In the “here today, gone tomorrow” world of South Florida eateries it’s easy to adopt a jaded attitude toward the maverick chef who dips his toe into the cold, unknown waters of self-ownership – only to see it go bust in less than a year, or even a few months.
Tim Balloo, executive chef, along with the developers behind Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill (creators of Sushi Samba), not only had the ambition to establish a tapas/small plate style restaurant in Miami, they’ve seen their brainchild grow into one of the most popular award-winning establishments around. And with good reason: Sugarcane’s décor and ambiance are chic and hip, but the food and drinks are the real stars.
But as successful as Sugarcane is, a laid-back eatery of this type could easily morph into “the place”—a hodgepodge of Ed Hardy T-shirted, Axe Body Spray-saturated tools sipping on martinis, checking out the eye candy – you know, the type of place you tend to swear off forever.
Not Sugarcane Raw Bar Grill. This trendy, hip eatery clustered in Miami’s Midtown area has maintained its cool vibe, never compromising its menu to appeal to the latest gastronomic fads or flavor-of-the-month in the culinary world. They have stayed loyal to what works, creating small plate items that are the talk of the town.
This particular evening Saturday we were joined by our friends Hugo, his wife Dolly, along with Joel and his wife Analena. Hugo was celebrating a belated birthday and was anxious to try Sugarcane.
Keep in mind that Sugarcane gets crowded on the weekends. This Saturday was no exception. We were seated outside in a long picnic-style wooden table that sat under a large awning. There was a threat of rain (which we experienced later in the night), and it was windy, but this didn’t deter us from enjoying a beautiful South Florida evening.
To get things started we ordered from Sugarcane’s drink menu, which has enough choices to satisfy everyone, from the casual to the more sophisticated drinker. Our choices included the Rum Sazerac (amazingly strong but smooth), Mojitos, a Blackberry Toast (bourbon & blackberries) and the Hemingway (Zafra 21 year Panama rum, lime juice and egg whites) all of which were enjoyed. It was a bit of a wait for the drinks given how crowded the restaurant was inside and out, but they were well worth it.
Duck & Waffles
When it was time to order plates our server suggested ordering a few plates at a time rather than all at once. Logistically this is a good idea since it would be a nightmare for any server to carry dozens of small plates at a time to a table, plus it gives patrons a chance to savor each delicious item, then order more if desired.
Among the standout items:
- Steak Tartare (topped with a raw quail egg)
- Scallop Crudo (apple, black truffle, lime and jalapeno)
- Goat Cheese Croquettes
- Duck & Waffles (served with maple syrup and topped with a fried duck egg)
- Pork Belly (prepared over a Robata Grill, served with mustard seed slaw
From our table on the patio we watched amazed as Sugarcane had a steady stream of patrons coming in up until the time we left, which was about 11:30pm. One thing of note is as crowded as Sugarcane was, we never felt rushed to finish. Our server was extremely accommodating and friendly. There was a delay between some of our courses, but we attributed that to the kitchen rather than the server. It was a beautiful night in Miami and no one, including us, was in a rush for the evening to end.