Since Joanne and I spend a fair amount of time in Miami during the winter months, we’re frequently asked where to find a nice open-air restaurant.

As you can imagine, the city offers an abundance of choices, both for casual outdoor eating and upscale (let’s call it “al fresco”) dining.

For example, breakfast outside at BIG PINK is a happening scene. And MANDOLIN in the Design District boasts some of the best Greek food in the area and has a beautiful outdoor garden. PRIME 112 has a decent outdoor patio but no view…unless you find it amusing to watch the Rolls Royces, Mazerattis and Bentleys unload a parade of beautifully dressed and well-coiffed women curbside.

Ask yourself: What’s the goal? Is it fine dining? Do you want the Miami social scene, or a romantic view?

If the answer is “yes” to all of the above, head for THE LIDO BAYSIDE GRILL at the Standard Hotel on Belle Isle. The Lido has a spectacular setting right on the water, and while it isn’t fine and fancy dining, it certainly serves up an inventive array of dishes that we enjoy….and enjoy a lot.

It’s located at 40 Island Avenue on Belle Isle, near – but not technically on – South Beach. The hotel lobby is an ode to the 1950s designer Charles Eames, and your 5-minute journey through the gardens from the hotel lobby to the restaurant is punctuated with a series of surprising little venues.

As you pass through the final arbor, the restaurant and the water will arrest your senses. If there are two of you, snag a table at the water’s edge. It might be wise to have your hotel concierge make your reservation. Or skip the formalities and come for the Lido’s lively Happy Hour and enjoy their cleverly garnished tropical cocktails.

If you prefer the certainty of a reservation, book with the timing of the sunset in mind because the views are spectacular, and the twilight hours are magical here. Perhaps they should hand out engagement rings at the door.

On to the food. It’s not cheap…but not expensive…ever-so-slightly challenging….and nicely plated and flavor forward.

Our favorites include the Tostones with Seafood Ceviche at $17, the Char-Grilled Octopus with 3-bean salad and toasted garlic, and the Steamed Clams in coconut milk and green curry with red-hot chilis.

We also love the basket of warm Indian Naan bread, which comes with a variety of chutneys. The Mezze Platter satisfies as well. It comes with toasted pita bread and a changing variety of dipping sauces like hummus, tzatziki (yogurt, garlic and cucumber dip), taramasalata (fish roe dip), or smoked eggplant dip (“melitzanosalata” in Greek, “babaganoush” in Arabic).

Oh, yeah, the Chicken Empanadas are also a winner.

Joanne and I most always share these generous and tasty appetizers along with a bottle of white Burgundy.

What my wife will not share is the just-caught, simply grilled Branzino with local green beans and salsa. (I’ll extend my hand to the side and snap my fingers to distract Joanne while I reach for a bite – but never quickly enough to avoid a stab from her fork).

My go-to dish? It’s been the Trio of Mini Cheeseburgers (with fries, of course). I like the adventure of being able to top each one differently – one with ketchup and red onion; the second with yellow mustard, raw onion and pickles; and finally my BURGER JONES favorite topping: caramelized onions and blue cheese.

BUT! But!!! On my most recent visit a couple of weeks ago, I was informed that the Burger Trio has been discontinued in favor of a regular hamburger. DUH????

Oh well, I’ll keep going back. The sunsets and perhaps a second bottle of Burgundy trumps a discontinued burger trio.




A few weeks ago, on March 5th, I came upon a comprehensive piece in the New York Times by Alan Richman. It was a deep dive into the history of 72-year-old Costas Spiliadis, the brains behind our favorite seafood international dining empire, ESTIATORIO MILOS.

The article notes that Costas grew up in Greece and left 50 years ago for America before finally settling in Montreal and eventually maintaining an apartment in New York. What we like about his restaurants is his dedication to simplicity and purity. (For example, he abhors blackened fish, which he calls “a violence to the delicacy of the fish.”)

It’s worth noting here that Milos is “extravagantly priced.”

Costas is reported to be tough on others, and on himself. Richman reports that if he notices that something is amiss – like wilted flowers – he will pounce! “For what I charge,” he says, “people expect perfection.”

