|Happy Hour: Stella & Marcona Almonds|
|Spoiler alert: I start with the "good" that is the new Oak Tavern in Miami's flourishing Design District. Home to a manifold of storefronts parading nouveau couches and sleek kitchen facades, this neighborhood nook also makes room for a gem of a restaurant. Owned by David Bracha of River Seafood & Oyster Bar in downtown, the indoor-outdoor flow of former dance club, The District (where I spent many a youthful night bopping away), lends itself perfectly to this rustic dining experience. I found myself there for happy hour, sipping on an ice-cold Stella under the gorgeously lit thick oak tree (hence the name) stretching its branches in the spacious front patio. Not only was the breezy ambiance spectacular, the noshes put me in my happy place as well. Despite being freshly open for a mere week, my Bone Marrow with succulently sweet oxtail marmalade was impecable, as were the Lamb Ribs on the bone served over a luscious layering of mint pesto and thick lemony yogurt. While the House-cured Maple Bacon bites were oddly naked and dwarfed on a supremely large serving board, salty and sweet is always a home run. The Roasted Beets were simply satisfying with creamy goat cheese and a detectable hint of nutty pistacchio vinaigrette. To boot, the service was attentive and amicable, giving you all the more reason to extend that happy hour past curfew.|
|Moqueca de Camaron|
But thankfully, there is always the "yummy" to fall back on. For me (and everyone else who knows the hour-plus wait is worth it) is Hy Vong, a cozy (read, tiny) nondescript Vietnamese restaurant tucked on Calle Ocho: an anomaly on a street characterized by more Hispanic "old Miami" mom-and-pop businesses. Mom and pop this is, with no hostess but the proprietor simultaneously checking the scratch-paper waitlist and taking orders. Not a thing that touched our tongues was not complex in flavor and ultimately satisfying as it went down. For anyone that thinks they do not like Vietnamese cuisine, these dishes will convert you. The tender tongue was licked with soft notes of ginger and the sauteed calamari salad was coddled by the most impressive soy-lime dressing I've ever tasted. Going with superlatives, I had the best roast duck of my life here (this is not hyperbole). An impressive half bird is marinated and cooked in the perfectly sour-sweet sticky black currant glaze, deep but bright. The skin is blackened to a light crisp and the meat more supple than I could ever imagine duck to be. Also noteworthy were the brothy pumpkin soup spiked with fried shallots and the incredibly doughy Bahn Cuon rolls stuffed with pork and mushrooms. Dessert delivers with a thick pie-slice of firm but airy bread pudding, and well as the decadent chocolate brownie cake coated with gloriously rich fudge. So exceptional is this place, it can afford to be closed three days out of the week! Like its name means, Hy Vong is everything one could "hope" for, though ironically, little hope is needed for a fantastic meal.
Oak Tavern, 35 NE 40 St, 786.391.1818
Jaguar, 3067 Grand Ave, 305.444.0216
Hy Vong, 3458 SW 8th St, 305.446.3674
All photos by Rebecca Kritzer