Friday, November 5, 2010

Dear Visitor to Miami: It's just easier this way...

It's amazing what happens when you live in a tourist destination.  People ask for advice about where to stay, what to do, and where to eat ...all..the...time.  This happened in New York City too, but I assume that most visitors to The City have more than one New York friend, so the volume of requests I got was never too overbearing.  But Miami?  Wow.  Based on the yearly peppering of questions (usually more when it's winter up north, 'tis the season for getaways...), I am truly flattered that people value my opinion so highly.  Either that, or they just don't know anyone else.  Hell, I don't value my own opinion that much, so it's surely the latter.  Regardless, it gets redundant to keep typing these emails in response to inbound Miami/South Beach visitors.  So, I thought it might be easier for all involved (actually, that's a lie...it's only easier for me) if I jotted down the main ideas and suggestions, and then directed people to this page.  Also, I recommend that visitors check out Miami New Times for great reviews and updates on what's going on in town.  (Search their "Best Of..." section for mainstream stuff like "Best Spa in Miami" or random stuff like "Best Buffalo Wings in Miami."  The archive goes back years and it's awesome - I use it all the time.)

With that said, here are a couple of key disclosures before we dig in.  First and foremost, Brielle and I have a five-month old daughter... if you do the math, that means that it has been nine months of pregnancy and almost six months of actual baby responsibility (i.e. one year and three months) since we have gone out!!  (Actually, that is only partly true - we are beginning to "re-emerge," but in a much more chilled out, early night, light bites kind of way.)  Second caveat:  Brielle has always been generally "cooler" than me, so keep that in mind while you read.  This means that you won't find any answers to "what's the best nightclub at 5am?" questions here.  And now that I think about it, I hope she doesn't know the answer to that either.  But the difference is, she has a friend she can ask that question of...and I certainly don't.  And third, ummm, I am almost 39.  So, again, the "all-nighters, binge-drinking, dance-on-tables" questions are better suited for someone else.  Four...As a New Yorker, I basically scoffed at anything involving Times Square.  I saw it as a Tourist Trap, in capital letters.  In fact, traps abound all over Manhattan and the locals know this and would probably agree.  And, truth be told, South Beach = Times Square.  Meaning, I can partake in it, but I am not a huge fan.  So most of my recommendations will be slightly-off-center or non-mainstream to begin with, although I will try to comment on some of those "big name" spots as well.  Fifth, I will unfortunately limit myself (most of the time) to places I have firsthand experience with for all my recommendations, so I'm sorry if you don't find The Delano Hotel or The Lowes reviewed here (for example).  I mean, we live here - when would I ever stay at the Delano?  But if I have some experience with the place, or a friend stayed there or ate there, that's fair game and I will comment but please don't assume it's the gospel truth since my experience will only be in passing.  Sixth...if you don't know me, I have done a fair amount of traveling (check the other blog on the right of this page somewhere) and I have a tendency toward more tried-and-true local stuff, rather than hot-and-trendy flash-in-the-pan stuff.  Oh, and last one...since 50% of the people who ask me for advice are dudes coming down for a "guy's weekend" or a bachelor party, I might mention the...er...scenery (aka, women) every now and again.  So if you are reading this and you are my wife, or if you are just female, please don't shoot the messenger.  I am not a misogynist, I am just playing the averages with who will be reading this blog... Ok, cool?  All set with the warnings?  Here we go.

Mainstream Hotels:

The Betsy Hotel - I am sucker for the boutique, small luxury hotel experience, and the Besty fits the bill.  Amazing location, across the street from the beach with only a tree-lined park separating you from the dunes...classy bar area...great steakhouse (BLT) within...great "nightclub" (B Bar)...great rooftop...walking distance to everything, so leave the car rental at the airport...best breakfast on SoBe is next door at The Front Porch...and we have a hook-up at the hotel if you need one.  Solid choice for everyone, but more classy and staid than your normal "South Beach parrrr-tay" spot.  Perfect call for you if you are 35 and have taste. 

The Sagamore - A little hipper and "loungier" than the Betsy, but also small and intimate...stayed there a couple years ago when we were actually still New Yorkers...another "boutique"-type place...classy, nice rooms...small, "loungey" pool area...a great call if you are 25, but a bit more sophisticated, or you're 30.  Or 35-40 and hip.  And you can walk to everything. 
Fountainbleau - A sprawling, huge hotel....I have never stayed but I have oft-visited...looks to me like there is something for everyone...done in true "over-the-top" Vegas fashion, so it's just too much for me to take in...but they have great deals sometimes since they have so many rooms, and there are a bunch of pools, restaurants (Blade, Hakkasan, Scarpetta) and clubs (LIV) inside the place...but bear in mind that it's up the beach a bit - 44th and Collins - and you'll need to taxi down to South Beach proper if you plan on eating anywhere but the hotel itself.  Since it's so huge, and there are so many options in terms of places to eat, I am guessing that it works for kids right up to the geriatric.  But it's overkill for me.  Too much.

The Gansevoort - Classy 25-40 year-old chill vibe...STK restaurant in-house, and the Plunge rooftop "nightclub" and pool is great...Also there's one of the nicest pools in SoBe on the 3rd floor that is better suited for families than the Plunge pool - we met friends for lunch there...it's a huge, wide pool with endless views, no trendy nonsense but a fair share of "beautiful people."  24th and Collins, so it's a bit north of the "action" but still an easy cab ride or walk.

