On Monday 18th of November we redeemed the gift certificate we won through Indefinite Adventure, and were so excited for this perfect opportunity for a couple of foodies like us!
But first, let me introduce ourselves: I am Kathy, I was born in Chile but I've lived in Norway since I was six. I'm a media researcher who loves to travel, good food, mostly to eat, and I don't have the patience to stand in the kitchen for hours like my boyfriend, Yngve! He's Norwegian, from Bergen. He's a software programmer who loves computer games and tags alongside my busy travel itinerary when he can. He also loves food, and to experiment with cooking. Among his friends, he's famous as an amateur chef!
We booked the South Beach Food Tour, being the only tour available on Mondays. We rented an inexpensive Airbnb in Miami and took public transportation (after all, we were backpacking!). But the weather was lovely, and we didn't mind too much, because the public transportation in Miami is quite good, at least in the city center. The metro mover is free, and if you buy an Easy Dade 1 day-pass, you can use the buses, metro and rail as much as you want!
When we finally arrived to South Beach, the atmosphere was completely different from Downtown Miami, the traffic was still there, but the pace was definitely slower, and the people (and their cars) were much fancier. Upon arriving we were excited for the tour and spending a day in Miami Beach.
The meeting point for this afternoon was the La Ventana Restaurant at 710 Washington Avenue. Our guide was Mirka, a witty and knowledgable Argentinian who had been living in South Beach for 40 years (and I totally understand why she would never move).
Just minutes before noon, a large group of people assembled outside la Ventana, and after checking our reservation with quick fingers on her iPad mini, Mirka sent us to the hotel bar at the Boutique hotel the Angler's. This hotel is famous because Hemingway spent much if his time drinking at the bar and eating ceviche with the owner, or so the story goes.
The hotel lobby was beautiful, with modern and old art pieces, and friendly staff. On the walls, in the decor and the atmosphere, you could see and feel the opulence.
When all 19 people joining the tour were gathered at the bar, Mirka came back and welcomed us. Immediately I liked her, she gesticulated a lot and could not stand still for one minute. It was obvious that she loved her job, and even if she had done the tour a hundred of times, she still enjoyed it.
We introduced ourselves, saying our name and where we come from, most were from the US: New York, California, Seattle. We were actually the only foreigners! Yngve introduced himself, saying he was from Norway. Mirka said she had had people from Sweden on the tour, but never from Norway. When my turn came up, I said: “I'm also from Norway, but originally from Chile”. Mirka was pleasantly surprised to hear that, and after that I became la Chilena of the group. We were also accompanied by a group of six girls from Dallas on a bachelorette party.
So, now if was time for the actual food. At the Angler's we were treated to Peruvian ceviche. The waiters came out of the kitchen seconds after the introductory part, with beautiful silver trays. The ceviche was delicately arranged on a plate, though it is usually served in a bowl. Ceviche is similar to sushi, but it is marinated in lemon juiced and served fresh. This scallop ceviche was accompanied by grilled garlic, chili, cilantro (coriander), loads of lemon and oil. It literally melted on the tongue and the additional flavors popped out while savoring the nice juice left on the plate. Mirka told us that it was an aphrodisiac!
Our next stop was just across the street, the Bolivar Restaurant. The restaurant was a fusion of several South American traditions, but mainly Venezuelan and Colombian. At this restaurant we were given two small pasabocas, or appetizers: one empanada and one serving of patacones. An empanada is a golden corn crust pie filled with tender meat and potatoes, cumin and served with a spicy habanero sauce of cilantro, chili and oil. They say that there are as many types of empanadas as there are housewives in South America! The empanada was so crunchy and tasteful, and the habanero sauce was perfectly spicy, not too much nor too little. It definitely gave it that extra something.
