Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Get a Taste of Marathon in the Florida Keys

The Florida Keys is home to five districts, each with their own personalities and attractions that make visitors feel like they are a world away.

Stretching only ten miles, the islands of Marathon are right in the middle of the chain of the Keys islands.  Traditionally a home to fishing and marine activities and beachside restaurants, the city loves its stone crab, lobster, and other fresh seafood that come straight from its waters. Local chef John Mirabella has become one with the local seafood and community, immersing himself completely, so I asked him to take us on an edible tour of Marathon.

Growing up aboard a sailboat in Titusville, Florida, he is quite familiar with the sea. He spent his childhood sailboat racing and traveling, all the while catching dinner in the fresh waters below. While he has cooked his whole life, becoming chef, John spent more time on the sea by working for the US Navy.  Today, the locals know this Marathon chef and his wife Arlene by name and enjoy eating at his island restaurant, Castaway.

The waterside restaurant is known for its impeccable seafood, including fresh daily sushi rolls, but ask the restaurateur what his favorite hobby is and it's actually one step before cooking, spearfishing, 200 feet below the surface. Not only is John's activity adventurous, but it brings some amazingly fresh seafood straight into his restaurant.  One of his favorite catches to serve is the invasive lion fish, which is perfect for ceviche.  Chef John admits that the connection between the fishing and culinary communities is strong, something that can be seen on his menu as he tries to take the invasive species out of the sea to prevent them from further harming the environment.

If you're headed to Marathon for the first time, we suggest you get a taste for the sea for yourself.  Follow in Chef John's lead and do some fishing for a hands-on experience in the local waters. Because of its special location, Marathon offers backwater fishing, flats fishing, bottom fishing on the reef, and offshore trolling as well as deep dropping from 600 to 1200 feet.  John charters a boat right out of his own restaurant so you can grab a guide and go. He also has great connections to favorite guides and other charters for the best Marathon fishing experience possible. Once you nab a great catch, it's time to cook.

John says, "When you catch fish locally, you can also have it prepared in restaurants like mine which is a pretty big deal around here.  We have many many people come through our door every day carrying bags of fresh fish they caught and we prepare them in many different ways."

Of course John and the locals recommended his very own Castaway as a spot to eat,  which is also the oldest restaurant on the island and he is proud to say the eatery has been open since 1951.  Today, the menu covers a wide range of Floridian seafood as well as craft beers and wines to match the dishes.  Another one of John's favorite spots is Brutus Seafood, a market and restaurant owned by a family of fishermen who serve up one of his favorite lunches in Marathon.  If you're looking for a fancier,  but still relaxed, beachy atmosphere, John recommends Barracuda Grill. The local restaurant offers a variety of fresh seafood and steak dishes that are sure to impress.

Besides eating and fishing, plan a visit to the Dolphin Research Center where you can see how dolphins in the surrounding waters are helped and even take a swim with the impressive mammals.  For another educational adventure, take a trip to Marathon's Turtle Hospital and see how the endangered sea turtle is rehabilitated.  To round out your aquatic vacation, stop by the new Aquarium Encounters.  Not only does the aquarium offer an unclose look at interesting underwater creatures, but also a chance to get right in the tank.

When we travel, we always seek out and try a common dish to the area.  According to John, Marathon's specialty dish is often something made with Florida's favorite Hogfish or the locally loved lion shish.  Chef John's restaurant was the first in the state of Florida to serve the lionfish and received recognition for cooking the endangered species.  Thankfully, the invasive fish is buttery and tender, and delicious for cooking.  In order to spear the fish, one must dive very deep. The lionfish live about 1,000 feet down and come up between 200 and 400 feet.  To make matters even more challenging, the spines of lionfish contain venom and can cause extreme pain if one is pricked.  John still calls this kind of difficult fishing a sport, but admits that one must be careful.

If that sounds a bit too wild for your vacation, no worries. Chef John has shared one of his favorite lionfish recipes to try at home the next time you are feeling adventurous.

