Ready for a scene? Because that’s what Level One is, with a drink menu that rivals any in South Beach, especially the Signature Cocktails (traditional cocktails are available, too), like The Sherry Temple, made from Manzanilla Sherry, gin, St. Germain, Lillet Blanc, Lemon and Pomegranate, or if you’re feeling adventurous, the Dealer’s Choice, the bartender’s choice of a daily old-fashioned. But the food here is worth noting, too, from Happy Hour Appetizers like Crab Au Gratin made with coconut milk and Truffle Arancini, Gouda-stuffed risotto balls made with truffle and saffron, to a dinner menu that features sandwiches, salads, risottos, fresh pastas and grilled meats, including Filet Mignon and Pumpkin Gorgonzola Risotto, and seafood options that range from simple—Pan Seared Cobia with grilled shrimp, tomatoes, asparagus and truffle mashed potatoes, for example—to substantial, like the Seafood Casserole, a heady mix of grilled lobster, scallops, shrimp and octopus served in a cast-iron skillet.
1110 S. Miami Ave., Miami, 786.814.5816; levelonemiami.com
The serene ambience of Artisan Beach House—the décor awash with tranquil tones of sea and sand, the gorgeous water views (fitting for a spot with “Beach House” in the name)—belie the power-packed flavors of the cuisine that awaits diners. But with the prolific Paula DaSilva at the helm—in case you’re culinarily uninformed, DaSilva made her name at the now defunct 1500 Degrees in the Eden Roc Hotel and later at 3030 Ocean inside the Marriott Harbor Beach Fort Lauderdale—that’s given; the diminutive executive chef is known as a powerhouse in the kitchen, and, with her trusty Chef de Cuisine Tony Coddington at her side (also formerly of 1500 Degrees), she delivers. Who doesn’t love a menu that starts out with “Snacks”—and this one has a few special ones, including cavatelli with bacon, charred onion and egg yolk, and salted fish croquettes. Then there are Small Plates, among the most notable of which are a delectable crispy pork belly, and charred octopus with carrots, yogurt and cilantro sauce. Heartier choices from the Composed Mains, like braised short ribs with tagliatelle and wild mushrooms in cream sauce and a perfectly turned-out roasted wild striped bass served with olives, barley and barigoule sauce, are not to be missed. But even after all that, it would be criminal to pass up on the light but luscious desserts, like our fave: peanut butter donuts with jelly and roasted banana ice cream. Let your expectations soar—you won’t be disappointed.
10295 Collins Ave., Bal Harbour, 305.455.5460; artisanbeachhouse.com
Miami is a city that brunches, and after a while, no matter how good a restaurant’s brunch offerings may be, it becomes a daunting task for any chef to impress our jaded palates when it comes to this mid-morning ritual. But Mignonette Uptown has done just that. Chalk it up to Chef Daniel Serfer’s experience with drawing diners to his tables at Mignonette in Edgewater and the diminutive but delightful Blue Collar on Biscayne, or to the young and fabulous Chef de Cuisine Anthony Ciancio, who had a big hand in coming up with the brunch menu here. Whatever—the point is, treats like a Break-Fast Tower, toasted bagels served with smoked salmon, shellfish, capers, tomatoes and onions, is a genius idea. Other deliciousness includes French fried chicken toast with miso-maple syrup served in a boat of Brioche; eggs Benedict topped with lobster or crab, or stuffed with caviar if you’re feeling posh, sitting atop a crunchy latke in place of an English muffin, and for those with an undeniable sweet tooth, a honey butter rum bun you can split with your mates to keep the guilt levels down.
13951 Biscayne Blvd., N. Miami Beach, 305.705.2159; mignonettemiami.com
Two words: Stephen Starr. Actually, make that four: Justin Smillie needs to be mentioned here, because it’s the celebrated chef who, along with Starr, has brought Upland, which originated in California (hence the characterization of its menu as “California-inspired cuisine) and with an outpost in New York, to Miami. This airy, lively spot south of Fifth is all about simple pleasures: roasted carrots served on a bed of labneh with a sprinkling of toasted breadcrumbs is positively addicting, as is the Little Gem Salad, a mélange of avocado, cucumber, housemade ricotta salata and a delicate but tangy walnut vinaigrette that even the non-salad eaters at our table were lunging at with their forks. Bucatini cacio e pepe, with Pecorino Romano and black pepper, inspires one to burst into an aria at the table (Smillie has been called a “pasta savant” by the New York Times). And Smoked Branzino for Two with fennel leek vinaigrette and Meyer lemon appears at the table so beautifully rendered that one almost hesitates to disassemble it, but do, because it is absolute tender and flavorful perfection. You can’t go wrong with any of the sweets (yes, we tried all of them) but a standout is the Tipsy Cake, with caramelized white chocolate cream, strawberries and toasted rice ice cream.
49 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305.602.9998; uplandmiami.com
This legendary chain, which has long been a popular Las Olas Blvd. hotspot, now occupies the gargantuan space inside 404 Washington Ave. on South Beach, once home to China Grill. It’s a seafood lover’s paradise, to be sure, with everything from oysters (from both coasts) to ceviche and a massive Shellfish Tower—containing a whole lobster plus shrimp, King crab, and oysters), a variety of caviar, and salads to start; whole fish to share (can’t miss with the salt-crusted version); steaks and chops; and naturally, lobster. The Lobster Bar refers to their specimens as “The Rolls-Royce of Lobsters,” and there’s something for everyone, whether you’re a purist or an experimentalist—like the Whole “Chili” Lobster, served in mild chili butter sauce with grilled shishito peppers. Sides will give you the feeling you’re in a steakhouse—there are four kinds of potatoes (go for the Hashed Potato Tots with truffle blue cheese aioli), green veggies, et al. Or just OD on lobster and go for the Buttery Lobster Potato Mash, which comes by the pound. After all, a little shell shock of this variety never hurt anyone.
404 Washington Ave., Miami Beach, 305.377.2675; buckheadrestaurants.com