Miami is America's melting pot of a city. Like New York with its neighborhoods for Russians, Ukrainians, Rich People, Famous People, Puerto Ricans, artists (most, I hear, moved elsewhere when the Rich People took their lofts), and every other brand of exotic creature, Miami has room for many tongues and growing businesses. All those cultures melting away in the pot leave a residue of different dishes, ingredients, spices, and cuisines. Florida may once have been fed by fried fish, fried chicken, and roasted pig with some collard greens and a few oranges but, today, the pot runneth over.
Like New York, the melted pot is bubbling with once exotic foods and tastes, many from Latin America, to which Miami is America's gateway. Yes, I know there are those who think they should all go home, wherever home is. But home is often here. Many Cubans may speak Spanish or only Spanish but have been here since Fidel came out of the mountains of Oriente Province. In Tampa my mother used to complain of Cubans who had come after the Spanish-American War and not learned English by the 1950s. Some people are not proficient in languages, others adapt more quickly.
Miami has its Cuban base as well as Haitians speaking Creole (a sort of French with a twist of this and that), Japanese and Chinese, French and Peruvians, Salvadorans and Basques, Pakistanis, Indians… each brings the tastes of their cultures. The only cuisine that is primarily a bore is American unless you like fried chicken from plastic chickens, chain hamburgers from factories, and computer-scheduled drive-throughs or Chuck E. Cheese, whatever it may be (I saw one but there were too many tots slobbering to get in for me to look in).
My relationship to restaurants here is eclectic although it tends toward the nearby (I am relegated to public transport in a city of Maseratis and Porsche SUVs), the Chinese which are my favorites, and the affordable while visiting my country which has become astoundingly expensive. Therefore, this episode in Travels With Howard has a few places for those who are in or coming to the sunshine if they can get out from under the 200 inches of some odd, white stuff of which I have nearly forgotten the lovely feel.
I would have added pictures but I came here partly to have a cataract removed. The eye works again and will focus a camera but it is too soon to stick heavy, metal Nikons up to it. Let your imagination run free as it always should. Being alone I don't get to try enough of the dishes anywhere although I peek at every tray that goes by and, peeping Howard, check out what everyone else is eating, especially if they look contented.
According to one site on Peru, Peru has the largest Chinese community in Latin America. In the period from 1849 to 1874, 100,000 Chinese immigrated to Peru. Chinese restaurants, called Chifas, adapted and became an important part of Peru's cuisine. Check out Alejandro's blog on Peruvian cooking with its videos. In the last 40 years 2000 Chifas have opened in Peru and the Chinese restaurants of their communities became part of the Peru scene.
In Miami there is one. It is called, imaginatively, Chifa and is tucked into a little shopping center (isn't everything in Miami that is not in a mall?), Shops of Kendall, at 12590 N. Kendall Drive (phone 305.271.3823) near a Peruvian buffet and a little "food store" that sells Peruvian packaged foods and, my favorite, Inca Cola. Okay, I skipped the Pulpo al olivo (Octopus with Olive Cream) for 10.95 and chose between Pollo con Jolantau (chicken with snow peas – $9.95) and Szechuan Delight Chicken since it promised to be as spicy as some of us crave for $9.95.
So I have eaten Szechuan Chicken a hundred times. Each dish is different. This one showed its Peruvian influence in the great colors and presentation of julienne carrot, and red and green sweet peppers in a generous pile. This was offset by the yellow-gold Inca Cola. Other people, mostly speaking Cuban or Peruvian Spanish, feasted on the meat dishes and pato duck with almond, pineapple, oyster sauce or pickled turnips ($11.95).
Unlike most Chinese restaurants, the desserts are said in other reviews to be excellent and had that look about them. The menu lists sweet souffles for $4 and chocolate cake or pineapple cake (Torta Dorada o Pecado de Lucuma and others). It isn't elegant, it can be slow, and it is hardly the Miami Beach scene. It is just your typical Peruvian-Chinese Chifa. If you are nearby when you come to or through Miami, stop for an inexpensive treat.
From the simple and tasty to the elegantly sublime, save your pennies (hundreds are more like it) to dine at Bizcaya, the restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Coconut Grove. I will admit that, on the last trip with my late wife and once with her mother and sister, gourmands, we ate there a few times, each as perfectly served, prepared and as sublimely comfortable as the others. That comes from a man who usually dislikes expensive restaurants for their pretentiousness and stuffiness (and paying large bills). The Bizcaya (at 305.644-4675) is one of my favorite restaurants in Miami or Miami Beach.
First, because, although we all ate the grilled salmon with a pineapple-soy sauce – the simplest item – it was always absolutely fresh and perfect. My wife and I were pleased with the Mediterranean serving of small dishes of well-chosen, rich extra-virgin olive oil accompanying a selection of fresh rolls in a variety rather than a mundane, cholesterol-laden butter. Olive oil, like wine and coffee, deserves more respect, each one different, the tastes distinct, an aroma and color to check for the pleasure of checking.
The cost depends on the dish and, of course, your taste in wines and brandies. A simple dinner of the salmon, asparagus and salad will run about $60 for two. More complex dishes, desserts, and drinks will drive the price higher with relative ease.
There was not just music but a man with just the right Mozart so that I could say, "Oh, that was…", thank him and truly enjoy what is so often, in expensive places, some variation of Frank Sinatra for the old, rich-folks-at-play.
Tea came in a large, wooden chest with a varied choice. The salad (not on the menu but what my wife wanted) was a beautiful mound of colored lettuces and other fresh things. Her family shared a tomato and mozzarella salad that looked good and the salmon, as each time there, was perfect.
Dessert, which our appetites are seldom up to, was encouraged by her mother and we had the best sorbet either of us had ever had — even including that which I make from limes off my tree in Mexico and a little tequila to set off the taste. How could sorbet, that palate-cleanser and boring substitute for rich ice cream, merit notice? Because perfection always merits notice. A plate came with three small scoops of fruit-rich ice and some fresh berries for more color and more taste.
I am not a person for putting on the Ritz. In Miami the Ritz hosts a dining room that made me comfortable. Even the bill didn't make me cry because I had been so relaxed and comfortable even in my tropical, casual dress which is to say, no jacket and no tie — things I have not worn these past ten years.
Miami is growing, changing, developing, and trying to add a dash of Culture (with a capital C) to the cultures that have entered its once southern provincialism. If you flee the lovely winter of the week (it is actually chilly here today, the residue of the Yankee ice and snow) there are things to do and corners to explore beyond the beach and Little Havana.