Klime with Rudy Perez

Iggy Pop at Crystal Cafe

Fundraising event at Crystal Cafe:
Congressman Patrick Kennedy and Klime

Reporter Jeff Burnside & Gerry Kelly

Klime Kovaceski is the chef and owner of Crystal Café. He is also an occasional contributor to the SunPost.

A Revolution In Miami Beach Dining
By Klime Kovacevski

According to famed chef/restaurateur Daniel Boulud, American restaurants nowadays are just as good or better than in France.  Since I arrived in Miami in 1984, there has been a noticeable day-and-night difference in the dining scene.  While many restaurants are contributing to put Miami Beach at the top of every visitor’s list of culinary destinations, the following dining establishments have been particularly influential in raising the bar of fine dining--which is why they make up my Top 10:

10. Da Vinci Caffé (Italian): Leave it to the Italians to produce heart-winning recipes and orchestrate memorable evenings at their restaurants.  These guys know the restaurant game, and can teach many out there about the importance of service.  Da Vinci offers consistent food, homemade pastas, fair prices, great service, and romantic ambiance—and that’s about all most people need. 305-861-8166.

9. Baraboo (Argentinian): They’ve probably taken all the “bugs” out from the operation by now, which so often occur in ambitious new restaurants.  Which leaves Baraboo with a talented chef, solid French and Italian-influenced Argentinean food, and a hearty dose of courage to tackle a new frontier, Ocean Terrace, in a neighborhood far from South Beach. 305-867-4242

8. Tantra (New American): Yup, they did it again.  They survived the loss of a star chef and successfully created another one.  That’s impressive.  This type of operation, by its nature, shouldn't last more than a few seasons, yet Tantra keeps clicking sexily along with their French-inspired, self-proclaimed “aphrodisiac” menu.  I don’t know why, but when I think of Tantra, the song “Can’t You Smell That Smell” comes to mind—and I don’t mean the smell of the fresh grass that lines the entranceway.  Maybe it’s just the aroma of success. 305-672-4765

7. Escopazzo (Italian): Italian heroes will live forever and ever, and nobody is more heroic at putting out good Italian food than Pino.  Escopazzo’s cuisine has a fresh intensity, but it’s Pino’s personality that makes this a one-of-a-kind boutique restaurant.  Pino also cooks quite well, so it must be tempting to keep him in the back of the house—except then the front of the house would be lacking his charming presence. 305-674-9450

6. The Forge (Continental): Shareef Malnick is the man.  The Forge has a world class wine cellar, and an always unbelievable crowd, but what’s surprising is that the chef, after all these years, doesn’t seem tired or jaded from years spent in the kitchen.  On the contrary, he’s successfully keeping up with the ever-changing habits of trendy people, and he does it the right way—with hearty, satisfying portions, not like some of his competitors, who create small beautiful nothings. 305-538-8533

5. Liaison (American/French): It’s very easy to like the down-to-earth chef/owner Kris Wessel, and it’s rewarding to see his dreams come true.  To all those behind the burners: Yes, you can start-up and operate your own business without big-time backers and glitzy PR firms.  It takes time, patience, and hard work.  Liaison is obviously a labor of love, which comes through clearly in the New Orleans-influenced food. 305-538-1055

4. Nemo (New American): The ambiance is unpretentious and comfortable, the food is stunning, the vibe is magical.  Why does Nemo feel so right?  Well, it’s not overpriced, nor oversized, and not overdone—everything is just right, and tasteful—especially the cuisine.  It’s hard to find a restaurant that manages to balance food, service, and ambiance so seamlessly, effortlessly, and efficiently. 305-532-4550

3. Astor Place (New American): Johnny V is back and better than ever, reclaiming his grand-chef status.  I don’t think he needs the “Survivor” type of PR gimmick, because his food ranks among the best on the Beach.  Johnny’s return to Astor made another strong point—that a consulting chef/troubleshooter, no matter how big he is, will lose every time versus an in-house cowboy. 305-672-7217