Joanne and I first visited Estiatorio Milos (Zagat rated 27) in New York in the late 1990s, shortly after he opened there. In addition to Midtown Manhattan and Montreal (where the first Milos opened), his restaurant empire includes sites in Las Vegas, London, Athens, and Miami. Two more locations are on deck: Los Cabos, Mexico, and Dubai. And Milos just opened in Manhattan’s Hudson Yards development.

The signature feature at all locations is an array of Mediterranean whole fish laid out on a gigantic, theatrically illuminated bed of crushed ice. Your server invites you to visit the display and select your fish, which is then weighed and priced for you. Most selections are in the $55-60 range.

While Joanne and I have been to a number of his restaurants, Miami has been our go-to spot for the last few years. And because it is so expensive, we were delighted a few years back to discover that the Miami location had introduced a prix fixe TWILIGHT MENU, available from 5:30 to 7:00 PM, for $39.95.

That meant that we could go more frequently and didn’t have to wait for a special occasion to dine there. We could just pop in on the spur of the moment and not break the bank – yet have a wonderful two-hour, three-course dining experience (always at window table #83). On January 19, 2017, I blogged about how pleased we were.

But then last year when we walked into Milos, our server told us that the Twilight Dinners were no more; only the regular menu was available. Don’t get me wrong here. The regular menu is spectacular. But be prepared to spend at least $200-300 for two people……more if your tastes include expensive wines.

But unless it’s Joanne’s birthday or our anniversary, that’s just not going to happen…and maybe not even then.

Well, they QUIT. So, I QUIT.

Fast forward to a few weeks ago. Joanne and I and our daughter and granddaughter stopped into the restaurant just to scold them for making such a bone-headed move, probably sent down from corporate. I approached the podium with cannons locked and loaded, ready for battle. I was graciously welcomed, and with a great big smile the hostess told me that they had screwed-up and they were sorry about sacking the TWILIGHT DINNERS.

You could have knocked me over with a feather when she grinned and said, “THEY’RE BACK!”

She immediately seated us at our table, #83. We proceeded by ordering a bottle of Greek wine, grilled octopus atop a fava bean puree, an order of grilled haloumi cheese with freshly cracked black pepper and a drizzle of Greek olive oil, and a sharing platter of tzatziki, taramasalata and skordalia for spreading on warm pita bread (Note, only the octopus was part of the Twilight Dinner. The haloumi cheese and the tzatziki were supplements, and of course the wine was extra).

That was followed by a Greek village salad with big, fat, ripe tomatoes and a slab of feta cheese.

Mains included grilled salmon, a pair of rosemary-laced grilled lamb chops, and a whole dorado (sea bream), butterflied and grilled with lemon, a little oregano and sea salt.

For the prix fixe dessert, our granddaughter made a wise choice and selected a wedge of nutty, honey-soaked baklava with a scoop of baklava ice cream. Our dessert choice was smart as well, and yet so simple: a dollop of thick, full-fat Greek yogurt generously draped with honey from the baklava and fresh whole walnuts (not pieces).

All was well again.

καλή όρεξη!

“Kali orexi!” — means “bon appetit”




You don’t generally think of something creative and sophisticated, let alone tasty, originating in Russia.

And yet…

The former Soviet Union is home to a highly-regarded Japanese restaurant chain called TANUKI that now has 60 or more outlets. And as you check out the images below….you can detect a not surprising heavy hand in the design.

Well, just what is a Tanuki anyway? REAL?….MYTH?

It turns out, much to my surprise, that a Tanuki is an actual animal that resides only in Japan (outside of a couple zoos around the world). The Japanese refer to it as a “Racoon-dog,” and it’s significant in their folklore, representing ancient supernatural powers. The creature is said to be mischievous, a master of disguise and trickery.

Well, I’m pleased to announce that the furry little scamp has established a beachhead, its first and only United States outpost, in Miami Beach. And I couldn’t be happier. Joanne and I dine at Tanuki when we are in Miami as often as we dine at Joe’s Stone Crab. And that’s a lot.

Now Tanuki is not a pure Japanese play. It’s pan-Asian, with dishes faithfully crafted and replicated not only from Japan, but China, Thailand and a few other outliers.