The W - 23rd and Collins...park my bike here every Sunday when I ride over and then run the beach...Boasts Mr. Chow, the Wall Bar, the Living Room Bar, and a new Spanish tapas place that is legit but might not be able to compete with Mr. Chow (unfortunately)...hopping pool scene and always busy (people using Starwood points, maybe?), and be forewarned - I consider myself a reasonably attractive and fit guy, and my wife is very attractive and fit, but I felt like an overweight, pale, old schlub at the pool a few weeks back.  So if you are sensitive in that way, this might not be the spot to let it hang loose.  Beautiful people only.  (Although maybe it was just over the Columbus Day wknd?)  Anyway, I told Brielle that I don't ever want to go there again.  In fact, we need to find the "ugly/fat pool scene," so I can feel good about myself instead.  The W was rough on the ego. 

The Ritz-Carlton - Our friends Pete & Kim stayed here and their room was awesome...suite overlooking the beach...big place, though, and it's the Ritz, so don't expect the intimate, boutique feel...also, I heard the  Buffalo Bills stayed here for their games last year...for what it's worth.

Four Seasons - Downtown...I can see the pool from my office window.  Looks nice, and plenty of business folks stay here.  Also has an in-house L.A. Fitness/Reebok gym, which is a plus. 

The Mandarin Oriental - Also downtown, but on Brickell Key...basically its own island, very cool...can see the pool area and the "beach" they created from our offices...awesome spa - make sure you ask for Richard Herrera is you want a legit sports/swedish massage with no bullsh*t - he's the best...I have heard Azul, the in-house restaurant - has great sushi...Apparently this is where the Jennifer Aniston/John Mayer story broke, and supposedly those telephoto lens shots of them at the pool/beach were talking from my building - hell, maybe even our conference room on the 27th floor...solid, solid spot...great if you want to explore downtown and go to a Heat game and actually get a full night's sleep (unlike on South Beach), but also be aware the cab ride to and from SoBe will probably ding you like $25.  But it's closer to the airport so maybe it's all a wash in the end.

JW Marriott Marquis - Brand new downtown hotel...looks incredible...not much else to say...let me know if you go.


Slightly off-the-beaten path hotels:

The Standard - I love the Standard...boutique hotel, so it's small and intimate, but in an effort to be hip it kind of comes off a little Bauhaus/industrial to me...but for the price and the off-the-path location, I love it...solid restaurant, fun nightly stuff like "drinks and bingo night" at the bar/lounge, you can run the Venetian Causeway (the road we live on) when you stay here, you can use their gym (famous for their yoga and sauna) and you can walk to hidden gem local restaurants like Joe Allen, Casela, and B&B...their pool is also amazing and (ahem) European - yes, that means "topless" sometimes...however, note that The Standard is ON THE BAY, not the beach...I love it for that, and you can just cab to dinner and clubs, but others might find it too far off the path.

The Cadet - A straight-up value call...a block inland from The Delano...so you need to walk two blocks (and cross Collins Ave) to get to the beach...nice, clean place, solid rooms, no frills...if you plan on going out to eat and spending all day at the beach and you don't need a view of the ocean in your room, stay here and save the money.  And yes, Brielle and I have stayed here.  Also next door to Casa Tua, which is in the top four or five best restaurants in the area (...in no order, Casa Tua, Prime 112, Il Gabbiano, Zuma, Michy's).

Sanctuary Hotel - No idea about this place, but it actually looks cool based on the website...and the restaurant OLA is very popular...another one of the value plays - a couple blocks off the beach = probably 50% less per room than the places directly on the beach...let me know if you ever go.

Epic (Kimpton Hotels) - Only mentioning this one because I was there last week for dinner at Zuma (amazing...) and it had a cool downtown vibe and there's always a crazy nice yacht parked out front along the Miami River...and there were some pretty hip-looking and attractive people there waiting for valet car service. Heard the rooms are great, but no first hand experience.

The Intercontinental - Downtown, perfect if you are here on an overnight and going to a Heat game or a concert in Bayfront Park...Believe it or not, I am 90% sure the New Orleans Saints stayed here during the Superbowl since I kept seeing the Saints team bus parked out front.

Off-the-beaten path hotels:

Doubletree Grand Biscayne Bay - Ok, look...this is the inside scoop - my family stays here when they visit.  And if it's good enough for them...right?  It works for us because it's walking distance (across the drawbridge and over the bay) to our place on the Venetian Islands, but you also have a great park nearby, and you can walk to local delis and diners, and to Heat games too...my family says the pool is actually really nice with views over the Bay and out toward South Beach...so I ask you, Why Not?  I have seen $109 per night in summer and $250 per night over Christmas...about $15-20 to taxi to South Beach and roughly 3.5 miles to put your toes in the sand...also, since you are on the downtown side of the Bay, you are much closer to some of the truly hidden gems in Miami - the downtown and design district (Wynnwood) restaurants and clubs...finally, I bike past this place a few times a week, and all the college teams that play UM (last month it was the West Virginia Women's Soccer Team Bus) stay here...and during the Superbowl there were two buses out front marked "New Orleans Saints Family Bus."

Marriott Biscayne Bay - See above, they are right next door to one another.  I honestly confuse them all the time, so I am not sure if one is better than the other...

Mainstream Miami Dinner:

Casa Tua - stunning...it's hard to even see this hideaway restaurant in its house-like location on a very quiet, high-hedged & protected South Beach corner, but the $200k cars parked on the side street give it away...think about a beach house, veranda feel (as if you were with James Bond in the Bahamas)...fitting to mention Bond since the women hostesses here might be the most attractive women on all of South Beach...Italian food - crazy expensive...special occasions only, and this is not just the beautiful crowd, this is the beautiful and insanely wealthy crowd...no cheese factor, although it is a bit quiet and stuffy compared to other Miami venues, although I have heard the upstairs bar is a hell of a scene...first class all the way, though...for the 30-50 year-old crew with deep pockets...dress appropriately (the one place that I would probably not wear sneakers on the beach, and would probably add a sport coat to a button-down and jeans)...oh, and don't pull up in a Yugo.

