Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Andiamo, Everglades and Las Culebrinas

If you ever happen to travel to the Miami-Dade county with young children, Andiamo is the place to eat pizza. The minute we landed in Miami, we realized we had forgotten Chip’s carseat at home. Which meant a quick trip to Target to buy one, install the said seat and strap Chip in it. Securely. We checked into the hotel and the exhausted trip promptly fell asleep on the soft perfectly-made beds.

We woke up as the sunlight faded. “What do you want to eat?” asked BigGeek. Pizza, I said. It was safest given Chip’s crankiness with the steroids he had been taking for his asthma. I could not believed we travelled for 5 hours to eat pizza. But BigGeek said he would find the best pizza place ever. And he did. He browsed and hunted down reviews and drove us to a great place called Andiamo. Fabulous outdoor seating. Coming from 20-degree weather, we were thrilled to sit in perfect 75-degrees, gentle breeze, in the glow of warm tiki lights, surrounded by trees with leaves on them and children. Yes! Lotsa kids, lotsa of noise. It was perfect. We devoured the pizza – which is almost as good as a New York slice (no, it really was awesome pizza) .

The next morning was our Everglades day. The BIG swamp. By the time we woke up, gave Chip his nebulizer, showered and ate (a very expensive) breakfast at the hotel, it was almost noon. We drove along the Tamiami highway to the Everglades. A good 1 hour drive. Chip napped a lil, fussed a lil, threw a tantrum or two and declared he did not like his parents at all. (But he later made it up in the evening when he said, I don’t want beaches, I don’t Miami, I don’t want Dolphins, I only want my Aie and Baba)

When we reached Everglades National Park, the sign at the entrance said “Parking lot full.” Are you kidding me? I thought. BigGeek had wanted to go to Orlando but I had insisted on Miami because I wanted to see Everglades. “It’s a fascinating eco-system” I had told BigGeek. We HAVE to see it.” BigGeek had relented, although he did have his reservations about the “swamp”. This is it, I thought. We flew all this way, then drove all this way, only to see a Parking lot full sign? There has to be justice in this world. We decided to go in anyway. We drove a few yards and reached the ranger’s post. There were three cars in front of us. Each of them talked to the ranger for some time and turned about. It did not look good. We pulled up. BigGeek rolled down the window. “You know what?” said the ranger “I have one parking spot that just became available.” Yipee-yay! We paid and sped inside and parked. Chip was napping, BigGeek ran to the ticket window and got us tickets for the guided trip for 3:00 pm. We then took turns with the camera and babysitting.

The ranger on the everglades tour was an annoying New Yorker. She talked too much and in the heat and the unchanging prairie landscape, we dozed. The Everglades IS a swamp. Apart from a few egrets and herons and the alligators, and miles and miles of sawgrass, there really isn’t much. If you are in Miami, it’s worth a trip. Definitely not worth spending airfare just to see it. Or perhaps we have been spoilt by the Alaskan wilderness. After being rather unimpressed with the everglades, we drove back.

“We are in the heart of Spanish-country. We have to eat some authentic Cuban food.” I declared. “What will you eat? It’s hard to find vegetarian stuff.” Said BigGeek. “Oh, I’ll find something. Yucca fries? Salads?” “I want to eat dolphins” said Chip, who refused to listen that dolphins were not food. BigGeek hunted again and found us this place Las Culebrinas. We drove up and a valet opened the car door (What this with Miami? Why are there valets everywhere? Why does the city discourage people to self-park?). A step into the restaurant and we were transported to another world. The d├ęcor, the patrons all seemed to come from another time and place. The hostess led us to our table and handed us over-sized menus. Really. I have never seen 2ft long menus.

There indeed was nothing vegetarian. But there were dolphin steaks and frog legs and alligator bites. A food runner came over and placed the bread basket. “Does this have egg in it?” I asked. He looked at me blankly then said “No hablo Ingles” Holy mother of earth. BigGeek had picked too authentic a restaurant. Looks like nobody spoke English. The menu was mostly in Spanish too. I looked around. The other diners were all Spanish. “Perfect” said BigGeek. “Now you can practice your Spanish.” I gulped. My ears were turning red from the thought of having to speak Spanish in real life situations. With native speakers.