That’s fine with me because it’s a target-rich environment for new ideas and dishes at CHINO LATINO.

As you might expect, the menu is heavily weighted with the Japanese icons…. maki (sushi rolls)…NIGIRI (raw fish on rice)…and SASHIMI (just slices of raw fish) – all, and I mean ALL – pristinely fresh, beautifully plated and wonderful to eat. Joanne even gagged down the unagi (eel), all the while threatening divorce court or worse (hatchet murder) if I ever tried to coax her into that again.

But she suddenly became polite, contrite and adorable as we both wolfed down steamer basket after steamer basket of stuffed hot steamed dumplings – our two favorites being the chicken and truffle shumai and the Peking Duck (see, I told you this wasn’t a pure Japanese play).

As you probably know from previous postings, I am a sucker for Bao Buns…soft and pillowy, hot and steamy. Tanuki reached back into its democratic bag of tricks and out came three different and incredible iterations of this dish. One is Southern Fried Chicken. Next came Korean Barbecue Pork Belly. And finally, Chinese Peking Duck – all around $15 for a pair.

Once again, shamelessly off the Japanese culinary grid, Tanuki offers tacos – Mexican tacos (well, sorta) – packed with Wagyu Beef and Pork Belly, for $14.


So with that in mind, we happily followed the menu to…Italy and a smoked salmon pizza with avocado, sesame oil, jalapenos and truffle oil ($18).

We didn’t order them but the main courses served at the tables around us looked good – large portions, artfully plated, especially the Braised Wagyu Short Rib and the Miso Glazed Salmon. I can only imagine that the Peking Duck ($48) was good as well. However, it was not carved tableside. I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that the theatrics of the chef carving up the duck right in front of you are integral to the dish. On the other hand, they’d probably double its price were they to serve it in the traditional manner.

Dessert could have been straight out of Japanese central casting, save for Tanuki’s ode to Miami Beach: Key Lime Pie, served in a little fat glass. Check it out.

A flight of ice-cold, creamy and colorful Mochi arrived, only to be “Trumped” (sorry)…by a wink and a nod to the healthy, antioxidant Japanese Macha Lava Cake with Green Tea Ice Cream (yum!!)

If you are in Miami Beach, do go.

BTW, request tables #11, 12, 13, or 14 – all four-top window tables.




The famous French Impressionist painter, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, must of had a “thing” for the star can-can dancer of the MOULIN ROUGE, Louise Weber, as she was by far the most prolific subject of his works. Her stage name was Goulue, which roughly translates to “glutton,” apparently because she was known for snatching and guzzling patrons’ drinks as she danced.

One of Joanne’s and my favorite brasseries in Miami was named LA GOLUE. Housed for years in the toniest of Bal Harbor’s shopping centers, it seemed to have everything going for it – the right look, an uncluttered Parisian style, a charming outdoor café. La Goulue checked all the boxes for authentic bistro/brasserie offerings, from Steak Frites to Croque Madame, and the public seemed to love it.

So it came as a complete surprise to us last year when we discovered that they had vacated the space and had been replaced by another French brasserie…. called LE ZOO.

My disappointment over losing a restaurant “friend” didn’t last long, however – because the new owner/operator turned out to be none other than Stephen Starr, a master at creating sensory dining pleasures and spaces. (Check out my March 1, 2018 post about Starr’s Le Cou Cou restaurant, my new favorite dining spot in New York City.)

I just knew Le Zoo would be good….and indeed it was when Joanne and I dined there last month.

First of all, the space is smart and stylish, like your favorite Parisian restaurant, filled with good-looking people having a great-looking time. The interior atmospherics and trappings are a little fancier and more serious than SALUT’S, but the two restaurants share a devotion to the French classics, with very similar quality and prices. Yes, they have Foie Gras at $24 and Stone Crabs at market price (both are money well spent), but that’s about the only signal I got that perhaps Le Zoo is more of a special occasion place. There’s certainly no snootiness to it.

To the contrary, I actually felt that Le Zoo is striving to be rather broad-based in its appeal, with both pizza and pasta sections on the menu. (Coincidently, both SALUT restaurants are debuting pizzas and pastas this February. More on that later.)