Prime 112 and Prime Italian - I really, really want to hate this place...the cheese factor (2-3 bright yellow Ferraris parked out front at all times and 50-yr-old, tan guys with open shirts, gold chains, and pinky rings flashing cash at the bar), the rude service, the celebrity quotient (one Dwayne Wade sighting, one Charles Barkley sighting, one Jameer Nelson sighting), the mandatory one hour wait and $100 bar tab even though you are right on time for your table, and the price (outrageous unless you know what you are doing) all make me want to despise it...but I just can't.  In fact, the food is consistently good (in 5-6 visits, I have never had a bad meal) and the scene is so perfectly Miami Beach that you kind of have to go at least once.  So how do you do it?  Expect to spend $$ at the bar while you wait for your table - don't give the hostesses any attitude, it only makes it worse - but go with Heineken lights rather than serious drinks, then cut everything in half when you actually order dinner.  For example, one steak feeds two, no matter what they tell you.  The chopped salad feeds four, no matter what they tell you.  So be smart.  In terms of "must-haves," go with the deviled eggs in truffle oil appetizer, the cubed blue fin tuna sashimi (comes in a martini glass), the lobster tail stuffed with crab meat and scallops (probably $150 since they give you a four pound lobster tail, but for a large group it's a huge hit...and it's like eating a bucket of KFC - so decadent, so rich, that you will love every second of it but you'll feel like showering after), and the rib eye medium rare.  And don't sleep on the fried oreos for dessert.  I am not kidding, trust me.  Another secret?  Prime Italian across the street serves everything Prime 112 does, is slightly less crowded, and has slightly less attitude.  Added recommendations there:  try the huge meatball and get the lobster truffle pizza for $37.  It will be the most expensive pizza you ever get, but it will also be one of the best. Button-down + jeans. 

Zuma - Our most recent adventure, Brielle's dad's 64th birthday...I have low expectations for Asian food (aka, sushi with some cooked stuff) because in Miami you'll either get great food and no vibe, or a great vibe and lousy food.  And it's especially rare to get both when eating dinner downtown (I can't comment on lunch) but Zuma absolutely nailed it.  Roomy, round tables...loud, high ceiling room...long open kitchen...hopping bar scene...killer appetizers (the ribs were amazing...and the tempura tiger shrimp were great) and really fresh, really good (which is crazy hard to find in this town) sushi.  Highly recommended if you are downtown for a Heat game or something else, but will not blow you away if you are a New Yorker who always gets great sushi.  In that case, stay on the Beach...but in my case, especially for business dinners or pre-Heat, it's a find.  And a welcome respite from the steak and calorie bomb that is Prime 112.  Button-down + jeans.

BLT Steak - My favorite steakhouse on South Beach...not just because of the aforementioned hook-up (which is thankfully worse an extra appetizer or two...thanks Julie!) but also because it's a more refined, adult scene and the experience is more relaxing (read: you are not "herded" into cramped spaces nor given attitude).  The BLT signature popover bread is unreal, and their bone-in ribeye is just about the closest thing - for me - to heaven on earth in the meat department because of the way they manage to char the outside yet maintain medium rare on the inside.  The give-up on BLT, as expected, is the scene.  But sometimes less is more in my book.  And after you do Prime 112 and then go out hard, BLT is perfect for the next night.  Low key, relaxing and utterly enjoyable, and walk across the street to stroll down the beach pre- or post-meal.  Button-down + jeans. 

Red The Steakhouse - I was not that impressed (what differentiates it from any other steakhouse?  and it's on a dead street...) but maybe I went at the wrong time (7pm on a Thursday is early in Miami) and I need to give it another shot.  But honestly, the steak was good, the appetizers sucked (how do you mess up tuna tartare?) and the room/decor was...eh, ok.  Given the locale and the vibe, I would have hoped that a ridiculously good steak would have compensated for it all.  I heard that Michael Jordan and Charles Oakley eat here all the time, and the menu looks great, the wine list is serious, and they really seem to focus hard on good quality meats that are perfectly prepared.  But I was underwhelmed.  Or maybe just whelmed.  Try it and tell me if I am wrong. 

Mr. Chow - If you are a foodie, you know all about this place...amazing food (get anything with lobster!), great service, hot chicks (if you are into that sort of thing), and legit vibe.  Eat here and then go to the Wall Bar or back to the pool (both in the W Hotel), or walk down to The Delano and go to the Florida Room or Plunge at the Gansevoort.  But the elephant in the room always remains:  How can you justify paying this much for Chinese food??!!

Joe's Stone Crab - Ahhh, the ol' Miami standby...Joe, whoever that is, was a genius because he took something that simply tastes incredible on its own - the Stone Crab legs/knuckles/claws - slapped up four walls, called it a restaurant, and charged like 10x what stone crab actually costs.  God bless Joe.  Look, this place is a Miami institution, and in fairness, the hash browns are outrageously good.  (It's amazing how many steakhouses can't get 'em right.)  But do yourself a favor...call Joe's Takeout, order the blackened grouper sandwich (extra tartar), the hash browns, the creamed spinach, a few large crab claws (bigger is not better - avoid XL - no flavor at all, get medium or large) and the key lime pie and call it a day.  For me, I call that a hung-over Sunday.  The takeout spot is attached to the main restaurant and it's just an overall better experience.  And if you really want value vis-a-vis stone crab pricing, just get them downtown along the Miami River.  Try Garcia's.  (Hard to get to, but hop in the rental and googlemap it.  Oh, and it helps to speak a little Spanish...after all, it's pretty authentic Miami.)

