Greetings From: Miami

With its Golden Girls past and Girls Gone Wild present, Miami is one unusual city. Stuck on South Beach, it’s easy to forget that the beyond the causeway-connected spit of sand there is an actual city. A big one. With neighborhoods and ethnic food and skyscrapers. There’s a whole Miami out there just waiting to be discovered, my gringo friends. Just watch one epi of Dexter. Café con leche with a side of decapitated hooker. Holler.

In the snowbird tradition, we spend some time in South Florida when the weather gets icy on the Eastern seaboard. We never cared too much about Miami, preferring its laid-back, quirky sister to the north, Fort Lauderdale, the Charlie to Miami’s Dennis. But in recent jaunts we’ve been exploring the city, getting off the beaten path and eating with the locals. In recent jaunts, we discovered a whole new Miami, one that exists on the mainland.

Our favorite Miami restaurant? Gotta be Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, in the gritty-chic Design District just west of Biscayne Boulevard. See a profile on chef/owner Michael Schwartz in this month’s Food & Wine, but for the record, we knew about this ingredient-focused new American hideaway first. You may remember soul-patched Schwartz from Top Chef Miami, where he guest judged Hung’s Smurf Village.

Heirloom tomatoes line the half-wall separating the chef’s bar from the open kitchen. Fat, misshapen orbs the colors of fire engines, sunflowers, basketballs, limes and violets. Sliced, they’re paired with Burrata, a mozzarella-like cheese with a creamy center. Stewed with caramelized onions, they make sweet gravy for perfectly crisped sweetbreads.

The tomatoes are a fine intro to Schwartz’s fresh/local philosophy we’re so familiar with here in Philly. Maybe that’s why we dig this restaurant, so dark, so sleek, yet so honest about food. It definitely feels like somewhere we’d eat in the two-one-five. Except for all the outdoor seating, of course, tables and umbrellas tucked into a breezeway between the restaurant and a bank of Italian furniture emporiums and modern art galleries. The heat lamps blaze, and it’s 60 degrees out. In Miami, that’s cold.

Inside, there’s a wood-burning oven that roasts the whole onion filled with ground lamb and dried fruits; the gorgeous chicken; the bacony Brussels sprouts; the double-yolk egg enriched with cave-aged Gruyere and served with crostini for dipping. We love the local grouper ceviche, bright and unrelentingly tart, and the glorious rabbit pâté served with grilled sourdough, frisée dressed in hot mustard and peach conserve that’s the perfect J to the pâté’s PB. Playful desserts like chocolate cremoso dressed with sea salt and olive oil echo the Vetri school. Peep the “Creamsicle”, a smooth tangerine pot de crème paired with blackberry-basil jam, candied citrus and airy sugared doughnuts for dunking. Shades of Buddakan much?

How cool would it be to get a Michael’s outpost in our neck of the woods? Schwartz is a Philly native, after all, or so a waiter told us. You listening Mike? You’d kill it in this town.

Photo: blogalicious

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