2. Mark’s South Beach (New American): First he conquered North Miami Beach, then Ft. Lauderdale, South Beach, and, most recently, Boca and Palm Beach. Like every conquering King, Mark always does things full strength, and seems, amazingly enough, to be getting stronger.  Apparently Mr. Militello never heard of the idea of spreading yourself too thin—or maybe he has, but he’s just breaking some more rules..  As long as the product is as good as it is, I say keep breaking them. 305-674-7800

NUMBER ONE: Pacific Time (Pan Asian): In a real restaurant like this, the food, service, and prices are under tight control, and the result is a rewarding dining experience every time.  Pacific Time has become a Miami Beach landmark, but Jonathan Eisman understands the importance of consistency—after all, we are only as good as our last gig. 305-534-5979

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Klime Kovaceski is the chef and owner of Crystal Café. He is also an occasional contributor to the SunPost.

Hot Beach
By Klime Kovacevski 

There are cities with good restaurants that local people know about, other cities which have restaurants with national reputations, and then there is Miami Beach, whose landmark dining establishments, like Joe's Stone Crab and The Forge, are known so far and wide that they're possibly even talked about in Bangladesh.    Miami Beach, in fact, is the only city to swipe four Golden Spoon Awards from Florida Trend Magazine.  We've also got a quartet of AAA 4 Diamond restaurants, and of the top 20 Zagat-rated restaurants in Miami Dade, 8 are in Miami Beach. 

It was seemingly just a short time ago when pretty actresses, dancing singers, and fading sports stars were opening up all the hot spots on the Beach, but they've since flown away.  Now it's the pros' turn to perform their culinary magic, people who understand that they're only as good as their last meal.  Here are some that have been thrilling Miami Beach locals and visitors for years.


1. Joe's Stone Crab: If President Bush is serious about reorganizing the military and the economy, he should do the right thing (like many of his predecessors) and go to Joe's to see how 300 precision-trained employees are able to produce $23 million of food in 6 months.  I was so stunned with the operation I couldn't wait to go home to tell my wife about it.  Her response:  "Must be run by a woman".  Of course she was right.  Mrs. Jo Ann Bass is a charming lady, and brilliantly guides a crew that's the size of city hall.  The son is the commander these days, and the 19-year old niece is training to be the iron lady of the future.  Joe's moves on. 

2. Pacific Time: Jonathan Eismann, the king of Lincoln Road, sets pretty high standards, and never seems to tire of being on top.  As the king of all food critics in Florida, Mr. Robert Tolf would say, "A tough act to follow".  Yup.  Things get rough when you try to compete with Jonathan – the  guy is deep into food, which should be obvious, as a restaurant like this cannot just be thrown together, but has to be born in someone's heart. 

3. Mark's South Beach: If I hit the lotto one day, I'd buy a huge ship and travel around the world. The top general in my ships' kitchen would be Mark Militello, which would insure my having better food than even Jacques Chirac.  But since I don't play the lotto, I will just enjoy the spectacular food in each of his restaurants.  Mark, incidentally, hit his own lotto jackpot by being named chef of the month in the New York Times, which has helped put the spotlight on South Florida again. 

4. The Forge: I must be honest here--I have, time after time, used the Forge for direction over the years.  I don't feel so guilty though, because many others have done so as well.  Sometimes I think we should tax those entering the Forge, like a museum, as this landmark restaurant has helped put Miami Beach in every serious travel guide.  I'm not sure it's true when Sharif says the Forge is larger than life, but it sure does seem that way.  Sharif has closed Cafe Nostalgia, hired a new PR firm, and is currently focusing his sharp energy on the majestic Forge, its' world class wine list, providing great steaks, and always being available to take photos. 

5. Escopazzo: We trust our religious leaders, doctors, even sometimes attorneys, but we trust nothing as much as Pino's enthusiastic suggestions about what meal would best suit our mood of the day.  As he charmingly moves about the room, he'll talk to one table about his food being the perfect medicine, and then step over to the next table, where he'll be just as friendly and still be flashing his infectious smile.   Pino is Pino--he's got energy to spare, and has orchestrated Escopazzo into a romantic melody of a restaurant. 

