Tuesday, September 27, 2016

#ThankYouMiami Talks Best of Miami Spice 2016

When we go out to eat, our first instinct is to order one of everything. There’s so much delicious food out there waiting to be tasted and someone’s gotta do it—it might as well be us, right? Alas our wallets are not infinite so our strategy is to work our way through the menu over several visits or to lay claim to as many dishes as possible in one meal by sharing with the table. (We’re not particularly fond of sharing our food, but we’ll do whatever it takes to eat all the foods.) Once a year though, when Miami Spice rolls around in all its prix-fixe glory, we proclaim “To hell with our cost-conscious strategy!” and straight up indulge.

Like with last year’s Miami Spice adventures, this August and September we’ve been extremely selective about the participating restaurants we’ve chosen to visit. Past experience has taught us that some spots resort to low quality food for their Miami Spice menus even if their regular menus are legit. So, these days, we do tons of research and build a priority list that will give us the most bang for our buck. At the top of our list are those restaurants that are not usually within our budget and that don’t sacrifice the quality of their food to make a quick buck.

In 2015, the stand-out for us was Bulla Gastrobar. This year, we have two favorites—a lunch pick and a dinner pick—that we’re excited to share with you because we know you will absolutely love them. While you work your way there, we’ll be strutting our stuff to Sunny’s at The Hall (their poke bowl is AH-MAZE) and to The Forge so we can complete our priority list for this Spice season. Remember: Miami Spice ends on September 30 so we only have 4 days left to eat all the foods!

Best Miami Spice Lunch 2016: Bianca at the Delano
Bianca at the Delano has been on our priority list from the very beginning. In fact, the first time we were introduced to the concept of Miami Spice was in 2012 with lunch at The Delano. During our visit, we decided to sit outdoors. The vibe is much more laidback outdoors, plus the greenery, the décor and the views are quintessential Miami. Bianca’s Miami Spice 2016 menu offers three options for appetizer, three for entrée and varied sorbet flavors for dessert. Per usual, we had a hard time picking between the various options but we took a leap of faith with the curry chicken cups and the salmon with quinoa tabouli. We hit an absolute home run with both options. If you go, it’s watcha want. Trust.

Best Miami Spice Dinner 2016: Red, The Steakhouse
Our #FoodieFriends are always raving about Red, The Steakhouse—Exhibit A: Miami Food Pug’s latest Red, The Steakhouse review—so when we were looking for a place to celebrate our birthday night we knew exactly where to go. Our meal was ex-qui-site, albeit expensive because we went ham with the upgrades and Red's Miami Spice 2016 menu has a ton of upgrade options for every course. We kicked dinner with the burrata, followed by a perfectly cooked filet mignon with a crispy outside and medium rare center. For dessert, definitely go for the panna cotta. 8 out of 9 people at the table got the chocolate option and we all suffered food envy as our 9th friend devoured her delicious panna cotta.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

#ThankYouMiami Amps for III Points and SoBe Seafood Festival

You know that pie chart that tells you how you're spending your money? The one like this graph by CNN Money that shows how American spend their money by year, income and age which shows on average people our age spend approximately 1/3 of their income on housing, 1/4 on transportation, and 1/6 on food? Well our expense chart on Mint tells us that, unlike the average American, we spend nearly 1/3 of our money on food and entertainment, confirming what everyone who follows our Instagram already knows—we LOVE delicious meals and going out with friends. We're amping to get a lot of both in as Miami kicks off our high season in October with two kick-ass events extremely worthy of our hard-earned money:

III Points is a music, art, and technology festival that returns to Miami for its fourth year on October 7 - 9 at Mana Wynwood. And, while we have certainly felt its presence throughout the past three years—its logo (an upside down triangle with "iii" on the inside) is stamped all over Wynwood—the festival had never particularly piqued our interest. Then, III Points announced the 2016 three-day line-up... With headliners like LCD Soundsystem, Thievery Corporation and M83, it was hard not to grab our attention. (Thievery Corporation's 2010 show at Bayfront Park is by far our favorite concert we've seen while living in Miami.) Plus, we are excited to dance to and support some of our favorite homegrown artists like John Hancock III, Otto Von Schirach, DJ Laura (of Miami), Lolo Reskin, Pirate Stereo and Afrobeta. Seriously, we can't think of a better way to launch into Fall. Three-day GA tickets are only $125 or, if the Miami-an in you demands an enhanced festival experience, you can purchase a Foresight pass for $245 that gives you access to lounges with free beer, water, and Red Bull among other awesome amenities. Buy your III Point tickets here.

