My daughter’s wedding was in mid-June. It’s a wondrous weekend, which still has us kvelling. Following a mini-moon he has to go back to work; she is about to start a new job and has time off post-wedding. So in a somewhat unorthodox move, my modern-Orthodox daughter and I indulge in a brief getaway to Miami. Three days, two nights, exclusively kosher food, and a hashtag of #modamoon – which I’m convinced should become a thing.
My daughter will only eat in kosher restaurants – which I detail in an article published by Tablet a few years ago. Miami is an ideal destination for keeping it kosher- as there are dozens of kosher restaurants in the area. In a rare surrender of control, I hand over the dining decisions. As maternal sacrifices go, I suppose it’s a relatively small one.
My mantra “its good for a kosher restaurant” is one I’m hoping to discard in Miami. It’s still what I say about the DC area, which despite a sizable Jewish population has a declining number of kosher restaurants, and nothing that currently rates in my opinion as better than acceptable.
For the most part, kosher Miami impresses us. We visit five restaurants and over-order in the name of research.
Harding Avenue in Surfside is home to nine kosher restaurants. The highly-regarded 26 Sushi and Tapas is sleek and modern. White leather chairs and white walls exude a Miami vibe. Their motto “kosher never tasted this good” confirms my assertion that kosher restaurants operate on their own playing field.
Peruvian-born Chef Fernando Chang has created a menu that showcases the fusion of Latin American, Chinese, and Japanese ingredients that are the hallmark of Peruvian cuisine. The choices of ceviches and tiraditos, sushi and maki are both exhilarating and dizzying. Seafood entrees like miso bass and salmon saltado are equally tempting.
We narrow down to flavor profiles that speak to us the loudest. Cholito samurai maki makes the cut with spicy hamachi, faux crab tempura, tuna, guacamole, and serrano peppers.
Hamachi tiradito with amberjack, aji amarillo cream, and cancha and choclo Peruvian corn is a textural delight with a balance of spice that tickles our taste buds.
Amarillo ceviche with corvina is tart and bold, with cubes of sweet potato adding vibrancy. A trio of sweet potato, salt and pepper, and truffle fries for $21 is out of place and outrageously expensive compared to other dishes. It’s a disappointment, as the fries are neither crisp nor notable. Still, it’s hard to dampen our enthusiasm for 26 Sushi & Tapas. #modamoon for the win.
26 Sushi & Tapas, 9477 Surfside Avenue, Miami, FL
Fuego is a steakhouse/barbecue smokehouse in Aventura- another area dense with kosher restaurants. Fuego looks like a trendy barbecue restaurant should, with rustic dark wood tables and chairs, and exposed ductwork.
The restaurant should devote time to revamping entree descriptions on the menu, as every single one includes a boastful “smoked or grilled to perfection.” This doesn’t prove to be the case during our late lunch here. A cilantro garlic dark chicken sandwich is dry. So is the hefty Fuego burger, which shows promise with toppings of caramelized onions, crispy pastrami, sunny-side-up egg, and roasted garlic aioli.
Fresh ciabata rolls are worthy of more attention to what’s placed between the buns. A galvanized steel bucket filled with crisp hot fries appeases us.
Meaty entrees with Latin influences including Argentian churrasco steak or rib eye with chimichurri rub and a full bar with a tequila cocktail called “Jalapeno Business” could warrant a second visit. If only we had more time.
Fuego, 3585 NE 207th St. at Waterways Shoppes, Aventura, FL
The team behind Fuego BBQ also own Acqua Trattoria. Here the focus is fish, pasta, and salads. The light decor with turquoise accents should be accompanied by an ocean breeze, which is unlikely given that the restaurant is in a landlocked shopping center. It’s a beautiful space with an attention to detail that also comes through in the food.
Our affable server proudly exhibits a wooden box filled with various types of house made pasta, and a suggestion that we try at least one dish from this section of the menu. Over-achievers that we are, we order two.