Castaway's Wreck Diver-Style Lionfish

Courtesy of Castaway Waterfront Restaurant


42 ounces lionfish fillets, patted dry
flour (for coating)
5 cloves garlic, diced
2 1/2 cups chopped tomatoes
5 tsp. capers
1/2 cup white wine
1/4 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 tsp. chopped fesh basil
parsley or kale for garnish


Dredge fillets in flour to lightly dust. Place in saute pan with small amount of hot butter over medium heat.  Cook first side, careful not to burn. Turn over fish when golden, and reduce heat while adding garlic, tomatoes, capers, white wine,  and lemon juice.  Cover to hold steam in and cook until fish is fork-tender.  Add basil and serve immediately. Garnish with sprig of parsley or kale and lemon wedge.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Buoniconti Fund To Cure Paralysis' Destination Fashion 2016

On Saturday, March 5th, I had the privilege to attend The Buoniconti Fund To Cure Paralysis' Destination Fashion 2016, which celebrated its 30th anniversary in star-studded style. Presented by Swanee and Paul DiMare, the lavish affair treated over 2500 guests to an unforgettable evening at the Bal Harbour Shops. This is the only time in Bal Harbour Shops' history when its doors close to host this high profile, celebrity-styled affair.

The evening began with an impressive red carpet entrance showcasing world famous celebrities, philanthropists, business leaders and other notables. Dinner immediately followed, along with the presentation of the 2016 Women of Substance and Style awards and the Brunello Cucinelli's Spring 2016 Collection.  Co-Anchor of NBC News' Today Show Savannah Guthrie emceed the event, while Gloria and Emilio Estefan and Britanny and Christian Slater served as Honorary Co-Chairs. 

Guests got to travel back in time through a progressive party that highlighted the fashion trends, movies, edible treats and entertainment that left a mark during the 60s, 70s, 80s, 90s and 2000s. A silent auction also gave partygoers the opportunity to bid on jewelry, trips and other items donated by many of the Bal Harbour Shops' stores and other supporters.

The evening ended with a concert headlined by Mr. Worldwide himself, Pitbull, as the magic lasted well into the night.  Proceeds from Destination Fashion 2016 will benefit The Buoniconti Fund to Cure Paralysis, the fundraising arm of The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis. The Miami Project, a designated Center of Excellence at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, if the world's most comprehensive spinal cord injury research center.



Thursday, March 17, 2016

Cabo Flats - A Mexican Haven In The Dolphin Mall

If you live out west then you know the entertainment choices are growing by the day and one of the spots bringing you a variety of great options is the Dolphin Mall, located at 11411 NW 12 Street.  There are a bunch of new dining spots there to please any palate, but one of my favorites is Cabo Flats, the Mexican restaurant known for its casual and comfortable atmosphere paired with delicious food. 

We headed out there a couple of weeks ago to satisfy our south of the border cravings and walked out feeling pretty happy after a few margaritas and a whole lot of guacamole. The food at Cabo Flats is affordable, fresh and great-tasting while the service stands out. It's also an excellent place to enjoy a night of hanging out with friends in a fun ambiance filled with refreshing drinks and good music. You'll notice from the moment you step inside that they've paid close attention to everything from the decor to the ingredients in their dishes.

I suggest you start off with their Guacamole, a made to order traditional house recipe prepared with avocado, onion, tomato, lime and cilantro. Pile it on your chips in between sips of any of their margaritas and it's a fiesta for your palate.

From there, you can try one of their many appetizers, or better yet, go with a combination. We had the Avocado Fries, and the Seafood Ceviche. The Avocado Fries flew off the plate, as we dipped the tasty treats wrapped inside panko bread crumbs into their roasted garlic cilantro aioli. The seafood ceviche was a winning choice as well.  I wasn't sure what to expect since I am a fan of the Peruvian version but this one rocked. It was refreshing, the fish was tender and the combination of spices were just right.

For entrees, check out one of their tacos - or do like we did and share a few. We indulged in the Carne Molida, Shrimp and Fried Mahi and they were all spectacular.  Each order comes with three tantalizing tacos on warm flour tortillas and are served with Mexican rice and your choice of black beans, refried beans or charro beans. Something else I loved about Cabo Flats is that one the members of our party could not eat spicy food, and they went out of their way to ensure her dish was prepared exactly how she wanted. They even returned to make sure she was happy with the dish. That was way cool.

You'd think that after all of that Mexican feast, there wouldn't be too much room for dessert but think again. These are my peeps, remember? We can eat. So we ordered their Flan (it's Miami after all) and their Ghirardelli Chocolate Brownie.  Listen to me, you have got to try this Flan. Number one, it is huge. And number two, it is creamy, perfectly balanced in sweetness and your taste buds will thank you. The brownie, oh the brownie. It was served moist and hot in a skillet, with vanilla ice-cream and brandy butter sauce.

Go catch a movie and make it a Mexican night. For more information on Cabo Flats in the Dolphin Mall, contact them at 305-351-1911, or visit their website.

