Yes South Florida is known for the glitz and glam (and incredible Art Deco architecture) of South Beach, the posh houses and sophistication of Palm Beach and the tranquil beauty of Naples and the Gulf Coast, but it should also be recognized as a destination for a incredibly sophisticated food and wine scene (I am sure the cocktail scene is just as innovative – will have to save that for a personal trip).
In Miami’s South Beach, the beach was the furthest thing from peoples minds last week, with temperatures holding in the mid 60’s during the day and dipping in to the 40’s in the evenings. Couple that with a constant stiff breeze (wind chill in Florida?????) and people are indoors drinking and eating ( a few brave soles braved the beach, huddled among blankets and sweaters, eyes tearing against the whip of Atlantic winds and staring blankly at a distant warm and tropical place).
Much has been written about the influx of money to update many of the classic hotels of South Beach; the Fontaineblue went through close to a 1 billion dollar refurbishment, the Delano is sparkling and reaching back to a romantic period past, the Betsy pulsing with the energy of B Bar and BLT Steak. Each hotel also understood that sophisticated travelers are looking for more than just ocean views, spa service and high thread count sheets; dining is now an integral and essential part of every renovation.
The Fontaineblue houses three of the of the best restaurants in Miami; Alfred Portale’s Gotham Steak serves up classic range of steaks and seafood along with a great wine list (The French Laundry’s lead sommelier Dennis Kelley’s sister in law runs the cocktail program),Scott Conant’s Scarpetta takes Italian dining in Miami to a completely different level, and Hakkasan, London’s Michelin starred Chinese food restaurant, makes a splash with innovative and perfectly executed Chinese cuisine.
At the Delano, The Blue Door, Claude Troigros fuses the cuisine of his french roots (yes, that Troisgros family) with influences derived from his year cooking in Brazil. For something less formal, Plat Blue is the perfect place to relax for the evening taking in the famous Delano scene.
Though easy destinations, these restaurants are only the beginning of the culinary tour. Emeril’s South Beach outpost continues to turn out Emeril’s classics (the night I was there was Emeril’s South Beach Food and Wine VIP event and the place was PACKED). Steak houses, ok – hip steakhouses, remain a staple with Red, The Steakhouse, Meat Market, and Prime One Twelve serving perfectly cooked steaks, eclectic wine lists and slightly over the top cocktails. One little side note, and you will not find Meteor Vineyard here, but my favorite lunch place is the tiny, outdoor seating only sandwich place Le Sandwicherie on 14th Street. One of the best sandwich shops in the U.S.
When you are exhausted of the painfully cool scene in South Beach, its time to head to what may be the most exciting restaurants in the city (and slightly north). Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink has garnered tremendous acclaim, all of it justified. This small “neighborhood” restaurant in the Design District turns out some of the most compelling and authentic food I have tasted anywhere. Perfect ingredients prepared with precision and honesty. It didn’t hurt that they were pouring Krug by the glass (for $28 – incredible!) as well as Diamond Creek. Former S.F. sommelier Matt Turner has escalated the wine list at Michael Minna’s Aventura outpost of Bourbon Steak to a work of art with the worlds greatest producers represented on page after page (look for Meteor Vineyard soon). The stunning beauty of the Mandarin Oriental on Brickell Key only adds to the allure of Azul. Sommelier Cynthia Betancourt oversees a diverse and cutting edge wine list. The champagne bottles chilling along the center of the bar suggest (loudly) the best way to start the meal (and end it).
The recent New York Times article on Palm Beach ( 36 hours in Palm Beach, Fl ) did a decent job capturing the vibe of the tony seaside enclave (and the continued introspection of its residents post Madoff), but missed the breadth of options on the dining scene. The Breakers dominates the northern end of Palm Beach Island, historically and in presence. The dining scene alone makes this a must stop. Not one but TWO Master Sommeliers (Virginia Philip and Juan Gomez) oversee a massive wine program that form the foundation for everything from L’Esaclier to the Seafood Bar. Cafe L’Europe remains one of the most loved restaurants in Palm Beach (beware the video on the home page of the website – it doesn’t do justice to the elegant sophistication to say nothing of the epic wine program) and Daniel Boulud’s Cafe Boulud at the Brazilian Court Hotel added an element of cool to the downtown dining scene.
I suppose all of this befits an area know as South New York City. There are far worse places to while away the winter…