The Steak Frites, Bouillabaisse, Black Truffle Tagliolini and Profiteroles were straight from the French canon. What’s not so “textbook,” but nevertheless delicious and witty, was their Kosher Hot Dog Frites – old-fashioned fatso goodness. And YES, the hot dog snapped out loud when I bit into it – just as a good hot dog should.




With the wonderful Minnesota winter settling in and all the joy that it brings, it’s time to focus on warmer destinations….namely Miami.

Joanne and I spend a fair amount of time there during the winter as it offers a target-rich restaurant scene – ideal for gaining ideas that can be put to use across the PARASOLE family of restaurants.

Miami is a magnet for rock star chefs – though seasonality makes it a tough market to crack. Some of the best have flamed out. That includes Tom Colicchio at HABITAT, Rick Tramonto of TRU in Chicago, and even Steven Starr with THE CONTINENTAL on Collins Ave.

But for every closed door, another seems to open.

Let me introduce you to the STUBBORN SEED.

If Miami had to lose Tom Colicchio to make room for this cozy, 72-seat urban bistro, I’d say that’s a fair tradeoff, because this newcomer is a gem. Sandwiched between JOE’S STONE CRAB and RED STEAKHOUSE south of 5th on Washington Avenue, Stubborn Seed serves up one of the city’s best dining experiences.

Be warned, this place is pricey. And its small size can make for a tough-to-nab reservation. But Stubborn Seed is worth it.

Here’s what the Miami Herald’s restaurant critic, Victoria Pesce-Elliott, had to say about it: “Telegenic and
tattooed talent Jeremy Ford is turning out some of the most exciting, balanced and delicious flavors that South Beach has ever seen.”

I could not agree more.

Ford trained for three years under super chef Jean Georges Vongerichten at MATADOR in the chic EDITION HOTEL in Miami Beach. It’s one of our favorite Miami Beach restaurants, but with Stubborn Seed Ford may have actually eclipsed his mentor.

Let’s start with a cocktail, shall we? Stubborn Seed’s are DIY. Order a Negroni, for example, and it will come with all the fixins’ elegantly arrayed on a silver tray, complete with eye-droppers of houses-made bitters. It’s the kind of production you’d get at the Connaught Hotel’s legendary bar.

I’m not CERTAIN about the name, Stubborn Seed, but I AM certain about the food, which absolutely nails the yin and yang that define culinary artistry: warm & cool…dark & light…sweet & savory…high & low…cream & crunch…spice & mild.

Setting the tone for what was to come, our evening began with complimentary snacks (if that term even applies to what was laid before us): two delicious potato-encased lobster fritters accompanied by a duo of crispy hollow potato puffs, each crowned with a dollop of caviar. “OMG…not THAT again.”

Next came two Parker House-like rolls – except these were made from soft potato with bee pollen, and were served with an assertive, bright green garbanzo/chili spread.

A signature appetizer is a lavash cracker topped with a creamy chicken liver spread and dots of smoked hot chili jam. They’ll run you $8 each, and are worth every penny.

Another standout appetizer is Warm Celery Root with Crackling Mitake mushrooms, creamy mustard and “herbs and blooms.” And whoever thought that one could get hooked on celery broth? But that was the case with the Jojo Tea-Cured Cobia with Honeycrisp apple, compressed radish and fennel fronds.

In the “not-so-healthy (but-who-cares?)” department were the deep-fried Truffled Gooey Cheese Balls and the Smoked Foie Gras, featuring a fat lobe of pastrami-spiced duck liver with pickled cabbage, grainy mustard and crunchy rye bread crumbs. It cost a whopping $28. After eating it, however, you could easily skip your main course.

It would be the height of foolishness, though, to take a pass on Stubborn Seed’s simply prepared, but decadently delicious Butter Poached Lobster – or its Thai-flavored counterpart, prepared with lemongrass and crispy bitter garlic, and topped with green curry foam.

Another dish not to be missed is Joanne’s favorite: Sourdough Bread-Crusted Halibut with habanero carrot stew and Kombu broth.

(You may ask, “WTF is kombu?” It’s an edible kelp widely eaten in East Asia.)

