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Food for Thought, and Art for Sale at Chef Allen's
A Restaurant That is a Cultural Focus for a Foodie Community

By Simone Zarmati Diament

W hoever said Summer's the low season in Miami?

Summer or not, and no matter what day of the week it is, Chef Allen Susser manages to pack them in

Whether with the popular Passport Series of previous years that took people on gastronomic voyages around the world, or with this year's Palate to Palette monthly dinners inspired by the artists' work, or yet with the Women's Luncheon Series on Fridays, with guests speakers such as Florida State Attorney Katherine Rundle, Chef Allen's Restaurant is a focus of cultural life, and of course of great food.

At the latest Palate to Palette dinner, the adrenaline was flowing, and so were the wines. Smiles glowed over the candlelit tables and conversations rose over the clinking of glasses. An army of perfectly schooled waiters shuffled among the tables, filling glasses, bringing hot plates, discreetly cleaning up crumbs or picking up napkins that fell off enthusiastic foodies and art aficionados.

Owning paintings is like being in love: you're dazzled, you buy it, and when you look at it you get that giddy feeling all over again. That's how Rosalie Schlaen, a Vice President at Merryl Lynch in Aventura felt when she purchased one Rick García paintings for $1200 (the proceeds of which are donated to the James Beard Foundation for scholarships).

"I loved it from the start," she declared, although she admitted that she was encouraged by the delicious mojitos served at the reception. What also helped were the delicious wines from Errazuriz, a Mondavi-owned Chilean winery, paired with a dinner of Red Hot Mussels Moquecas; Lobster croquetas with yellow tomato salsa and chocolate-chipotle sauce; and Mesquite grilled venison chops garnished with a potato burrito and a mojito-quince jelly.

The inspiration for the dinner, says chef Allen Susser, was the painter. Rick García, a Cuban American raised in Miami, who chose to live in New Mexico to create his brilliant colored surrealistic paintings. And whereas the artist's work can be viewed on the walls of the chic and cozy restaurant for an entire month, Susser's own artistry promptly and cheerfully disappears by the end of the dinner. Only to be sparked by a new subject.

For the Salvador Dalí's dinner, a five-course extravaganza, the excentric painter's work will be the muse. Dr. Barry Burak, a Miamian, will show -- and hopes to sell -- his entire collection of paintings and sculptures, with an introduction by the Curator of the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg. Instead of just dinner paired with sumptuous wines, it is a two day affair: one night at the nearby Turnberry Isle ($825 per couple for two days, August 11 to 12) with dinner at Chef Allen's, admission to the Ocean Club's spa, and a hands on cooking class at Chef Allen's the next day.

Chef Allen's
Address: 19088 NE 29th Avenue, Aventura.
Phone: 305-935-2900.
Hours: Open 7 days for dinner only from 6 to 10 p.m., and till 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
Cuisine: Contemporary high-end tropical
Service: Outstanding
Price Range: Starters $9-$18; entrées: $25-$35; sides: $6-$10; desserts: $6-$9. Multi-course tasting menus: $75 (add $45 for wine flight). The Wine Dinners are priced $75, and the Women's Luncheons $34, all inclusive.
Wines: An amazing selection of well-priced, well-chosen labels.

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