Food & Cocktails Research in South Beach

It may have seemed like I had more than enough to eat and drink while covering the South Beach Food & Wine Festival, but it’s my job and I had to keep up the work during my last day in South Beach.

I’ve recently started working as a cocktails writer for AOL’s Slashfood (the section will be introduced soon) so I needed to “research” some assignments.  Today’s task included flavored rum and my friends at Cruzan suggested that the News Café would be the perfect place to “investigate.”

I met with Al Serrano, the News Café’s Beverage Manager to talk about the restaurant.  It’s got a perfect location on Ocean Avenue, directly across from the beach. The place was packed at lunch time, as Serrano says it often has been during the restaurant’s 22 years in this spot.  The unusual thing about this place – in addition to the variety of tropical drinks that can even be ordered inside coconut cups – is that it is open 24 hours a day.  In the style of diners I am used to in New York, the huge menu covers everything from eggs to grilled salmon and includes quite a bit of Middle Eastern fare.

The drinks at the New Café are filled with organic juices and he often uses Cruzan Rums because he feels the flavors work well with and without mixers.  I tried the Electric Banana, a delicious mix of Cruzan Banana Rum, White Cacao, Crème de Banana, Amaretto and a bit of cream. 

I decided to take advantage of my last beautiful day in South Beach (other than humidity, I’ve actually enjoyed more than a week of sun-filled days in Florida) and walked the 23 blocks back to the Riu, where I caught up on some work before meeting my friend Susan for dinner.  We had a reservation at The Royal at The Raleigh Hotel so I could check out what John DeLuci, who just took over as chef there, had to offer.

I was instantly impressed with the wide range of choices at The Royal. Even though the menu itself was rather small, it contained beef, poultry, fish and vegetarian choices, with an emphasis on fresh ingredients. Chef Deluci, who is renowned for his New York restaurants, Waverly Inn and The Lion, gave us some difficult decisions to make so we decided to ponder them with a few cocktails.  The drink menu is also imaginative and I enjoyed the Aleksandra, Stoli Vodka, ginger, fresh mint, Baoiron, passion fruit and homemade simple syrup.  It was great, not too sweet, but very flavorful.  Susan ordered the Sofia, Russian vodka, squeezed lime, orange blossom, bitters, mint and cucumber foam, and was very happy with the choice.

After days of barbecue at the Food Network festival, I decided it was time for a vegetarian meal so I ordered the Cucumber Soup, which was perfectly creamy without being too rich.  For a main course, I had the Macaroni and Cheese with Black Truffle Oil.  I thought the macaroni was perfectly cooked, the cheese tangy and not overdone, but the dish was a bit too salty from the truffle oil.  We shared perfectly cooked fresh carrots, which worked well with my dish and Susan’s Fresh Grouper, which she found to be delicious, as was her Stone Crab appetizer, served with cocktail sauce and a Shallot Vinaigrette instead of the customary mustard sauce.

Dinner was enjoyed with a recommended Leth Grunier Veltmer Reserve Steingradt from Austria.  It was my first experience with the region (I have had very few Austrian wines, but hope to change that this year).  It’s a very food-friendly white, a light cross between a Pinot Grigio and a Sauvignon Blanc.

We spent so long trying to decide on a dessert that Restaurant Manager Sam Morney brought us three choices, served with individual pots of great coffee.  The Cheesecake with Pineapple and Cranberry Sauce was served in a Mason jar and a perfect mix of tart and sweet.  Susan declared the Salt Caramel Ice Cream with the Cinnamon Dessert “the best she ever had,” and – though cautious when I read about it – thought the Basil Sauce for the Molten Chocolate Cake worked well.

After dinner, I spent my last night at Riu South Beach because the next day I would be heading to another of Miami’s neighborhoods – Coconut Grove – for my stay at the Mayfair Hotel & Spa.


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