Was in South Beach (via Manhattan) for the past week, half business/half vacation, and went to a wide range of restaurants, many of which I found from this board. Figured I'd repay the favor with a long, boring recap:
First off, I know this isn't travelocity, for anyone planning a trip to South Beach, please do me a favor and don't stay at The Loews. Only stayed there because it was booked for a work conference, but it is a generic "upscale" hotel. Could have been anywhere. The pool was nice but nothing special, the poolside $8 mango-guava-passion fruit smoothies were actually almost worth the cost, but otherwise, either stay at a small art-deco place and save $300+ a night or, if you need something with more cachet, at least stay at the Delano or National or anywhere else that actually lets you know you're in the Art Deco district.
Onto the food, in order:
CJ's Crab Shack
Perfectly acceptable, not too touristy (relatively speaking) place on Ocean Drive. Needed somewhere within walking distance. Drunken shrimp were great. Raw oysters are well-priced for the location. Baked oysters were non-descript. Stone crab claws were fine, although I have to say, I really don't understand the love for stone crabs. I'd pay less for blue crabs any day. Fisherman's platter was decent. Nondescript batter, but everything was fresh and well-fried. The crab "cake" in the shell was wonderfully light and almost all crab. Hush puppies were crisp and flavorful. Key lime pie was too cream-cheesy for my taste.
Nexxt Cafe (1)
Went here because my wife was craving a "big salad". Her big salad was 99% lettuce and not worth the trouble. My spicy fried calamari salad was a little better. Only 70% lettuce and decently fried calamari, just not in any way spicy. The buffalo chicken roll appetizer was as good as anything else fried and dipped in Frank's and blue cheese dressing would be.
Nexxt Cafe (2)
Yes, we went back despite the mediocre first experience. In-laws came to visit and needed somewhere casual and affordable with a variety of menu options. From the day before, we figured sandwiches were the way to go and were rewarded. Cuban was huge with good quality ingredients. Navajo spicy chicken sandwich was much the same. Rigatoni with marinara was unexpectedly spicy/peppery. Lunch special of half a chicken salad sandwich (augmented with avocado and hot sauce), a passable lobster bisque, and a huge caesar salad was a good value, fresh, and filling. That being said, I won't be going back on my next trip to Miami.
Luckily, we had a friend with a car to drive us out, because this was my favorite meal of the trip. Granted, family style, "upscale comfort food" is right in my wheelhouse. There were 4 of us, a perfect number for everyone to get a good taste of even the half-portion orders.
Pork Belly w/ Clams: Grabbed one of the last portions and was rewarded. Crispy cubes of pork belly with a complex, flavorful broth.
Truffled Polenta: As good as everyone has said. Best non-bread pudding-related dish of the night.
Bibb Lettuce Salad: Nicely composed, lightly spicy, completely unhealthy salad.
Steak Frites: Perfectly rare and flavorful.
Pasta Carbonara: Not carbonara by any stretch of the imagination, but wonderfully unctuous goodness. Who doesn't love loads of cheese, cream, and a sheet of crispy smoked pork?
Short Rib: My least favorite savory dish. It was still quite good, but the meat was closer to stringy/dry than to moist, melted gelatinous goodness (see Table 8 for what short ribs should be).
Bread pudding: I love bread pudding in general, and really, really love this particular version. From the wonderful vanilla ice cream to the creamy, wonderful pudding itself: perfection.
"Molten" chocolate cake: Not molten, underwhelming. A chocolate-lover in the group couldn't pass it up though.
Overall, the meal wasn't perfect, just close to perfect for me.
Front Porch Cafe
Very good, lemon custardy french toast.
Decent breakfast burrito.
Monty's South Beach
Great for Happy Hour, not sure if I'd go otherwise. Can't beat cheap beer and reasonably priced peel-and-eat shrimp and (especially) raw oysters. Good conch fritters (I happen to like these big, doughy versions, big pieces of conch be damned). Nice, bacony, overly salty she-crab soup. Bland conch salad. Even blander house salad.
Went for the short rib grilled cheese. Despite about one stick too much butter on the sandwich, I'm happy to report that there is nothing wrong with short rib grilled cheese. Nicely crisped bread, caramelized onions, overwhelmed cheese, and perfectly succulent pulled short rib. They should exchange tips with Michy's.
Homemade kalamata tapenade was a nice touch as a starter. Turkey club was generic and bland. Skip the truffled chips for the garlicky fries.
Watercress salad: Perfectly dressed. Nice starter salad.
Foie gras: Rightfully praised; was worth the price. Would have appreciated a little more of a crisp crust on the blue corn cakes for added textural contrast, but it's hard to quibble with the overall dish. The combination of the blue corn, figs, and luscious foie gras was wonderfully satisfying.
Sea Bass Special with Beets & Cauliflower, Smoked Duck Sausage Ravioli, and Foie Gras Beurre Blanc: Passed on the Yellowfin Snapper for this special. Everything was cooked just right, but I can't really say that everything actually belonged together on the same plate. Taken as 3 separate mini-dishes though, it was quite good.
Organic Chicken w/ Mashed Sweet Potatoes, Brussel Sprouts and Corn Bread: Moist, well-brined chicken. Excellent brussel sprouts. Flavorful corn bread. Overly-spiced sweet potatoes. My wife's favorite dish (and meal) of the trip.
Good, traditional key lime pie. Apparently we were on a key lime pie kick.
Las Olas Cafe
Couldn't pass up a visit on the way to the airport. Fantastic, falling-off-the-bone lamb shank. Moist, delicious rice, bean, and chilies, especially with hot sauce and extra sauce from the lamb. Ham & cheese empanada had a flavorful, flaky, nicely deep-fried crust. Cuban sandwich was not as good as my previous visit. The place was packed both inside and at the takeout window, and I feel like they rushed the preparation, because it didn't have the same crispy, almost caramelized exterior that only nice, slow-cooking on the plancha can give you. Overall, a perfect way to end our visit.
Sorry for the length and also the lack of in-depth descriptions outside of "delicious, flavorful, perfect, etc." due to the number of dishes I had to churn through. But a huge thank you to the South Florida Chowhound community. Mostly because of you, we had a thoroughly enjoyable eating tour of South Beach and beyond...
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