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After an extensive international search, Mandarin Oriental, Miami has found a new Chef de Cuisine for its famed Azul Restaurant. Chef Clay Conley officially becomes Chef de Cuisine at Azul on January 15, 2005, and is working on a new menu to debut in early February, thus replacing chef Michelle Bernstein's creations at the only AAA five diamond hotel and restaurant in Miami.

Chef Conley, who attended Tulane University in New Orleans before going on to study at Florida State University, comes from extensive travels in Europe and Asia and eight years at Todd English's acclaimed Olives restaurants, as executive chef and culinary director overseeing 17 restaurants including the opening of Olives in Tokyo. "Clay has been the no. 2 within Todd English's organization," said Tom Parlo, executive chef at the Mandarin Oriental Miami, who was very pleased by the selection. "He's opened restaurant Olives in the Bellagio in Las Vegas and in Tokyo. He's traveled extensively throughout Japan, and has stayed at many of The Mandarin Oriental properties in Asia so he knows our philosophy and we feel it's a perfect match. We have a big agenda for him. We know the city is really excited about the new chef, and he will surely set a new standard for fine cuisine in Miami," continued Chef Parlo.

According to Mandarin Oriental, Miami Director of Communications Alexandra Wensley, Chef Conley brings his sophisticated cuisine with Mediterranean and Asian influences to the menu at Azul with dishes like Grilled Chop and Loin of Colorado Lamb with harrisa, charred eggplant, braised shank bastila and feta, and A study in tuna roll: seared, rare, and tartare with King crab, Osetra caviar, avocado tempura and Asian sauces.

"With Chef Conley's creative flair and innovative style Azul will continue providing unparalleled dining experiences and cutting-edge cuisine," said Jorge Gonzalez, general manager of Mandarin Oriental, Miami.

Azul, Lunch is open for lunch from noon to 3:00 p.m., Monday through Friday and dinner from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m., daily. Mandarin Oriental, Miami, 500 Brickell Key Drive. Reservations: (305) 913-8254.

This is the 30th location that restaurateurs Paul Fleming and Bill Allen have opened nationwide since they opened the first Fleming's Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar in Newport Beach, California in 1998, and the 5th in Florida with partners Outback SteakHouse and Jorge Diaz. The Coral Gables Chef/partner Eward Thomas together with Executive Corporate Chef, Russell Skall and Director of Wine, Marian Jansen op de Haar pride themselves on pairing foods with wines, and their list carries over 100 wines by the glass as well as wine flights-trios of 2-ounce servings in individual carafes. The traditional 200-seat steakhouse, wood, leather and music in the background offers a vast menu with starters ($7.50 to $24)) such as French onion soup, Wicked Cajun BBQ Shrimp and Bloody Mary shrimp cocktail over gazpacho, smoked Norwegian salmon bruschetta, seared ahi tuna and lobster tempura. But what Felming's is know for is USDA prime corn-fed beef, aged to perfection, and hand-cut on-site daily ($280 to $30.95) : from an 8 oz filet mignon and a 20 oz prime bone-in New York strip to a 22 oz. Rib eye steak, Australian lamb chops, veal chops, and double thick pork rib chops baked with apple cider, creole mustard, julienne apples and celery root. To keep up with the big sizes, the restaurant serves fresh salads ($7.50), generous sides ($4.95 to $17.95) and poultry and fish like a 16 oz. double breast of chicken ($20.50); wild Alaskan salmon fillet; almond cilantro crusted shrimp with grilled pineapple and mango sauce; curry scallops and crab cakes ($25). And, this being a steakhouse, lobster tails with butter. As for prices: "We founded Fleming's on the premise that a steakhouse need not be expensive, nor stuffy," says Bill Allen, co-founder and partner. Fleming's Prime Steak House and Wine Bar is located at 2525 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables, 305-569-7995,

