07 NOV 2019: Some destinations are a big draw for chefs with expansion in mind. It’s part “if I can make it there, I can make it anywhere” and part the draw of a large populace with money to burn on eating out. New York, London and Paris of course fall into this category. Within the USA, glitzy Los Vegas, star struck LA and rowdy Miami Beach do too. Last month I checked out the latter and found lots to like despite the scantily clad, boisterous crowds.

Miami Beach to my taste is a little too over the top with loud music, loud cars and loud people. However, there were sanctuaries of peace and refinement to be found and lots of great eating. I was there for a conference staying at the boutique hotel, The Plymouth South Beach. Tucked four blocks away from the beach (but with private beach access) and in Mid-Beach away from the main drag, it was mercifully quiet on the surrounding streets.

Nonetheless perhaps to draw people in, on the nights I was there, the music in the lobby and bar was cranked up to an ear-splitting volume. The place did boast however an excellent restaurant, Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar and Grill. Sister locations are in Manhattan, Las Vegas and LA. Sushi master Toshi Ueki and partners, chefs and brothers Bruce and Eric Bromberg are behind the brand. Blomberg Blue Ribbon Sushi restaurants now number seven and there are more than a dozen others under different banners such as Brooklyn Bowl and Blue Ribbon Brasserie.

The restaurant encompassed the bar, a sushi bar, indoor dining rooms and a poolside dining area. One night we ate in the dining room and on another we sat at the bar. We found the sushi and sashimi to be ultra fresh and loved the hot dishes such as roast shishito peppers, rock shrimp tempura, crispy rice and crispy Brussel sprouts. Extra special were the really fine selection of sake by the glass and by the bottle and cocktails such as the Mezcal Negroni and Nolet’s SakeTini.

The original, ground-breaking Estiatorio Milos originated in my hometown of Montreal in 1979. Located in Le Plateau-Mont-Royal, at the time a rather scruffy borough (though now very trendy), it was one of the first restaurants to feature an open kitchen and the now signature fish market on full display inside. With Milos, chef and restaurateur Costas Spiliadis, a native of Patras, Greece, broke away from the typical Greek eatery of the day that dished up souvlaki atop soggy rice and potatoes.

Spiliadis pretty much pioneered high-end Hellenic food, wine and hospitality in North America. For example, for his landmark Montreal restaurant, Spiliadis drove twice a week to New York’s Fulton Street Fish Market to ensure he was getting the world’s best catch. He went on to open in 1997 in New York City, Athens in 2004, Las Vegas in 2010, Miami in 2012, and London in 2015. He continues to expand with a second Milos in NYC, a Markato retailing Greek ingredients, Milos Wine Bar and I’ve heard rumours he may open a Milos in Toronto.

The Milos in Montreal is one of my favourite spots to eat at when I return to visit family. It’s never been bargain priced but it’s always served the freshest, most perfectly prepared fish and seafood, vegetables that have amazing flavour and an array of appetizers to please everyone. Of course I had to try the Milos while in Miami SoBe. The place was elegantly glamorous and hip at the same time. There was the signature fish market display (US $44/lb for lane snapper, US $115/lb for stone crab claws), an excellent wine list that included top notch Greek selections, and Milos classics such as lightly fried zucchini and eggplant served with tzatziki and kefalograviera cheese, grilled Mediterranean octopus on a bed of fava bean puree, Greek spreads and Greek salad.

The secret about Milos is if you are on a budget, go at lunch as we did and order the US $29 three course special menu. I started with field grown tomatoes, topped with barrel aged feta cheese and kalamata olives, had a whole grilled Mediterranean sea bream with capers for my main and finished with authentic Greek yogurt topped with honey. www.estiatoriomilos.com

Hungarian-born Joe Weiss opened Joe's Stone Crab in Miami Beach in 1913. In 1999, Windy City’s Lettuce Entertain You Enterprises in partnership with the original Joe’s opened a branch in Chicago, followed by Las Vegas and Washington DC. These branches known as "Joe's Seafood, Prime Steak and Stone Crab" may have a bit more emphasis on steak than the 4th generation owned Miami original.

Joe’s Miami location pretty much put stone crab claws on the map - a sustainable seafood. One claw is harvested and the crab, still alive, re-grows it. It was stone crab season in Florida, which runs annually from October 15 to May 15, while I was there so naturally I just had to eat them at Joe’s. The Miami Beach icon was celebrating its 106th season in 2019, quite an achievement in today’s restaurant world. (The restaurant actually predates Miami Beach, which was incorporated as a city in 1915.)

This popular place seats 400 and does an average of 2 1/2 turns a night according to management that I spoke with. Very popular, very good, and staff is excellent. We had a bit of a wait for our credit card to be returned and were given a $50 credit for our next visit or an order online. A very generous response to a little problem. The stone crab claws I ate were as fresh and delicious as can be. www.facebook.com/JoesStoneCrab

We ran out of time to visit all the Miami Beach restaurant expansion success stories. Next visit I would check out Byblos. This Toronto-born Middle Eastern cuisine restaurant has two great locations in Hogtown. This is their first foray south of the border. Toronto restaurateurs Charles Khabouth of INK Entertainment and Hanif Harji of Icon Legacy Entertainment, partners in Byblos Miami, know that city has a hot culinary scene. It’s competitive but they’re determined to make it there.


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Margaret Swaine

Margaret is a nationally published wine, spirits, food and travel writer, who has authored thousands of articles on these subjects for magazines and newspapers.

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