Nobu - Asian fusion, blah blah blah.  In fact, now that I think about it, Nobu 57 is essentially the NYC mirror image of Prime 112 in Miami -- it's always been the place I want to hate for it's now-cliche menu and its midtown Manhattan oh-too-cool-business crowd nonsense, but the toro tartare in wasabi broth with lychee & caviar (note to self:  deathbed meal, even though it's like $50 per serving) and the rock shrimp appetizer absolutely win me over...every time.  The difference in Miami though, is that the sushi is weak.  (There's another blog on my Miami sushi theory somewhere on the right side of this page.)  So if you are craving those two things and are ok with mediocre sushi at a crazy price, go for it.  But it's not my first choice. 

Meat Market - Really, really good food, great location on Lincoln Road...clean, cool, sexy space, excellent service, and great vibe/scene...but just obscenely priced.  Dinner for two with a $90 bottle of wine (about the cheapest on the list) for $350?  Two dudes eating steak at the bar?  That's just nuts.  But if you are on vacation and feel like splurging and strolling Lincoln Road (always a treat for people-watching) before or after you eat, I highly recommend it.  Legit. 

Il Gabbiano - Ok, here's the back story from a reliable source.  Il Mulino is a West Village New York institution, but the owners sold out years ago.  At some stage, they actually sold the Il Mulino name to a North Beach/Aventura Trump Hotel.  But recently, they got the urge to get back into the restaurant business and didn't want NYC anymore and obviously couldn't use the Il Mulino name anymore.  So what did they do?  Yup, they opened Il Gabbiano.  Seriously, this place is awesome.  Located downtown, so a little less laid-back vacation vibe and more "buttoned-up" than the beach.  And a slightly older crowd.  But so charming for its location (along the Miami River and Biscayne Bay waterfront) and for its old school male-waiters-with-white-aprons vibe, that you have to go at least once.  And on top of all that, the food is simply the best of the best in terms of Italian staples:  pastas, meats, fish, etc.  Great wines, very romantic if you have a corner table, or great business with the guys if you want steak and pasta and Barolo at a larger table... Love it. 

Slightly-off-the-path dinner:

Macaluso's - Tucked away in a tiny strip mall retail corner at 18th and Alton...simply put, the best meatballs that you will ever eat.  The staff can be a bit obnoxious, though, and they definitely treat the local regulars better than the rest.  And while I would love to be a local regular, at $100 per person, it's a bit much... But again, if you are tired of the South Beach trendy spots, and you want to see a savvy celebrity or two who is not looking to "see and be seen" at Prime 112, you will find them here.  Alternatively, get a takeout order of the meatballs with extra mascarpone cheese on the side and call me after the orgasm. 

Michy's - Simply awesome.  Michelle Bernstein's centerpiece restaurant, and she's the real deal.  Off the beaten path up around 78th and Biscayne - foodies only - but so worth it.  You need to be the kind of person that does not need to brag about their trip to Miami to go here though.  In other words, you need to be intelligent and independent.  Because when you get home, and all your friends ask about Nikki Beach's brunch and Prime 112's dinner, you would need to have the stones to say, "actually, we went to Michy's" and be ok with that.  Not so much a place for a bunch of dudes or business, but it's a great date spot if you have already eaten on the beach one night and are looking for something different.  Pricey taxi ride from South Beach, and probably better suited for those who have been to Miami before and are looking for something a little off the beaten path, but without sacrificing any quality of the mainstream joints.

Michael's Genuine Food - Here's one that I think has jumped the shark and that I have grown to dislike a little...Pretty quickly after we moved here three years ago, we went to Michael's and felt all "West Village" in the sense that we had found a gem far from the maddening tourists of TimesSquareSouthBeach...It's on the downtown side, in the Wynnwood Design District...but then Michael's got too popular...there were celebrity sightings, and the staff developed attitude and all of a sudden it lost its luster.  Like most cities, there is a crew in Miami that are "very wealthy, in their 50s and 60s, that have great taste and a slight urge to see and be seen and then talk about it" that descend on a place and make it...ummm...slightly less edgy.  New Yorkers know what I mean.  It's the people who "hear" about a spot and then have to go so they can check it out and tell others that they went.  (And the phrase "I heard" about it really should be translated as I am not remotely "in the know," I actually read it in a magazine but I am making it sound like I am in the know by telling you I "heard" about it...or a friend of mine read it in a magazine and then told me.  Which - in fairness - really describes all of us when it comes down to it.  The only people who truly "hear" about a place are friends of the chef or the staff or the people who live next door and stumble in by accident the day it opens or something...but I digress.)  In other words, it's eating out for sport.  It's the Upper East Side couple who dresses younger than they are and get the "hot off the presses" New York Magazine and rush to the newest reviewed spot ASAP.  It's a little less about enjoyment of the experience and a little more consumptive of the experience, if that makes any sense.  They're the same folks that buy "trendy" clothes at Neiman Marcus in a swanky mall, which means kids on the Lower East Side have probably been wearing it for, like, three years already.  You know what I mean.  Anyway, my point is that those folks descended upon Michael's and got kinda cozy there.  Nothing but black and silver Mercedes being valeted all night long.  Meaning that it's probably still great and I would recommend someone try it out because the food has never really faltered, but that it's really not for me anymore.  

Off-the-beaten-path dinner (aka, locals only):

Gigi's - Loooove this new noodle bar in midtown.  Small & cheap bites, industrial, clean decor, open kitchen, Sapporo on tap.  Need I say more?  Ok, how's this - the BLT is made with pork belly rather than bacon.  Awesome.