Monday, February 15, 2016

Bonefish Grill Gives the Burbs Some Tasty Choices

We're all used to reading about the fantastic seafood spots in the beach and in Brickell. I love going to the trendy areas of Miami and getting a taste of the mind-blowing dishes they bring to the table. But when you live in Kendall, and you're not in the mood to battle traffic to the east part of town, you have to know where you can get a good meal out in the 'burbs. Well, sometimes this can be a challenge, but the good news is that times- they are a'changing.  Bonefish Grill is serving up some pretty delicious cuisine in a nice, hip ambiance and they have remodeled some of their locations to take things up a notch.

Bonefish Grill in Kendall

For example, I visited their recently revitalized location at 12520 S.W. 120th Street and I was very impressed with the experience. The relaxing atmosphere was enhanced by an industrial yet sleek interior design that complemented their savory, wood-grilled seafood and meat 

specialties. They're definitely on to something here…

You're probably wondering about the food right?  That's the best part. You can't go wrong whether you choose from their regular or seasonal menus. There are always innovative and exciting dishes being introduced at Bonefish Grill. And it's not just one location I can recommend. I'm a fan so you can usually find me either at their Kendall location or at their spot on 14218 S.W 8th Street. This place is usually rocking on the weekends and their Happy Hours are packed as well. The staff is very friendly and make you feel right at home. 

Bang Bang Shrimp

Maryland Crabcakes

I'm sure you already know, a meal at Bonefish Grill can't begin without an order of their signature, fiery Bang Bang Shrimp. These flavorful, tasty bites are tossed in a creamy, spicy sauce that will have you hot and bothered in no time.  And if you're like me and need a couple of appetizers to get the ball rolling, I highly recommend checking out their Maryland Crab Cakes. They are packed with goodness and served with a red remoulade dipping sauce that makes the experience supreme.

Swordfish & Pumpkin Ravioli

Oscar Mahi Mahi

Two entrees that drove me wild and are a part of their seasonal menu were the Oscar Mahi Mahi and the Swordfish & Pumpkin Ravioli. I couldn't get enough of those.  The Mahi Mahi was served grilled, then topped with lump crab meat, asparagus and a delicious lemon butter sauce.  The swordfish was a tantric experience all on its own. Just imagine a fresh tender swordfish, topped with feta cheese crumbles, crispy onions and truffle butter, then served with pillows of pumpkin-filled ravioli and French green beans. Definitely a top-pick for me.  The great news is, while the seasonal menu items change, the quality and flavor combinations of their dishes do not.

Macadamia Nut Brownie

Pumpkin Creme Brûlée

We ended our fantastic meal with a couple of desserts that sweetened the deal even more. Their flourless Macadamia Nut Brownie had us licking our lips in harmony with its raspberry sauce, vanilla ice-cream and macadamia nuts sprinkles, while their creamy Pumpkin Creme Brûlée was a hit as well; taking a classic custard-style dessert and giving it a Fall twist. Regardless of which one you go for, you'll walk out smiling.

For more information on Bonefish Grill and their locations, visit their website at Bonefish Grill.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Top Valentine's Day Spots For A Delicious Time

Still trying to decide where to take your honey for Valentine's Day? Well, I've searched all over Miami for places I'd love to be taken to (hint hint) and these are my Top picks. So Cupid... if you're reading this (and I know you are) first find me a hot date for February 14th and then shoot him this post with your arrow so he knows what I like....

1) Seaspice  

It's said that nothing sparks up the romance quite like aphrodisiacs and Seapice goes for the full Monty with its Seafood Carnival. Market priced, this dish ranges from $600-750 and offers two 2 lb lobsters, 8 jumbo prawns, 24 oysters, Alaskan king crab, Florida stone crab, tuna sashimi, salmon sashimi, Hamachi sashimi, salmon coconut ceviche, 2 oz. sevruga caviar. Tip: table 85 is a dimly lit riverside table overlooking the downtown skyline. For reservations, call 305-440-4200.

2) Da Tang Unique

Celebrate love this year doing something new and exhilarating. Da Tang Unique, an authentic Chinese gourmet restaurant is opening its door right in time for Valentine’s Day. The restaurant kicks off the night with an hour long performance by Ms. Qiao Li, a renowned Peking Opera Artist. She was a special guest performer of 2001 Oscar Award Ceremony and a graduate of the China Drama Academy. In addition to the theatrical and soothing presentation, the restaurant will offer three special menus for two people: The first option starting at $118, the second at $158, and the 3rd option at $188. All menu’s entail a starter, entrée, rice and noodle, dessert, and a complimentary glass of house champagne. For reservations call, 786-747-4686.

