Sunday, January 13, 2019

Old Traditions, New Friends

Miami is a conveyor belt of people. Except for the elusive few who were born and raised locally, people come and people go. The average length of stay for the friends I've had since I moved here in 2006 is around five years, just long enough to finish a degree or launch a career and then lay down roots somewhere "more serious, more adulty".

Through the tides of change, my Miami traditions have given me a sense of place and helped me burrow my roots deeper and deeper despite the seismic shifts. I'm going on 13 years with little incentive to change scenery. I adapt to each social earthquake by fostering new friendships with which to share the joys of the local experience.

The magic of being an elusive Miami constant is that I have been bequeathed the role of ambassador. I have the honor and responsibility of revealing Miami's charms to new and temporary arrivals and through the induction process, I get to enjoy old traditions with a filter of newness. Most recently, I dusted off one of my favorite South of Fifth rituals, dinner at Fratelli La Bufala, for a visitor from New York.

Even though I was living down the street at the time, I first heard of Fratelli La Bufala from Chef Scott Conant when he touted their calzone on the Food Network's "The Best Thing I Ever Ate." It gained street cred for me the first time I went in on a date with an Italian New Yorker and he raved about the flavor of the tomato sauce. While I only went back for dinner one other time, their calzone became a permanent fixture of our nights out in the neighborhood, especially when SoFi Public House opened up on the same block and allowed us to savor its cheesy, bready goodness while we played pool. 

My most recent visit flooded me with memories of a very special period in my Miami story. It also flooded my palate with the delicious flavors and warmth of homemade Italian food. I devoured the gnocchi so fast I almost didn't get a chance to snap any pics! Most importantly, it allowed me to show my guest that Miami is more than fancy, expensive restaurants that are on occasion not worth their price tag. (Did you know that on Mondays their pizzas are only $10 if you eat in?) 

I am grateful for places like Fratelli La Bufala for giving a sense of stability amid constant change and for fostering an eating experience I can be proud of showing off to new friends. What are some of your favorite Miami traditions to share with new friends?

Monday, October 29, 2018

A Plea to Miami Drivers

Driving in Miami is like the Hunger Games. Everyone is trying to survive the treacherous arena that is our road network. Each one of us has a different weapon (er, car) and each one of us has a different, incongruous strategy for using it. Some of us use our turn signal, some of us don't. Some randomly stop and turn on their hazards, some turn them on amidst a downpour. It's a mixed bag of surprises, but one thing is for certain: everyone is in it to win it, others be damned.

Back in 2013 I narrowly avoided death. I was driving on I-195 eastbound where high-speed traffic from I-95, SR-112 and downtown merge, when a car on the left lane decided it had to exit stage right onto North Miami Avenue. (If you're not familiar with this area, there are four lanes you need to cross and less than 500 feet to do so.) In his haste, the driver nearly sideswiped my car on the driver side at 80mph. That is, the driver nearly sideswiped me at 80mph.

After that incident, my frustration with Miami drivers reached a fever pitch. It reached a tipping point at which I considered moving to a different, safer city where I was not letting Jesus take the wheel every time I had to go to a meeting or run an errand.  Instead of moving, I started this blog. I needed a positive place to remind me that Miami is much, much more than self-serving maniacs behind the wheel.

Example of why Miami drivers are the worst: they block the box.

The fact remains that we do have self-serving maniacs behind the wheel. Miami's driving privileges—because driving is a privilege, not a right and one most of us here do not deserve—are a mechanism for mutually-assured destruction. Alas, this is a wake-up call from me to us that we can't continue to live like this. We need a clear set of road rules and we need to agree to follow them...for all of our sakes. We need to recognize that, as cliché as it sounds, it is better to arrive late than not arrive at all.

So next time you want to scan Instagram while operating a moving vehicle or you want to make a hail Mary attempt from the left lane to make your exit, think about the fact that someone's daughter, sister, wife and friend (read, me) can be the collateral damage to making your life a tiny bit more convenient. (And, god forbid you are the victim of someone else's selfish driving decisions, make sure you get the best Miami medical and lawyer referral service to show the culprit the true cost of bad driving.)

Safe travels, Miami! And for Pete's sake, don't block the box.

This article was sponsored by

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

An Ode to Miami's Mythical Cultural Scene

Apparently "there is no culture in Miami." I have heard this apocryphal declaration made by many a Miami-an and certainly by every import from the Northeast. And, while I agree that we are not as institutionally cultured as cities like New York with its world renown museums, galleries and theaters, we definitely have a cultural scene. You just need to know where to mine beneath our glittery exterior of EDM, bandage dresses and champagne showers for those raw cultural nuggets.

For starters, our highly diverse community is brimming with culture by its very nature. As our contributor Celeste points out, "This flavorful melting pot has been brewing for decades. From mass Cuban emigrations to organized crime in the 70s, these hardships still echo and manifest themselves in the flavors and sounds of the city." You can't escape it, but you can definitely bask in it at the Tower Theater with a Cuban film, at the Little Haiti Cultural Center on Caribbean Market Day, at Libreri Mapou during a book reading. One of the most memorable experiences I have had as a writer in the last five years was taking a fiction writing workshop at the Coral Gables Museum led by award-winning novelist Anjanette Delgado, known for her Miami-inspired latina don't tell me "there is no culture in Miami".

