Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Miami Miscellany

I’ll be blunt right up front. If I didn’t have family in the Miami area, it’s a place I’d rarely if ever choose to visit. Because my brother-in-law Erik lives there though, fate – mixed with a dash of brotherly love – takes me there every year or two. Erik’s generally an eat-to-live kind of guy so it’s rare that our visits revolve much around food and wine destinations. On this trip, though, I decided to make the best of things by seeking out some good, basic chow in the context of Miami’s multi-cultural hodge-podge.

In South Beach proper, we stumbled upon a couple of decent grazing stops, places I would pass by for dinner but which offer some pretty solid cheap eats for lunch or snacks. At Sushi Rock (1351 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach) we found well cut and impeccably fresh nigiri and the most elaborately presented (and tasty) lobster tempura roll I’ve ever seen. A few blocks away, Lime (1439 Alton Road, Miami Beach), while hardly a serious Mexican restaurant, is a worthwhile stop for fish tacos, fajitas and other good sultry afternoon munchies. The food’s a bit bland on its own but can be doctored to order at Lime’s condiment counter with a selection of about 20 different salsas and 50-odd hot sauces.

With my crew, any trip to Miami requires at least one jaunt into the Florida Keys where The Fish House (102401 Overseas Highway, Mile Marker 102.4, Key Largo) is our traditional lunch stop. A typical Keys spot – half local hang-out, half tourist trap – The Fish House does a good job with no-nonsense preparations of local seafood. Their conch chowder is a must – chunky, spicy and full of toothsome nuggets of, you guessed it, conch. Likewise, their fish sandwiches, grilled, fried or blackened versions of the day’s catch, are de rigueur. Taking the back way out of the Keys afforded us the opportunity to stop at a local crabber’s stall, just short of the Card Sound Bridge, and pick up a couple of pounds of stone crab claws. Fresh, sweet and refreshingly briny, they were the perfect pick-me-up after the drive north and saved us the lines, hubbub and prices at Joe’s Stone Crab, a Miami tourist institution we chose to avoid.

Saturday Night's Live at Tap Tap
Back to South Beach on a Saturday night, the one stop of our basic eating adventures that could stand on its own as a dining destination was Tap Tap (819 Fifth Street, Miami Beach). Aided by live music in the back room, it also happened to be, by far, the most fun of our Miami meals, though we had to push to make it so. The hostess had initially tried to seat us in the empty front room. Tap Tap serves traditional Haitian food in a colorful, multi-room set-up far enough off of the main SoBe drag to avoid the plastic club set but close enough to ensure a good vibe. Their simple beer offerings and non-existent wine list are more than compensated for by good use of Haiti’s own Rhum Barbancourt. Barbancourt 3-Star (with an optional upgrade to 5-Star) forms the base of their house cocktails. The Natif – rum, fresh lime juice and a slight shake of cane sugar, served on crushed ice – made for an exceedingly refreshing drink, well suited as an aperitif and a better match with food than their equally tasty Mojito. Both the pumpkin soup and stewed goat (served with fried plantains and a wickedly hot and vinegary cabbage slaw) were rustic, soulful and completely satisfying.

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