Our Five Favorite New Restaurants of 2009

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This week in Dish we walk down memory lane and revisit the crazy year that was 2009. Our year-end wrap up answers the following: What notable newcomers made their way onto South Florida's eager palates? What restaurants fell victim to the stagnant economy? In 2009, restaurateurs turned to trends to stay afloat -- which of them were the most prevalent? And what's to come in the future of South Florida dining?

Our wrap up of the year that never should have been hits tomorrow. In the mean time, here's Charlie's list of our five favorite new restaurants on 2009.

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Steak 954 (Reviewed June 04, 2009): This is a steak house of great refinement, in spite of a menu that looks like the same-old, same-old. You walk past a tank full of black-lit jellyfish to get to Stephen Starr's Steak 954, set in the austerely swank W Hotel, and by the time you've finished dinner, you'll feel nearly as graceful and buoyant as those medusae. Refreshing cocktails are made with exotic elements such as aloe or ginger beer. A slider is not just a slider: It's Kobe beef topped with the sweetest caramelized onions and sandwiched between rounds of buttery brioche. A bone-in veal chop is melting and juicy; a plate of Mediterranean bronzini, with a jewel-like array of vegetables, is as light and delicate as any fish that ever swam. Even a tuna-foie gras taco, weird as it sounds, is a luscious flavor pairing. Don't skip dessert: Toffee pudding with pomegranate sorbet or a pineapple soufflé by pastry chef Tai Chopping may be the city's best sweets.

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Bravo Gourmet Sandwich (Reviewed April 21, 2009, and June 17, 2009): The postcard-sized menu at Bravo! Gourmet Sandwich Shop in Wilton Manors promises: "The Best sandwich you'll ever taste!" Those are big words in the world of sandwiches, but the thing is, Bravo just might live up to that promise. Bravo's Peruvian sandwiches are full of juicy pork, flavorful country ham, and well-spiced onions, all served on these bulky, flaky buns that perfectly soak up the meat juices and spicy sauce. On Sundays, get a traditional Peruvian Sunday feast of fried pork chunks, slices of sweet potatoes, spiced onions, and a banana-leaf-wrapped tamale. It's served with one of those amazing buns for a self-assembled sandwich. The desayuno plate costs $10, but it could easily make a meal for two. Pair it with a traditional Peruvian drink: chica morada ($2), which is made from red corn and spiced with apples and cinnamon. It's a bit like apple cider but not so sweet. Bravo's also got fantastic yuca fries, but the sandwiches are so large, you won't need a side item. Instead, hold out for the alfajores ($2), a flaky Peruvian cookie filled with dulce de leche.

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LOLA Restaurant and Ultra Lounge (Not yet reviewed): LOLA is the rare lounge/restaurant that gets the concept right. The place is crazy. It's packed with such a wide array of clientele -- from "Bocahontas" to "Octogenarians" -- that just sitting in the snazzy dining room elevates people watching to a sport. And if you always pined for a joint where you can simultaneously watch gory, foul-mouthed gangster movies on the tube and wealthy west-siders practically getting busy on the dance floor to a local jazz band's rendition of "How Deep is Your Love," you're in luck. As entertaining as that sounds, the food is just as good. The kitchen seems to be operating on a plateau -- nothing is over- or under-seasoned, nor does anything lack flavor, artful presentation, or fun factor. The menu is a broad collection of small plates (tuna tartare with taro root chips, blue crab and fresh-roasted corn flautas, sriracha-spiked wood oven chicken wings), salads (tequila-lime cobb, beet and goat cheese), and pricier mains (wood-roasted salmon, chimichurri skirt steak, chicken Milanese). And the drinks, from specialty cocktails to an expansive wine and beer list, are top notch.

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Tryst (Reviewed May 21, 2009): Executive chef Julian Greaves, formerly of Sol Kitchen, has put together a menu of small plates, bar food, comfort food, and bistro classics that pairs exquisitely with the excellent list of 50-plus, personality-forward craft beers. With input from a quartet of restaurant-savvy owners (Rodney Mayo and Scott Freilich, who own Dada, the Dubliner, and Howley's Diner; Butch Johnson from 32 East next door; and Dave Robinson of Delux nightclub), he's created dishes as aromatic, intense, and highly seasoned as these beautiful beers, matching them stride for stride with nightly specials (seared black cod, pork tenderloin), small plates (fish tacos, Indian spiced lamb chops, fish and chips), and chef's favorites (foie gras with bread pudding, pad Thai). Go early or midweek if you want time and space to eat and explore the beer list at leisure: Weekends are a madhouse.

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Michelle Bernstein's at the Omphoy (Reviewed November 26, 2009): Having made the trip to Palm Beach, Miami's own Michelle Bernstein is at her most self-assured here. The restaurant itself is secured on the third floor above a quiet lobby bar and terrace eatery, and everything within seems to mask dimension - backlighting, mirrors, and angles abound. The sum is a room with an amazing capacity for making you feel unseen; a place where you can drop your guard without worry or care. Bernstein's menu has a mysterious effect too. It's divided into four sections - salads, crudos, starters, and mains - and much of what appears here is culled from her Miami restaurant, Michy's. Her creations are as whimsical as they are simple, like tuna Carpaccio consisting of three uniform slices of tuna, pink and thin as tissue paper, each dusted with foie gras "snow" and slivers of apple. Seafood is distilled to its most base components, like with salt-encrusted sea bream that glistens with the flavors of the ocean. Even comfort food, like Michy's famous fried chicken and slow-braised short ribs, are wildly impressive.

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