I will concede that our definition of culture is different from other cities. That said, Miami also offers culture in the traditional, high society sense. Earlier this summer I went with a friend to see the NuDeco Ensemble featuring Ben Folds at the Arsht Center, which was perhaps on the avant garde side of the spectrum but was: a) incredible and b) in the end, still an orchestra performance. This year my mom also treated my family to the classical Chinese dance performance, Shen Yun, at the Arsht Center. 

There is culture in Miami. One of the local cultural offerings that Celeste and I both love is the Miami City Ballet, which puts on top-notch performances throughout South Florida from Fall through Spring. If you're looking for an "in," a place to meet Miami culture, we recommend starting at the ballet because everyone loves it and we have a world class ballet company in our very own backyard. Don’t just take my word for it—see for yourself! Their 2018/19 season is getting ready to kick-off on Friday, October 19 with Company B(Make sure you say hi to Celeste who will also be in the audience!)

Celeste and I are hoping this blog will be your go-to resource on your quest to uncover Miami's mythical cultural scene. If you need inspiration, we regularly post about our cultural musings here and on the #ThankYouMiami Instagram. We also want to hear from you. How do you take advantage of culture in Miami?

Thursday, August 16, 2018

How The New Menu at The Anderson Improved My Chances of Running for Office

If you see me at The Anderson, I'm probably up to no good. You see, The Anderson is that spot where I end up during a night of debauchery when I'm past the point of making wise decisions. By the time I arrive, the place is packed, the band is jamming, and every third person is a familiar face I probably don't want as a witness. (Turns out, The Anderson is where everyone I know also goes for late-night fun and bad decisions—or, to gather blackmail for when I run for office.)

Last night was the first exception to that rule. When I arrived to The Anderson, Jamison in tow, not only was sunlight still pouring generously through the blinds but my intentions were also pure: to sample the new menu. The Anderson keeps it interesting by refreshing their food and cocktail selections every quarter and they're coming in hot with an 80s themed menu of deliciousness that launches tonight (August 16) with a party.

My typical late-night agenda at The Anderson has been so sacrosanct that I didn't even realize they offer food or that they had an entire outdoor section out back. (And here I thought I was living my best life...) The good news is yesterday I was finally indoctrinated into the good-good of the full Anderson experience and it can be more benign, more glorious than I could have ever imagined. Jamison and I drank, ate and thoroughly enjoyed all the things. Everything from the material and design of the new menu to the creativity and flavor options it offers is on point.

I'm not giving up my late-night habit at The Anderson by any means but let the record show that if you see me there from this day forward—especially if I have a plate of those fire Haitian style wings in one hand and a Jose's Day Off in the other—there is a 50-50 chance I'm behaving and my future prospective political career is in a better place.

Fall-of-the-bone Haitian style wings with pikliz aoili. My favorite thing on the menu.
The Animal House cocktail, like all the other cocktails, is named after 80s cult classics.
A cuban sandwich in quesadilla form is evidence that Chef Jimmy Lebron's culinary creativity knows no bounds (and that he's a Miami guy through and through).
If you hear Sloth's voice in your head when you read the name of this cocktail ("Hey you guys!"), we can be friends.
Don't forget to stop by the tiki hut for an obligatory night cap. Apparently that's where all the cool people have been hanging out all this time.


Tuesday, July 24, 2018

It's A Sweltering Summer in South Florida, But IBKUL

Summers are brutal in South Florida. The weather goes from warm to unbearably hot and the sunshine is punctuated by afternoon storms that resemble trailers for an upcoming hurricane. The season consists of being constantly soaked, from sweat or rain, on a daily basis. Whenever I meet people who move to Miami during or right before the start of summer (like I did in 1999), I share words of encouragement about how they will love living here if they can just survive summer.

After nearly 20 years of living here, I have figured out many things about making it through South Florida summers. For example, I’ve learned that I should not turn on my hazards when driving through a downpour, rather I should turn on my lights and drive carefully. I’ve also learned to dress in layers so I can transition smoothly from the sauna outside to the A/C powered arctic indoors. And, I’ve certainly learned not to leave my car parked anywhere but the shade unless I want to burn my hands on the steering wheel.

Surprisingly, one summer situation I hadn’t solved until recently was the notion of exercising outdoors in this sweltering heat. Last year when I was training for the Paris Marathon I really struggled to log the miles I needed to keep up with my training plan without collapsing of a heat stroke after 6 miles, even when I brought a water belt. It is just too hot and too sunny from June through September. It is already hard enough to motivate myself into 12 mile runs without the added discomfort brought forth by 100-degree heat and the need to cake on sunscreen.

At the end of last year, I discovered an athletic clothing brand called IBKUL that has unlocked my outdoor exercising potential during summer. Not only do their clothes meet the discerning sartorial standards of my South Beach neighbors—seriously, I have to dress like I’m walking down an athleisure catwalk to fit my neighborhood’s exercising aesthetic—with their cute prints but they use a patented fabric that keeps the body cool, dry and protected from the sun. I own their floral print long sleeve polo (similar here) and solid crystal pleat skort and I love putting it on because it keeps me from becoming a hot, disgusting mess of sunscreen and sweat when I go outside and thereby is my secret weapon for surviving South Florida summers. (P.S. They just announced a new summer collection!)

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