By  on April 17, 2007

The Miami area has long been a bastion of food and fun. Newcomers to the cultural mix continue to add fresh elements, giving guests attending Material World Miami next month the chance to sample a range of new restaurants, clubs and museum exhibits around the area. Here are some suggestions of things to do and see during the show's three-day run.

COMING ASHORE

After more than a decade of co-owning restaurants in Miami Beach, chef Michael Schwartz has jumped the Intracoastal Waterway. A culinary fixture with a following, Schwartz knew his restaurant in Miami's Design District required his name, but it also had to convey the sense of a no-nonsense refuge to South Beach's overstimulated and high-priced dining scene.

"I called it Michael's Genuine Food & Drink because ‘genuine' is a measuring stick for all its elements, from furniture to vibe to the menu," he said, standing between a wood-burning oven and rows of heirloom tomatoes from a local farm. "I wasn't interested in doing Asian fusion again, either."

Dishes change daily, with the exception of signatures like hominy simmered for hours in broth, dusted with chili and served with a lime wedge for $4, or breaded beef cheeks with whipped celery root and bitter chocolate sauce for $13. On a Friday in mid-April, Schwartz carved swordfish freshly caught off the coast of Fort Lauderdale to be grilled, topped with chunky Provencal vinaigrette of Meyer lemons, roasted peppers and capers, and plated with roasted cipollini onions and broccoli rabe. The evening's special cost $26.

"The wine list has a low markup, too, with most bottles being in the $40s," said Schwartz, who is a partner in the restaurant with Jim Clendenen, owner of Au Bon Climat winery in California, to secure lovely vintages at reasonable prices.

Pointing out his pastry chef with a rolling cart piled high with desserts, Schwartz said choices ranged from such mainstays as lemon meringue tartlets to an offbeat cremoso chocolate that has the consistency of ganache or fudge, with sea salt, extra virgin olive oil and a sourdough crostini.

Michael's Genuine Food & Drink, 130 Northeast 40th Street, Miami. Phone: 305-573-5550. Web site: michaelsgenuine.com. Hours: Monday-Friday for lunch and daily for dinner.EVENING SAFARI

Set nightclub just might be more extravagant than the cool young people it attracts. Opened on Lincoln Road by the owners of Mansion, Privé and Opium Garden, Set is a multitextural, colorful venue, with follies at every turn. Designer Francois Frossard said he went for a retro Hollywood theme, much like the estate of a movie studio mogul who collected global delights on his round-the-world ocean steamer voyages.

"The enormous fiberglass, ivory-colored tusks framing the DJ booth are replicas of those brought home by big game hunters from India," said Frossard, who went even further with Egyptian statues, leopard-printed carpeting and walls, and organic lighting, like a red glass chandelier by Dale Chihuly's apprentice, multicolored fiber optics and crystal sphere-shape chandeliers reminiscent of an octopus, jellyfish and sea urchins.

There's a nod to the Sixties, too, with red and white bubble chairs, go-go dancers in clear tubes with silk bamboo plants, and banquette backs upholstered in vintage Pucci fabric, which wasn't such an easy item to find in rolls in the U.S., according to Frossard.

"It took us six months to locate and we only found dress fabric," he said.

Frossard mixed the Pucci fabric with black leather and baby crocodile-embossed vinyl.

"That way, seats aren't ruined if people dance on them," he added. "People don't like dance floors here."

Set, 320 Lincoln Road, Miami. Phone: 305-531-2800. Web site: setmiami.com. Hours: Thursday-Sunday, 11 p.m.-5 a.m.

ON A ROLL

Chef Govind Armstrong is on a media blitz this month. In one week alone, he will have appeared on "Today" and "The Martha Stewart Show," while shooting Bravo's "Top Chef" in Miami, where his second Los Angeles-based Table 8 restaurant opened in The Regent South Beach hotel. But food prepared with ingredients that speak for themselves is always first and foremost on his mind.

"I cook how I like to eat. It doesn't make sense to have a lot going on in a dish if you have a few, right ingredients," said Armstrong, who tries to use as much seasonal and local produce and fish as possible. "Miami's been fun for me because I have access to all its tropical seafood and fruit that I never would in L.A."Eschewing trends, fusion and even his exotic, ethnic roots — Eastern Indian, Costa Rican and African-American — he offers familiar but perfectly executed components. A baby chicken, the only item that remains on the menu since opening, according to Armstrong, is marinated in cipollini onion jus, deboned and grilled skin-side down until crispy, and accompanied by a hash of pulled, short ribs that's braised 18 hours, with diced celery, potato and garlic.

