Miami is a night-life city. It also has a huge Latin influence. The two converge to make late-night dining the norm. For me, this has been a plus. I can almost always get a last-minute reservation for 7:00 p.m. at popular restaurants. Most don't even begin to fill up until 7:30. Boston diners, while sophisticated about food, tend to eat somewhat earlier. In Boston, a 6:00 p.m. reservation would be regarded as early, but by 7:00 good restaurants are usually in full swing.
The other night, E. and I decided to try Wish, a South Beach eatery known for its excellent food, lovely outdoor dining area, and martinis with colored ice cubes. On Open Table, there were no reservations available for 6:00 or 6:30. Wow, I thought, this place must really be hot to fill up so early. I felt pleased to find 7:00 p.m. still available and booked it. That's normally when I like to eat at home, so it's usually when I feel hungry and ready for a meal. It's also just late enough so E. and I can generally avoid the rush hour traffic.
On the evening of our reservation, we made excellent time across the MacArthur Causeway and arrived at Wish at exactly 7:00 p.m. As the smiling hostess led us to our table, I realized that we were the first people to arrive. Far from being fully booked at 6:00 and 6:30, it turned out the restaurant hadn't even opened until a moment before we walked in. That's why Open Table had listed the earlier times as unavailable. Our early arrival did have some advantages, though—we were seated at the primo outdoor spot, right next to the fountain; and the service couldn't have been more attentive. After all, the wait staff had no one but us to look after.
As I ordered a Mojitini, a kind of frozen mojito served in a martini glass with a glowing green LED ice cube, I wondered whether any other diners would appear. At around 7:15, another couple showed up. By then, E. and I were engrossed in our amuse bouche, a delightfully light cream of artichoke soup. After another while, I noticed several more people being seated. I glanced at my watch—just 7:30. Suddenly, a flood of people flowed into the dining area. As couples and foursomes were seated all around us, I realized that 7:30 is the Miami witching hour, the time at which it becomes socially correct to start dinner. By the time we left, after a delicious meal, the place was literally hopping, without a single empty table.
I like to make dinner reservations anywhere from 7:00 p.m. until 8:30 p.m. Any later and I have to eat a mini-meal during the afternoon. I also find 6:30 acceptable if I'm able to linger over a drink, so I don't really have to begin eating until at least 7:00. Some of our friends, though, prefer to dine earlier. They tend to be early-morning types, whom I admire but have never been able to emulate. They like to be home and in bed before the Miami crowds even get going. Friendship trumps our disparate body clocks, so I'm willing to be flexible. And at least if we go out to eat with friends, we're never the only twosome in a restaurant—instead, we've got our own private dinner party.