If it hadn’t been stone crab season, if a delightful group of friends hadn’t decided to go at the last minute, if I didn’t have a “sorry-for-the-inconvenience credit” of just enough to cover my plane ticket, I might not have gone to Miami for New Year’s. Thankfully, however, all the stars aligned, and when I landed at MIA I was immediately seized with the urge to locate a crab claw, smash it with the nearest hard object and taste what winter in this fabulously vibrant city is about.
My first stop was the Casablanca Fish Market, adjacent to the eponymous Casablanca Seafood Bar and Grill — a Miami seafood staple for over two decades. While the restaurant’s extensive menu features regional specialties to the tune of queen conch fritters with homemade habanero sauce, escabeche, grouper, snapper, lobster and the like, I opted to go next door to the market and get cooking.
The stone crabs and lobsters were easy — crack and eat the former as-is and split and grill the latter — and a thick, hefty grouper fillet caught that very morning quickly found its way into a firey Goan fish curry. Unfortunately, after popping open oyster after oyster, I had micro-lacerations on my palms that made squeezing limes for a succulent shrimp ceviche far more painful than I’d expected. But the real treasure I brought home from Casablanca was a plump sac of glossy, bright orange red mullet roe (fresh, mind you, not bottarga) as big as a chicken breast and tender as foie gras. This was as special as the time I found fresh monkfish liver in Chinatown. I sautéed the roe in clarified butter for just a few minutes until slightly opaque, spread its creamy insides on toast and served it with scrambled eggs for breakfast.
We spent the day (special thanks to my cousin) at the newly-opened Soho Beach House on Collins Avenue. The restaurant and beach service were both excellent, and I sampled truly delicious tuna and jalapeno ceviche, beet and burrata salad, and a perfectly potent Bloody Mary made with truffle salt, cucumber juice and “filthy garnish” — a cornichon stuffed into a green olive. Friendly waitstaff roamed the beach with slices of pineapple and watermelon on ice... I considered canceling my flight home.
I couldn’t leave Miami without going to Joe’s, currently in their 98th season, one of Miami’s most celebrated dining establishments. We ordered a 2nd Mortgage, a true shellfish extravaganza starring jumbo shrimp, lobster cocktail, king crab and scallop ceviche. Thankfully we all rent apartments in Manhattan and even a first mortgage was out of the question, so we were happily able to dive into this tower’s briny depths and still have change left over for one of their famous and explosively citrusy key lime pies. When I arrived back to the dirty snow banks of blizzard-blitzed Manhattan, it took all my willpower to go to the fridge, take out a relatively nice chicken (I guess), and roast it, gazing longingly out my window and missing the sweet flavors of the Florida Gulf.