Okay. I confess. I am one of those nerds who scours the World Wide Web looking for killer travel deals that could only be explained as being posted by disgruntled employees intent on driving their employers to bankruptcy. I’m talking about incredible deals. Uber deals. Obscene deals.
Of course, several friends (…okay…many friends) think this kind of cyber sleuthing is a complete waste of time. That I should be spending my limited free hours on something more productive. Like farting or watching television.
But no. This is my hobby, thank you very much. And unlike other people’s addictive and life-sapping suburban hobbies like fantasy football, internet porn, and growing vegetables from scratch in that weed-infested plot of land most folks call “the backyard”, my hobby actually pays real dividends. Whenever one of my friends rags on me for spending so many hours hunkered down in front of the blue light of my laptop, I ask them when was the last time they scored a $450-per-night boutique hotel room with a full kitchen in Mid-town Manhattan for $90 bucks a night? Oops. Did I hear “never”? All right then.
So a couple of weeks before our scheduled trip to Miami, I snuggled up to the computer with a glass of wine, began my search, and made reservations.
We checked into our hotel just north of South Beach (which is also known as SoBe) in an area called Miami Modern (also known as MiMo). However, this area is not to be confused with the mainland Miami Modern section on Biscayne Boulevard (also known as MiMo BiBo). No. We were staying in that part of Miami Beach that showcases the grand architecture of Morris Lapidus and Norman Giller. Think Fontainebleau, Eden Roc, the Delano, and the Carillon.
We opted to stay at the less prestigious but infinitely more affordable Townhouse, which is located in a sub-section of MiMo called Low Cost Miami Modern (also known as LoCo MiMo). While not situated directly on the beach (it is a mere block away) the Townhouse makes up for it with a stunning roof top venue arrayed with enormous red and white striped umbrellas and lounges the size of inflatable life rafts. At least that’s what the pictures on the web site depicted. The roof top lounge would have made for several delightfully romantic evenings had it not been closed and under renovation. Oh well, at least there was a sushi bar in the basement.
But since I am not an ardent fan of sushi (preferring jelly rolls to California rolls), we brushed aside that option to explore some of the other venues/activities I’d found on the Internet. Here's a few (with price per person):
The Townhouse, of course. Which, in spite of the fact that the roof top lounge was closed, had a pretty funky vibe and a great continental breakfast. Not to mention the retro beach bikes they have for rent in case the brand new bikes you brought with you get stolen in broad daylight on a busy street even though they were secured with an elephant chain and industrial-grade padlocks. $85 bucks a night for two.
Christine Michaels’ Art Deco Walking Tour. Christine’s genuine enthusiasm, irresistible charm, and extensive knowledge raise her Art Deco Tour above just about any other tour I have taken. Plus, she’s prettier than the guy leading the ‘other’ Deco walking tour. $20 bucks (there were seven in our group – I think it’s $30 for two or four).
Café Charlotte. This little hole-in-the-wall storefront restaurant serves up remarkably delicious Venezuelan/Argentine food at a terrific price. No pretense or attitude. It's easy to miss, so keep an eye out. Under $10 bucks.
The newly renovated Fontainebleau. We wandered through this stunning ode to mid-century excess like we owned the place, helping ourselves to the complementary fresh-squeezed lemonade. Free.
Puerto Sagua Restaurant. This is a local joint in every sense of the word. It's always packed but they seem to find a place for everybody since turnover is quick. Great Cuban comfort food at a remarkably reasonable price, like, $10 bucks.
Spiga Ristorante Italiano. From the quiet ambiance to the delicious entrees to the attentive wait staff, Spiga sets itself apart from most of the other SoBe restaurants in its price range. $50 bucks with wine. Our anniversary. We splurged.
The Boardwalk. Riding bikes with the ocean breeze at our backs and the sun on our shoulders. Free.
Front Porch Café and Tropical Beach Café. Deliciously filling home-made breakfasts. $9 bucks and $7 bucks respectively.
Now, when you think about the $80 we could’ve shelled out for a round of Margaritas (see previous blog), I think we came out ahead, don’t you?
And while we’re talking about eating well, but on the cheap, here’s my take on a dish that Café Charlotte is noted for.
PABELLON CRIOLLO A CABALLO
Pabellon Criollo is Venezuela’s national, and certainly most popular dish. It is loosely translated as “Creole Flag” because when it is served, with the shredded beef on the left of the plate, the steamed rice in the middle, and the black beans to the right, it resembles the Venezuelan flag. “A caballo” simply means “on horseback” and refers to the optional fried egg topping. This looks like it takes some time to make, but remember, most of the cooking time is spent simmering the beef.
Prep Time: 15 minutes Cook Time: 30 minutes Simmer Time: 1 – 1 ½ hours
2 pounds flank steak
¼ cup olive oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 bay leaf
5 cups beef broth
1 red bell pepper, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
½ teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon oregano
1 15-oz can chopped tomatoes
salt and pepper to taste
1 egg for each serving
1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Pat dry steak and sear on both sides until brown, about 4 – 5 minutes per side.
2. Remove from skillet and place in a large pot or Dutch oven with 1 cup chopped onion, bay leaf and enough beef broth to cover (about 5 cups). Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low. Cover and simmer for 1 – 1 ½ hours until meat is very tender.
3. Remove the meat and set aside to cool. Strain the broth and reserve. When the meat is cook, shred with your fingers or a fork.
4. Reheat the skillet over medium-heat and add remaining olive oil. Add the remaining chopped onion and the red pepper. Sauté until the onions are soft and translucent, about 8 – 10 minutes. Stir in the garlic, cumin and oregano and sauté 1 – 2 additional minutes.
5. Stir in the shredded meat, chopped tomatoes and salt and pepper to taste. Add enough reserved broth to moisten the mixture (you may freeze remaining broth for other uses). Simmer for 15 – 20 minutes, adding broth as necessary to keep the mixture moist.
6. Meanwhile, fry an egg for each.
7. Serve each portion topped with a fried egg.
Serve with steamed white rice, black beans, and fried plantains.