The arrival of the SoBe Seafood Festival elicits a Pavlovian response in us for two reasons: 1) it signifies the start of stone crab season, and 2) it means we get to eat all the seafoods. This year it also means we get to drink all the wines because Kendall Jackson has stepped in as the title sponsor. #winning! The three-day seafood bonanza will take South Beach by storm from October 20 - 22, starting with a fancy affair at Joe's Stone Crab presented by La Crema wines. The following night local chefs will compete at 12 restaurant battle stations during the Chef Showdown, where we can sample and vote for our favorite competition dishes. Among other perks, our ticket to the event includes access to a seafood world raw bar (open all night—awwww, yeah!), to the Casa Herradura experience, and to a sensory tour of Kendall Jackson, La Crema, and Matanza Creek's famous Sonoma garden where we get to taste potted fruits, as well as the wines from which they are made. (We hear this amazing tour is a Wine Country must so we're super excited to get to experience it in our very own backyard!)

On Sunday, we get to enjoy the pièce de resistance: the festival. The sands of Lummus Park will be packed with pop-up cafés featuring more than 15 local restaurants including Joe's, Cibo, Red The Steakhouse, Toro Toro, Naiyara and Midtown Oyster Bar. The universe and sponsor Breakthru Beverages are clearly looking out for us because both GA and VIP tickets include all-day open bar. That said, this year's VIP ticket holders will benefit from a substantially upgraded experience in the VIP Hospitality Village including extended event hours, $20 worth of food vouchers, private lines to access the Joe's café, and access—in case you miss it the previous night—to the exclusive Sonoma garden tour. You can review the extensive list of differences between the two ticket types and buy your SoBe Seafood Festival event tickets here. Don't forget to use coupon code "thankyou20" at check out for a 20% discount!

We can't wait to see you at both III Points and the SoBe Seafood Festival in October!

III Points images by Jason Koerner, SoBe Seafood Festival image by Derek Gil.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

#ThankYouMiamiGoesToCA (And Nearly Dies On The Lost Coast)

We nearly died this past weekend...or so the locals of California's remote Shelter Cove claim. Our near-death experience surprised us halfway through a week-long team bonding trip to NorCal, during which we'd already crossed biking across the Golden Gate from our bucket list. The scene of the crime? The famous Lost Coast Trail, an 80 mile stretch of undeveloped coastline that is only accessible on foot and has several 4-mile long segments that are completely inaccessible during high tide.

The 8-hour drive to Shelter Cove was extremely foreboding. As we got closer to our destination, smooth, straight roads quickly gave way to sharp curves and steep inclines. The towns became fewer and far between until all our eyes could see was a desolate mountainous landscape peppered with stretches of redwood forest. Cell service became nonexistent. When we made a pitstop at an empty freeway rest stop, the reality of our isolation hit us when we encountered a board listing over 100 missing persons from the area. The hair on the back of our necks was at high attention as we rushed back to the car and peeled out of the parking lot.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

#ThankYouMiami for New Food Finds: Kona Grill

Many cafecitos ago we used to work in Doral. For lunch, the limited food options in the area meant daily $5 foot-longs from Subway—except on Fridays and other special occasions when we would treat ourselves to the Royal Thai lunch menu. (Dipping the complimentary spring roll into the sweet chili sauce was the highlight of our week.) The scarcity of acceptable food and beverage options was so severe our office would never do happy hour because we would have to drive too far to find anything worth our time. Seriously, that's how lame the Doral scene was back in those days.

