In any case, with only a few days - most of which would be occupied by work functions - there was one place at the top of my list that I resolutely would not leave Miami without grabbing at least one meal at: Michael's Genuine Food & Drink in the Design District.
I had seen it on Travel Channel, on the first season of Anthony Bourdain's The Layover - where he said their fried pig ears were "A bar food unimprovable by man". Big statement - and I love fried pig ear, so I was excited when a coworker "Hawaii Issue" agreed to go with me to check it out (I'm still a little nervous when travelling on my own, to wander into certain areas by myself - call me chicken).
We were staying near South Beach, and although Design District, where Michael's was located, sounded safe enough to me - all the cab drivers I talked to said it was best to stay in South Beach at night if on my own. So happily with Hawaii Issue on board, we were able to take a 10 minute cab ride into Miami proper. Michael's, as it turns out, is in a chic little shopping complex called Atlas Plaza. It was a charming space with dark interiors with a gastropub feel, and a cute patio area that was laid back and in my mind very Miami with crossbeams opening up to the beautifully blue Florida sky filled with impossibly perfectly fluffy clouds, framed by silhouettes of tall palms. So naturally I chose to sit outside - it was a little chilly this time of year, but they had plenty of heat lamps to keep us warm.
First order of course almost before we sat down was for Crispy Pig Ear ($6) - I was actually really proud of Hawaii Issue, who is more of an American/Italian chain restaurant fan, for diving in to try this. They were thin fried ribbons pungent with seasoning that somehow reminded me of fritos. A really original bar snack that I thoroughly enjoyed yes. Was it the most amazing thing we've ever eaten? I preferred the taste and texture of crispy pig ears at Lukshon back home (part of lunch entree). But I was glad I got to try Michael's, and as a bar snack I agree is the best ever.
From the small plates section, I went for that which features a local ingredient: Cobia & Shrimp Ceviche papaya, avocado, citrus, cilantro ($11) - cobia is a local white fish, which when served in ceviche has a pleasing texture that is soft and supple but structured, with a subtle sweetness. I liked it! The shrimp was also incrediby fresh and delicious, especially when mixed with papaya perfectly ripened avocado pieces. This starter was light, refreshing and a great way to kick off the meal - it also lived up to the name of the place with clean flavors, letting the high quality ingredients shine.
Hawaii Issue chose something unexpected for his starter: Spicy Octopus chorizo, crispy fingerling potatoes, saffron aioli ($11) - this was a hearty dish that was all kinds of meaty, crunchy, juicy deliciousness, topped with a bright, smooth yellow saffron aioli to temper the heat underneath. Really great choice by a self-proclaimed non-foodie!
Next up for me from the medium plates: Crispy Rice Cake chorizo, Florida rock shrimp, manchego, chili aioli, pns farm egg ($13) the theme for me was local ingredients! Got this so I can try the Florida rock shrimp - the 'rice cake' turned out to be a crab-cake like patty made with chorizo, shrimp, cheese and a rice crust, topped by a perfectly fried egg with a side of not-overly-spicy chili aioli. Loved this as well, the original combination of ingredients - the feeling of breakfast for dinner - and the presentation with the relatively bold colors on the plate.
I didn't grab a bite of Hawaii Issue's Linguini Niman Ranch lamb bolognese, housemade ricotta, basil ($19) but our server said they make their pastas fresh in house every day, and Hawaii Issue really enjoyed it.
Though pretty full at that point, apparently Michael's has a famous pastry chef who churns out very creative pieces, so we couldn't leave without dessert. The one that came highly recommended was the Banana Peanut Butter & Bacon Panini chocolate caramel ice cream sundae ($10) - bacon in any form of dessert is always a good idea, and though we weren't sure that a panini for dessert sounded appealing, the rest of the description drew us in and so we went for it. I think if we weren't already so full, we might have enjoyed this more - and I appreciated the originality, but the hefty chunks of bread were a bit too much for dessert (though I loved how the smokey char from the grill balanced nicely with the light sweetness of the other ingredients). The peanut butter was too 'chunky' for me as well (I don't like having to work around 'pebbles' of nuts in my dessert) but Hawaii Issue liked that element. The bacon was a bit crusty and hard as well where I wanted more juicy, softer pieces. The sundae on the side, in a shotglass was a cute touch and I thought made the dish like a reinterpretation of french toast a la mode.
Our second dessert on the other hand was phenomenal - one that Hawaii Issue actually noticed first (I think there's a dormant foodie in there somewhere!) Tangerine Creamsicle Pot de Creme warm doughnuts tarragon blackberry jam ($10) - this was a fantastically light, beautifully citrusy and creamy creme in a ramekin, served with freshmade sugared donuts served warm, and a little side of tarragon blackberry jam. A little plate of heaven that I wish I could fly back and eat, very soon.
All in all, a great time at Michael's Genuine Food and Drink. Some fantastically fresh, original but unpretentious dishes, and love the laid back ambience and outdoor dining option. Can't wait to go back hopefully soon!!!
[For other photos and stories from my trip to Miami, check out the album on my Facebook page.]
On a 7 point scale:
Flavor - 6 bites
Presentation - 6 bites
Originality - 6 bites
Ambience - 6 stars
Service - 6 stars
Overall experience - 6 bites
Price - $$ (2 bite marks)
Probability of return visit - 100%
Michael's Genuine Food & Drink
130 Northeast 40th Street, Miami, FL 33137
Website: michaelsgenuine.com __________________________________________________________