Some time ago I was in South Beach, aka Miami Beach, for a conference. It rained. It was not my idea of the best place ever to travel. There was slightly too much plastic on the main drag. And, the one day there was sun I got a bad sunburn. I could complain. But, there were at least two good things: (a) a very good bookstore called Books and Books; and b) some places to eat of varying prices and deliciousness. The walking was good despite the rain. I also admit to having gone on a food tour of Little Havana in Miami itself. More on that at the tale end of this biggish entry!
Let me begin with the last place I ate: Joe's Stone Crab. Very famous. Very traditional. Tolerable, but not great. Yes, I said it: not great. The service was delightful, especially given I was on my own, but the meal was not over the top -- especially compared to some other places I wandered off to in the area. Don't get me wrong. It was fine. It was just not amazing. What did I have? A spot of a white wine, which was acceptable but there was not much choice in the splits. And, I had a more or less traditional set of foods: stone crabs, their famous hashed browns, creamed spinach, slaw, and key lime pie. Crab: pretty tasty, well cracked, easy to eat, and ok. Not as much taste of the sea as I anticipated. Creamed spinach: my absolute favorite. Competes well with creamed spinach I had years and years ago at Mike Ditka's Steak House Slaw: I admit I was not a fan of the heap of mayo, pickle relish, etc on top. I ate off the bottom, and got a tart, very thinly sliced cabbage which I liked. And the pie? Light, good crust, tart, too much whipped cream.
So: ok. Not great.
First: Pubbelly. I walked some distance to this from my hotel on Collins, and ate very early (yes, the early bird special) -- circa 6 pm I think (maybe even 5?). I sat at the bar. First: all of their cocktails involve sake. Not my idea of heaven, initially, but I had one anyway. It was delightful. I had two protein items: the stone crab fettuccine and the tuna crude. The fettuccine was amazing - the crab was incredibly tasty, there was some heat to it coming (I think from the ginger and some jalapeño), and the pasta was the right combination of toothiness and soft, that is -- it had perfect mouthfeel. The tuna crude which came with wasabi that was thinly sliced -- was just perfect as well -- the right amount, the right level of spicy and tart, and the mouthfeel, again, perfect. This chef eats. Because I cannot navigate their website (yes -- hey -- that's you, pubbelly -- make it better!) I cannot tell you what I had for dessert, though it too was lovely nor can I tell you details about the drink. Alas. Would I go there again? Most definitely. The ambiance too, was nice -- not too loud, kind of rustic and hip. Bartender was a bit too chatty. Yes. Pubbelly.
Second: Yardbird. This restaurant specializes in southern food, and is worth a visit. I had the "be plate special" which involved fried chicken, a biscuit, and chilled spiced watermelon. It was delightful -- and inexpensive! I love a good biscuit, and this was both light and the right flakiness. On the watermelon: this may be one of the oddest things I have ever consumed in terms of texture, but it was one of those tastes that causes one to persist in eating it. I could have used more. Of course, I added to the bill by having dessert -- southern cheesecake, which involved pecans. I admit it: I love pecans. I also had a pre-dining drink, which involved bacon bourbon. It too was swell, and not too bacon-y, if that is even possible.
Third: Joe's Stone Crab set me back about $75 and yardbird about $35 The third place on my list, Taquiza was probably the best food I had. And, it was inexpensive. The tacos were - $3.50 each. Admittedly they were small, but they were amazing. I had several varieties: adobo, carnitas, and huitlacoche, corn fungus that I have always wanted to try. The tortillas -- which were blue -- were made in house and tasted delicious. I also had elite, which is a corn dish that comes with cheese and etc on it. In this case, you got two halves of a corn cob -- and the flavor was right there between charred and lime. Yum. The range of beers was also delightful. And, of course, the seating is outside, in a kind of patio that feels like someone's back yard, despite being right on Collins Avenue, which is very busy. I give this an A+ -- the food was over the top and the service cheerful, the music laid back, and did I say the food was great? Not to mention the price. Would I go back? I went twice while there, and would have gone back for more.
Finally, on the food tour: I saw cigars being rolled, ate various things, including sugar cane juice and various other tidbits, and learned a bit. I think the most interesting two things were the place of dominos in Cuban male culture and the art museum we went in, which had some amazing huge bits. I did have a very light mojito at a place called the Ball and Chain, and I can sat the music was delicious.