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A reversed Cinderella story: after his day job as a banker, Joe Castro turns into a chef at Vida! Bistro & Wine Bar. The 40-seat restaurant which just opened in Coral Gables is the dream-come-true of banker by day-chef by night Joe Castro and his wife and co-owner Maria. The atmosphere is romantic, with white curtains creating intimate spaces, couches and armchairs, subdued lighting, Botero paintings hanging on the walls and a cellist playing on Fridays. Vida! is a homage to home-cooking. While every meal includes an imported cheese tray, there is no menu: Castro who has cooked since he was a boy offers prix-fixe dinners -- three-course ($40), five course ($65) and seven-course ($75) – with weekly specialties such as Scottish salmon tartare with mâche, avocado purée and cilantro vinaigrette; Forest mushrooms and venison sausage tart; pan-seared five spice duck breast with butternut squash risotto; and espresso-marinated Wagyu beef with malanga gratin and red wine reduction. The extensive wine list put together by chef Castro (those that Castro the banker loves most) includes fair-priced international wines from boutique wineries and a good offering of wines by the glass ($7 to $12). Vida! Bistro & Wine Bar is open for dinner only Tuesday through Saturday, from 6:30 p.m. until closing. 1915 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables, 305-443-8863.


Panera Bread, currently operating more than 800 franchises bakery-cafes in 35 states, under the Panera Bread and Saint Louis Bread Co. names, is entering the Miami market with two bakery-cafes: the recently opened Panera Bread in Pinecrest , and the second on 125th and Biscayne Blvd. slated to open in mid-December, with two more locations to follow in 2006. In a joint-venture partnership Patricia Marques, who worked for 10 years with Starbucks as a business consultant and an international developer, oversees all Panera Bread operations in the Miami area. Panera, known for its artisan breads -- from country bread, focaccia, ciabatta and baguette to whole grain, sourdough, tomato basil and other specialty breads; sandwiches such as pepperblue steak on toasted ciabatta ($5.99), Tuscan chicken on rosemary and onion focaccia ($6.29) and even peanut butter and jelly on French with chips and mild ($3.39) , hot panini ($5.99); pastries, sweets and an array of hot and cold beverages in addition to salads ($3 to $6.19) like and hearty soups ($4.49) including soup in a sourdough bread bowl served on real china, in a cozy ambiance with overstuffed chairs, has introduced a new line of whole grain breads and a whole grain bagel as well as all-natural, antibiotic-free chicken in its more than 800 bakery-cafes across the country conversation areas and offers wireless internet as well as take-out and catering. Panera Bread bakery-café is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner Monday through Thursday from 6 a.m. to 9p.m., till 10 on Fridays and Saturdays and on Sundays from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m., 13617 South Dixie Highway, Pinecrest. 305-969-7018


The ultra-chic 510 Ocean restaurant, located at 510 Ocean Drive in South Beach, has just opened on the ground floor of the luxurious boutique Bentley Hotel, and has already attracted celebrities such as Usher, Lil Jon, Nelly, 3LW, Mace, Debbie Harry, Tyson Bedford, among others. “We have welcomed celebrities such as Madonna, Usher and Lenny Kravitz in the past and look forward to attracting even more discerning travelers,” said Julie Grimes, owner representative of The Bentley Hotels. “Secluding our front area and separating ourselves from the traffic, we have created an oasis in the middle of the hustle and bustle of Ocean Drive,” added co-owner Bryan Davis. “Our guests can dine outdoors, both in front and in the back garden, without pedestrians bumping their tables or peering at their plates. Our music creates a vibrant ambiance that locals will come to Ocean Drive to experience.” Executive Chef Cory “Big Tex” Smith comes from Pacific Time with a contemporary American menu listing panko-crusted goat cheese with tomato-basil fondue and garlic crostini ($10); flash-fried calamari tower with three way dipping sauces ($12); and beef tenderloin skewer, with gorgonzola crust and chimichurri relish ($14). Entrees include pan-seared red snapper filet with roasted poblano relleno and sweet corn and black bean salsa ($26); blackened mahi-mahi, with coconut sweet potato puree and pineapple-rum pico de gallo ($26); and filet au poivre, with horseradish mash, garlic asparagus, and brandy-peppercorn sauce ($34). 510 Ocean also offers a selection of salads, desserts and a meticulously-selected international wine list. 510 Ocean is open for lunch Tuesday – Friday, 12 p.m. – 4 p.m., and dinner Tuesday – Thursday, 7 p.m. – 11 p.m., Friday and Saturday, 7 p.m. – 1 a.m. and Sunday, 7 p.m. – 11 p.m. 510 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach. 305.531.1788.


Four restaurants - Alain Ducasse at the Essex House, Jean Georges, Le Bernardin and Per Se - received the top ranking, three stars. Michelin rated 507 New York restaurants in all five boroughs for the 2006 New York guide, which will go on sale for $16.95. Eric Ripert, the chef and an owner of Le Bernardin, said he was beside himself when he learned of his ranking. "I didn't expect to become emotional," he said. Thomas Keller, the chef of Per Se and the only American-born chef to receive three stars in the New York guide, called his ranking "mind boggling." Jean-Georges Vongerichten, who said he was very nervous before the results were released, said that he too was emotional about his three stars. "I apprenticed only in three-star restaurants when I was in France, and this means a lot to me," he said. With three stars for his New York restaurant, Alain Ducasse, who also has three-star restaurants in Paris and Monte Carlo, is the first chef ever to have three restaurants with the top rating. (See Food & Wine)

The venerable Gardner's Market, a specialty grocery store established in 1912, has opened new headquarters in a 10,000 square feet location in the Palmetto Bay Village in Palmetto Bay. The commissary, bakery and corporate offices will now operate under one roof with a cafe open for breakfast and lunch for the entire building. This is the fifth location for Gardner’s Market who has stores in Key Largo's Ocean Reef Club ,Pinecrest, South Miami and Coconut Grove. "Having Gardner's new kitchen in Palmetto Bay makes all the sense in the world to the community and the company," said Moe Adams, vice-president and fourth generation Gardner. "With state of the art equipment and a team focused on health and safety regulations, the new location allows us to prepare all of our fresh food and baked goods in one spot and ship them the same day." ,Gardner's Markets also provides delivery as well as on-line ordering Gardners Headquarters, 18001 Old Cutler Road, Suite 362 Palmetto Bay, 305-271-0760.

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