Among the side dishes we enjoyed: Roasted Heirloom Carrots with fresh herbs, unknown types of seeds, yogurt and carrot puree; and the Charred Red and Yellow Beet “Napoleon,” accented with blackberries and micro flowers.

Desserts are a big deal as well. Joanne and I have two favorites. Hers is the Corn Pavlova, made from roasted sweet corn custard, bay leaf meringue, pickled blackberries and popcorn gelato ($11…not bad).

I don’t think I’ve had Snickerdoodle Cookies since Eisenhower was President, but I had four of them here (at $4 each) – and they were everything you’d expect in a soft, gooey, buttery, cinnamon-spiked dessert oozing with molten French premium Valrhona Chocolate.

A preponderance of my Minnesota readers winter in Naples and not Miami. My advice to you: Take an overnight to Miami Beach to dine at Stubborn Seed. You’ll be richly rewarded.

As I noted before, reservations are difficult (786-322-5211), so plan well in advance. Note that the restaurant is closed Mondays and serves dinner only.

Be prepared, too, to spend some money here. Appetizers hover around either side of $20 and main courses are in the $35 to $55 dollar range, so consider it a splurge night – but one that’ll be well worth it.



A Not Entirely Welcoming Habitat

I love Miami Beach in the winter – the vibe…the energy…obviously the warm weather…and, of course, the restaurant scene; there’s always someplace new to try.

The constant stream of openings, however, represents part of the problem with Miami: No sooner do you fall in love with a place than it closes and gets replaced with a new one.

That’s the case at a restaurant Joanne and I recently visited at the swank 1 Hotel South Beach, which opened a couple of years ago in the heart of South Beach at 23rd and Collins Avenue.

Their flagship restaurant, BEACHCRAFT, created by world renowned restauranteur and James Beard award winner Tom Colicchio, created a buzzy vibe throughout the area. Joanne and I, of course, needed to try it out. Not only was it a good-looking place in an ultra-chic hotel, but we really enjoyed it. The fare was rather simple and straightforward with just enough twists and turns to make every dish engaging.

So you can imagine my surprise and disappointment last week when we learned that it had folded and had been replaced by HABITAT, led by Jose Mendin and Angel Palacois of the highly successful Miami-based PUBBELLY GROUP. The geometry of the dining room has not changed, so if there are two of you, be sure to request the corner table, #72.

Now, HABITAT is nice. Although it didn’t seem that very much was done to change the interior décor (what I call “washing the cat and putting up new fly paper”), the menu was different – sort of MODERN SPANISH, with an emphasis on fresh seafood, much of it prepared in their wood-fired oven.

Due to economic headwinds largely imposed by city and state governments, it seems that the whole restaurant world has begun charging for bread. And HABITAT was no exception. The difference is that they offer CATALAN TOMATO BREAD – and charge $14 for it!!!

I liked the Kale Tempura with Kimchi Mayo as an appetizer, also $14.

Check out the image of the Margarita Flatbread – loaded, and I mean LOADED, with fresh mozzarella, sundried tomatoes and fresh basil. It’s really good, and fairly priced at $14.

Ceviches, oysters and sea urchin form a seafood core of the appetizers, while Paté de Compagne ($22), Salt-Cured Foie Gras with Tomato Chutney, and Bone Marrow Stuffed with Steak Tartare (and crowned with a quail egg), at $21, will satisfy any carnivores in your party.

A starter of Iberico and Serrano Ham ran about $40 for a table -size platter, but was worth it. These hams – which come from pigs that eat acorns and other healthy forageables – rival the best Prosciutto di Parma from Italy. If you’re looking for drama, go for the Lionfish ($34, pictured below). It’s a predatory species, so you’ll feel like you’re doing your part for the environment by eating it. Plus, it’s accompanied by chicharonnes (delicious, crunchy deep fried pork skin), so how can you go wrong? And if its comfort food that you have in mind, the Black Angus New York Strip ($42) will do just fine.

For dessert, we had the Barba-Papa. I had absolutely no idea what that was, but it’s a sort of spun sugar/cotton candy pear-shaped confection accompanied by fresh ginger, pineapple and coconut. Apparently the name refers to the shape of the dessert as well as a French cartoon character.