Joe Allen - A local's paradise...quiet, moderately priced, and consistent.  Anchor Steam on tap, wow.  Tuna tartare appetizer is a must.  Basic bistro fare - couple pastas, chickens, fish, meatloaf, burger, etc.  Solid all the way.  A great easy dinner for us. 

Sylvano's - Ok, full disclosure...The eponymous Sylvano himself lives in our building and we love the guy, but we didn't know that the first two times we went there.  Make no mistake - this is a local joint.  No scene to speak of at all, and if there were no windows in the place you might not even guess that you were in the middle (8th and Alton) of South Beach.  It's just a lively crowd of happy people who actually live on South Beach rather than visit.  Sylvano honestly makes my favorite pizza on the beach (get the four cheese pie) and my favorite fried calamari.  There are always specials, and his daily fish is usually very good.  When you go, tell Sylvano (he'll be the dapper, Euro guy with the long salt and pepper hair with a crisp white shirt unbuttoned a few buttons hanging around the bar) that Ben & Brielle sent you, and hopefully he'll toss some extra limoncello or bruschetta your way. 
Red Light Little River - Another major favorite...I love this place.  The chef is awesome and the space is so cool...it's way off the normal path and its definitely a local crowd... these guys took over an old diner of an old 70's motel at 75th and Biscayne and put up one red light over the corner booth, cranked killer tunes, got a great beer/wine list (random eclectic beers are awesome), opened up the kitchen, and turned out tangy, tasty unique dishes like BBQ shrimp and bacon-and-fontina grill cheese.  Menu always changes based on fresh ingredients, you can also BYOB, and it's cheap.  And yes, we were "in the know" on this one...a friend of Brielle's is a friend of the chef, so we were very early on it.  But there's only one problem...the last few people we have sent there (it's been six months for us) told us it stunk, badly!  Huhn?  I dunno, but I am concerned - say it ain't so!  This place even got this stellar review (Best Value in Miami) from the Miami New Times this year!  So color me confused.  I love this place and hope all is well...so if you go before we go back, let me know!

Matsuri -Without hesitation, the best sushi in all of Miami.  Don't take my word for it.  Read this.  Anyway, it's in a strip mall somewhere in between the airport and Coral Gables (...really?  40th Street and 57th Avenue?  wow...) and I had severe doubts when we pulled up...but when we walked in, I may as well have been walking into a larger version of Blue Ribbon sushi in downtown NYC, or Sushi of Gari on the Upper West Side.  It was just fantastic.  We really, really need to go more, but it's hard to motivate and drive 20-30 minutes.  Screw it, we're going tonight...there's no excuse. (Yes, that's how good it is.)  And "thank you" to whoever runs this place and ensures the freshness and quality -- finally, finally, finally...we found NYC quality sushi in the city of Miami...

Buena Vista Bistro & Buena Vista Bistro Deli - Tiny local joints with the same owner and about a block apart...love 'em.  BVB is a great little French bistro that is very authentic...perfect for a bottle of rose and a solid steak frites...food is fresh and menu seems to change daily.  And BVBD simply has the best Quiche Lorraine that I have ever tasted outside of France.  (bacon & cheese to you heathens...and no, I am not gay because I know what Quiche Lorraine is.  It has bacon in it for christ's sake.)  After a tough weekend workout, when I am craving that salty breakfast food, I will detour well out of my way to get this quiche.  People who know me, know that is saying a lot.  Great croissants and other stuff too... And it's as local as it gets - feels like everyone who goes there lives within the neighborhood.

Mandolin - Nicely fills the glaring Greek/Mediterranean/Turkish hole in Miami dining.  Fresh fish with olive oil and capers...amazing breads and humus, baba ganoush, tzatziki, etc...excellent fried calamari...cool selection of Greek wines...and killer outdoor space.  Such a nice spot and a great vibe.  Thinking about this place relaxes me.  We are huge fans of Kefi on the UWS in Manhattan, and Mandolin has helped us get over that loss here in Miami.  When you are not into the traffic and parking on South Beach and the hustle and bustle of the terrible service and the loud tourists, park right in front of this place and then take your sweet time eating awesome Mediterranean fare in their back garden.  It will instantly relax you.  That, and the ouzo.  Trust me, you will love it. 

Morgan's - Puts the comfort in comfort food.  I mean...thick crispy bacon that is somehow infused with maple syrup?!  Whaaat?!  (And the bacon is always crispy...I can't tell you how much I hate chewy, fatty bacon...god bless these guys for understanding that.)  The owners are friends from the gym, but it would not matter - this place just rocks.  For my money, it's the best BLT and the best Meatloaf in Miami.  How's this for proof -- our weekend breakfast here ends up costing like $75 for two because when I ask for the check, I also order one BLT and one meatloaf to eat later while I watch football.  It's that good - I order multiple meals at once, and sometimes six hours in advance. 

Going out:

Florida Room - Have not been since the pregnancy/baby thing mentioned above, but it was our spot.  If you notice that the bouncer is a well-dressed, sharp, nice guy named Granville, please tell him Ben & Brielle say hello...hopefully he remembers us, and he'll probably be nice and fake it, but he really is a nice guy and it really is a cool spot.  Live music, and since Lenny Kravitz designed the place, there are some major acts (like Tribe Called Quest...I am bummed I missed that night) that just show up and grab a mic.  Drinks are steep, but getting a table for 5-10 people and paying $700 for the Grey Goose Magnum is actually well-worth it since the table is yours all night, the mixers keep coming, and you become a draw for some of the nearby crowd of lonely ladies.  And, oh yeah...maybe the prettiest (not sexiest, not raunchiest, actually prettiest) hostess in South Beach is the girl from Tallinn, Estonia.  In fact, a guy I was with once gave her something like a $1000 tip just to keep talking at her and looking at her all night.  It was pretty funny.  Nice girl, though - I got in trouble with my wife for yelling out "Tallinn" and making her smile when I heard her answer "Estonia" to someone else's question.  But it was just my trivia Tourette's acting up.  I couldn't resist. 

