Sunday, January 4, 2009

Miami Kosher Restaurant Reviews

Hi everyone,
with everything going on in Israel, I have decided to cheer myself up with some reminiscing over a recent trip that I took to Miami. I was lucky enough to spend a week with one of my best friends Debbie and my two boys - unfortunately mu super-husband had used up all of his time off for the Jewish Holidays and wasn't able to join us. I don't think he was too disappointed though - after all he got a week of peace and quiet (and a blizzard too:).
Anyway, aside from the fact that Debbie lives in beautiful Bal Harbour, in a building full of incredible amenities and right on the beach, I was also fortunate enough to visit many of the kosher restaurants in the area. For those of you who are planning a visit to sunny Florida - I hope you find this information helpful as well as other pointers I will add regarding travelling with children.
Upon the recommendation of my very wise friends Shlomo and Nelly, I contacted a baby gear rental company prior to making the trip. I contacted the Baby Travel Company (, who were extremely helpful and professional as well as prompt in responding to my email inquiries. They contacted my host and made all arrangements with her to set up a crib that I had rented, which was assembled and ready to go by the time we got home from the airport. They even left a really cute beach ball for the kids with the company logo on it - a little thing, but in my opinion incredibly thoughtful.
When flying with kids, I strongly recommend occupying them with whatever works. For us it is a portable DVD player for our 2 year old Eitan and a stack of Baby Einstein and Handy Manny DVDs as well as a Magna Doodle Pad and his favorite Miss Spider book. Baby Oren seemed perfectly well entertained by what was going on around him and I didn't really have to worry about him. The airport personnel seems to have a lot of mercy on people travelling with young kids, at least that's how I felt. Everyone smiled even when the kids were restless, which gave me a little bit more self-confidence and put my mind at ease. They allowed me to take the strollers all the way to the door of the aircraft, but I think it would have been easier to have the baby in a baby carrier and push just one single stroller. Since I don't own a baby carrier, I as stuck with a stroller and a cart seat on top of a snap-n-go.
For those of you who think that I am completely out of my mind travelling alone, let me put you at east and say that my parents were also on the same flight to Florida, so they helped me out in the airport, which was of course a huge favor!!
Once in Miami, I was more then thrilled to see Debbie and get to the apartment. Once we settled in and the kids were put to bed, I had the time to step out onto the balcony and take in the amazing view of the ocean and the incredibly clear sky above me where the stars were so bright, I felt like I could almost reach up and touch them.
Now, for the most important part - the food. Coming from Chicago, where the kosher restaurant scene is should we say pitiful, I was really looking forward to tasting many things, which I can only vaguely recall now from my non-kosher days:)
Our first stop was Cafe Vert, located at 9490 Harding Avenue in Surfside. We visited Cafe Vert on our last visit to Miami in March and I really wanted to go back and have some of their delicious crepes and omelets. The most recent owner of the establishment, immigrated to Miami from Marseilles, France and his family has joined him there in recent months. Needless to say, I was not disappointed with my crepes and my feta and spinach omelet. I love the atmosphere at Cafe Vert, the lime green walls, the retro french posters and the chalkboard menu on the wall. You can also eat outside if you are lucky enough to get the only table on the sidewalk, but in nice weather it's great! I strongly recommend Cafe Vert for breakfast or brunch. Eitan really loved their croissants and chocolate crepes with fresh strawberries!!
Later that day we visited "thirty six" located at the Waterways in Aventura. "Thirty six" is a dairy restaurant, which serves a nice mix of cheesy favorites as well as sushi. I loved the fact that the second we came in, the owner rushed over to us and asked if I would like a plate of french fries for Eitan, who obviously would have no patience to wait for his meal. I also absolutely loved the live music at the restaurant, but unfortunately, forgot to ask for the name of the musician.
Our server was a little slow, but I didn't mind too much because the entertainment was great. I rather enjoyed my panini sandwich with smoked salmon and Eitan liked their cheese pizza. I do have to say though, for a dairy restaurant, their dessert was extremely disappointing. I ordered a fresh strawberry tart, which looked great, but other then the strawberries, the tart was inedible. I felt like I was chewing on cart board.
For Shabbos Debbie decided to indulge me and picked up a chocolate mousse cake from Extravaganza Bakery, located at 12117 Biscayne Blvd., Miami ( I tell you, that place is magic. The customer service is pretty great too. They even attach a plastic cake server to the top of the cake box so you have something to slice and serve your cake with. I thought it was a pretty big deal and for those of you who have been to my house, you know that although I own plenty of cool gadgets like a super duper pineapple slicer from Williams-Sonoma or the Magic Bullet Food Processor, I still don't own a cake server (can you say LOSER:)). Anyway, the cake was fabulous and I heard that you can even go straight to the bakery and have dessert there if you would like to please your sweet tooth.
On Sunday, after yet another great breakfast at Cafe Vert we decided to make a trip to the all-famous Lincoln Road. Although there are no kosher restaurants right on Lincoln Road, there are two kosher ice cream shops as well as a few "pubs" where one can sit down, have a beer and people-watch. When we were there, the Chabad had erected a huge Menorah and Dreidel made out of sea shells. The two structures were standing right in the middle of Lincoln Road surrounded by Chabad representatives who offered Jewish passers-by to put on Tefillin and were inviting everyone to the Chabad Chanukah celebration. Once we got hungry, we headed to "Tea for Two", which was the closest kosher restaurant to the area. Located at 1205 17th street in Miami Beach, one would think that the owners of this establishment would be going out of their way to ensure superb customer service and quality of the food. However, to my great dismay, neither the food, nor the customer service were anywhere near acceptable. When we first walked into the restaurant, the waiter greeted us with a grim face and said that us coming in with two strollers and two small children was a real problem because the restaurant is too narrow to accommodate us. Considering that there was only one other patron seated, I don't think they should have been so picky as to discriminate against people with young children.