I have included the image of the Dessert Cheese Plate from the previous restaurant, Beachcraft, as it was one of the better that I’ve ever had. I wish it were on the menu at Habitat.

Some other things that I wish…

I wish never, ever again to be told by my server that “the food comes out when it’s ready.” That’s what Habitat does. I HATE THAT. So when I’m in a party of 4 or 6 and my hamburger arrives before everyone else’s food, do I sit there politely as its juices congeal? Or should I be an impolite ass and start gorping down my burger while the other guests twiddle their thumbs?

I also wish Habitat would come to their senses about wine. While the food is good – really good – the wine list must have been put together by a “wine nut” who reads every page of Wine Spectator and doesn’t give a damn about wine purchasers. The offerings here are CRAZY NUTS EXPENSIVE.

I did a “back of the napkin” calculation and said to our server, “I can’t afford to dine here.” The French whites averaged $226 a bottle – with the lowest priced offering at $72 and the highest priced wine at $565.

The U.S. Cabs averaged $115 a bottle, and the least expensive Pinot Noir was $90 (for a section average of $225).

Adding insult to financial injury, our server couldn’t answer the simplest questions about the offerings. My every query sent her running to the manager. So….was I given the Captain’s Wine List by mistake? When I asked that question, she just stared at me like a goat.

I hope I WAS looking at the Captain’s List. I’d like for this place to succeed, but in my opinion they won’t stand a chance unless they include some approachable and affordable “safe harbor” wines. We ordered the cheapest one on the menu: an Italian Rosé for $57. It tasted liked pink water.



“Strip Mall” Korean in Miami

Last week I posted about Iceland……and we WILL get back to that, but probably not until the late spring. I just can’t imagine anybody going to Iceland in the winter.

So for the next few postings we’ll turn our attention to warm places where Minnesotans go to escape the cold winter.

No, not Naples, Florida. You should know by now: The action’s all in MIAMI BEACH.

Let’s head first to a little Korean spot called THE DRUNKEN DRAGON.

Victoria Pesce Elliott of writes, “I’ve long wondered when the Korean Barbecue trend would make its way from Los Angeles and New York to Miami.”

Well, it’s arrived. And this place is packed.

The Drunken Dragon opens at 6:00 PM, and it fills up quickly. Even if you have a reservation, expect a wait stretching 30 minutes. The arrogant hostess will see to that.

Joanne and I have been there on several occasions, most recently with our three grandkids (who love this place; they get to play with fire. More on that later).

Korean fare boasts an array of flavors – sweet, spicy, acidic, salty and bitter. But Drunken Dragon is not a “by the book” Korean joint. It’s more pan-Asian, with culinary influences from Japan, Thailand and China. Cuba works its way in there, too. But that’s okay. I like ‘em all.

You can make a meal out of just the starters….and we have done that. Our favorites include Fresh Oysters with Mango Salsa, Hamachi with Filipino Lime Sauce and Crunchy Cashews, Grilled Octopus, Puffy Peking Bao Buns with Duck Confit, and Crispy Chicken Skin with sticky-smoky hoisin barbeque sauce. I love the Miniature Lobster rolls on Brioche Buns (but they’re expensive — $21 for four).

Large-format appetizers are great for sharing. Recently our table ordered a Drunken Dragon Meat Board: a hunk of falling-off-the-bone braised pork shoulder accompanied by lettuce leaves and bao buns to make wraps. Another good choice is a meat board presentation of Duck Confit, with juicy ribbons of duck, ready to be stuffed into warm, spongy steamed buns.

Sambal is a sexy hot sauce, evoking the promise of faraway sultry places. It’s a magical combination of chili pepper, rice wine vinegar and citrus. Drunken Dragon offers several iterations of deeply flavored Sambal, some with a “touch of funk,” including Shrimp Paste, Fish Sauce and Umami. I recommend the Smoky Cracked Spare Ribs to share at the table. They’re finished with “bright hot” Sambal sauce, scallions and cilantro. Yeah, they’re messy.

