Created 15 years ago by gourmands from Peru and Costa Rica, El Gran Inka's only three US locations serve up a menu of fresh Peruvian cuisine featuring influences from Spain, Japan, and Italy. Since its inception, the restaurants have charmed diners across Central America and the United States with an impressive culinary and cultural celebration of Peru. The menu presents a contemporary twist on traditional cuisine, plating tangy ceviches, flavorful seafood stews, and tender cuts of sauce-draped meat on elegant plates. As guests sip cocktails made from exotic South American fruits and spirits or mingle over plates of succulent sea bass, the classy saxophone wails of jazz riffs and the ancient dead language of scat singing serenade audiences on Thursdays, Fridays, or Saturdays.
Donut Gallery started with a handshake. That handshake was the one in 1971 that sealed Benjamin and Acela Zambrano's purchase of a Miami-area restaurant and inspired them to transplant their entire family from New York?where Benjamin had been working in the hospitality industry since emigrating from Cuba in the 1960s?and carve out their own slice of the American Dream.
To this day, locals and visitors alike flock to Donut Gallery, which no longer serves donuts, for its throwback diner vibe. A long counter and a completely open kitchen lets diners watch and even chat with the cooks as they flip and chop. Anything on the menu is available at any time the restaurant is open. In the mornings, the cooks pile up pancakes, squeeze fresh orange juice, and top open-faced English muffins with bacon, ham, and cheese. But their work doesn't end with the morning rush; they continue filling empty bellies into the late afternoon with an extensive lunch menu of burgers, sandwiches, and milkshakes.
From its perch inside Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park, Lighthouse Cafe's wooden patio overlooks a mile of Atlantic shoreline. In the distance stands the Cape Florida Lighthouse, Dade County's oldest manmade structure. The landscape and salty sea breezes complement the open-air restaurant's seafood-stocked lunch menu, which is served until sundown. Dishes range from salmon burgers and fish fingers to fried cuts of red snapper or hog snapper, which often leap out of the water to attack passing piglets.
The catch that gets the most attention in the Lighthouse Cafe kitchen is shrimp, which is tossed in asopado, spiced up creole style, served in ceviche, or, for breakfast, stuffed into an omelet. Breakfasts at Lighthouse Cafe include traditional items like ham and cheese omelets and french toast, as well as cups of café con leche and cuban coffee.
The breadth of the Atlantic Ocean doesn't impact the reach of Alfredo Patino. As the chef and owner of Bin No. 18, the Miami-based chef draws inspiration from the casual cuisine of European bistros while using seasonal, locally sourced ingredients and contemporary technique to lend a bit of New World flair to the ever-changing menus. French, Italian, and Latin American flavors appear throughout Chef Patino's cuisine, adding a global scope to the regionally rooted dishes.
Shareable platters of imported European cheeses and cured meats are served alongside Latin staples, including octopus salad, as well as classic Italian entrees made with homemade pastas. But recreating time-honored classics isn't the only thing that Chef Patino does. He also demonstrates a willingness to experiment by fusing New and Old World influences. This culinary whimsy is evident in the kitchen's modern interpretation of a Cuban sandwich—complete with slow-roasted pork, brie, and fig sauce—which earned a spot on Food & Wine magazine's list of the Best Sandwiches in the U.S.
And much like the European bistros that originally inspired Chef Patino, Bin No. 18 features an extensive wine list. Like his menu, the wine list takes a global approach by including bottles from Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Portugal, Hungary, Greece, and Austria, as well as Argentina, New Zealand, South Africa, Washington State, California, and Oregon. This variety of options ensures that numerous pairing options are available for diners looking to enjoy a glass with their meal or collection of small plates. CBS Miami was also impressed by the selection, placing Bin No. 18 on its 2011 list of the Best Wine Bars In South Florida.
The Old World inspiration shines through a bit more clearly in the restaurant's décor, which skews more toward a rustic, yet refined ambiance as opposed to a nouveau vibe. Wooden wine barrels sit beside tables with avocado-green chairs, occasionally doubling as small side tables. At the same time, the collection of crystal chandeliers dangling from the ceiling adds a bit of classical elegance to the space.
For brothers Rino and Luciano Balzano, cooking is in their blood. They grew up near Naples, Italy, in a small town by the sea, and their grandparents and parents cooked professionally. "Between my mother and my father, they used to cook like angels," Luciano says. The love of food the brothers both discovered as children has since blossomed, taking them around the world. After culinary school, they spent a decade cooking on Italian cruise ships, then traveled to Florida where they opened restaurants including the much-lauded Il Porcino. Their cooking earned them the attention of the James Beard Foundation, as well as that of Hollywood stars including Demi Moore and Robert De Niro, who ended up hiring the pair several times. Pictures of their past successes hang in their office—but today, they're looking forward with La Canzone Ristorante & Lounge, a waterfront eatery whose floor-to-ceiling windows let diners drink in stunning views of the bay.
As beautiful as the views are, it's the food people come for. "Our Italian food is actually real, authentic Italian food," Luciano says, noting many places make the same claim but fail to deliver. The seafood dishes, including what he proudly claims is "the best calamari in town," pay tribute to their coastal childhood, and the homemade pastas include ricotta gnocchi and fresh fettuccine with pork veal. Braised short ribs in a chianti-infused sauce, meanwhile, cook for five hours and arrive so tender that they fall apart at the mere mention of a Hank Williams ballad.
The restaurant is serious about its music, and though Luciano says he and his brothers "love to sing to the customers," they also bring in professionals—including live bands, as well as guest DJs who spin tunes in the lounge every Friday and Saturday from 11 p.m. to 3 a.m. During weekdays, the tunes veer toward classic Italian, mirroring the vision Rino and Luciano have for La Canzone. "We tried to put together something nice and comfortable and very much Italian," Luciano says.
Cuisine Type: European-style
Reservations: Not offered
Handicap Accessible: Yes
Number of Tables: 11?25
Parking: Parking lot
Alcohol: Beer and wine only
Delivery/Takeout Available: Takeout only
Outdoor Seating: Yes
With more than 1,000 different types of cheese made within its borders, France is known as the cheese capital of the world. So naturally, it's the country from which The Cheese Course imports most of its inventory?75 types to be exact. These include brie de meaux, fromager d'affinois truffles, and roquefort, one of France's oldest cheeses and one that is still ripened in the same cool, damp caves of Combalou.
Of course, France isn't the only region represented at The Cheese Course. The European-style cheese shop introduces patrons to more than 150 artisanal cheeses imported from dairy farms all over the world. Most of the cheese makers use the same cheese-making methods that have been passed down through their families for generations via email. The house cheesemonger guides patrons through the cheese-selection process and teaches them how best to serve each one.
The shop also shows off its wares in various bistro sandwiches, including gourmet grilled cheese and the popular prosciutto di parma. This 14-month-aged, imported Italian meat gets its nutty flavor from the parmigiano-reggiano whey in the pig's diet.