Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Where the Boys Are

I've had a love/hate relationship with Miami since 1997 when I was employed there for one rocky year. I had an amazing time... some of the time. Day-to-day life was a trial. It took four hours to open a checking account. My cell phone worked at the intersections of Lincoln & Collins, and Alton & 63rd. There was no such thing as service. Wait, that's unfair. There was service alright: glacial. God help you if you intended a quick bite before a movie, or thought you could duck out at lunchtime and pick up the dry cleaning. But oh, the coral white beaches! The cerulean water of Biscayne Bay! The nightlife! To friends back home, I described the clubbing as "hot and cold running [heavily edited]." I was out six nights out of seven, stumbling into my bed around 4 or 5 in the morning and coaching masters rowing by 6:30AM. Oh, to be young again. By the time I left, exhausted, all I could say about Miami is that it's a great place to visit, but I wouldn't want to live there. Still, returning - even now - is a homecoming of sorts.
Like always, I stayed with old friends Gregg & Jimmy, two perfect hosts and great chums from back in the day. Jimmy has retired since my last stay, so he kept me on the golf course and in pool halls as much as possible, but I did manage a couple of workouts at the gym with Gregg to maintain my girlish figure. Neither Gregg nor Jim are slouches in the kitchen, but they do like to show off their town, and so we ate out several times during my visit. Of course we hit Kingdom for their phenomenal burgers. It's a ritual I adhere to, and as always, I stumbled walked away fat & happy, and one night, drunk off my ass after the owner spied my university shirt. All the men in his family had attended my institution, and in a show of solidarity, there was never an empty beer bottle in front of me for very long. I should have paced myself.
Biscayne Boulevard had another new dining entry for review, Balans. It's a London-based chain with three restaurants now in the U.S., all in the greater Miami area. They serve a sort of World Café mix of dishes, not at all cohesive, but all competently prepared. The dining space is very open and very chic in that Miami sort of way. Think CB2 with an Indonesian bent and more expensive materials. The best thing about the restaurant was the staff. A warm greeting and lighting fast seating by the hostess, and a confident, personable waiter who remembered drink orders and possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of sports, of all things. They could have served an old boot and I would have left impressed.
The food was tasty if not particularly memorable, the one stand out being the black bean soup. An interesting blend of mild and hot spices, smooth consistency with the liquid and beans cooked to perfection. I could have had that with a bit of melon on the side as a palate cleanser for a satisfying meal.
Balans, Biscayne
6789 Biscayne Boulevard
Miami, FL  33138
(305) 534 9191
Not everything was merely adequate this time around. One rainy day, we headed up to Aventura to see Inception (hated it!!!). Beforehand, we did our best imitation of Ladies Who Lunch at Café Bistro in Nordstrom. I know, who knew?!?!? Personal pizzas with thin crust. A turkey club with fresh herbs and whole turkey breast meat, not sliced processed crap. We should have eaten afterward to get the bad taste of that horrible movie out of our mouths.
Cafe Bistro at Nordstrom Aventura
Aventura Mall
19507 Biscayne Boulevard

Aventura, FL 33180
(305) 937-7267
On my last weekend, I convinced Gregg and Jim to head to South Beach to one of my all time favorite out door stands, La Sandwicherie. I discovered LS during my time as director of one of the rowing clubs in Miami. When I became the freshmen coach at one of the NYC universities, I would treat a few kids to lunch there daily during our winter training camps on Indian Creek. It was a hit with everyone with whom I ever shared it. The joint is about as wide as a broom closet and just a little longer than your average hallway, but the friendly French staff churns out the most amazing and delicious treats you'll ever eat. Pâté-filled baguettes, a Salade Niçoise authentic right down to the tiny bitter green olives. Their cornichons rival those found in little Provençale market stalls, and you'll want to savor the espresso coffee all afternoon. Bits of Spanish, French, German, Italian and even English make perfect eavesdropping entertainment as everyone stands or sits on barstools munching away on these marvelous creations. For me, no trip to Miami is ever complete without at least one stop at La Sandwicherie.
La Sandwicherie
229 14th Street
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(305) 532-8934
As luck would have it (or not), Mac's Club Deuce is happily located right across the street from La Sandwicherie. The Deuce Bar has been featured on Anthony Bourdain's travelogue "No Reservations", and made the cut in Playboy Magazine's 2010 Best Bars list. This is a no-nonsense dive bar at one of the major poseur intersections in the world, and if you wait long enough, just about every South Florida denizen will pass through its doors. There are the earnest daytime drinkers, political wonks, the Gay Mafia, leather-clad bikers, toothless old salts, addled tweekers, A-list pop stars. Every sub-group in human culture is democratically represented at some point during operating hours. When I was a local, I could be found there dependably at least three nights a week, pre-gaming before heading to Twist, holding court on the pool table, or ordering "one for the road" after the foam party at Salvation. I've made so many overnight best friends there, I feel I should pay a membership fee. The interior is dark & dingy and the decor a rundown Art Deco Moderne. The jukebox is epic. Some of the best graffiti ever penned stares you down from over the urinals. Two-for-one Happy Hour runs from just after sunup to sundown. You'll walk in a boy and strut out a man at Club Deuce.
Mac's Club Deuce
222 14th Street
Miami Beach, FL 33139
(305) 531-6200
Thanks for taking the time - Blog O. Food

1 comment:

BigAssBelle said...

i never get to miami, but you've reminded me to scrounge around in my three most recent purses to find the scribbled-on-the-restaurant-ticket recipe for the most incredible beans i've ever eaten. i'll report back if i find it and can make them taste like they did at the little hole-in-the-wall down the street. but i probably need a Staub cast iron enameled dutch oven to cook them properly. sigh.