south beach: fifty.

Yesterday we finally accomplished a few of our modest goals for this vacation. We:

1) had a full day of sun on the beach
2) opened the tequila bottle
3) made it out of the apartment for a restaurant dinner

Even better, we have no sunburn (thank you Hawaiian Tropic), no hangover (thank you Vitamin Water), and the food was very above average (thank you Fifty).

One of my reservations about this trip is: we don't eat like we used to, both in volume and in terms of what we're looking for. Back in the 90s when I first started cooking, it was during the rise of super-hyphenated and pretentious fusion cooking in America, and I'm sure that my tastes suffered immeasurable setbacks. I really don't try to cook like this anymore, but I still like it when a chef who has successfully assimilated these ideas cooks for me.

We ate at Fifty thanks to some last minute research which revealed that no one had a single bad thing to say about this modestly-priced place that is right across the street from us. We've been doing a lot of research and running into trouble because of the new appetizer pricing model in America: $15 and up suddenly became totally acceptable at some point in the last 5 years.

I'm balking. If it's fascinating food that I can't either technically can't make or conceptually can't imagine at home, I have no problem with these prices. But I'm not paying 15 bucks for a caesar salad, a carrot-ginger soup, or a watercress and endive salad (Nemo I'm talking about you here). Buffalo mozzarella, basil, half-roasted tomatoes, and an infused EVOO makes for a nice appetizer, but I can do this myself.

Anyway, Fifty was an easy sell because their prices are still 1999 prices and their food looks thoughtful and unusual. Chef Rolando “Roly” Cruz-Taura worked with Mark Militello for awhile, and Mark's was a landmark dining experience for us back in the day. Did I mention it's literally right across the street?

Fifty's a nice-looking place, a bit hotel bar, but not distractingly so. We sat outside because there was no one sitting inside. We had:


Calamari Trio:
Buttermilk Fried Calamari, Baby Turk & Caicos Conch and Chile Rings
Grilled Squid Stuffed with Spicy Braised Oxtail
Chilled Calamari & Baby Octopus Cocktail

Jumbo Lump Crab Cake (how-to here)
Wrapped in green plantain with Avocado Aioli & Herb Infused
Extra Virgin Avocado Oil.

Crispy Veal Sweetbreads with Chimmichurri and White Truffle Essence


For now, let me just say that the crab cake was excellent, do not fail to order it if you go to Fifty. Before last night, I myself had not ordered a crab cake in a restaurant since 1996 or so, but our server said that it was one of their signature dishes, and I do love avocados. When the plate arrived, it was the kind of crab cake that shouldn't even be called a crab cake, it should just be called Crab, no filler in sight. And the sauce was platelickingly good. I could've eaten 4 of these.

The calamari trio was 66% awesome, 33% good: the cocktail portion wasn't my scene, kind of a Bloody Mary/gazpacho presentation that has never been a favorite of mine. But the other two calamaris were heavenly.

The sweetbreads were a solid B: the sweetbread component was a bit undersized, allowing the chimmichurri to overwhelm it in volume, we agreed that a nice crouton or something to soak up the extra sauce would have made the disparity less obvious.

To sum, we'll be going back at some point in the next 10 days, I'm sure. I will add my voice to the chorus of people who have nothing bad to say about Fifty: upbeat and real (as in non-robot) service was also a nice plus.

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