These days high rents in Miami's urban core are driving drool-worthy restaurant concepts into suburban areas like Doral, giving the neighborhood a much overdue upgrade. Two weeks ago we decided to pay the area a visit to survey all the changes first hand. While we were there we stopped to check out Kona Grill at the Dolphin Mall because we'd heard a lot of great feedback from our friends and wanted to take advantage of their limited time summer menu. We were pleasantly surprised with our findings, particularly with the digs (they have a dope fish tank at the entrance!!), the stellar service, and the ample menu of Asian/American options. We were most surprised to find one of our old co-workers enjoying post-work drinks with his wife at the bar area—a testament to the fact that locals, whose choices we trust, actually frequent the spot. We're psyched our old co-workers finally have formidable options for lunch and post-work drinks/dinner (with happy hour bevs and bites for $3-$8.5).

The attentive and friendly staff were by far the highlight of our visit. While we're glad to see the migration of deliciousness from the metro areas to Doral, we're happy that our infamous subpar hospitality didn't tag along for the ride across the Dolphin. When it comes to the menu, we picked from both the regular and summer menus, sticking primarily to Japanese inspired dishes like the sushi rolls. The standouts were the picasso roll from the regular menu and the tuna mango roll from the summer menu. If you're looking for a cocktail, we recommend the Sun Kissed from the summer menu which has 1800 coconut tequila, Grand Marnier, coconut water, Monin agave nectar, and pineapple with a coconut rim. We were worried it was going to be too sweet, but it was just right.

Check out our photos from the night below, then stop by Kona Grill to taste all the goodness for yourself. The seasonal menu ends on Sunday, September 4 so you better move quickly!

Sun Kissed cocktail from the seasonal summer menu ending on September 4
Potstickers from the regular menu
Seven spice tuna over cucumber salad from the regular menu
Mango tuna sushi roll from the seasonal summer menu ending on September 4
Picasso sushi roll from the regular menu

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

#ThankYouMiami For New Food Finds - OCIO

Deep in the industrial, strip mall-laden outskirts of Miami International Airport hides OCIO, an Italian restaurant founded on such well-executed simplicity that it even impressed the discerning tastebuds of our friend Jamison. (You may remember Jamison and his "Yelp-vouched good taste" from our 2014 "Lunch Like A Local: Coral Gables" feature.) In fact, the entire 20 minute car ride to Doral he didn't stop amping about the menu saying, "I don't care how much it costs. We're getting the lobster ravioli and the chicken parm and the braised short rib and a bottle of wine and..." To be honest, we stopped listening after the third "and", primarily because we were amping ourselves about the spaghetti pomodoro we'd spotted on food writer Amber Bond's Instagram page earlier in the week.

Jamison's dreams were quickly crushed when he discovered our introduction to OCIO consisted of a pre-selected chef's tasting menu (featuring few of his wish list items) with little room for off roading into the full menu. He wistfully admired the menu's offerings while resolving himself to the notion that he would have to come back soon to try everything else. Meanwhile, across the table, we were in absolute awe at the captivatingly beautiful and colorful pages of the menus, which look like art that got lost on its way to Art Basel and made its surrogate home in the restaurant's dining room. (Seriously though, we wanted to take one of them home with us to perch on our coffee table.)

The first course was a citrusy octopus carpaccio that was so good Jamison had eaten half the plate by the time we finished taking photos. The second was a charcuterie plate surrounding a mound of artichoke hearts. If you know anything about us, you know we LOOOOVE charcuterie and we LOOOOVE artichokes so it comes as no surprise that we licked the second plate clean as well. The third and fourth courses were pasta dishes: the spaghetti pomodoro whose reputation preceded its arrival on our table and a three cheese tortellini in amaretto sauce that Jamison dubbed "pockets of heaven". Like the champs that we are, we ate every single bite of both and powered next through a tender ossobucco and a flaky corvina, straight into a cube of tiramisu.

We've seen other food writers talk about falling in love with a delicious dish or meal. And, while our Instagram page is practically an ode to how much we love food, we have never thought about our eating experiences as romantic—until we visited OCIO. (It sounds bizarre, we know. In fact, everyone we've verbally recapped the meal to thinks we're referring to Jamison when we talk about our romantic meal.) Jamison put it best when he raved about our experience and expressly referenced the chef's focus on perfecting classic recipes using fresh ingredients as the primary reason. In a city that tends to have a flare for the excessive and complex—which, to be clear, we love under the right circumstances—OCIO is an absolute breath of fresh air. We can't wait to follow its journey as it grows into the Miami staple we know it deserves to become.

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