Ravioli stuffed with goat cheese atop beet parmesan cream sauce is colorful and rich without being overly heavy.
Wild Mushroom caramale with ricotta cheese and truffle oil is a winning combination. In fact, the dish has me thoroughly distracted from applying my usual kosher filter to my judgement of the food.
Caprese salad is a festive mix of mozzarella balls, plum tomatoes, grilled watermelon, and basil chiffonade. It’s a perfect foil for the pasta.
We never make it to the page of appetizing fish dishes which include seared Sicilian grouper, whole salt crusted Branzino, or steamed lemongrass grouper. We fall victims to our valiant efforts to fit in as much eating as we can in three days.
We manage to save room for dessert, which at a dairy restaurant is advisable. No need to futz around with parve ingredients here. Dots and drizzles accessorize much of the food, and dessert is no exception. Dulce de leche cheesecake with ice cream is an applause-worthy ending.
Acqua Trattoria, 3565 NE 207th St Suite A11 Aventura Miami, FL
Backyard BBQ & Brew is appropriately decked out with distressed wood tables lined with butcher paper and exposed brick wall. Add this to the list of Miami kosher restaurants that demonstrate an attention to detail in pairing menus and decor. The menu is abbreviated for summer, but options abound including burgers, chicken, steaks, and tacos.
Our lunchtime visit has me ordering a lamb gyro sandwich with non-dairy tzatziki sauce. It’s not a knock-out in the flavor department. She chastises me for ordering a gyro in a barbecue joint. She has a point. My daughter is more enthused by a pulled barbecue brisket sandwich. She likes it, but says it tastes like something she could make at home.
I’m impressed when our server (who may be the owner or manager) brings us an order of fries, just because he wants us to try them. But when the item appears on our bill, I’m annoyed. We’ve consumed the evidence, so I don’t complain. Still, this just isn’t cool.
Backyard BBQ & Brew, 9460 Harding Ave Surfside, FL
Zak the Baker is a bakery/cafe in the Wynwood area of Miami. We are nowhere near the kosher enclaves of Miami. This is the land of graffiti walls, tattoos, and hipsters. Zak the Baker fits right in with its rustic charm. Zak Stern is an artisan-baker extraordinaire who has an intense dedication to incorporating local ingredients into his food. The bread is crusty on the outside, light and chewy on the inside- everything that you want from bread is encompassed in these heavenly loaves.
Zak the Baker makes us giddy and we stuff ourselves with toast slathered with ricotta cheese, honey, and orange peel, a latke topped with fried egg, and a Reuben sandwich with pastrami gravlax, swiss cheese, and sauerkraut.
We buy bread, croissants, and cinnamon rolls for the next day- grateful that we now longer have to worry about fitting into our wedding attire.
Zak the Baker is transcendent. I’ve never been more grateful for an establishment being certified kosher.
Take an inside look at Zak the Baker with this video.
Bon Appetit says it’s the coolest kosher bakery in Miami. (I think it’s that and so much more.)
Our exploration of kosher Miami makes me ponder yet again why it is that DC is so lacking when it comes to kosher restaurants. The universe is smaller to be sure, but is it too much to ask for one small but supremely satisfying cafe like Zak the Baker? Or what about a restaurant with international flavors along the lines of 26 Sushi and Tapas?
As our moda-moon reaches its end, we take a critical look back. My daughter’s perspective is through the lens of someone who has only patronized kosher restaurants for the last 7 years. She gushes that three out of the five restaurants are “unbelievably good.” I am more critical, deeming our foray into dairy more innovative and gratifying than meat, although we’ve barely scratched the surface of the kosher restaurants in Miami. But I haven’t once regretted the decision to keep it kosher, and never have the feeling that something better to eat is around the corner. The food on this trip- as always- is important to me. But nothing can compare to spending quality time with my newly-married daughter. #modamoon