Our recent trip to Miami gave us a chance to try three new restaurants. We chose one based on a recommendation from the concierge at the apartment building we were staying in. We based our second choice on a recommendation of a friend who had previously tried it. Finally, we selected the third one from published “best of” lists (with help from Yelp and TripAdvisor) as well as types of cuisine. All three restaurants were very different experiences with very different types of food, but we enjoyed all of them and I don’t hesitate to recommend you try them if you find yourself in Miami. We ate at other restaurants as well, but these were the ones I thought were worth writing about.
Our Miami AirBnB apartment was a spacious one bedroom on the 33rd floor at 1717 North Bayshore Drive with a well equipped kitchen and a roomy balcony. The kitchen was convenient since it allowed us to prepare breakfast in the morning on our own schedule. I especially enjoyed the blueberry pancakes we had one morning as blueberries are generally not available where we live in Ecuador. (Curiously, the blueberries we used had been imported from Peru.) The concierge desk in the building lobby provided services for residents, condo owners as well as guests from the Doubletree Inn, which was located in the same building. We enjoyed all these amenities for less than hotel rooms in the area.
My only complaint about the room was a small amount of mildew on the ceiling near the shower and in the shower stall itself. We complained to the property managers, but M. (my traveling companion of over 30 years) is far too pro-active not to take action and quickly attacked the situation with a bottle of bleach we had found in the kitchen. Still, we wore flip flops while showering the rest of the stay and I have to deduct a few points for this.
Sports fans and concert goers will be interested to know that the apartment we stayed is near the American Airlines arena. We could easily get to the arena by about 10 minutes walking and then three stops on the (free) people mover tram system. We saw the Miami Heat play there twice during our stay and found the location very convenient for our purpose. It is also very convenient to the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts. The Doubletree Inn (located in the same building) and the Marriott across the street are possible alternatives. You can read more information on our AirBnB here.
Garcia’s is an immigrant success story. The first of the Garcia brothers escaped to Miami in the mid 1960s when the Castro regime in Cuba seized their business. After two years of working and saving, he managed to open a fresh fish market and wholesaler business. This eventually grew to become Garcia’s Seafood Grill and Fish Market. If you ask people in Miami where to go for good seafood, this is where they send you.
We came for lunch midweek without a reservation and were able to get a seat outside which let us watch the Miami River and enjoy the mild October weather. A succession of people, one of whom may have been our official waiter, showed up at the table and provided a menu and took drink orders. M. opted for a mojito and I had a white wine, both more than acceptable. For appetizers we went with the conch fritters and the fried oysters. The fritters were good, if a little dry, and the oysters were outstanding.
Several people around us appeared to be locals who were there on their lunch hour. Many had sandwiches, which all looked very good. But, this was a special occasion for us so we chose to order from the list of Chef’s Specials. My choice was the butterfly snapper, a Cuban recipe. The fish arrived covered in crab meat and mild cheese with the whole thing in a rich, but mildly flavored sauce. As if that was not enough, there were also three lobster raviolis which were almost worth the price of admission by themselves. M. chose a plate of stone crabs which arrived with a small array of dipping sauces. Pricey but, really, it just doesn’t get much better than that.
We rounded out our meal with key lime pie and flan, both made in house and both delicious, and coffee and tea. In short, we enjoyed a terrific lunch and I can join the locals in recommending Garcia’s if you happen to be looking for fresh seafood in Miami.
A friend recommended Yardbird to us for the fried chicken. Indeed, she practically raved about it. After some discussion we agreed that she would round up some family members and we would all meet there for dinner later.
We arrived a little early and decided to have a drink at the bar while we waited. As we discovered, it was a bar that can be described in a single word: bourbon. They had dozens of brands of bourbon; a bourbon lovers paradise. They also offer beer, wine and other spirits, of course, but bourbon holds a special place of honor, as might be expected in a restaurant that specializes in Southern American comfort food.
The guys behind the bar, an amiable crew, suggested Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. I tried a glass with a small amount of ice and enjoyed it a great deal. No surprise considering I very much like the original Woodford Reserve. They were also selling mixed drinks with bourbon, which seemed popular. A large number of them purple drinks (something called blackberry bourbon lemonade), but using good bourbon to make mixed drinks is something I’ve never been able to understand (mint juleps excepted, of course).