LIV - No idea, only heard stories, but the most popular place on the beach.  Apparently.  Double check though - I am not sure anymore. 

Plunge - It's outside, so that's awesome...beautiful people lounging around a pool...fun bar, cool kinda outdoor-ish bathrooms...believe it or not, gets chilly up there at night sometimes though...

Bardot - Been there once and felt like I was hanging in Williamsburg, NY with all the cool people.  Or at least the Lower East Side.  Nice long bar, live music right on top of you (no stage, they just play right there in front of you), and a group of hipster locals just hanging out.  $6 Red Stripes are a plus in this town.  Nothing pretentious, totally comfortable even though it was a little...artsy, I guess.  Highly recommended when you finally get up the nerve to skip South Beach and head downtown. 

Mix-and-match logistics for going out:

(Nota bene:  When spending bucks at a restaurant that has a nightclub in-house (STK+Plunge, Blade/Hakkasan+LIV, Blue Door at the Delano+The Florida Room), ask the maitre d' for advice or help on how to get in to the club if it's 11pm or later.  Maybe a $20 goes a long way?  Getting in at 10pm or 10:30pm, on the other hand, is generally easy.)

Dinner at Mr. Chow, drinks at the Wall Bar or the W Pool (all at 23rd and Collins), clubbing at Plunge (24th and Collins) in the Gansevoort or The Florida Room (18th and Collins) in The Delano.

Dinner at STK in the Gansevoort (24th and Collins), drinks at the main bar in the center of STK and clubbing upstairs at Plunge.

Dinner at Blade in the Fountainbleau (or Hakkasan or Scarpetta; 44th and Collins), drinks at the lobby bar (a great scene actually, since it's so hard to get into the club), clubbing at LIV.  Be prepared to beg and/or wait in line for LIV, but they payoff is that you will probably see girls models drinking champagne and making out, so there's that. 

Dinner at Prime Italian or Prime 112 (1st and Ocean), cab north to The Florida Room, Plunge, or - if up for a longer ride - LIV.
  
Best-night-out-I-have-had-in-Miami:

It was recent, and actually all on the downtown side...we experienced midtown Miami and the Wynnwood area at its finest... dinner at Joey's Pizzeria...drinks at Cafeina...short drive to Bardot for live music, great bar scene, red stripes...home by 1am.  Perfect.  It was all very laid back, good vibe, local crowd, no BS, inexpensive fun - but still hip people and very attractive girls...had more fun just relaxing than I have had at other Miami spots where everyone is "working" at being out...screw that.

Morning Note...


Futures had been lower on general profit-taking after a week of accommodative Fed policy and “business-bullish” elections, but surged (+15bps now) on much better than expected October jobs data:  The Official Change in Nonfarm Payrolls came in at +151k vs. the +60k expectation and the prior -41k revision.  Private payrolls gained by 159k vs. the +80k expectation, and the unemployment rate remained unchanged at 9.6%.  In blue chip earnings news, Kraft Foods (KFT; -2%) beats earnings estimates by 1c but missed revenue expectations and Starbucks (SBUX; +3%) beat by 5c, beat on revenues, and guided FY2011 in-line with expectations.   Sandridge Energy (SD; -10%) missed estimates by 9c and the CFO resigned.  Elsewhere, the NY Post is reporting that activist shareholders may force Symantec (SYMC; +5%) to break itself up.  Asia higher overnight.  Europe mixed but essentially flat.  USD +65bps.  Oil +35bps.  Gold flat.  Bonds lower. 

Plenty of interesting commentary/soundbytes out there given all the action this week.  Here’s a sampling (Rogers negative, China negative, WSJ cautious comments from Thailand/Brazil/South Korea/Hong Kong, Mobius positive), and pay particular attention to yesterday’s Hedgeye note, which has to be mentioned for its scathing condemnation of Ben Bernanke & the politicized Fed:

Fed’s Bernanke ‘Doesn’t Understand’ Economics, Jim Rogers Says 2010-11-04 23:05:56.405 GMT

Nov. 5 (Bloomberg) -- Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke’s decision to pump a further $600 billion into the economy shows his grasp of economics is weak, said investor Jim Rogers, chairman of Rogers Holdings. “Dr. Bernanke unfortunately does not understand economics, he does not understand currencies, he does not understand finance,” Rogers, 68, said in a lecture at Oxford University’s Balliol College yesterday. “All he understands is printing money. His whole intellectual career has been based on the study of printing money,” he said. “Give the guy a printing press, he’s going to run it as fast as he can.” The Fed said Nov. 3 it will buy an additional $600 billion of Treasuries through June, in a bid to reduce unemployment and avert deflation. While Bernanke’s near-zero rates and $1.7 trillion in asset purchases helped end the recession, the Fed said progress has been “disappointingly slow” in bringing down joblessness that is close to a 26-year high. “Debasing your currency has never worked,” Rogers said.

China Says Fed Stimulus Risks Hurting Global Recovery 2010-11-05 09:27:39.601 GMT

Nov. 5 (Bloomberg) -- China said Fed needs to explain this week’s decision to purchase bonds to pump money into economy or risk undermining the global recovery, China’s Vice Foreign Minister Cui Tiankai said at press briefing in Beijing.  Cui’s remarks echo concerns raised across Asia as countries brace themselves for stronger currencies and possible asset-price inflation.

