!) and a yellowtail braised in Malaysian curry with mango, sticky rice and hearts of palm stew.

Neomi's - "taco truck" app - kogi tacos with korean bbq pork & kimchee, or fish tacos with yellowtail and the customary accoutrements; and I've tasted a preview of the "taste of lobster" entree - it is definitely worth tasting.

Palme d'Or - wild mushroom cassolette with creamy spinach & poached quail egg sure sounds good; so does Maine lobster bisque with lobster ravioli & saffron cappucino; braised short ribs with potato gratin, baby carrot & black truffle sauce sounds a bit heavy for summer, but somehow so much more appealing than a grilled striped bass filet.

Petite Rouge - since this place is already pretty reasonably priced, this may breach my "don't do Spice if it's not a bargain" rule, but nonetheless, you can't go wrong with escargot, bavette a la bordelaise, and tarte tatin.

Restaurant at the Setai - always intriguing-sounding food and the Spice is a real bargain compared to their regular menu prices; though the Spice menu they've posted for the summer looks awfully similar to the menu they did in the Spring.

Scarpetta - will I feel like less of a shithead for ordering a $23 bowl of spaghetti pomodoro if it's part of a $35 3-course menu?

How are your Spice experiences this summer?

[OK, I'm kicking myself for not immediately thinking of the opportunity to link to this]

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Spice for all Seasons

Spring Spice First there was just Miami Spice, a month-long summer deal where restaurants, through August, offered $23 3-course lunches and $36 3-course dinners. As the economy tanked, the Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau extended the original "Summer" Spice, then introduced a "Winter" Spice in January, and now is unveiling "Spring" Spice for the month of May. Coming soon - Posh Spice, Sporty Spice, Scary Spice, Old Spice, and Pickling Spice. With the return of Miami Spice come all the familiar complaints - the food is boring, the service is lousy, and why doesn't every restaurant just lower all their prices (or, stated another way, why aren't restaurants offering their best dishes at these prices)? Even New Times is joining in the kvatching.

As for the last of these gripes, it just seems silly to me. The concept here is not a particularly novel one. It's the same idea as the "prix fixe" meal that is prevalent throughout Europe - a set menu, often at a more affordable price, which as a consequence generally does not call for some of the more expensive items that may be found elsewhere on the a la carte menu. I don't see why offering a prix fixe option means a restaurant should be offering similar discounts across its whole menu. Just don't expect lobster and foie gras at $36 (though, interestingly, they can be found on some menus).

The other points are more on target but certainly nothing new. The service issue is a common one - management may think it's great to fill up seats even if it's at a lower price point, but waitstaff don't exactly relish the diminished tab on which their tip is calculated. And the food? At some places it's clear they're just going through the motions and making little effort to offer anything other than the cheapest food they can put on the plate. It's usually pretty easy to tell. Their menus almost invariably contain the uninspired trifecta of Atlantic salmon, chicken paillard, and skirt steak - lowest common denominator and lowest food cost. But there are other places that still try to showcase the strengths of their restaurants.

I've plowed through the Spring Spice menus that are available online, and found several meals I'd be happy to try. A couple notes: (1) these are not the full menus from these restuarants, just the items that sounded interesting to me; (2) some of these restaurants I've not tried or not tried any time recently, so these are not recommendations; and (3) the strategy, as always - look for interesting food, and look for places where the Spice menu actually offers a meaningful discount off the regular menu prices (keeping in mind that many places change their menu regularly). So without further ado, here is my potential Spring Spice hit list:

Bourbon Steak
Tasmanian Sea Trout Crudo
Shaved Baby Fennel, Spring Onions, Capers, Dill
Organic Chicken Breast
Crispy Thigh Confit, Truffled Macaroni & Cheese, Caramelized Onion Jus
New York Steak Pavé
Fingerling Potatoes, Cipollini Onions, Foie Gras Emulsion
($10 supplement)[1]
Macallan 18 Year Butterscotch Pudding

Capital Grill
Seafood Bouillabaisse with Corn Cream Amuse (!)
Caesar Salad
10oz. Porcini Crusted Delmonico
with Twelve Year Aged Balsamic
Seared Tenderloin with Butter Poached Lobster
10oz. Kona Crusted Sirloin
with Caramelized Shallot Butter Sauce
Crème Brulee