I’ve never come here for Happy Hour, but I’ve certainly sampled my share of Happy Hour offerings. Check out the images of Drunken Dragon’s Banh Mi Cuban Pressed Sandwiches with chicken liver paté, roasted pork, pickles, jalapenos and cilantro. The tiny Japanese Korobuta Hot Dog is served up on a deep fried bao bun (clever) and dressed with pickles, spicy ketchup and herbed aioli. Get two – one isn’t enough. Tiki drink glasses are loads of fun. And the non-alcoholic Coconut Popsicle in mint lemonade delights kids.

But now comes the part of Drunken Dragon that I really love: The Korean Barbeque, with DIY grilling at the table. Here’s the drill:

1. There are only seven barbeque tables in the restaurant.
2. They’re allocated on a first come/first served basis. (Want one? Get there 30 minutes before they open.)
3. Good news: If you can’t snag a barbeque table, any of the “at the table” grilled items can be ordered at the regular tables. They’ll just be prepared in the kitchen.
4. Do some of them yourself. Let the kitchen handle the rest.

5. If you come with kids, DEFINITELY snag a barbeque table. They may not eat what they cook, but they’ll love being junior arsonists.

The problem with some Korean Barbecue joints, particularly in New York, is that the exhaust systems can be woefully inadequate…..leaving you with the clothes on your back reeking of smoke….even after a aggressive dry cleanings.


Their Korean barbecue tables are said to be modeled after a centuries old Korean house heating system called ONDAL……which loosely means heating from underneath the floor. I sorta get it and sorta don’t. The barbecue tables at DRUNKEN DRAGON certainly radiate from down under …..and the smoke from the grilling is exhausted through vents surrounding the grill and cleverly pulled downward in vents through the floor and on to being exhausted outside the premises.

Portions of the raw meats for grilling (thinnish cuts of steak, shrimp, etc.) are modest in scale, but more than enough when accompanied by an array of side dishes. Prior to the grilling your server appears to prime the grill in order to prevent sticking. Once she did it with oil and a brush. Another time it was primed with a hunk of beef fat clamped in a pair of tongs. I like the beef fat best.

Among the side dishes, get the Kimchi Fried Rice, which is mixed tableside with a poached egg. It’s delicious and enough for four people. Then have the Crispy Bok Choy and Kale. By the way, as a side dish, you can grill your own fresh vegetables at the table as well.

Desserts are tropical, attractive, unusual – and uniformly good. Matcha Tres Leches and the Mango & Strawberry Korean Ice Creams were right out of Central Casting (although why the ice cream came in a steamer basket was a little puzzling).

A note about the location: You are going to need to calibrate your GPS to find this place, which masquerades as a convenience store in a class C strip mall. The restaurant’s blacked-out windows make it even harder to find. The good news is that Drunken Dragon has a huge red neon sign. The bad news is that the sign simply says “MARKET.”

One giveaway: Unlike most strip malls, this one offers $15 valet parking for your Bentley. Look for it on the west side of Alton Road between 14th & 15th Streets, right between a Subway sandwich shop and a Domino’s Pizza.



Seduced by the Mandolin

Recently Joanne and I discovered a wonderful Greek-Turkish restaurant in the Design District neighborhood of Miami.

Called MANDOLIN, it’s owned and run by a husband-wife team: Ahmet Erkaya and Anastasia Koutsiokis – he’s from Turkey, she’s Greek…which is a little odd since their home countries have been at odds for the past several hundred years. Well, I guess love – and a shared passion for Mediterranean cuisine – conquers all.

Joanne and I love the food in this part of the world, and one of our sweet spots in the states has been ESTIATORIO MILOS. A high-end seafood restaurant (that I wrote about early in 2017), Milos began in Montreal, then added locations in New York, Miami Beach, London, Las Vegas, and Athens (becoming – like Nobu – a very fancy chain).

Mandolin has just the one location and is very much a casual dining destination – far more typical of what you’ll actually find in Greece and Turkey, where Joanne and I have enjoyed traveling. Istanbul, Mykonos, Santorini, Crete, and a month-long stay in Molyvos, on the island of Lesvos, rank among our favorite trips.