U.S. Fed Easing ‘Will Mean Cash Flowing Into Asia,’ WSJ Reports 2010-11-05 09:10:41.819 GMT

Nov. 5 (Bloomberg) -- “The money has to find a home and the chances are it will seek a home in our markets and economies,”
Thai Finance Minister Korn Chatikavanij told the newspaper ahead of this weekend’s meeting of APEC finance ministers in Japan.

"It is doubtful the Fed decision will produce any results," Brazilian Finance Minister Guido Mantega told reporters following a cabinet meeting with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. Officials in Brazil, which averaged 850% annual inflation in the 1990s, have been critical of the Fed's easy-money policies because they are spurring price pressures abroad and could encourage new asset bubbles outside the U.S.  "Throwing money out of a helicopter doesn't do any good," Mr. Mantega said.

"The ample liquidity resulting from the quantitative easing policies of the U.S. and other major countries...is flowing rapidly into emerging market countries," the Bank of Korea said in report Thursday. "Consequently, there is concern, primarily centered on emerging markets, about the increasing volatility of asset prices and exchange rate.  We'll actively seek measures to alleviate" volatility stemming from sudden capital flows, said a senior official at the Ministry of Strategy and Finance.

"The launch of QE2 will definitely add pressure to the asset markets in the emerging-market economies such as Hong Kong's," said Norman Chan, head of the Hong Kong Monetary Authority. "We will take measures that are specific to the housing market."

Mobius Says Fed Plan to Boost Stocks, Commodities 2010-11-05 07:32:10.898 GMT

Nov. 5 (Bloomberg) -- The U.S. Federal Reserve’s bond purchase plan will further drive the rally for global stocks and push commodity prices “higher and higher,” said Templeton Asset Management Ltd.’s Mark Mobius.  “We could have an optimistic scenario for quite some time,” Mobius, who oversees about $34 billion, said in a telephone interview from Beijing yesterday. “Commodities are the big area for us. We are great believers in higher commodity prices and therefore are investing in commodity companies.”  The U.S. economy is growing and that will have a positive effect on Europe and spread to other countries, Mobius said. The “bright spot” is the emerging markets where demand continues to grow, he said. Rising incomes in developing nations are especially good for consumer stocks, he said.  Mobius joins Goldman Sachs Asset Management’s Jim O’Neill in saying the Fed’s measures to boost the U.S. economy will spur further gains for global equities. O’Neill, creator of the BRICs acronym to describe the large emerging markets of Brazil, Russia, India and China, said this week that while a new “bull market”
in global equities probably started in the past 15 months, current valuations are far from a “bubble.”

HEDGEYE

EARLY LOOK: BERNANKE'S BRUSH FIRE
"It does not require a majority to prevail, but rather an irate, tireless minority keen to set brush fires in people's minds."
-Samuel Adams

While I don't expect any professional politician in Washington or the manic media that gets paid advertising dollars for stock market cheerleading to call this out for what it is until this stock market is a lot lower, I will. The US Federal Reserve is officially and unequivocally politicized.

Yes, Ben Bernanke himself has admitted that Quantitative Guessing (QG) is "unconventional." But now he is so politicized that he is compelled to write an Op-Ed for the Washington Post on "What The Fed Did And Why: Supporting The Recovery And Sustaining Price Stability." The Chinese, Hedgeye, and anyone with real-time market quotes, are sitting here staring at their screens this morning with shock and awe.

The US Dollar is making new lows this morning (down -15% since June!). The modern day Roman Empire's credibility is burning at the global stake.

Notwithstanding unprecedented timing of the Op-ed (on the day of the Fed's decision - do you think anyone leaked its contents?), or the fact that the words "US DOLLAR" were not mentioned ONCE in his allegedly objective and politically unbiased analysis, allow me to break down Bernanke's view for you versus reality:

1.       STORYTELLING PREFACE: "Two years have passed since the worst financial crisis since the 1930s..."

KM: That's always the 1st sentence of the fear-mongering message campaign that will lead you to believe no one notices Wall Street's 2010 bonus pool.

2.       OUTCOME: "These steps helped end the economic free fall and set the stage for a resumption of economic growth in mid-2009..."

KM: Of course, the professional politicians saved us from the crisis they helped create and now we should pay homage to the banks, never earning a rate of return on our hard earned savings again. Fiscal sobriety and conservatism be damned. Get out there and chase some yield folks.

3.       MANDATE: "Notwithstanding the progress that has been made..." (we saved you)... "the Federal Reserve's objectives - its dual mandate, set by Congress - are to promote a high level of employment and low, stable inflation..."

KM: Right, you saved us from the evil-doers and completely screwed up the employment picture by fear-mongering employers to stop hiring. Ok. And now we're seeing the credibility of the US Dollar collapse and, as a result, global commodity prices hit new YTD highs, DAILY. The CRB Commodities index is up +16.4% since Bernanke's decision to Burn the Buck on August 27th in Jackson Hole.

4.       INFLATION: "Although inflation is generally good, inflation that is too low... can morph into deflation..."

KM: Right, right. China, India, and Australia have raised interest rates in the last few weeks specifically because they (like anyone with real-time quotes) see the inflation implied in expectations. The US Treasury Inflation Protection (TIP) auction yielded -0.55% (lowest EVER) in October (implying outright fear of inflation), but Bernanke keeps Burning the Brush Fire of Fear-Mongering about a great depression that no one in finance has remotely experienced.

5.       ECONOMIC STAGNATION: "falling prices and wages, which can contributed to long periods of economic stagnation."

KM: How about JOBLESS STAGFLATION (sorry PIMCO, we called it first) = US Government sponsored fear-mongering towards employers + inflation. In the 1970s, Jimmy Carter and the Fed's panderer, Arthur Burns, didn't get it. This time around, I don't expect Obama and Bernanke to either. It's Keynesian theory versus real-time market realities. The problem here isn't US Consumer reaction to government policy. It's government policy itself.