I ordered miso soup and avocado salad from a waiter with a major attitude. While we were waiting for the food to arrive, the waiter along with his co-worker were sitting in a corner giving us dirty looks as if trying to decide whether we were worthy to be in their presence. Once the food finally arrived, I discovered that the miso paste in my miso soup wasn't completely diluted and there wasn't enough dressing for even a fraction of my salad. To top off the already horrible experience, when we asked for the check, the waiter informed us that he will not allow us to pay with a credit card because his "manager told him not to accept it". This came just minutes after the only other patron of the establishment paid with her VISA card. Thankfully I had some cash on hand and we paid and got out of there as quickly as we could. I would have to say that hands down "Tea for Two" was the most horrendous dining experience of the entire trip.
In the evening, my parents who were also vacationing in Miami invited us to join them for dinner. We headed to "China Bistro" located at the Waterways in Aventura. I am generally very fond of the Waterways because there are several kosher restaurants in the same plaza, you can sit inside or outside and not have to smell car emissions, there is music entertainment on Saturday nights and there are fun little rides for kids right next to the ice cream shop. I feel in love with the Waterways on our last visit to Miami, and at that time we visited "China Bistro" twice because we loved everything about it - the interior, the food and the service. I was excited to go there with my parents because they don't go out to eat very often, so when they do, they like to visit places that are worth making a trip for. We opted for outdoor seating because of the kids and the hostess was very accommodating. She even gave Eitan a blue Mardi Gras necklace to play with. We ordered two appetizers: the spring rolls and chicken lettuce wraps, which were both pretty good. For our main course, we ordered several sushi rolls and one salmon entree as well as a hot dog and fries for Eitan. Although the salmon and hot dog came out relatively quickly, it seemed that the sushi chef forgot about our rolls. By the time we finally got the rolls, without any kind of apology from the server, we were done with the fish and weren't even so hungry any more. I do have to admit though that the rolls were pretty decent and I did enjoy them. Even my father, who usually likes to stick to very traditional foods said that he wouldn't mind having this kind of sushi more often:)
For dessert, I really ordered a pecan tart and my parents ordered a chocolate dessert similar to the one offered in Chicago by Shallot's restaurant. After some time the server returned and informed me that they were out of the pecan tart and that I can have the chocolate dessert on the house. Overall, I felt the service at China Bistro had definitely slipped since our March visit and although the food and ambiance were still there, the service really diminished the experience. On top of that, when we got the bill, it seemed unreal to pay $200 for three adults and one toddler considering that we didn't get any alcohol and only one of us got an actual entree. However, compared to the awful experience at Tea for Two earlier that day, I was OK with anything.
On Monday, we visited the "Jungle Island" located right in Miami. The best part about the field trip was the lack of visitors and the close-up access we had to all the exhibits. In addition to its famous parrots, the park boasts a nice selection of other jungle animals, such as monkeys, tigers, lions, etc. It also has a small "farm area' where children can see sheep, turkeys and pigs. There is a nice size playground and picnic area as well. Eitan was kind of scared of the birds (he must take after me) because they weren't caged and were screaming loudly and flapping their wings, but we were both fascinated by how beautiful they were. The weather was also amazing, which made the outing that much more special. After seeing all the birds we headed to "Gourmet Carrot" located at 959 West Avenue, in Miami Beach. Since the weather was gorgeous and we had heard that there was a huge blizzard back home in Chicago, we decided to enjoy the beautiful outdoors and set outside. The restaurant special in healthy meat and parve dishes and has a nice selection of fresh juices. I ordered buffalo wings and a stir fry pasta, which was great and Eitan loved their chickpea soup and home made apple juice. I would definitely love to visit "Gourmet Carrot" again and try some of their specialties.
In the evening we were able to get a baby-sitter (thanks Mark:) and headed to Prime Sushi located on 41st Street. The interior of the restaurant is quite pleasant and although it is called Prime Sushi, the menu features both Japanese and Italian items.
I ordered tuna sashimi over a bowl of rice and a side of edamame. My friends ordered a few sushi rolls all of which looked creative and delicious. Overall the food was quite good. For dessert I selected a creme brulee and since I haven't had a creme brulee in about a year, I was very excited and not disappointed - it was delicious.
On Tuesday, we headed to Cine Citta, located at 9544 Harding Avenue in Surfside. Everything we ate at the dairy restaurant was unbelievable. The fish soup, the mushroom ravioli and the creme brulee were out of this world! The service was impeccable and they were very tolerant of the kids being their lovely loud self.
On our last day in Miami, my parents took us to Grill Time, located at 16145 Biscayne Blvd in Miami. The Chilean Sea Bass we had was absolutely delicious and the quantity of food provided was just unbelievable. The service was great too!!
Needless to say, we were quite sad to leave the warm beaches of Miami and to come back to freezing Chicago along with its unfortunate kosher dining scene. But home is home and we'll just have to wait until we can once again bask in the warm sunshine and enjoy the delicious food offered by the many kosher venues of Miami:)
For all of you going, have an awesome time!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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