Miami Beach, Florida



Yuca, a stylish South Beach eatery which brought Cuban food into the 90s with folks like James Beard award-winner Douglas Rodriguez at the helm, is now doing a samba through the cuisines of South America and the Caribbean thanks to new chef Luis Contreras, a Venezuela native.

Chef Contreras is taking traditional elements of the Latin table (yuca, plantains, seafood, pork) and combining them in unique and visually-arresting ways. His ingredients are fresh, sauces are light, and yes, fusion will definitely come to mind in the form of a plantain-coated dolphin as well as yuca which is stuffed with wild mushrooms. "The chef part is easy -- it's the magician part I'm working on," laughs chef Contreras.

Magical indeed is the "seafood puteria," tender chunks of lobster and shrimp in a light tomato-caper broth which are snuggled in a crispy plantain basket. You can also savor a sweet and sour treat: a soft, ripe plantain which is stuffed with dried beef and drizzled in sour cream and salsa verde. A butterflied veal chop over seared foie gras will melt in your mouth, yet it is outdone by a side of creamy lobster mash, a mashed potato-lobster confection crowned with a swirl of white truffle oil. The only bad news is that you must have dessert, because the Grand Marnier flan and the "bien me sabe" ("tastes good to me!"), a three-tiered, rum-soaked coconut cake, are unbeatable.

At Yuca, you'll have the pleasure of dining in a serpentine room done in shades of taupe with a curvy wall of glass looking out onto Lincoln Road, a pedestrian thoroughfare which is the spot for mingling late into the night. -- Elaine Sosa

Yuca, 501 Lincoln Road; (305) 532-9822; $80.