China Grill[2]
Tuna Oishi
Tuna, crabmeat, sushi rice & wasabi guacamole
Crackling Calamari Salad
lime miso dressing
Barbecued Salmon
Chinese mustard sauce & stir fried greens
Sweet Soy Marinated Skirt Steak
wok sauteed lo mein noodles & tempura shiitake mushrooms
Wasabi Mashed Potatoes
Chef's Selection of House Desserts

Boudin Croquettas
with Thyme-Creole Mustard Dipping Sauce
Louisiana Oyster and Tasso Stuffed Quail
with Wilted Baby Spinach and Emeril's Homemade Worcestershire
Bananas Foster Bread Pudding
with Brown Butter Bourbon Sauce

Asparagus Salad
Benton's smoked ham, mustard vinaigrette, roast peppers
White Gazpacho
jerez gel, Marcona almonds, Spanish olive oil
Truffle Crusted Prime Rib of Beef
potato gratin, roast radishes
Michy's bread pudding
chocolate, orange rind

peas & ham salad
spring greens, pea & herb emulsion, peanut oil, shaved jamon
truffle ravioli
asparagus ricotta puree, tips, egg mimosa
celery root chips, fava bean puree, saffron butter
'strawberry shortcake'
grilled olive oil cake, strawberries, chocolate balsamic sauce,
herb-infused whipped cream

Lobster Ceviche
whole small tail, fresh coconut milk, orange and lime juice,
thai chilies, red onions, chives and sage sorbet
Oysters Rodriguez
lightly fried, served over fufu and creamy
horseradish spinach, served w/ huacatay sauce
Mar y Tierra
NY Strip w/ smoked chocolate rub
served w/ lobster stuffed ancho chili relleño
Raspado de Pato
Hudson Valley duck breast served over crispy rice,
edamame, raisins, pine nuts w/ chayote and tomatillo salad
Lucuma Mousse
served over macadamia chocolate cookie crumbs, espresso & chocolate sauce

Pacific Time
seafood salad
turks and caicos conch, salmon toro, tobiko caviar, tuna,
roasted pineapple

salt & pepper skate
preserved lemon, green apple risotto
baked alaska key west
the classic with a key lime twist

Palme d'Or
Maine Lobster Bisque "My Way"
Lobster Ravioli & Saffron Capuccino
Seven-Hour Braised Beef Effilochée
Potato Mousseline, Organic Micro Greens, Truffle Vinaigrette
"L'accra" Chocolate Mousse Bar
Layered with Caramel Mousseux on a Chocolate Fondant Cake

Pascal's on Ponce
Creamy Maine Lobster Bisque
with Corn Flan and Tarragon
Braised Veal Shank
Creamy Polenta, Winter Vegetable Ragout, Braising Sauce
Bittersweet Chocolate Fondant
Vanilly Chantilly

Restaurant at the Setai
Soba Shiitake
Warm Mushroom Salad with Soba Noodles, Truffle Vinaigrette,
White Truffle Ice Cream
Lime and Chili Caramelized Pork Belly
Miso Braised Turnips, Kimchee and Roasted Peanuts
Gula Melaka
Peal Sago, Coconut Milk, Palm Sugar, Mango Sorbet

Crispy Pork Belly Salad
Avocado, Hearts of Palm, Cherry Tomato, Red Onion,
Citrus-Chile Vinaigrette

Pan Seared Local Catch
Roasted Tomato & Spinach Israeli Cous Cous Risotto, Aged Balsamic,
Lemon-Basil Emulsion

Coffee-Bittersweet Dark Chocolate Bread Pudding
Dried Cherry Caramel, Spiced Sweet Cream

Have you had any good (or bad) "Spring Spice" experiences yet?

[1]Is charging a supplement "cheating"?

[2]China Grill, with their family style servings, offers 2 apps, 1 entree, 1 side and dessert for parties of two, but adds additional entrees for parties of 3 or 4, so this only makes sense with a group of 3+. And yes, this looks suspiciously like the salmon/chicken/skirt steak red flag, but these are all regular menu items at least.

[3]Ola is taking an interesting approach and offering any 2 appetizers and any 2 entrees in a tasting size portion, apparently offering choices from the entire menu.

[4]Talula's menu is not listed on the Miami Spice website, but is on their own website.