Tales of Tuscany, a pelican and……some bourbon?

Three nights, three very different adventures. There’s no other way around it: Miami Spice is the way to go during August and September in South Florida. Thinking of trying out a new restaurant? Go now. Want to return to an old favorite and save a bit on tried and true dishes? Go now. Moral of this post? GO NOW!

I set out to revisit an old favorite on Thursday night. Bourbon Steak is located in Aventura inside the Turnberry Isle Hotel. Valet parking is free with restaurant validation.  As usual, we were greeted promptly and with a smile. I always marvel at the overall excellent level of service Bourbon offers time and time again. It’s such a rarity in South Florida to find it.

Our wine was decanted right away (note that there is a $25 corkage fee if you choose to bring your wine) and we were ready to explore this year’s Miami Spice menu. Chef Fenton does not just transfer items already on the menu onto the Miami Spice listings like a lot of restaurants do. He carefully composes most items listed on the menu just for the Spice menu. It really is a treat. If you fall in love with something though, you only have two months to enjoy it. Last year’s menu was just exceptional. Is this  menu version good? Yes. Would I take it over last years given the choice? Nope! And that’s Bourbon Steak’s only problem with the concept for us diners: Last year, I went through corn ravioli  withdrawals once Miami Spice was over. I practically stalked  www.ilovemiamispice.com  just to read if the ravioli had made a comeback. It didn’t. My only choice then was to move on and enjoy what the 2013 menu had to offer. Imagine the sacrifice!


Signature fries at Bourbon Steak

We started off with their trio of addicting duck fat fries. The choices were rosemary-herb fries with spicy ketchup, onion-seasoned fries with chive onion crème fraîche and smoked paprika fries with BBQ sauce. We ate them all; holy fatness. These are complimentary and a signature of all Bourbon Steak restaurants. If you want bread, you have to order it off the menu. My suggestion? Please do. It’s a dreamy potato focaccia. I have to always pretend I am satisfied with a small piece when all I really want to do is steal the small pan it comes in and keep it to myself. Not very ladylike I suppose, huh?

We tried the ahi tuna poke, sweet corn risotto, scallops, New York strip, Alaskan king crab (a supplemental charge of $10), foie gras, chocolate almond torte, and bourbon blackberry salad with profiteroles. These were all splendid choices with the tuna, scallops and foie gras taking top honors. The dark cocoa sorbet accompanying the torte finale was outstanding. Overall, the 2013 menu is very good and a must out of all participating restaurants. I may be a tad biased though. I am always a Bourbon Steak fan, Miami Spice or not.


Ahi Tuna Poke (Bourbon Steak)


Sweet Corn Risotto (Bourbon Steak)


Focaccia Bread (Bourbon Steak)


Bourbon Blackberry Salad with profiteroles

The following night, I was very excited to try the newly remodeled Rusty Pelican. It is the perfect combination on paper: fine dining with a hard to find unforgettable view. Choose free self parking or pay a $6 for valet parking. Miami’s beautiful skyline, on display from the main dining room’s floor to ceiling windows, helped us forget the not so cordial hostess and some glitches with our reservation.

IMG_8970The food was mostly delightful and worth more than the Miami Spice’s actual cost especially given the large portions. Our waiter provided great service and it really made a difference in our overall experience. That said, there were also some mishaps with the food initially. The corvina ceviche, while fresh and delicious, had anise topped choclo next to it . I really, really, despise anise (and broccoli – in case you are taking notes). If a dish has that much anise, it should be listed on the menu. The “smoked” tomato mixed green salad had a tomato vinaigrette but exactly ONE small tomato cut in half in it. I’m not sure I understand that decision. One small tomato? On a smoked tomato salad? Other than those misses the rest of the dinner was simply wonderful with no other hiccups. The branzino a la plancha (with rosemary manchego polenta), oven roasted mahi mahi (including “to die for” smoked sweet plantain mash)and warm cafe con leche dessert (white chocolate, Cuban coffee, cookies and cream ice cream anyone?) hit it out of the park. What view? There was a view other than what was in front of me? I kid. I thoroughly enjoyed the view the entire night. I do recommend Rusty Pelican for the Miami Spice menu. Make reservations in advance, go for lunch or at sundown and dress casually (patrons seemed to be mostly tourists who were dressed down in flip flops and tank tops).


Corvina Ceviche


Oven Roasted Mahi Mahi


Branzino a la Plancha


Warm Cafe con Leche

My last adventure of the weekend was at Toscana Divino. This was my first time dining there and will certainly not be my last. Located right in the center of Mary Brickell Village, you cannot miss it. Just look for red umbrellas lined up outside as a sign that you have arrived. A lineup of luxury, displayed handbags greets you the second you step in. I have to say, I was confused- was there shopping involved with my afternoon? Don’t tempt me, I thought. I have known to be a shopaholic. Luckily for my bank account, I kept walking and focused on just the food. We were joining a friend for a birthday lunch and we were a large party. I was apprehensive at first about not being able to experience all Toscana has to offer (sometimes dining in a big group can hinder that). I am happy to say that it did not affect it in the least. Our lunch was incredible and service was consistently on point. This is not your everyday Italian bistro. Garnets, golds and terra cottas are nowhere to be found inside. The modern monochromatic palette with small yellow highlights seems like an unlikely choice, but it works. Toscana Divino shines with a casual elegance not found in any of the restaurants nearby. Its unconventional menu had me excited to get started. And get started we did…


Toscana Divino

The soy truffle vinaigrette in my hamachi tartar enamored me the second it was placed in front of me.  It was exquisite. My husband had the Tuscan tomato bread soup which was home-cooked good.  One look around confirmed that everyone was enjoying their appetizers as well since every single plate was wiped clean. My main course was the maccheroni livornese  (crab, tomato, raisins, rosemary and parsley)– sinful as can be. The pappardelle alla finocchiona (pork shoulder ragu, fennel pollen and pecorino toscano) was amazing as well. For the finish, my husband ordered the honey pana cotta.  It was a good choice but nowhere near as perfect as mine: a spectacular, delicate olive oil polenta cake with perhaps the best pistachio ice cream I’ve ever had. I can still taste it. Accompanying drinks of choice were fantastic back to back spicy Bloody Marys. I could have easily kept drinking them but it was Sunday and time to wind down right? (It’s the excuse I’m using anyway).  I will be back to Toscana very soon to order off the regular menu now that I have tried a small (remarkable) part of what they offer.


Pappardelle alla Finocchiona


Maccheroni Livornese


Hamachi Tartar


Olive Oil Polenta Cake

Sadly, that’s the end of my tale.  August is coming to a close in a couple of days leaving September as the last month to sample more Miami “spice”.

Up next, all about my unforgettable night at PB Steak

As always, from my palette to yours. Enjoy!