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South Beach Roundup

iron frank | Feb 17, 2002 12:56 AM

I've been back a week from my trip to SOBE and my blood is finally getting used to NYC temperatures. I had a lot of very good food on my trip but nothing totally outstanding.

Lunch at the much touted Isla Canarias was pretty good, definately not as good as Versailles though. My jerk beef was super dried out though. Super thick and sweet batidas de Trigo y un de Malta were truly excellent. Maduros were decadent as always, slick and satisfying with just the right amount of bite. My wife's cubano sandwich was heavy in the margarine dept. and the ham was a little thinner and fattier than that of Latin American Cafeteria(the gold standard for that sandwich).

Our second time at Shoji Sushi was as good as the first. We started out with two amazingly clean tasting discs of monkfish liver. Then a seaweed salad that was rich with sesame flavor. Got a standard sushi/sashimi assortment(everything is cut to the larger side of things). The pressed unagi sushi with dried squash is too good for words. They've got a celeb pastry chef there but we were being "good".

Next days lunch after touring Viscaya was at Las Culebrias on 27th. Unfortunately it was late and everyone but me wanted a light lunch. Las Culebrias is kind of a semi-formal place and was dead empty. The entrees all seemed like too much for everyone(both in price as there was no lunch menu, and in size). Next door there is a non-descript veggie place with tables outside called Berries(they've got wraps, smoothies, stirfries, and shakes). My family decided to eat there and get wrap sandwiches and I had that aching Chowhound sense tingling in my head. I was steps away from a Chowhoundish place(L.C.) and I was not going to give in to boring hippyish fare that I can find anywhere at home in the West Village. The people at Berries were so pleasant though that they not only allowed me to bring food from Las Culebrias in but they gave me plates, silverware, and a drink as well. They were too cool when I walked over with fifty pounds of Ropa Vieja, rice and beans, maduros and bread subdivided into three styrofoam crates. The Ropa Vieja was way too Vieja though and was just tough and greasy. Rice and beans were good as were the maduros. It's not a fair judge of a place going in at 3:30 when they're between meals but they were less than gracious there and the food was less than fresh. The food I tasted at Berries was amazing though. The best wraps I've ever had. Usually they are all filler but this one was stuffed with flavorful, well sauced chicken and really fresh steamed veggies. The waitress said there is a new chef who is actually a skilled Italian cook so you might even try some of the pasta dishes I scoffed at upon first reading their menu.

Dinner at Cafe Sambal that night was an odd experience. The Mandarin Oriental Hotel is kind of hard to find. When we got there a bit late the host said it was no problem and they had plenty of tables to seat us right away. Then he apologized and said they didn't expect so many food orders at once and the kitchen was overwhelmed and whisked us to the bar to wait and have drinks(which no one ever asked us for our order).

The view at this place is amazing. Sit outdoors if you can. The food is pan-Asian and spiced just enough to avoid banality. The prices vary wildly from 16 to more than double that per entree. I'd highly reccomend the cedar plank salmon or the sea bass coated in macadamia nuts. Sides of ginger-lime asparagus were generous in size and flavor. The basic salad was perfect, California Chinese-american style. Super cheap and huge.

Next night we ate at Toni Thai on Washington. It's quite a stylish place which made me feel it was going to be more SOBE that Phuket. The menu was pretty non-descript and disneyfied too(Garlic Chicken, Ginger Chicken, Basil Chicken...etc.) I asked for my food Thai spicy and they sure delivered. No balance of flavor other than heat though. It was tasty at leastand I really craved spice three days into eating in South Beach so this place satisfyed the urge. My mom's volcano chicken was quite dried out but my wife's laotian style steamed curried fish of the day was amazing. More like ground fish combined with aromatics and coconut, shaped into a brick and wrapped in a banana leaf. The Vietnamese lettuce wraps to start were quite nice too. Next time I'd try the more down to earth looking Thai a block up Washington Ave, anyone been there?(the name starts with an R).

All in all a great trip capped off with my airline trip home catered by the consistently good Cuban Cuisine at La Carreta in the American Airlines terminal.

Enjoy!
Frank

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