6.       QE2: "so far looks to be effective again. Stock prices rose and long-term interest rates fell when investors began to anticipate the most recent action... lower mortgages will make housing more affordable ... and higher stock prices will boost consumer wealth ..."

KM: This is the central narrative fallacy of the Bernanke Brush Fire that really lights up the anxieties of anyone observing growth and inflation data on a globally interconnected basis. Re-read what he's implying here and your jaw should drop:

A)     US Dollar Debauchery - Let's ignore that chart.
B)     Inflation - I'm willfully blind to that chart too and/or whatever any other major country is currently saying on the matter.
C)     Stock Market - I fundamentally believe that manipulating its price via investor expectation is what drives this economy.
D)     Mortgages - I'm not going to mention that 30-year yields have gone straight UP +65% (from 3.55% to 4.09%) since I moved to QE2 in August.

7.       CONFIDENCE: "we are confident that we have the tools to unwind these policies at the appropriate time..."

KM: What a joke. While virtually every central banker in the world (ex the Fiat Fools in Japan and the EU) have hiked interest rates multiple times since the mid-2009 recovery that Bernanke pats himself on the back for, I can assure you that if he couldn't raise rates with 6% US GDP growth, he'll likely never be able to "unwind these policies" at any time. Sadly, the global markets may very well do that for him. And that will be it for this QG experiment going bad.

Don't take my word for it on all of this. I'm just a man who is selling everything and going to cash. Get some real quotes and study the history of countries who attempted to debauch the currency of their citizenry. Then read some Asian newspapers - or something other than the Washington Post.

Overnight, China's central bank adviser, Xia Bin, said the Fed's Quantitative Guessing "amounts to uncontrolled money printing." Even Japan's bureaucrat PM, Naoto Kan, said this was "the US pursuing weak-dollar policy." At least those Op-Eds were short and to the point. They also sound just about right.

My immediate term support and resistance levels for the SP500 are now 1186 and 1201, respectively. My SP500 short position (SPY) is -0.96% against me in the Hedgeye Portfolio, and I intend on shorting the market again today on strength. Being early on the short side here is also called being wrong. I get that. I was early in October/November of 2007 too. Remember, market tops are processes, not points.

Best of luck out there today,
KM

IOC announces $280M in offerings.  IRF beats by 11c.  JAZZ beats by 7c.  ALKS beats by 14c.  LMNX misses by 6c.  MHK misses by 3c.  ATML beats by 6c.  ATVI beats by 3c.  CF misses by 33c.  NILE beats by 1c.  CROX beats by 4c.  CVH beats by 58c.  PT cut at BNP Paribas.  RBCN beats by 4c.  RRGB misses by 13c.  SNN reports in-line. TSYS reports in line.  WPRT to offer 5.5M shares.  WEFA cuts SUG. 

S&P 500 PreMarket 8:30am (last/% change prior close/volume): 

Today’s Trivia:  I love this one…everyone knows that a group of geese is a gaggle, and I have long made use of senseless collective nouns like a “smuck of jellyfish” and an “aurora of polar bears,” but here’s a twist…what is a group of geese called when in the air?
                                                                                                                                                           
Yesterday’s Question:  How many eggs per year does an average hen lay?

Yesterday's Answer:  The average hen lays 227 eggs per year.   

Best Quotes:  Mike O’Rourke, BTIG…

Market Radar.

The FOMC has provided clarity to QE2 and assets levitated on a wholesale level.  The trickiest aspect of the current market environment is being able to avoid getting caught up in the morality of the Fed's actions, whether right or wrong.  As much as the FOMC's actions are distasteful to many in the financial markets, it is the market reality in which we must operate.  Back in July, we switched back to a bullish stance on equities for the majority of the year for reasons such as valuation, earnings and investor positioning.  Today, the S&P 500 registered a new recovery high.  On a side note, one interesting aspect of this new high is that the heavily weighted financial sector is still approximately 12% below its April peak. From our perspective, a QE rally like today is uncomfortable because you want investors to join your camp for the right reasons, not because of an artificial event.  Despite being uncomfortable, we don't want to lose sight of the underlying reasons which made us bullish, and mistakenly abandon the view because we don't agree with the manner in which the gains were achieved.  Although assets may be rising for the wrong reasons, it does not make the rise any less real.  The feeling of this tape today was very much like that in November 1998, post LTCM.  It has the tone of people either being out of position or having severe performance anxiety going into year end.
  
The pivotal question is the sustainability of the movement.  Last night, we noted that it will be important to see how assets perform over the next week to gauge how much of the QE move was priced in.  Evidently, today was a great start to that performance.  A beneficial aspect of today's outsized gains is that today's closing levels serve as an excellent benchmark to measure against.  We will be watching daily to see which assets can sustain and consolidate their gains.  One problem of this current artificial event is that it has created a lockstep movement, and as a result, all trades turn into one.  Now that all assets are interconnected as part of the "QE Trade," that increases the risk of a chain reaction.  If one asset reverses course, there is a high likelihood others will follow.  You can have the greatest fundamental story in the world, but once transient money flows into a trade, the fundamental story usually takes a backs seat to the momentum.  That is the challenge of distorting investment objectives - the overall level of risk taking is higher, but the level of conviction is lower.  We suspect the currency market will be the early warning signal to watch.  The Dollar has been pretty well beaten down over the past couple of months.  We are curious to see which assets sustain their gains in an environment where the Euro weakens for 3, 4 or 5 consecutive trading sessions.  That should be a fairly good test of conviction levels across assets.