3)  Morton's The Steakhouse

Give your love a little bit of land and sea with Morton’s taste of the good life featuring an exceptional Morton’s steak and cold water lobster for only $55. For more information, visit their website.

4) Tuyo

Succulent. Mouthwatering. Delectable. Enticing. Do I have your attention yet? Discover love at first bite with Tuyo's three-course Valentine's Menu featuring a choice of tantalizing dishes that are sure to impress for $85 per person (plus tax and gratuity). For reservations, call 305-237-3200.

5) Bulla Gastrobar

Nothing says I love you like a Valentine-themed dinner at Bulla Gastrobar.  Choose from some of their delectable sharing dishes and end the evening with a sweet Brazo Helado de Mango y Vainilla. For reservations, call 305-316-3631.


6) Pubbelly

Treat your sweet to a nine-course tasting menu at Pubbelly for just $85 per person, including one glass of champagne. Highlights include Kusshi Kusshi Oysters, Foie Gras and Corn Soup. For reservations call 305-532-7555.

7) Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove

Celebrate the holiday of love and the arts with a casual yet fun Art of Lunch Brunch at the Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove. Make an entire day of your experience with a locally-sourced, love-themed brunch featuring chef's carving stations, fresh seafood, breakfast favorites and of course desserts. The brunch includes bottomless Mimosas, Bubbly and Bloody Marys along with complimentary valet and tickets to the 53rd Annual Coconut Grove Arts Festival. Tickets are $85 per adult and $35 per child plus tax and gratuity. For reservations, call 305-644-4680.

8) Michael Mina 74 at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach

This Valentine's Day, treat your sweetheart to an unforgettable night at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Delight your date on Sunday at the hotel's contemporary American Bistro, Michael Mina 74, where there will be options that include a special prix-fixe menu, wine pairings and even an indulgent poolside cabana. Lovebirds can enjoy a lavish four course prix-fixe menu for $250 per couple. For guests that want to swoon with their beloved under the stars, this menu can be served in a romantic private cabana for $500 per couple. Exclusive wine pairings can be added for an additional price.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove Is Putting On the Brunch

The Ritz-Carlton Coconut Grove, located at 3300 SW 27th Avenue, is putting on the brunch with the return of the hotel's traditional Sunday Brunch, and a very special love and art special for Valentine's Day

Farmer's Market Brunch

On the last Sunday of each month, Executive Chef Craig MacAvoy invites guests to his Farmer's Market with a mix of fresh produce and local artisan crafts.  Incorporating ingredients from local purveyors, the Sunday Brunch features traditional items such as carving stations, fresh seafood, breakfast favorites, and of course, dessert. The brunch is priced at $49 per adult and $24 per child, plus tax and 18% gratuity. Guests can indulge in a Bloody Mary, Bubbles and Mimosa Bar for an additional $18 per adult. Complimentary valet parking is available with validation. *

*Farmer's Market Brunch will not be available on February 14th or March 27th.

Executive Chef Craig MacAvoy

Art of Love Brunch

On Sunday, February 14th, from 9 am to 3 pm, Cupid will be taking over the hotel, to help guests celebrate the holiday of love and the arts with a casual, yet fun Art of Love Brunch. Locals and guests alike can create an entire day surrounded by the arts, beginning with the art of culinary. A locally-sourced, love-themed brunch offers chef's carving stations, fresh seafood, breakfast favorites and of course, desserts. The brunch includes bottomless Mimosas, Bloody Mary's and Bubbly. Complimentary valet parking and tickets to the 53rd Annual Coconut Grove Arts Festival, just outside of the hotel's doorsteps, are also part of this special event. The brunch is priced at $85 per adult and $35 per child, plus tax and gratuity.*

*One ticket per person purchasing the brunch. No cash value for the tickets. No additional discounts or promotions may be combined with the Art of Love Brunch.

Reservations are highly recommend and space is limited. Reservations can be made by calling 305-644-4680.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Key Largo & Islamorada Uncorked Food & Wine Festival

"….Off the Florida Keys.. There's a place called Kokomo. That's where you want to go to get away from it all." A couple of weeks ago, we were invited by the Islamorada Resort Company to attend the Grand Tasting of the Key Largo & Islamorada Uncorked Food & Wine Festival taking place in the Florida Keys. I grabbed a date, my flip flops and a pair of sunglasses and headed over to our meeting place, where a nice, comfortable bus was waiting for us, playing some pretty cool tunes on the radio. It wasn't Kokomo, but after a day of good food, great spirits, and incredible surroundings, we didn't want to be anywhere else. 

