Sunday, August 20, 2006

Miami Spice in South Beach

Lately, I feel like I am in perpetual motion. The week days are a blur of working, cooking, blogging, thinking about cooking and blogging, going to the gym and trying to spend a half hour relaxing with a brilliant novel and a cup of fennel tea before bed. I feel like a whirling dervish, except that this all this frenzied activity is not getting me even vaguely closer to spiritual enlightenment. I do have fun though, and all the great food we cook and eat is totally worth the effort.

I live for the weekends. The trick is to get out and do something on Friday night so that by 10 or 11pm, you kind of forget that you were ever at work that day. Even though a lot of our weekend time is reserved for fun and relaxation, there are still plenty of errands to run, laundry to do, a condo to clean and the inevitable sink full of dishes waiting for us on Sunday morning. The most effective way we’ve found to abandon our list of chores and achieve supreme relaxation is to get out of town. So this past Friday, we threw our bags and beach chairs in the car, and 45 minutes later we were in South Beach having a beer at our hotel’s bar looking out on Ocean Drive.

It is awfully convenient to live so close to one of the most scenic, not to mention hedonistic, vacation destinations in America. And I didn't have to surrender any gels, lotions or duty-free alcohol in order to get there! Better yet, August and September are when Miami Spice is held. During those two months, loads of participating restaurants offer an abbreviated 3 course dinner menu for $30.06. If you live in a city where they do this type of thing, be sure to take advantage. You might discover some new favorites.

Mike and I ate at two of the swanky, glamour-pie South Beach restaurants and got a good deal on some beautiful meals. I would not have made an effort to visit these places without the Miami Spice promotion, although they have great reputations. Sometimes South Beach is more about the "scene" than the quality of the food, and I hate to pay a lot and be disappointed. Happily, we did not encounter this problem at Wish and Afterglo. If you are doing your own South Beach weekend, I highly recommend Wish for creative, perfectly prepared food, flawless service and an incredibly romantic, twinkling garden setting that is quintessential South Beach. There are a few candlelit food shots below, but first, check out Ocean Drive:

You get a little of the art deco feel in this shot.

This is Gianni Versace's old house. He was killed while standing by the front door. There are always tourists taking pictures of it, like this kid (and me!).

This is Mike and I at Wish at the beginning of the evening.

We became less photogenic after a few more like this.

The potato latke with fried oyster mushrooms and cilantro.

The rice paper wraps for the barbecue shrimp summer rolls were fresh and supple.

My duck confit shredded with the slightest touch of a fork into melt-in-the-mouth, subtly salted, ribbons of meat. It was served on a pool of strawberry gazpacho. The goat cheese fritters were so airy and creamy; they rivaled the duck for best taste and texture. I thought the cool gazpacho and the ethereal goat cheese were odd pairings for the duck, but each component was so wonderful that I did not care.

Mike's entree was octopus-stuffed squid with a slightly sweet tomato sauce and a squid ring salad. The desserts were impressive, though I couldn't detect every ingredient listed on the menu in my ricotta and goat cheese fritters. The fried ricotta took on a texture that reminded me of cornmeal, but the blue cheese ice cream was not as boldly-flavored as I would have liked. Mike's chocolate almond cake with rum-soaked bing cherries was well done.

The next night we tried Afterglo, whose website claims that the restaurant is "pioneering a new culinary style trademarked as 'beauty cuisine'." The meat is grass fed, the vegetables are organic and everything has been designed to "regenerate cells, increase brainpower, help digestion and promote radiant beauty. "

I don't know if this tuna tartare is what gave Mike's skin that dewy glow, but it was very fresh and tasty. Even the soy sauce at afterglo surpassed what we've had at nice Japanese restaurants in its delicate flavor and smooth texture.

Mike had freshly caught grouper topped with a salsa of crisp cucumber slivers and juicy tomatoes, all on a bed of sauteed baby spinach. My pistachio and pinenut crusted lamb chops were absolutely the best lamb dish I have ever had. The crisp, nutty edges provided a bit of char to contrast with the tender, deep pink center of each large chop. The meat was redolent with grassy perfume that was just slightly gamey. If the lamb had not been so divine, the fluffy layer of buttery quinoa beneath it would have been my favorite thing at afterglo.

I had to include this picture of my "flowering" jasmine green tea. It starts out as a dried pod, then "blooms" as it brews. Afterglo has a selection of about 8 of these exotic artisan teas. I would happily eat at afterglo again to sample more of their creative, healthy menu. Any high end restaurant that serves quinoa gets plenty of brownie points with me. And did I mention the lamb... since I don't have a picture, I'm telling you once more how succulent it was.

It certainly sounds we did little else but eat in South Beach, but we also swam in the ocean, people watched at News Cafe and hung out on Lincoln Road. I had my favorite seaweed salad at Sushi Samba Dromo (Brazilian-Japanese fusion really is a good idea!), and sipped a Grape-Champagne Martini at Cafeteria, our favorite late-night bar. There are so many great little bars and cafes, casual ethnic eateries and pizzerias, that I really do think there's something for everyone. And as far as getaways go, South Beach is about as far as you can get from the usual weekend routine. As I write this, the work week is getting into full swing and I can feel my little dervish starting to spin again, but this time she's got the delicious memories of duck confit and a warm, blue ocean dancing in her head.


AnnieKNodes said...

Looks like a great getaway! I'm glad I'm not the only one obsessing about my food blog.

Fennel tea sounds really delightful. I'll have to look for some.

christine said...

I sounds like you had a relaxing and gustatory vacation! I really enjoyed your restaurant and food descriptions. Yum!

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