Monday, January 03, 2005


I spent 8 days in South Florida, roaming pretty far for chow. And eating a LOT of ice cream. When I drove the ship, so to speak, we ate very well. When we had to cede to family harmony, not as well. Overall, I love eating in South Florida, and would love to have more time to explore. I mean, I never got to anything Brazilian, never had seafood along Miami River, never had a Cuban sammy, never tried the Argentinean store, Estancia Argentina in Aventura, never visited my favorite Israeli place, Pita Plus (also in Aventura), never tried the churro place on north Collins, never tried any of the Russian places on north Collins, never tried El Rey de Chivito on north Collins, never made it to the other Jamiacan ice cream place (York Castle), and never had the two things I most wanted to try this trip: roti shops and Haitian. But I am not complaining...

[UPDATE: I actually spent 10 days in Florida, but one day was of such average chow, I forgot it entirely in my write-up. I also fixed a few errors below.]

Day 1
a) Ice cream at Gelatoria Parmalat on the fastly malling (malled) Lincoln Road in Miami Beach. Amazing what has happened to this street in recent years. Anyways, while Parmalat is one big fraud committing conglomerate who packages its milk in very non-chowish aseptic boxes, they do manage to make some awfully good ice cream. As in Italy, one can squeeze as many flavors as desired in the cup, and I enjoyed chocolate, french vanilla, and something else. Soft and rich.
b) El Rey de Chivito - Actually we sat down at this Argentinean fast foodish place, thought about it, but then bagged it due to a combination of not knowing what the heck a chivito was--some kind of pork sandwich? which could be had Canadians believe it or not, too lound music and nothing apparent for the kidz to eat. Later learned it was like a South American cheesesteak and that I should have gone. Some day.
c) Campo Argentinea - Miami has a LOT of Argentinean steak house. I doubt I will get the chance to do a very comprehensive search/ranking. This one was not only the best one I have been to, but very good period (or you know what I mean, it does not take a lot of sampling to know it's good...); For $16.95, I got the mixed grill for one, which was like the mixed grill for five. It came with two cuts of beef, skirt and something else, sweetbreads, some other offal called, literally on the menu, "entrails", a sausage of the frankfurter/andouille/kilbasa kind, with a fairly coarse cut of meat; the best blood sausage I have had, as I said on Chowhound, really the only blood sausage I have ever liked, and well that's it. The bad thing, is I could have had it for two for only three dollars more. The chowhounditas had an especially tasty and rich ravioli stuffed with mashed potato in a cream sauce. The only down note were the "french fries provencal", fries with chimichurri. But another up note was the proveleta, cheese melted in a cast iron pot, about as good as any saganaki you'll ever had, showed in oregano.

Day 2
a) Marion Bagels - Somewhere in Plantation, we drove around in circles looking for a decent/open place on 12/25. Did I say we ate well so far? Well, this place was not bad, but nothing special. Actually really tasteless nova. I do not even think I have the name of the place right...
b) Rascal House - Still the best deli in the USA in my book. The only iffines is which relishes your table will get. We got a meager portion originally, new pickles and cucumber salad (a new one for me), but when our next-door-neighbor table paid, we snagged all of theirs, adding sour pickles, beets (terrific) and cole slaw to the mix. God was the corned beef good and the Jewish cassolet, cholent, almost as good, and the bread, they bake some great bread.
c) Gelato 44. There is a very cool strip mall just south Rascal House on Collins with a Russian deli (picked up two interesting beers), a Peruvian place and a combo Colombian-sushi house (very Miami, no?). Also inside this mall was the well-done Argentinean ice cream house, Gelato 44. Pretty much all the flavors we tried including flan, bon-bon (chocolate-nut), dulce de leche, lemon and (especially) chocolate, were good.