The patacones were just amazing: crunchy green plantains patties topped with chicken, parmesan, cilantro, tomato and onion sofrito. Not only did the patacones look good, but they tasted heavenly, crunchy and not so sweet as you would expect from a green banana, and the topping: how did they get the chicken so tender? The parmesan on top was a perfect combination. Mirka explained the dish, talked with us, and answered questions. The meal was accompanied with a traditional drink, which Mirka told us has many variations. In Spain it is called clarita while in Chile it is fantaschop, as it is half beer and half fanta!
We were already starting to feel full, but the tour had only just started!
After the Bolivar we took a stroll down to the Art Deco district. Mirka showed and told about the fancy bars, where your can go celebrity spotting and where to find the best drag shows in town. She showed us the Versace mansion. She also offered to take pictures of us in front of different Art Deco buildings famous in several movies and TV shows.
Our next stop was David's Café. This Cuban deli served us yuca lechera, which is mashed yuca plant filled with minced meat and hot sauce, then deep fried. The yuca tasted like potato and the minced meat was a welcoming touch to the meal, which otherwise didn't taste too much. For dessert we had Busteli Cuban coffee called Colada, because the in earlier days, the coffee was filtered through a cloth. This coffee is very strong and very sweet, and is usually bought as a take-away with small paper cups, which can be shared with several people.
Having given a head start to out sweet tooth, we wandered to our fourth stop, a famous Jewish Deli, Charlotte's bakery. Here we had an apricot raisin Ruggulach. The Jewish couple on the tour told us none of us pronounced it correctly! This Ruggulach was just like a cinnamon roll, but only crunchier and perfectly sweet.
After the cinnamon roll, be ventured back to Washington avenue and Blocks Pizza Deli. Mirka explained to us on the way over there that the are plenty of pizza places in the neighborhood, but that not all of them are worth tasting, unless it's after a late night out! The place she took us is relatively new, it has only been open for a year, and an Italian family is running it.
A minute after we arrived an Italian friend of Mirka arrived to the restaurant (“Ciao Giorgia!), so it was nice to know that even Italians find this place worth a visit. We were treated with a piece of block; a pizza pocket of sour dough with fresh spinach, feta cheese, sun dried tomatoes, calamata black olives, extra virgin olive oil and rich pesto. The first bite took me immediately back to Italy, and the fresh taste of ingredients that la Nona of had bought at the marked nearby were I lived.
This pizza pocket was so good that I devoured it, even though I was actually quite full. A real foodie never wastes good food! If pizza is your favorite, you can always try the new Nutella Pizza on the menu. This deli doesn't have a freezer, which means that all the ingredients they serve are fresh and natural. Their secret behind such crunchy and tasty pizzas is the pasta madre or “mother dough”, a sour dough passed down from generation to generation for 300 years.
After the pizza we went to the Española Way and to the Italian Gelato, at Milani Gelateria. I believe that no matter how much your have eaten for lunch or dinner, you can always have some room for ice-cream! This afternoon was no exception: we went to an authentic gelateria (just entering the small shop took me back to that time I lived with an Italian family in 2000). The owner Francesco was welcoming and charming, and the girls from the bachelorette party were definitely giggling more than earlier.
We were told that gelato only contains 5 % fat (how is that possible?!) and only imported ingredients from Italy are used in the gelato. The spinning carousel of different gelatos was breathtaking and gorgeous. Having to choose from 20-something flavors was not an easy task, but when almost everybody else had chosen their favorite I ended up with rum and raisin, and Yngve chose the pistachio. From the first scoop the gelato was heavenly, it was silky soft, and had just the right amount of taste without being too sweet.
When we finished our gelato, our South Beach culinary tour ended. Since we were one of the last participants, we asked if she could recommend some restaurants at South Beach that were not terribly expensive. She took the time and kindly wrote down at least five options where we could eat.
We ended up having dinner at the restaurant Bolivar, and it was a magnificent meal.
Thanks again to Sam and Zab for this wonderful experience! I would highly recommend this tour to friends going to Miami, and we would definitely do something similar again!