6. The Palm: Before the deluge of steakhouses that moved into Miami-Dade, we already had the very best:  The Palm still stands head and shoulders over the competition.   I can imagine snobby Europeans getting heart attacks when their portions arrive, because everything here is big – the  American way.  Forget about the quality not quantity argument – these monster lobsters and humungous steaks are as delicious as they come. 
7. Nemo: Perhaps there are those of you who are worried about Michael Schwartz leaving Nemo, but I'm not.  If things don't work out the other partner can bring him back like in the past.  My fascination with Nemo is not just in the top-notch fare, but also in the way the restaurant is laid out. The gallery of little rooms and sections makes it seem like a house – a house with a very good cook in the kitchen.

8. China Grill: China Grill's cult status remains unparalleled.  The group's first concept is still the most successful, yet to be matched by CGM or anyone else.  The grand feeling of this dining establishment is not the only thing different from those wonderful little hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurants: The food, prices, and waitstaff attitudes are all grander as well.  This is a place to pick up and be picked up – I guess some people never get enough, which is why they like to frequent China. 

9. Tantra: You'd better bring your accountant here with you, because it's very easy to pretend to be a star (like those at the next table) and keep ordering and ordering – when they hit you with the bill, well, I've heard stories of people falling off their chairs.  Tantra is like that girl who likes to party too much: You don't approve but you always smile back when she goes by.  The big prices allow the chef to include high-end ingredients, and that's a big draw for foodies. 

10. Joe Allen's: Last time I was in this place I said to my waitress, "These mussels are not very good."   I intentionally waited a split second for her reaction.  "But everyone loved them," she told me, but I hadn't finished: "They're not very good, they're EXCEPTIONAL."  A big smile crossed her face.  I said: "I got you."  Truth of the matter is, much of the food here is exceptional, and, like the other restaurants on this list, they're still going strong.  

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Klime Kovaceski
Personal Best

Published: Thursday, May 15, 2003
CRYSTAL CAFE,726 41st Street, Miami Beach, 305-673-8266
Crystal Café regulars, and there are many, enter through the rear door. They know it's closer to nearby parking. They also know they can poke their head into the kitchen on the way up front and say hello to chef/proprietor Klime Kovaceski, who will stop whatever he's doing to offer greetings. That won't be the last they see of him, though. At some point he'll be tableside, ensuring that guests in his cozy restaurant are happy. It's classic Old World charm from a warmly sincere Old World native. Kovaceski hails from Macedonia, where cooking wasn't his only passion. For a period he was also one of the region's most celebrated rock musicians. He still cherishes his guitar, but today it yields to his restaurant whose "New Continental" cuisine has gained national recognition and made Crystal Café one of Miami's finest dining establishments.

Joes Stone Crab

Respect the everlasting: Ninety years in this business is an eternity. Joe's boasts, besides the best stone crabs and some great seafood, a precision-trained staff the size of city hall who perform like a slick military machine. No wonder U.S. presidents have waited patiently for a table at this American icon.

Casa Tua

Admire the beautiful: Casa Tua is a gorgeous place to dine, and the cuisine is fresh and clean. Turning a house into a restaurant may not yet be a new trend but certainly places like Casa Tua are helping Miami to become a more sophisticated dining metropolis.

La Broche

Recognize the brilliant: La Broche's chef, Angel Palacios, is just that.. Two decades ago most of the great chefs were Europeans. Nowadays our homegrown chefs can compete successfully in any competition anywhere. But Palacios's cuisine proves that the Europeans are as inventive as ever -- still a culinary force to be reckoned with.


Applaud the very best: Norman Van Aken's restaurant reflects South Florida culinary history in the making. You can see the dynamic complexity of Miami on his plates, every one of them.

I moved to the U.S.A. in 1984, but if I had a choice, my birth certificate would read, "Born in Miami." Why? Because Miami gives new meaning to the phrase melting pot. The city literally overflows with different nationalities and languages, and has an amazing diversity of dining options: Old and New American, Latin American and Caribbean, Italian and French, steak houses, bagel joints, sushi, fusion, and much more. On your day off you can practice Miami's famous politics while knocking back a café cubano, hit the beach for awhile, then choose from one of a zillion restaurants. Afterward you can dance salsa to burn the calories. Next morning the battery is charged, you feel good, and you've renewed your appreciation for Miami being the hot, crowded, sexy place it is.

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