Day 3
a) Donna Caribbean Restaurant - Very high on my too try list in S. Florida has been Caribbean food (especially roti shops). I read that around 441 (aka State Rt 7) and Sunrise Blvd were some good places. We drove St Rt 7 for a while this morning passing not only a ton of Jamaican places but pho shops, HK style BBQ, chaat places and more--it was like a tropical version of Da'Bomb. We had no idea which place to try, and we finally shanghai'd a woman who sent us to Donna. The ironic thing was that there are four other Donna locations, including 3 a lot closer to where we are staying. We got there at the cusp of breakfast and lunch and had to wait a while for the switch. Also, some things, like the jerk, were not ready. Still, loved the oxtails, liked the curry chicken, was just above OK with the brown stew chicken, but also loved the cabbage cooked with tons of allspice and the dumplin [sic] leftover from breakfast.
b)Granja - You know I have been talking about this place for years without ever remember its name or exact location. I am sure you can find me mentioning it in one form or another in lots of posts. We went out of way yesterday to find it, and today we tried it. The way some anticipate eagerly a return to French Laundry, I was near-giddy as we returned here. Roasted chicken and sauces green and red, along with assorted South American starches. Stood up well to memories. For future reference it is on Sheridan and 441 NW corner.

Day 4 `
a)More Jamaican. We were at the Swap Shop in Sunrise, so did we have much choice? As I noted the other day SR 7 is chow-heaven. It did not take much scoping to find Auntie I's on SR 7. A peek thru the window showed the requisite chow mix of extended families, single older men (West Indian alter kokkers) and cops. Unlike Donna's the previous day, there were no limitations on the food availability. Plus, AI offers combo plates, so we really tried a lot. Best were the jerk chicken, the soggy in a really good way Westminster style fried chicken and the soft "spinner" dumplings in the beef stew. The curries, goat and chicken were both surprisingly (too) mild. Very warm but very slow service.
b) Tropitaste - In the Lauderhill Mall. We were just too full to try one of the several very tempting pastry shops, but who is ever too full for ice cream? Especially when it comes from Jamaica in flavors like kola champagne, stout and grapenut-pistachio? Tropitaste is one of those magically transforming places, filled with assorted rastas and ruffians with bad cases of the munchies. Besides the ice cream, they can get all sorts of weird drinks (Ms. VI got used to, after a lot of drinking, the odd fruity taste of Irish Moss) and vegetarian dishes.
c) Strombolli - In some mall on University near Broward Blvd. We actually turned the chowdar off just to get a quick dinner. It did LOOK quite New Yawkish, down to the pizza tosser in white tee who was so generic looking he seemed sent over from a SNL skit. I am one who does not worship anyways at the alter of the slice, I care little if my pizza comes in squares (a Chicago thing), nor whether it is foldable, so on one hand, I just do not have a horse in this race. On the other, the pizza was pretty blah. We did not look for good chow, and we surely did not find it. My wife, who spent substantial time living in Brooklyn, detested her eggplant parma hero.

Day 5
a) The Pit BBQ - Way out in the boonies, US 41. The Pit, with its actual, grandfathered in pit, glorious aroma, its screened windows, its leaning walls, and its menu of frog legs and smoked meats, is a reminder that while Rascal House may be the best deli in the USA and one can easily be transported to all sorts of parts of the Americas south, Florida remains in the south of the USA. The meat was just a bit too mild for me, it needed a bit of rub or something, but the smoke did not fail at all. And in nods to neighbors both east and west on Rt 41, one could have their Q with chimichurri and fry bread. Really worth the drive IMHO.
b) Wajiro's - Rt 41/SW 8th St. slightly back towards civilization. I like Cuban food enough, but honestly aside from the coffee and the sandwiches, I have not found Cuban food in Miami to be any better than the Cuban food in Chicago. Until, perhaps, Wajiro's. And not everything we had was great. Dinner got off to such a start with a big plate of thin plantain chips, mariquitas, with a gaaaalic galore dippin' sauce. Then, both the combination pork plate--roast shank, fried chunks and thin chops--and the black beans were SO good, that they more than made up for inferior shrimp and overly moist roast chicken. More tasty things included totally carmelized sweet plaintains, very yellow chicken soup, rich flan and a fine mojito for the Condiment Queen who could relax on the long drive back up to Davie.

Day 6
a) Diner with big menu in Davie. Big enough that I am always tempted, but when the food arrives, I always think I ordered the wrong thing.
b) Slightly more upscale diner with big menu and lotsa salads, also in Davie. Not worth more bandwidth.