A few minutes later, the waiter came over and started reciting us the specials in rapid fire Spanish. “In English?” I said timidly. “No Espanol?” asked the waiter surprised. Ah. That was it. We looked like a nice latino family. No wonder we did not get curious glances that American patrons got. “Uhhh.. hablo un poco..Estoy apprendiendo espanol” I said. The elderly waiter beamed and said something again rapidly. I was getting super conscious. “Un momento, por favor?” I beseeched. He smiled and said something and left. We discussed the menu. BigGeek and Chip would share a salmon. We would a salad and side of yucca fries. And sangria ofcourse.

Few minutes later, the waiter appeared again and spoke in Spanish. Now, I know enough Spanish to order a meal, to tell the waiter I am a vegetarian and that Chip is allergic to egg. But on that fateful evening, I just could not remember the word for egg. And forgot most of my Spanish too. And ended up ordering chicken fries and rice for Chip, salmon and salad for BigGeek and a salad for me and yucca fries and plaintains. When the food arrived, there wasn’t enough room on the table. BigGeek was surprised to see all that food. Chip was tired and sleepy and just ate some rice, BigGeek finished his salad and most of the salmon. I thought the salad dressing to be too rich and only had a few bites of it. And a few yucca fries with the most yummy cilantro dip ever. The fried plantains were too heavy and remained practically untouched. I had turned into a beetroot. All my hopes of practicing my Spanish had led to utter disaster. We paid the bill, told the waiter the food was delicious and stepped out. It was then I realized I will still in the US. It felt so foreign, the whole experience that for an hour and a half I had forgotten where we were. We had, I think experienced the true Miami.


Altoid said...

:-) Nice. I've made many trips to Miami for work, and managed to go visit South Beach only once out of the many trips. I've always wished to try authentic Cuban food, now I might rethink my wish list :P. I did try the Cuban coffee and had a tummy upset cos it was too strong for my stomach lining!

Aside, have you been to the swamps in New Orleans? I went there (this was before Katrina) and decided I've had my taste of a lifetime with visiting swamps.

DotThoughts said...

So want to go to New Orleans. And so not impressed with swamps :) Forgot to try the cuban cofee. next time!

rayshma said...

i LOVED the description. u made it SO worth the wait. :) i guess the brandy kicked in, eh?! :D

i've never had dolphin... i MUST!
alligator/frog.. i've tried...

and you MUST do new orleans... u'll LOVE it. the food is so totally awesome! but yeah, i am not sure of the veggie fare... the seafood ROCKS!

Mystic Margarita said...

Nice trip you had. But I'm so not talking to you - you know the reason why! Hmmmph!!! hehehe...just trying my hand at DQ-ng - so glad that all of you had a pleasant break!

Vinita said...

I think the reason they have valet parking at every nook and corner of miami is may be because the city is full of retirees and senior citizens and either they expect that kind of service or may be they can't park well.:))

I am sure the dinner must have cost you an arm and a leg too even thought there wasn't much you could eat.

Move to texas you will get to practice all your spanish skills and eat authentic mexican food.


DotThoughts said...

raysh: you are totally adventurous! I SO want to do New Orleans too.

mystic: :)

Vinita: the din-din wasn't that expensive.. for the amount of food. I want to go to texas too! oh well. some day.

Mamma mia! Me a mamma? said...

deadsLoved reading this. Sorry about the Everglades not working out, but I cheered for you and your Spanish in the restaurant. Muoy bien! I don't know if I got the spelling right.

Subhashree said...

Aww.. what fun! So you got to practice Spanish on your vacation. Now tell me honestly, did you choose to learn Spanish because you are going to a Spanish speaking place?

bird's eye view said...

sounds like fun. My sympathies on the veg thing - I get so bummed pout when we travel because I'm a real foodie and unfortuately veg food is something most of the world does not have enough of. What are yucca fries - the plant, yucca?

Mama - Mia said...


there will be another time to practice that spanish! least you made the waiter smile with a smattering of it! :)

is there another part to come?

all that food did make me drool! :)



DotThoughts said...

m4: muy bien, amiga :)

subha: no, no. you can speak spanish almost anywhre in the US. Es la segunda lengua.

bev: yes, the root.

m4: the trip ends here.