Though the Greeks and Turks are quick to point out all the ways their cuisines differ, the fact is, they’re pretty similar in many ways, including their emphasis on simplicity and freshness. No surprise, considering the culinary comingling that occurred during the 400 years of Ottoman rule over Greece.

You might imagine how pleased we were to come across a locally owned independent restaurant that celebrated the simple, rustic “village cooking” of both Turkey and Greece. Nothing here is contrived. There’s no pretense, no fancy compositions – just straightforward, honest expressions of one of the world’s richest culinary heritages.

Food isn’t the only draw at Mandolin. The restaurant offers comfortable outdoor seating in a big, beautiful, lush garden. In fact, Joanne and I have never eaten inside. And speaking of gardens, the owners grow their own herbs and vegetables just behind the restaurant.

You need to start by ordering either the Turkish Sampler or the Greek Sampler – or both, depending on the size of your party. The Turkish spreads and dips include hummus, an onion-studded tomato-walnut dip, and a beet puree. The Greek version features tzatziki (garlic, cucumber, olive oil and yogurt, spiced with dill) along with melitzanosalata (smoked eggplant puree) and taramasalata, a puree of fish roe, olive oil, lemon juice and grated onions.
Both Samplers are accompanied by a little paper bag of warm, sesame-flecked, just-baked bread.

In addition to a crispy, bitey Arugula Salad, you must try the summery Arugula and Peach Salad with mint, almonds and Manouri goat cheese. It’s rivaled by the Arugula and Date salad, with pistachios and feta cheese dressed in a pomegranate vinaigrette. Someone at your table should also order the traditional horiatiki Greek village salad, made with vine-ripened tomato wedges, cucumber, red onion, green peppers, and Kalamata olives crowned with a plank of feta. Okay, enough about salads.

On to the appetizers. Where to start? Try the Spanakopita – spinach, feta, pine nuts, herbs and spices baked in phyllo ($12). For a little theater, get the Greektown classic, Saganaki, the flaming fried cheese dish usually accompanied by an annoying “OPAH!” The Greeks (and I suppose the Turks) really know octopus, so don’t miss Mandolin’s simply grilled version. Even though it’s usually a main course, we’ve shared Moussaka as an appetizer. A staple of Greek restaurants everywhere, it’s a baked dish of ground lamb, eggplant, thin sliced potatoes, onions, cheese, cinnamon and nutmeg – all topped with a layer of béchamel sauce and browned in the oven.

Among the mains, the Branzino (or European Sea Bass) is a standout. It’s so simple, so beautifully grilled – barely teased with lemon, olive oil, salt and pepper – that you’d think it was out of a Martha Stewart cookbook. Actually, a wide variety of Mandolin’s entrees boast the same attributes of simplicity and freshness. Obviously, you MUST order lamb – either the Lamb Chops over orzo pilaf ($46) or the thick chunks of rosemary-laced Saddle of Lamb. Even the Chicken Kebabs, the default dish of timid eaters, are delicious (all the more so when dipped in tzatziki). If you’re a dumpling fan (and who isn’t?), get the Manti, an iconic Turkish dish of homemade egg pasta dumplings filled with minced lamb, garlic and Aleppo peppers, topped with brown butter and garlicky yogurt.

Our grandkids dined on pulled lamb gyros and Mandolin’s signature lamb burger. Both come with fries and will run you $16. The kids devoured them both.

Yes, we had dessert as well.

Isn’t gluttony one of the Seven Deadly Sins? Maybe, but if you were to pass up the desserts here, you’d be guilty of stupidity, so go ahead and get the homemade Baklava. It’s loaded with honey and pistachios…OMG! On the lighter side, Fresh Figs topped with toasted walnuts, thick yogurt and honey are a seasonal must-have. I’d have them in a heartbeat for breakfast as well.

We all ended with super-strong Turkish coffee – even the kids. After they came down off the walls, I think they fell asleep around 4 AM.

So back to Anastasia and Ahmet. I wish them a long life together and hope they run the restaurant well into their golden years. Perhaps the example set by these lovers will prompt their fellow countrymen to cast aside their arms and gather at a table laden with fragrant meats, cheese and vegetables; a powerful reminder of all their respective cultures share (yeah, fat chance).