The ride was great, and I was excited to get to Pelican Cove Resort & Marina in Islamorada (MM84.5), where the Food & Wine event was taking place. Now I happen to love the Florida Keys, and enjoy driving out there for the day or a long weekend. And every time we go and pass the Pelican Cove, I always wonder what it is like inside. Well, now I know. And it's a pretty cool, relaxing place - not only for events but also for a romantic getaway. The festival was held in the Grand Lawn of the resort, where numerous area restaurants and caterers featured their gourmet specialty tastings (both land and sea) and wineries from across the United States offered selections of their fine wines. We grabbed our souvenir glass of wine and dashed into the space, not sure where to start. There were food tables, wine tastings, Bloody Marys and Mimosas, and a culinary demonstration tent with continuous interactive seminars going on. 

The Pelicans welcomed us as we entered the property, and kept a watchful eye as we all pointed our cameras in their direction. The resort is beautiful, embodying the true relaxed essence of the Florida Keys, with 63 rooms and suites on the water, a tennis court, pool, saltwater lagoon, cabana bar, cafe, marina, water sports, and fishing charters. The best part? All of the amenities are included in the $25 resort fee and they will transport you back and forth between their other Islamorada Resort Properties in a complimentary shuttle bus, at no extra cost.

The backdrop to this extravaganza was none other than the Atlantic Ocean, and we were able to experience the eclectic cuisine of the Florida Keys all in one spot. From the tantalizing seafood dishes to the flavorful ways the meat was prepared, it was one gastronomical explosion after the other. The feast continued as we headed towards the water, with more cocktails, a gigantic seafood paella being prepared right before our very eyes and more samples to try.

There was an amazing Ajo Blanco Gazpacho with Lump Crabmeat served at the Cheeca Lodge & Spa table which totally rocked my world. I think I must've had five or six tastings. I gazed at my date intently each time he grabbed one until he knew he had no choice but to let me have it. I even took a recipe card to try and replicate the sensation at home. I also loved Oltremare Ristorante's Grilled Octopus, served with Swiss Chard Kabocha Squash Puree and Sun Chips. It was a piece of heaven in one bite. 

Spirits included the legendary and iconic Hatfield and Mccoy Whiskey, which was very smooth with a light, sweet flavor and Disaronno Italian Liqueur.  Barrits Ginger Beer was preparing some pretty memorable cocktails using Jose Cuervo Tequila and Papa's Pilar. The wine flowed endlessly and by mid-afternoon, we knew why folks in the Keys are always chillin'.

Our day trip didn't end there. We took part in the Islamorada's Art Under the Oaks event, where we got to interact with locals selling their crafts to the tune of some good music and we visited some of other properties that are part of the Islamorada Resort Company.  First we donned our virtual hard hats and stopped at the Postcard Inn at Holiday Isle where there are some extensive renovations going on. You know where I'm talking about. This is the home of the world famous Tiki Bar we all love and share more than one embarrassing memory about. It's getting a facelift and if the future renditions are any indication, it is going to be amazing. I can't wait to come back in a few months and sip on a Rumrunner while enjoying the beachside fun.

And last but most certainly not least, we visited the group's more upscale property Amara Cay Resort in the Fishing Capital of the World. With breezy hammocks, an elegant laid-back ambiance, and a shimmering oceanfront pool, the resort is the perfect balance of relaxed atmosphere and luxurious style. And it boasts the Oltremare Ristorante,  Islamorada's favorite culinary spot for a fusion of traditional Italian cuisine with a tropical twist. The bar offers an extensive wine list alongside a menu of classic cocktails and signature drinks.

It is here where we had our dinner and I was enamored with the place. We started with a nice Antipasto featuring cured meats, artisanal cheeses, marinated olives, almonds and local honey. We also shared the Frito Misto, a tasty plate of rock shrimp, calamari, cubanelles, fennel, green beans and romesco, and a fresh Burrata Salad topped with pancetta. I accompanied the appetizers with a refreshing and sweet Monkey Punch.

As entrees, we had the Short Rib, served over coarse ground polenta and my favorite, the Grilled Cobia. Both dishes were fantastic but I loved the taste of the fish with the melted leeks. As a finale, we shared a chef's selection of desserts, which included an original Tiramisu that left me licking my lips in admiration. 

Needless to say we had an amazing day at the Florida Keys and I personally cannot wait to return. Stay tuned as I bring you more about Amara Cay Resort and Oltremare, where I will be staying very soon for a weekend getaway.  You know what they say… it's "always 5 o'clock somewhere" and I'll have "my toes in the water…" We'll stop here. For more information, visit their website here.