Day 7
a) Joe's Stone Crab - This probably remains my favorite dining spot in the USA, but I gotta say, the stone crabs were very mediocre this time. That's never happened to me before. While a few were as expected, rich, sweet, firm, most were bland and watery. Methinks frozen? Everything else at the table was as expected or even better than expected. The twin engines of South Beach value retained their awesomeness: $5.95 for a big plate of fried oysters or for a 1/2 fried chicken. As I say, not just awesome deals, but very good food too. All of the sides, french fried sweets, stuffed tomatoes and garlic spinach accented the meal they way there supposed to, and the lunch only, garlic heavy, with sweet onions, Salad Armand did its job of filling me up.
b) Leccalecca - Hey what happened to Miami Beach. Three years and they turn the place into a mall. Still, amongst the Bannana Republics and such, there are a few real places. This is a gelato place run by an Italian with very limited command of this country's language (perhaps his Spanish is better). It was general "base" gelato, meaning gelato made from canned base imported from Italy. It still made for pretty good ice cream, not great, but good enough.
c) Jersey John's (or Joe's or something like that) - We were so stuck in traffic getting back from Miami Beach to Davie, that we ended up punting on dinner and picking up wings from this take-out place in Pembroke Pines. The sauce on the side fried wings were suprisingly good and served a need.

Day 8
a) Lox and bagels bought to go from Best Deli in Plantain. Really luscious, awfully salty (i.e., ideal) hand sliced belly lox, but the bagels were just average. Does anyone boil bagels anymore? I would return, however, for the smoked fishes. The smoked fishes in Florida are so much better than found in Chicago.
b) Agreed to go to Sunrise Swap Shop again on condition of trying another Jamaican ice cream place (York Castle), then stayed at the flea market too close to dinner to get ice cream (did get a very, very good Cafe Cubano, an OK meat patty and an awful empanada at the market. The Swap Shop has a pretty good farmer's market too, with lots of Caribbean stuff. Picked up a kind of banana, "boola" that I had never seen, boxy and short (but bigger than baby bananas), it had a starchy taste with sweet undertones.
c) Rustic Inn, Hollywood - The Condiment Queen has fine childhood memories of this place, and many, many, many years later, it hit the spot. With a pretty large group of people, so I ended trying a fair amount of things. The best things were the first things, conch chowder, spicy but not too, conch salad, fried gator nuggets and especially good fried frog legs (tastes like chicken, well a little but not quite). The signature garlic crabs, not whole but in crab halfs were good but flawed. Clearly from frozen crabs or some odd far away source (time of year), the claw meat held up much better than the lump meat. A whole small grilled pompano, however, was all good. Grilled softshell crabs, on the other hand, were all bad. Key west style sauted shrimp were about on the level of the garlic crabs, mixed. Still, very worth it, and the kidz surely liked the tradition of pounding away at the table with their (un-necessary) mallets when ever anyone's birthday was announced.

Day 9
a) Rascal House - Yea, there was a lot of things to try, but I'm always ready to have another meal at Rascal House. Really crowded at noon when we arrived which was a great mixed blessing. Long wait. When we sat down we were now in lunch relish zone, but we impressed on them the need to put some food in some very antsy kidz and we got the usually VERY difficult achievement of getting plates of little danish's, coffee cake, mini-muffins AND all the pickles. As I noted above, these are probably the best things in the house, the way some fancy-schmancy places use their highest creativity for the amuse. The mini prune danish was preternaturally good, many layers, ideally crisp on the outside, moist on the inside, we WERE lucky. Oh, and the pastrami, Ms. VI and I got pastrami and corned beef sammy's to share 1/2's. The corned beef is good, meaty and rich, but the pastrami is perfect. A few weeks ago, I had bbq'd brisket in Austin that had been steamed past the point of succor. Rascal House manages to get their meat nicely soft, yet the blackened edges stayed crisp. Plus, the black-pink color scheme, like Joe's stone crabs said South Florida.
b) Dulcianna - This is a branch of an Argentinean gelato place right next to Rascal House. It has a board explaining the flavors, which is a nice addition, but it was, well a bit more corporate tasting than Gelato 44 in the mall just south. Still good though.
c) Cafe Cubano and an interesting cold sammy with Spanish chorizo and Serrano ham from the Versailles outlet at the Miami Airport. Reinforced the notion that we ate very wll for 8 days.