After a while it became clear that our friends weren’t going to show (it turned out that events had intervened). So we decided to order some small plates under the theory that it’s always more fun to eat at a bar than it is to drink in a restaurant. A small plate of deviled eggs and a charcuterie platter filled the bill. We enjoyed them both. Somewhere along the line the bartender recommended I try Eagle Rare. This was not at all a bad bourbon, but I preferred the mellow complexity of the Woodford Reserve.
We had enjoyed the bar, the friendly and efficient staff, the convivial atmosphere and the food. But, we still hadn’t tried the fried chicken so we decided on a return visit.
And return we did for a late Sunday brunch. We arrived around 1:00 PM without a reservation and had a short wait for a table, which time we spent in the Abbey Brewing Company. It’s a plain little bar next door to Yardbird, but their craft beers are worth trying.
The convivial atmosphere back at Yardbird was still evident. It’s the kind of environment that makes it easy to strike up a conversation with people at the next table. Our brunch started with deviled eggs and bacon. My only complaint was that there were only three pieces of the delicious, thick little chunks of bacon.
We split an order of chicken and waffles for the main course. We finally had our chance to try the fried chicken and, believe me, it was worth the wait. The meat was juicy, tender and delicious, probably a result of their extensive brining process. The skin was lightly breaded and crispy with an exceptional flavor.
The waffles were no mere after thought, either. Bits of cheese in the waffles and the bourbon (again!) maple syrup were a worthwhile flavor experience by themselves. The appetizers, waffles, the chicken and a couple of glasses of dry sauvignon blanc left us feeling quite satisfied and in no hurry for dinner.
In short, Yardbird is a fun place with good food and a pleasant and professional wait staff. I have no doubt we’ll go back next time we’re in Miami.
Also, a suggestion: Order some of their buttermilk biscuits or biscuit sandwiches to go after your meal. They’ll make a great breakfast the next morning.
NIU Kitchen was plan B for us. We had originally planned to go to Chef Andrés’ restaurant Bazaar. However, the more we read, the more we started to feel that the “famous chef” premium might be a bit too steep. NIU Kitchen is on a few “best of” lists for Miami and happened to be close to where we were staying. Besides, tapas restaurants are always fun so the choice was made.
We arrived a little early for dinner (about 7:00 PM) and were the first people there. The hostess (Rachel) welcomed us and made us feel comfortable immediately. The three of us chatted about Spanish food for a bit. Rachel (originally from Spain) stated that if we really wanted great seafood, we should spend some time in Galicia. This didn’t sound like a half-bad idea. We also asked her for a wine recommendation. She picked out a very good Rioja which paired very well with dinner.
We were beginning to think we might be in for a good experience and the first two dishes confirmed it. The first was simple diced tomatoes with a bit of olive oil and a hint of onion and garlic, served on toast. It’s amazing how such a simple dish can be so bursting with flavor. The second dish was a small plate of jamon Iberico which is, happily, now available in the U.S. The wonderful, nutty flavor and melt in your mouth texture confirmed that this was the real deal. Heavens! It was like being back in Madrid. (As an aside, jamon Iberico is God’s gift to ham lovers. It has been produced in Spain for centuries. You can read more about it here and here.)
A tapas restaurant is a good place to let go a little in the ordering. By “let go” I don’t mean just pigging out (although I’m open to suggestion). It’s an opportunity, rather, of letting the wait staff make some suggestions. It’s a good way to sample some foods you might not ordinarily try. One of the suggestions Rachel made to us was the Tonyina. Thin slices of smoked tuna that was so light and airy that it almost seemed like a mouth full of pure flavor.
There were other dishes, of course, but you get the idea. It was a wonderful dinner and we really enjoyed the experience. So much so that we went back for lunch a couple of days later, which we enjoyed just as much.
My only complaint about NIU Kitchen is that they should move to a better neighborhood. We didn’t have any problems nor did we ever feel threatened. There were, however, a few dubious characters in the area after dark. Just to play is safe, I would recommend that you have your ride drop you off and pick you up right at the restaurant. Alternatively, just go for lunch, at which time it’s just a normal business neighborhood.