"It's ridiculously simple, but unbelievable," he said of the $28 entrée.

Armstrong incorporates local whitewater clams in a calamari dish with chorizo, borlotti beans and salsa verde for $16, and Florida pompano atop stone crab chowder served with ruffled potato chips for $33.

"I never stop learning about new sources, techniques or trends, even if I don't implement them myself," said Armstrong, who began an apprenticeship with Wolfgang Puck while still in his teens. "It replaced going to culinary school."

Though not on the level of his original mentor, Armstrong is on the expansion path. Table 8s are slated for New York in a little over a year and for Las Vegas in two-and-a-half years. "New York's location is in [Greenwich] Village, but Vegas' is still on the hush," he said.

Table 8, 1458 Ocean Drive, South Beach. Phone: 305-695-4114. Web site: table8southbeach.com. Hours: Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

LITTLE FRANCE

A tourist might not know it, but Miami Beach was calling out for a place like Café Maurice.

A relocated Los Angeles import, the restaurant and bar with an affordable, savory menu has locals lining up, and is a home away from home for the city's French community. About 70 percent of patrons hail from France, according to owner and Burgundy native David Meunier and Parisian chef Maurice Azoulay.

Meunier designs the casual, playful menu and decor, sets prices and dims the lights, and turns up the music as the night progresses to re-create the mood of Paris' lively and sometimes rowdy cafes and bistros in Pigalle and Montmartre.

"It's very kitsch," he said. "We clear tables from the center after dinner and play old French and American disco music."Moderate prices make diners used to spending $40 on an entrée do a double take and get out their cell phones to tell equally frustrated friends. A mixed-greens salad with a disc of warmed goat cheese is $5.75 — or what a cup of coffee can cost at neighboring boutique hotels. Poulet Normand with a dijon and white wine cream sauce, mushrooms and herbs sets one back only $12.75, and rib-eye steak frites is a cool $14.75, considering nearby Prime 112's meat selection is on par with how much most people spend on a bottle of wine.

"This is a true treasure for locals, since only about 10 percent of Miami Beach restaurants cater to them," said Meunier, who also takes French gourmet standards into consideration with a few decadent additions. "There's caviar, a bottle of bordeaux from Chateau Petrus for $4,500 and shots of Louis XIII de Remy Martin cognac for $125."

Café Maurice, at 419 Washington Avenue, South Beach. Phone: 305-674-1277. Web site: cafemauricemiami.com. Hours: Daily, 5 p.m.-5 a.m.

MAM TAKES 2

Sol LeWitt's death in early April coincided with his retrospective's second stop on a four-city tour. In memory of the conceptual artist, the Miami Art Museum offers free admission every weekend until "LeWitt x 2" closes on June 3. The "2" was chosen because on exhibit is not only LeWitt's work, but his personal art collection, quite an unusual juxtaposition, according to MAM senior curator Peter Boswell.

"It provides a more intimate look into his creative world. Sol was very generous and traded lots of work," he said of LeWitt's personal collection, which contains 100 pieces by the artist's Minimalist contemporaries and former Museum of Modern Art co-workers like Dan Flavin and Robert Mangold, and peers outside his movement, such as Shirin Neshat and Elizabeth Murray. "If you look closely at his work and theirs, you begin to find unexpected relationships. It's a testament to the breadth of his ideas."

Boswell said the retrospective portion, titled "Structure and Line," differed from previous LeWitt shows since nearly every piece was made by the artist himself, rather than assistants, who are known to have executed his wall drawings, and since many of these private works were never intended for public consumption. Boswell added that LeWitt's sense of impersonality in his work — flawlessly finished sculptures with no evidence of handwork — dissolves in this case."His humanity, generosity and modesty really come through," he said of pieces such as a reworking of one of LeWitt's first wall drawings from 1969 commissioned for this show.

Other notable works of the 45 total dating from the Sixties to the present are classic cube sculptures, a drawing of LeWitt's "Incomplete Open Cube" series emphasizing his approach to repetition and variation, and a recent "Splotch" sculpture.

Miami Art Museum, 101 West Flagler Street, Miami. Phone: 305-375-3000. Web site: miamiartmuseum.org.

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