Welcome back to “Episode 2” of our Bucket List Trip adventures! As mentioned last week, we were headed down to Miami from Saint Augustine to embark on a cruise for a wedding. It was only about a five-hour drive so we took our time that morning and headed out around 9:30 AM. After a quick stop at Buc-ee’s for breakfast and gas, we hit the road! Smooth sailing as far as traffic goes until we hit the outskirts of Miami and then of course, it slowed down. We had to stop at the bride’s hotel to drop off her wedding dress and the groom’s tux but then made our way into downtown Miami where we stayed. It was close to 3 PM which was perfect timing to check in at the JW Marriott. The room was a little dated but in a great location with a great price tag to match. We could walk to several restaurants and shops and were also less than a ten-minute drive to the cruise terminal. We quickly freshened up and researched a few restaurants on Yelp and made our way to our first stop of the evening – Paperfish.
We are huge sushi fans so tend to look for a sushi spot no matter where we are – this took us to Paperfish. It was less than a five minute walk from the hotel and the reviews were almost all five stars. The restaurant entrance is in the back of a parking lot so you have to look a bit to find it, but as soon as you see it you won’t be able to miss it. The décor was a mixture of urban Miami life paired with traditional Japanese décor. It felt fun and fresh and had an upbeat yet relaxed vibe. We grabbed two bar seats and quickly ordered drinks as we head to be at our next location in about an hour. I am a sucker for martinis so I went with the Lychee Martini and Kat, a glass of Sauvignon Blanc – both light and refreshing to pair with sushi. We perused the unique menu and everything looked delectable so it was hard to pick just a couple things. We decided on the Nikkei Ceviche and assorted sashimi to include: Salmon Aburi, Hotruffle, Hamachi Yuzu, and regular Salmon. Our food came about fifteen minutes later and we quickly noticed we were given nigiri instead of sashimi. No big deal as the sushi was SO GOOD it made up for the error. The Salmon Aburi was torched salmon with truffle oil and lime zest, the Hotruffle was scallop with white truffle butter and sea salt, and the Hamachi Yuzu was Japanese Yellowtail with Nikkei gel and negi. All were delicious and we agreed some of the best sushi we have ever had! The Hotruffle was clearly the most unique and our favorite of all four types.
The Nikkei Ceviche was described on the menu as tuna, watermelon, cucumber, Nikkei shoyu, and crispy quinoa. It was divine – even better than imagined. We had never had watermelon in any dish at a sushi restaurant and it complimented the fish perfectly. The crispy quinoa added just the right amount of crunch to the dish.
We tried to order another drink and then get our bill as it was time to head to our next venue but our server disappeared halfway through our meal. Although disappointing, the other staff was great in picking up his slack. Overall, this was a standout meal for our entire trip and we have been dreaming about eating here again ever since. Now we were off to our dinner reservation at Morla.
We originally wanted to have one dinner reservation on the books as we weren’t sure how hard it would be to walk into restaurants in downtown Miami. After lots of research, we selected Morla, a tapas style restaurant, so we could try several small plates. Our reservation was for 6 PM (when the restaurant opened for the evening) and we were the first table to be seated. The restaurant had a beautiful aesthetic with lit up plants and their logo out front mounted on what appeared to be a bamboo wall. The entrance was off to the left through a skinny framed gate. As soon as you walk through the gate and into the restaurant, you are given the option of sitting outside in the covered courtyard area or inside a quaint building with a full wine wall. Clearly a lot of thought went into the design of this restaurant, and it was much appreciated. We chose to sit outside as it was a beautiful evening. The server, who we believe was also the manager, hostess, and bartender that evening, greeted us promptly and took our drink order. This is when we discovered that Morla does not serve liquor, only beer and wine. A couple glasses of wine were ordered but half of our dining party ended up not drinking as they wanted cocktails. We made several selections from the menu to include: Miso Salmon, Filet Mignon Anticucho, Mushrooms Al Ajillo, Roasted Pork Hawaiian Tacos, Pear Pasta, and the Nikkei Salmon Ceviche.
The Miso Salmon was Norwegian Salmon, served over a creamy sauce, topped with red onions, sesame seeds, and roasted garlic. This was delicious – the sauce was a great pairing for the fish and the red onions cut the deep miso flavor to balance out the dish.
The Filet Mignon Anticucho was marinated filet mignon in a secret Peruvian chili sauce, served with roasted potatoes and Peruvian corn. The filet was cooked slightly more than our preference of rare but the flavors were good overall.
The Mushrooms Al Ajillo were sauteed mushrooms with white wine, butter, garlic, and a touch of red pepper served with toasted olive oil bread. While these were very good, they are a dish we could have gotten from anywhere.
The Roasted Pork Hawaiian Tacos were filled with pulled pork, onions, yellow pepper sauce, radish, and pineapple served in a corn tortilla. These were ok but the pork was a little dry and lacked flavor. Initially ordered these as a filler item as others in our party were still hungry. We would definitely skip these next time.
The Pear Pasta was homemade pasta stuffed with four cheeses and pear, topped with Peruvian passion fruit creamy sauce and parmesan cheese. If pear pasta is on a menu, you can be sure that we are ordering it. It is absolutely a favorite dish of mine but was new to everyone else in the party. The others were pleasantly surprised at how good it was – the sweet and savory flavors were very well balanced.
The Nikkei Salmon Ceviche was Norwegian Salmon with avocado, soy sauce, sesame oil, chives, and sesame seeds, served with Amarillo Leche de Tigre. This was very good but after just having some of the best ceviche at Paperfish, it was hard to compare the two.
