Thursday, September 20, 2007

Is the Miami Food Scene an Unmitigated Fucking Disaster? Part I-Who Are We?

While there has been some grumbling over the summer about the future of the Miami restaurant scene, I chalk it up to the fact that there are fewer out-of-towners here for us to service, so perhaps we have too much time on our hands, and, as all bored ladies of the court eventually must, we turn on ourselves. After reading the NY Times Dining section two weeks ago about all the exciting fall restaurant openings in the city (sixty-six, in fact), and noticing the two Miami openings worthy of being mentioned (another Michael Mina steakhouse and a BLT Steak are planned for Miami-great, two more overpriced hotel-based steak houses to not give a shit about-give me a moment to pluck my own eyeballs out with my bare hands...ahhh, thank you), and shedding a tear or two, in the mail comes the new Saveur.

'Chicago!' the cover screams, with the exclamation point, and goes on to list and describe some of the most cutting-edge restaurants in the world, a culinary history of almost epic proportions, and a citizenry that accepts and encourages experimentation, but also understands the complex issues facing diners today, particularly the controversy over Chicago's Foie Gras ban, which has left many Chicagoans either fighting mad at those who still sell it, or simply shrugging their shoulders in a 'those crazy kids!' kind-of way. This is all while maintaining long-standing mid-western ethnic traditions in a way that only a truly sophisticated and open-minded city can.

Now, I'm not going to even try to compare Miami to any other city, or even explain away our shortcomings. I'll leave that to perhaps our most well-known chef, the beloved Norman Van Aken. “I don't think Miami is capable of being a big foodie town,” he told the Herald when he closed his place this summer. “Miami was a better place in the early '90's,” he goes on. “What's happening today is one step above fast-food nation.” Ouch, babe! So I guess Mr. Van Aken feels he was serving yahoos for 15 years? Insulting one's customers is one thing, but maybe some people did understand him, obviously many did. Or maybe he's really saying that all those people who 'bought into' his cuisine were wrong. Hey, I agree for the most part. What is the dominant restaurant cuisine here, anyway? Take away the mango, the signature of the 'Mango Gang' and what do you have that is distinctly and unequivocally Miami Cuisine? Stone crab claws? The Cuban Sandwich? Bustelo from the can with enough sugar in it to kill a diabetic? (By the way, the Starbucks across from David's on Lincoln Rd. is always packed-it seems even our 'Cuban coffee culture' is dying a slow death.)

When Norman closed Mundo, or Doug Rodriguez closed the original OLA, no one really even noticed. Why all the hysteria now? The 'recent buzz' about Miami's 'culinary renaissance' was coming from...whom? Who exactly was saying this? Perhaps the same people who are now saying the exact opposite? So the very notion of Miami's culinary rise was puffed up by the same people who now lament its premature demise. In other words, people were believing their own hype. Another dire Miami pitfall. Don't you know that the more a scene is hyped, the crappier it is, in exact inverse proportion? Or maybe it's just overreacting? Hasn't Doug Rodriguez been opening and closing restaurants here for two decades? And if we're going to be shocked by the closing of, say, Restaurant Brana, M Woods, Mosaico, Duo, Johnny V's, Pacific Time, Norman's, etc.-shouldn't we first look at the fact that maybe, just maybe, these restaurants just weren't really that good? I know rents have skyrocketed, especially on Lincoln Rd., but does anyone really believe that rents in the Design District and elsewhere are not exorbitant? Or that other operating costs have not also mushroomed? Why else would successful star chefs, like Michelle Bernstein or Michael Schwartz, need deep-pocketed backers?

But Van Aken may be on to something, however indelicately he expressed himself, and however much he is also partly to blame here. One of our flaws is our 'second-city' mentality. We have to stop rolling over for those that come to visit our sandy beaches and seedy strip clubs and live a life apart from the one that others choose for us. Now is the time to reject the desire to try and 'catch up' to New York, or leap ahead of another city, but to truly identify with that which is unique to Miami, while incorporating the best culinary ideas from around the globe, and embracing them with both our stomachs and our wallets.

So the question remains, how do we get ourselves up to that next level? My gentle contention is that there is nothing wrong with the Miami restaurant scene that can't be fixed with a ten-megaton bomb.

COMING UP-Total Fucking Destruction, The Phoenix Rises from the Ashes, and Topless Models Eating Foie Gras!

4 comments:

  1. I hope someone's listening! We need to stop rewarding mediocrity!

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  2. So many things to say. Oh Chicago how I love thee. But as you say, Chicago we are not. New York we are not. I agree wholeheartedly, it's time to stop all the hype and time for Miami to do its own interesting things.

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  3. I moved to Miami two years ago from San Francisco and have been let down by the food every time I go out to eat. Not that I haven't had some decent meals, but it's the recommendations I get from locals here that swear this and that place are great. Given the number of Steak Houses here, I am convinced that people equate the price of their meal with the quality (don't even get me started when people think 'best ribs in town are at Tony Roma's and 'best pizza in town is at Papa John's').

    Miami can do better and I think there are enough people here that could support a good restaurant movement, but until you can open a reasonably priced bistro with innovative cuisine and afford your rent, it won't happen. You have to create splash and hype and cater to the wealthy masses who wouldn't know a chantarelle from a cowbell when it comes to heading off to the food trough.

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  4. It doesn't help when Lee Klein, of The New Times, one of only two major dining critics in town, reviews the new Chipotle. My heart really sank.

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