A slew of articles about some judging the “best” restaurants in the world and naming a “winner”.
Of course, this is absurd. There is no such thing as “best”. Why should anyone believe the opinion of people with opinions, especially people who make their living catering (no pun intended) to this industry. Food writers will write glowing reviews of expensive top-rated restaurants, because the want to show their appreciation for the free meal they received and/or expect to receive. Food magazines thrive of glossy pieces about fancy troughs and newspaper insist on having a “food editor”.
I have eaten at some of the best restaurants in the world, enjoyed street food in many countries, and satiated my hunger at most US chains. My “favorite” sandwich was bought at a rest stop outside Genoa, Italy, on the highway between Nice and Milan. I have had too many hamburgers and too many steaks to pick a favorite. Best is not something one can easily apply to something so varied, which often is affected by mood, company, and...hunger.
The worst thing I have eaten is sea anemone at a fine restaurant (except for this dish) in Spain. I noted that this is served that the restaurant the won “best”. It seems that offering weird stuff helps to win prizes, but I prefer normal food. I appreciate creativity and enjoy the meals I have had at one of France’s best, the Auberge de l’Ill, where every meal over the decades has been memorable.
The most memorable meal, although not the “best” was at a restaurant that is not even a restaurant. This was outside Kyoto, Japan. The place takes one small party a night. You sit on the floor and the waitress serves you on her knees. I do not recall what I ate, but each course was special. Mostly, I recall the setting. In a country known for being crowded, this small building was located in a huge wooded estate and offered pure tranquility. The ambience made the meal special, because I did not particularly enjoy the company.
I have enjoyed to many “bests” to pick one. Anyone that does is being disingenuous. Anyone that believes the selection is a fool.
This is a two-for-one special, with the first part being the “ever-popular” explanation of words one does not need, followed by a restaurant review.
Your word today is Schwein (clever ones should be able to figure this out), which means swine, pig, or pork (although more correct is Schweinefleisch or pig meat, but you don’t need that until your first trip to a Metzger or butcher).
I was reminded of this word last night, because we ate at Tony Roma’s in Jensen Beach. It was better than I had expected. We have eaten at this chain three, maybe four, times over the past twenty years on different coasts. The last outing—Cocco Beach, Florida—was not good, and I swore never to return. (Just shows the value of my word to myself!) But, my wife wanted ribs, so the choice was Tony Roma’s or a trip to the Black section of Ft. Pierce. The latter might offer more authentic cuisine, but is probably less safe after dark for two honkies in a white Cadillac. Not being in an adventurous mood, we drove to the more upscale Jensen Beach.
The restaurant is located in a new building on the Intercoastal Waterway, just over the bridge from Hutchinson Island. The staff is young, friendly, and helpful to people asking stupid questions about the menu (which was difficult to read, given that the incompetent design agency chose white font on mixed background, including white and yellow). The hostess informed us that the wait for a table would be twenty minutes, gave us a buzzer, and directed us to the bar. A trip to the men’s revealed a number of empty tables, so I guess they needed cash flow at the bar.
Once finally seated at one of the vacant tables and served (after my wife contributed to profits by having 2 blue martinis), the meal was excellent. Need I say more?
If you are ever in the area, you could do worse than this outlet of a national chain. Obviously, Mr. R. has some consistency issues, so you are own your own at any other outlet.
Caveat emptor. Which is not German…
I have already mentioned that the trip from the Mandarin Oriental to South Beach brought us to a different universe. We also entered a different hotel world. It was only to be expected in South Beach. We choose the hotel at the recommendation of Number One Son, who has lived in Miami and been to South Beach many times. Last time here, we stayed at Tides, which was quiet and refined.
This time, we stayed at Z Ocean, which is a “designer” hotel of the Crown Plaza chain (not my favorite). After the elegance of the Mandarin Oriental, arrival at the entrance on Collins Avenue was a bit of a shock (there is another entrance on Ocean Drive for easy access to the beach and chaos of that famous street). The hotel has interesting architecture and design, and the service personnel are friendly and helpful. We booked the most-expensive room—a rooftop penthouse with a partial ocean view (a condominium across Ocean Drive blocks a full view). As hotel rooms go, the room is very good, with huge bathroom, two televisions (one for the bed; one for the sitting area), a bar/refrigerator/microwave, Nespresso machine, a Jacuzzi on the deck with a view of the ocean, and two dining areas. If one could eliminate neighbors’ noise, the room offers a pleasant oasis from the beach and crowded streets of South Beach. The restaurant provides good food (not as good as the Mandarin and more expensive), and service is good.
No hotel can choose its customers, because they need to fill the rooms and want to avoid discriminations suits. We were expecting an eclectic mix, but not a predominance of characters usually found in the lowest class of gangsta-rap video. Nice, quieter customers were hardly noticed…which is how it should be.
We will not return to this hotel, and I cannot recommend it to anyone that wants a vacation without unpleasant neighbors, extreme noise at all times of night and day, and an uncomfortable feeling. Other hotel guests spoiled our time at South Beach. It is unfortunate, because the hotel tries hard and could be better.
The only restaurant worth recommending is Smith and Wollensky, at the southernmost tip of Miami Beach. I have eaten at the one in New York City, but found the food at this one better. Most tables also offer great views of the water and the city skyline. It is no more expensive than other South Beach restaurants offering steak, but is superior to any one. We also enjoyed the meal more than similar meals at Morton's or Ruth's Cris, which could be considered as competitors.
On a lark, we bought a Super Ball Lottery ticket at Publix. Not only did we not win, we did not have a single number!
Which brings me to my reason for writing: fortune cookies. Has anyone ever won the lottery using the lucky numbers you get on a fortune cookie? And, has anyone ever eaten a fortune cookie?
We had dinner last night at P.F. Chang, Number One Son's favorite restaurant (or is it Sushi Samba?). It might be considered "upscale" Asian, if not for the cheesy, plastic-wrapped fortune cookie tossed on the table at the end of the meal (or the clientele). I have had much better Asian food in dodgy family-owned joints. Overall, the quality at the hotel is much better. But, my wife liked it...
Service was indifferent, which spoiled the experience for me. I did not complain. Perhaps the attitude is fostered by the restaurant's popularity or by poor management skills. We asked for Chinese beer, and the waiter offered Kirin. When I explained that it was Japanese, he replied "Oh; yeah" and handed me a menu. The restaurant had Tsingtao on the menu, but had not bothered to train its staff. I'm sure that most customers do not know the difference. I ordered the brand, but did not attempt to make up for poor education and training.
Our first course arrived with the sweet & sour sauce for the crab won ton being dropped by the careless waiter, splattering across the table. The waiter did clean up the mess, but had to be reminded to replace sticky glasses of water. We were fortunate that none landed on our expensive clothes: we were the only patrons that had bothered to dress up for dinner. Main course pates of food were unceremoniously dumped onto the table. All tasted okay, but the place will not make my favorites list.
The only good fortune, not mentioned by the cookie, was that I turned right instead of left after leaving the restaurant. This took us a different route to the hotel and let us discovered a small gelato shop (Italian ice cream) that has the best we had enjoyed in years. If you are anywhere near Brickell, stop by Amore and try it. It's worth the trip.
Prior to writing novels, the author enjoyed a multifaceted career: from decorated combat aviator to advertising professional to global communications director of a major consumer brand. He has traveled the world and met sports, film and television stars, political leaders, and royalty. He graduated from Middlebury College, is married, lives in Germany, and has two grown children.