Photo by Brenda Benoit
Allow me to begin by saying that I was part of a uniquely tailored experience while participating on a restaurant tour in Miami called the South Beach Food tour. I say this with sincerity (even though it does sound like a redundant cliche). I was part of a group that had no dietary restrictions, as opposed to my non-consumption of certain meats. However, I am far from a vegetarian: My fridge is always stocked with eggs and chicken breasts. Despite my choices pertaining to food, the tour easily accommodated me by replacing certain beef dishes with other restaurant-specific specialties.
The tour began 660 at the Angler's hotel on Washington Avenue in Miami Beach. I was greeted by dimly-lit inviting environs, which could either serve as a romantic setting or an after-work relax spot. I arrived late due to a cavalcade of unfavorable occurrences, and walked into Mirka's, our tour guide, informative speech on Scallop Tiradito. The Tiradito is a Peruvian ceviche dish. The scallops were doused in lemon and passion fruit juices, which enhance each other when combined. The taste was slightly fishy since ceviche dishes are uncooked, but it definitely did its work as the "appetizer" for the night's food lineup. When I was finally able to introduce myself to Mirka, she was leading the group towards the next destination. I offered my hand for a handshake and she unexpectedly grabbed my extended hand, proceeding to lead me out of the restaurant in one graceful motion.
Mirka was focused on shepherding the group across the street to Bolivar, a Colombian restaurant, so we couldn't speak much at that time. Bolivar was empty when we arrived but our group of twenty or so people instantly livened up the atmosphere. We were served Empanadas and Patacones as the signature Colombian dish, along with a glass of Refajo. My empanada was cheese-filled while everyone else received beef. It was firm yet soft enough to not crumble with a bite. The cheese had a distinct taste and was easily recognizable with every bite. My patacon (slice of fried plantain) was topped with shredded chicken. It had a nice crunch to it, which was complemented by the softness of the chicken. The refajo was my favorite part of the meal. Refajo is a mixture of Colombian beer and Colombian soda, with as little or as much of the two that you want. Our refajo was half and half. I would describe it as an alcoholic's choice of dessert. The sweetness of the soda canceled out the bitter beer aftertaste, and likewise the beer added a tasteful kick. In between my tastings, I briefly spoke with Mirka about the food and myself before she resumed her duty as tour guide.
After Bolivar, we walked a couple blocks to David's Cafe, listening to Mirka's trivia about Collins Avenue. David's Cafe offers Cuban cuisine from little windows or ventanitas, if one is in a rush. We were given Piccadillo-Stuffed Yucca (or everyone else besides me since Piccadillo contains beef). I was given a Guava Pastelito instead, which was a square Cuban pastry filled with a thick guava jam. I definitely did not mind having dessert in the middle of dinner, especially since we simultaneously sampled Cuban-style coffee. However the coffee was not the kind that would be enjoyed at length, with a baked good. This coffee was steaming and had to be treated like a tequila shot. It was plain except for the addition of a little too much sugar, which is how it is made in Cuba. I am personally not a coffee drinker but I had two servings because there's something vaguely fun about treating hot coffee like liquor.
The confectionary bliss did not end at David's. Jerry's deli was the next stop where we took a couple minutes to sample a Jewish cookie. The cookie was delicious with a powdery feel and subtle sugary taste.
I left Jerry's feeling energized ( probably because the coffee from David's kicked in),which was fortunate since we took a more than modest walk around South Beach, accompanied by Mirka's well-informed history lesson on the rise of South Beach. We took a short cut through a swanky hotel and walked until we arrived at Block's Pizza Deli. We sampled a vegetarian dish which was so good! It was made with sun-dried tomatoes, baby spinach, feta cheese, basil pesto and kalamata olives held together by a pita-like semi-circle pocket. The olives were the standout ingredient. Their texture was similar to that of meat, which gave me the impression that the pocket was perfect despite the absence of meat. It is a must-try for vegetarians, though they may feel bad because the olives are convincingly meat-like in texture.
We proceeded from Blocks to the last stop on the tour: Milani Gelateria. I would like to mention that I have never tried gelato before, but I have always wanted to. With that mentioned, I am so happy that this was the place where I had my first taste. They serve authentic gelato which is kept in a specially-designed refrigeration system. The owners also come straight from Italy so this adds to that idea of authenticity. Everyone in the group was a given a choice of gelato. I chose one of the most popular flavors which was
Stracciatella, a mixture of chocolate and Fior de latte. Fior de latte is the base of all gelato. The gelato was sweet but not overbearingly saccharine; I felt as if I could eat a tub of it without succumbing to the sickness that is caused by eating too much ice cream.
We ended the night with a final treat from Mirka. She had cookies covered with caramel and then coated with chocolate (think Turtle Candy on a cookie). Everybody else in the group were tourists so they asked Mirka for restaurant recommendations, which she did not hesitate to give. One by one the group disbanded and I was finally able to thank Mirka for the tour. She asked if I had any questions for her, but the tour was so thorough that I only needed to know where my car was. She graciously directed me and we parted ways for the night. At the end of the tour, I felt like Miami was an extension of home even though I've only been to the area a few times. Within a few hours, the tour made me feel comfortable enough to walk blocks by myself.
By Miami Food Blogger, Kewal Arjoon