"Veni vidi vici," I came, I saw and I conquered. These were Julius Caesar's words when he conquered The Gauls. " I left the vidi out because it made it too long, and because this is my second restaurant in Miami," explains Chris DiPietro, the owner -- together with Ino Halegua -- of the brand new, 65-seats Venevici Restaurant in the historical building that housed a Spanish restaurant. DiPietro opened his first restaurant, Kaleidoscope, in Coconut Grove, when he was 23, and is just back from Aspen, Colorado where he owned the famed Maestros. "We brought the building back to its historical look with high ceilings, white chiffon curtains, but gave it a chick contemporary feel with original paintings by Russian masters such as Novalwaiko. In the kitchen, three chefs -- French, Italian and Japanese, combine all their recipes into an international fusion menu. For lunch there's Bordeaux salad ($8.95) with bleu cheese, hearts of palm, apples and walnuts; chicken salad ($10.95) with curry, raisin, walnuts and mango dressing over mixed greens; wild Pacific salmon salad and seafood salad ($11.95); followed by pastas ($8.95 to $11.95), burgers; crepes with veal, mushrooms, and peas in champagne cream sauce ($9.95); chicken breast Fiji style and French style as well as veal scaloppini and mahi-mahi sandwiches.
An international wine selection is offered both at the bar and the restaurant and one can see wine racks up to the ceiling. Dinner features crepes di frutti di mare ($10) and polenta ($9) for starters; followed by fettucine Alfredo ($15) and shrimp and scallop linguine ($16); pork filet rolatinni ($19); veal scaloppini in Armagnac Rosemary sauce; Mahi-Mahi Miami with sauteed grapes and light olive oil pineapple sauce with Bombay Gin ($22) and New York Strip steak with Bourbon peppercorn sauce ($26). Venevici is open for lunch from Monday through Friday 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m., and dinner 7 nights from 6:30 to 11 p.m. 2312 Ponce de Leon, Coral Gables. 305-444-1919.

Across the plaza from Mundo, Via Quadronno and the future Ola Steak house, Villagio is an easy-going, lively 300-seat indoor/outdoor eatery with banquettes, plants and an airy atmosphere. Alexandre Kalas from Greece has partnered with well-known restaurateur Tom Bilante to create a casual reasonably-priced typical Italian menu executed by chef Francisco Ramirez, including focaccia ripiena ($7.50) and wood oven pizzas ($8.50 to 10.50); pastas ( $8.95 to 10.95); meat, seafood and fish carpaccios ($6.95), and a wonderful selection of fish ($10.50 to $16.50) and La Tagliata or Grilled meats and poultry ($10.95 to 11.95) such as tagliata di manzo, veal chop with marsala wine sauce and scaloppini paillard. Open 7 days for lunch and dinner from 11:30 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and till 11:30 p.m. Villagio, 358 San Lorenzo Ave., in Village of Merrick Park Plaza. Coral Gables. 305-447-8144.

Like it's Italian name indicates, Spiaggia is a beachfront restaurant on the corner of las Olas and A1A. The 160-seat indoor/outdoor restaurant with a hip bar is "high-tech chic," with a modern, minimalistic South Beach look, says GM Saverio Viola. The owner Leone Padula who also owns Caf� del Mare, another casually upscale restaurant in Ft. Lauderdale hired Michael Smith, formerly the executive chef at the Riverside Hotel, to create an Italian and Mediterranean menu with appetizers ranging from a Raw Bar with oysters, clams, shrimp and Oysters Spiaggia with spinach, artichoke and basil glaze ($9.95) to salads ($7.95 to $9.95) and fire brick oven for a variety of 12" pizzas like cheese ($8.95) and fresh clam with tomato and garlic ($12.95). Pastas are both asciutta and homemade like ravioli, gnocchi and fettuccine($14.95) with a choice of sauces, and tagliatelle mare monti ($18.95). The menu offers entrees of meat, poultry and fish and ends with homemade desserts including warm chocolate truffle cake ($7.95), amaretto panna cotta ($6.95), " the abyss;" an almond cup with Grand Marnier Zabaglione and fresh season berries. With live music every night, and the beach nearby, Spiaggia is an all-day hangout. Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner from 7 a.m. to 2 a.m., everyday. 239 S. Fort Lauderdale Beach Boulevard, Fort Lauderdale. 954-764-8191.

  • The South Florida Farmer's Market located at Gardner's Market in Pinecrest (8287 SW 124th Street) - voted the best farmer's market in South Florida, beginning Sunday, January 9th, and every Sunday from 9 a.m. to 1p.m. till April 10th, is a cornucopia of fresh fruits and vegetables, all from local farmers. Cooking demos will take place each Sunday at 11 a.m. with local and celebrity chefs; with food and fun for the entire family.
  • The famous Farmer's Market on Lincoln Road in South Beach, every Sunday.
  • Key Biscayne's residents also have their Farmers' Market. Starting January, every last Saturday of the4 mointh, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., over 20 vendors will sell their farm productgs on Village Green Way, in front of Key Biscayne's new recreation center.
  • Coral Gables 14th Annual Farmer's Market, runs every Saturday from January 15 through March 26 in front of City Hall, 405 Biltmore Way. Tai Chi in the Park at 8 a.m. ; gardening workshops at 9 a.m., cooking demonstrations at 10 a.m., and kids' activities at 11 a.m. For more information, call 305-460-5311.

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