Overall, the food was decent but the lack of a full bar offering and with the plethora of bar/restaurant options available nearby, we don’t really see Morla as being a spot we would return to in Miami. We had one last place that we knew we just had to check out in Miami before we called it a night – Dirty French Steakhouse.
Dirty French Steakhouse was at the top of our Yelp list for restaurants in Miami. Between the menu, the vibe the website was giving off, and the proximity to our hotel, we knew we wanted to see what they had to offer and *SPOILER ALERT* – we were definitely not disappointed! We walked in and it was as if the outside world no longer existed and we were brought into a time warp of the 1980’s (in the best way possible). As we approached the podium, we realized that it was very busy and there may not be an option to get a seat. The hostess pointed us to the lounge area where there were two bar seats available – perfect timing. The lounge area felt like you were entering an elegant jungle complete with animal print chairs, plants, and wallpaper to match. We made ourselves comfortable but were told that they do not serve the full menu in the lounge, only a couple snack options. We wanted to order off the full menu and the gracious bartender was quick to check on a table for us. He came back and told us it would 20-30 minutes, but we were willing to order a drink and wait. No sooner than we had ordered a drink, the hostess came up and let us know our table was ready.
As we walked to our table and saw more of the restaurant, we became even more intrigued by the intricate eclectic décor. The walkway from the lounge was a corridor lit by lanterns and dark wood paneling which led into additional opulent dining rooms, all with their own theme. Every room seemed to have its own complete theme but it all came together in the perfect Miami way. The restaurant is also windowless, immersing you into the Latin/Miami/French mash-up that is the intimate exclusive Dirty French.
We were greeted by a server promptly who asked us our preferred choice of water, handed us a menu, and introduced us to the server team for the evening. We had already done extensive perusing of the menu so we knew exactly what we wanted to order. We explained to our server that we wanted to order several appetizers and would not be ordering entrees since this was our third restaurant of the evening. She was more than accommodating of this and was happy to assist with any questions. One thing to note here is that you have to order everything at once from the beginning, aside from dessert. We ordered the Diver Scallops, Beef Carpaccio, Lobster Ravioli, and the Dirty French Wedge Salad. As we were waiting for our food, someone from the server team brought us complimentary homemade cloud bread with a dollop of hummus – light and airy texture that was a nice introduction to the meal. When we had finished this, the server brought us the Diver Scallops – thinly sliced scallops with kaffir lime and chili served atop a scallop shell. Absolutely incredible dish – buttery, slightly briny, and full bodied without being heavy.
As soon as we finished the scallops, a server came out with Beef Carpaccio we ordered. We started to notice a pattern here – the server team waited for you to finish your dish before bringing the next item. The service was impeccable – the staff was acutely aware of how much food and drink you had left on the table and timed their interludes to your table perfectly. They seemed to have been trained to come up to your table during pauses in conversation rather than just stopping by when they have time. Every person working in the restaurant was a wonderful representation of what the service industry could be. They were informative, non-intrusive but always waiting in the wings ready to bring you anything you asked for and anticipating when you were ready for your next dish.
Now back to the carpaccio – little slices of beef straight from heaven themselves served with roasted eggplant, labneh, and mint. Loved the way the eggplant and mint paired with this as we had never had beef carpaccio prepared this way before.
The third appetizer to come out was the Lobster Ravioli served with saffron and other fine herbs. The sauce tasted like a creamy lobster bisque with large lobster chunks poured over pillow-like homemade ravioli stuffed with lobster and cheese. It was truly spectacular and the perfect portion size for an appetizer made up of pasta.
The last dish to hit the table was the Dirty French Wedge Salad – the best wedge salad we have had to date. Ingredients in this bountiful bowl included: thick cut pork belly, roasted cherry tomatoes, blue cheese crumbles, minced red onions, and sliced green onions placed beautifully atop a half wedge and served with homemade blue cheese dressing. This salad was outstanding and large enough that it could have been a meal itself. The dressing was perfectly balanced and the ingredients fresh. We would order this salad every visit and are challenging ourselves to find a salad elsewhere that tops it.
As we finished the salad, the server approached and asked us if we wanted any after dinner cocktails or coffee and if we would like to look at the dessert menu. We were pretty full at this point but knew we could not walk out of there without having dessert. We decided on the Crème Brûlée (our go-to dessert) and the mic drop…Dessert Special – Flambéed Bananas Foster French Toast served tableside. We also ordered a coffee and an espresso martini as a night cap. The espresso martini was just the way I like it – strong and served with chocolate stir sticks.
The Crème Brûlée was a traditional French style and served with brown butter cookies. Nothing unique about this dessert but very well done.
Now for the dessert special…
A table was wheeled over with a full-on burner set-up for this presentation. The whole dining room watched in awe as the server flambéed the bananas and then paired it with the French toast, ice cream, and cut-out pineapple stars. Truly an unforgettable dessert – both flavor and presentation.
Overall, we were sad for this meal to come to an end because we had the time of our lives here. We enjoyed every minute of the experience and were astounded by the incredible service alone. A truly elegant yet high-energy dining experience that is like no other. We have even talked about flying out to Miami just so that we can visit this establishment again.
Miami has so much to offer to the fine-dining aficionado and is so much more than nightclubs. We definitely developed an appreciation for all that Miami has to offer and plan to come back real soon. Stay tuned for next week’s article in the Bucket List series – our first Royal Caribbean cruise – and don’t forget to follow us on Instagram at ourculinarycabaret.