Top Chef in Miami

We are thiiiiis close to spring time. Are you looking into vacations yet? Planning spring break? We all yearn for the sun, no matter how mild this winter has been. Well, I was lucky enough to get a few rays last week, as I visited a few days in Miami, not only to attend the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, but also to dive into the local cuisine (besides diving into the ocean of course). I made my reservations ahead of time, as Miami houses a few of my beloved Top Chef contestants have restaurants here. So, I ended up having some of the best food I ever had on a vacation, I was so super impressed! Ergo: if you’re planning a trip to Miami anytime soon, I highly recommend you make reservations for at least one of these amazing restaurants….

Pao by Paul Qui

Not only did this talented chef win Season 9 of Bravo’s Top Chef, but he also is a winner of a James Beard Award. His restaurant Pao is located in Mid Beach in Miami, housed inside the Faena Hotel. I can’t say enough about how ritzy and beautiful not only the restaurant, but also the hotel is. You will feel like a Hollywood star, I promise you, the staff is beyond attentive. This restaurant was an experience in itself.

The food? Once you get over how breathtaking your surroundings are, take your time studying the menu. Or just order whatever, because it’s going to be excellent. I shared four plates with my daughter Sasha, and we were swooning. We started with Key West Pink Shrimp with Aguachile, cucumbers, avocado and Sal de Gusano. Can I say OMG? We spooned out the sauce once the shrimp and vegetables were gone. Up next was the Fried Chicken with sweet chili sauce, roasted banana ketchup and jalapeño. Just fantastic, crispy and bursting with flavor. The third dish was Crispy Octopus, nicely charred, delicious with caramelized miso eggplant, smoked golden raisins and pine nuts. You’ll never have octopus served this way anywhere else. So clever. We finished out the evening with the Crab Rice with duck fat, Chinese sausage, trout roe, squid ink aioli, topped with a fried egg, a perfect ending to a perfect meal.

For more info on Pao click here

Nativo Kitchen & Bar

For lunch on the following day, we took ride over to Brickell, which is more of a business area of Miami, so lunch seemed appropriate. But don’t fret, the water is never far away when you dine out in Miami, and the view of this restaurant will take your breath away. Pablo Lamon, the handsome young chef who owns this gorgeous spot, competed in Top Chef’s season 16. In a cruel twist, two contestants were eliminated together, and in round 4 we had to say good bye. But it’s ok, I got to say hello, because he was kind enough to stop by our table (overlooking the water from the 25th floor), as he talked about his food with us. What a lovely person!

Our first dish was the Ceviche with lime, relish, purple sweet potato and boniato. If this was any fresher, the fish would still be alive. It was unbelievably good. Next were Empanadas de Ossobuco with cumin aioli, crispy and brown on the outside, hot and stewy and yummy on the inside. We then opted for a couple of sandwiches: I had the Jerk Chicken Sandwich with asian pear slaw (which gave it a surprising but tasty tinge of tartness), butter lettuce accompanied by a green salad; and a Shrimp Po Boy with the freshest rock shrimp EVER, cooked tempura style, with lime aioli and Himalayan fries. We both adored the chef and the wonderful food, and if you have the cajones, do dine on the balcony with a breathtaking view….

For more info on Nativo click here

Stubborn Seed

This restaurant has been on my list, oh, only since forever. Ok fine, since it opened. Chef Jeremy Ford won Season 13 of Bravo’s Top Chef, and is the proud owner of Stubborn Seed, after having cooked in a few high caliber restaurants. This dimly lit, pretty eatery is located in South Beach, but be sure to make your reservations way ahead of time, it’s hard to get a table! And for good reason: dinner here is an experience….

We started off with a plate of Kusshi Oysters with a Thai chili mignonette, Fresno pepper oil and sour apple. So fresh, so good, my mouth is watering as I write about this. Next up was the Fish Sandwich with smoked fish, and I was taken back to my childhood with one bite. I even teared up a bit. My dad (who passed away almost 10 years ago), used to take us kids to walks on the beach of the Baltic Sea in the fall, where we were eating smoked eel out of paper wrappers. Just this moment, biting into this sandwich, was worth the trip. After I pulled myself together and finished the sandwich, we moved on to the Crunchy Truffle Potatoes with truffle aioli, rosemary, aged parmesan and sopressata ham. Try not to close your eyes while enjoying this dish. Impossible. We then shared the Bill & Evans Chicken dish, which was served with pommes purée, truffle butter, Brussels sprouts and gnocchi. Just outstanding. Of course we couldn’t leave without trying the famous Snickerdoodle Cookies with Malted Milk Ice Cream. As you spoon open the cookies, the liquid chocolate just comes oozing out. I was sold and fighting for the last bite with my daughter. Besides absolutely everything being absolutely yummy, the plating was also very artful and pretty. This restaurant is a must.

For more info on Stubborn Seed click here

As usual I can’t say enough good things about these Top Chef contestants. Each in their own way is so talented and driven, I will forever seek them out. An excellent meal is guaranteed.

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