|Mandy at the Hollywood Grill, FL|
But because we're ethical and hard-working food bloggers, we were forced to enjoy a wonderful meal in an absolutely idyllic setting in order to justify sharing our delight in this recent visit from our one and only.
As director of arts and cultural accounts for Mirrorball, a cutting-edge marketing company based in New York, Mandy spent a week shuttling among the myriad festivities that make up Miami's premiere annual arts event: Art Basel.
It was a grind but it was a fun grind that involved escorting clients to art shows, performances and parties at glittering venues from the beach to downtown, often lasting well into the night. She was too busy or exhausted to chat, much less drag the old folks along.
As soon as the manic pace subsided, however, Mandy set aside a couple of days for fun with Mom and Dad. After regaling us with tales of her week-long tour of chic South Beach eateries, she told us to pick any cuisine and any restaurant we liked for a family feast.
We picked the Hollywood Grill, possibly the world's most unlikely setting for an Armenian restaurant.
A bit of explanation: When you think of Hollywood and Armenians, you probably think of Hollywood, California. The Florida city of the same name lies along the East Coast about halfway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, very much in the heart of South Florida's relatively small but growing Armenian community.
The restaurant's most unusual feature is that it's on the beach. Not near the beach or across from the beach but actually on it, separated from the dunes and ocean only by a sand-strewn walking path known as the Hollywood Broadwalk.
There are very few such venues in all of South Florida. There are none, of course, in Armenia. That alone makes it special.
It's also appropriately beach-side casual, with a narrow dining area barely larger than a covered home patio and no more formal in furnishings or decor. The menu, however, is far bigger and more sophisticated than you'd expect to find in a row of cheese-steak-and-burger shacks.
Of course, this is an Armenian restaurant so the menu isn't to be taken literally, as we discovered when asking our very friendly server for several lamb dishes that are apparently available only if ordered ahead.
I got a kick out of seeing khash listed, if only because you so seldom read the phrase "cow feet" on a menu. Alas, the waitress explained that the traditional feet-and-innards soup is best enjoyed before dawn and the restaurant doesn't open until 1 p.m. As an Armenian, I appreciated the philosophical dilemma. I suspect odars might not, but they're unlikely to order such a thing anyway.
The menu is also unusual in another way, at least for us: The fare is not just Armenian but also Russian and Georgian. Dining at Hollywood Grill is a uniquely Trans-Caucasian experience in a tropical setting.
NOTE: If you look closely at the photo, you'll see part of the Armenian flag behind Mandy on the right-hand side.
We weren't feeling quite so adventurous, so we passed up the dumplings and borscht and stuck with mostly familiar choices — and none disappointed us.
The Greek salad was far more than enough for three, and very much Armenian with large chunks of cucumber, tomato and Armenian cheese mixed with herbs. No lettuce, thank you. (There are several other salads available, including one laced with basturma.)
The stuffed cabbage was neatly done, with a generous and moist meat stuffing. The lule kebab was excellent. The lahmajoun was most impressive, with a crisp and clearly home-made crust and served with generous slices of fresh tomato as well as raw onion, parsley, and lemon.
In all, it was a very satisfying meal and we were able to walk off at least a few of the calories while enjoying the balmy breeze as we strolled along the crystal-blue oceanfront.
I think the smile on Mandy's face shows how much she enjoyed the meal. What you can't see are the smiles on our faces. We enjoyed the meal, too, but we enjoyed the company even more.