By Jaswant Lalwani
When close to 1,000 private jets descended on Miami for Art Basel Miami Beach this December, well-heeled art aficionados disembarked and departed for accommodations in the Four Seasons, the Setai Hotel, Lux SLS or one of three nearby Ritz Carlton Hotels.
They may have hit the tony Delano South Beach Hotel, or the venerable Fontainebleau, where Frank, Dean, Sammy, Joey and the rest of the 1960s rat pack held court.
Yet, a growing number of exclusive buyers headed home to their luxury condominiums and their gourmet tastes. After all, Miami and its sister cities of Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach have become a shining, tropical beacon epitomising luxury condo living and a gourmet capital as well. Forbes called Miami “a spicy-hot cosmopolitan city where each neighbourhood fuels creativity.”
For good reason. Today a hotspot for art, nightlife and global business – not to mention a tourism destination – from downtown to trendy and hip Brickell Avenue where the “Brickellistas” dwell to the beach, Miami’s charisma and character rise high into the blue sky.
I have become familiar with Miami only recently. Though I still consider Manhattan my home, I am finding Miami to be an increasingly exciting option. Have you ever been to a place that feels so special that you just leave in a better mood? With a world-class symphony and ballet and new exciting first-time shows, Miami is on track to equal her northern rivals like New York and Chicago.
Sure, Miami is a latecomer to the world’s luxury living and cultural scene. Locals speak boldly when mentioning their city in the same breath as London, New York or Hong Kong. To many, the city has made up for lost time at a frenetic pace. Places like the Perez Art Museum Miami, The Bass Museum, the New World Center, World Symphony Orchestra and the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts add to the cultural life of this increasingly vibrant city. And Art Basel Miami Beach is mentioned with global reverence.
To be sure, dining is part of any city’s culture. Being located at the hemisphere’s north-south crossroads has brought Miami a cultural cornucopia not found in other geographies.
Exceptional dining abounds across Miami. James Beard Award-winning chef José Andrés lights up The Bazaar, which features what’s been called a “playful indoor-outdoor space” conceived by Philippe Starck. Located in the heart of the South Beach Art Deco District, the 2016 AAA Four Diamond Award Winner puts a clever spin on avant-garde tapas, served with theatrics in this “Spanish-Eclectic retro-lounge”.
Nearby on Miami Beach’s fabled Lincoln Road pedestrian shopping mall and beneath its Japanese-style irimoya retractable roof, the London-headquartered Chotto Matte restaurant serves up Nikkei Japanese and Peruvian repasts. Chef James Gallagher prepares sake dragon rolls, ceviche, yuca frita, and various robata dishes within a sophisticated, open-air enclave.
Head west across the McArthur Causeway to Miami downtown to another host of culinary creations. Yet, it’s the Latino fare – with a distinct, multi-ethnic flair – that sets the city’s culinary offerings apart from those anywhere else on the planet.
Estefan Kitchen, named for Cuban émigrés and music icons Emilio and Gloria Estefan, explores reimagined Cuban fare in the city’s Design District. There’s lechón flatbread, vaca frita, and braised short ribs, served with a side of live music reminiscent of pre-Revolution Havana.
Over on Brickell Key, just a bridge from the financial district, N by NAOE offers Shabu-shabu, lightly cooked thin slices of Wagyu beef imported from Japan and quickly swished in a steaming kelp stock – all served in a communal setting.
Overlooking Biscayne Bay, La Mar restaurant at The Mandarin features upscale Asian-Peruvian fusion and traditional, signature ceviches and freshly grilled anticuchos from acclaimed chef Gastón Acurio. If the evening view isn’t enough to heighten the senses, there’s the sumptuous Sunday brunch.
Like so much in Miami, fine dining here often has a back story. Like before Game 6 of the 2013 NBA Finals. The San Antonio Spurs had just suffered a heart-breaking defeat to the Miami Heat. Instead of the title-clinching celebration Coach Gregg Popovich was preparing at Il Gabbiano, “Pop” turned the gathering into a post-game therapy session over wine and a menu that includes costoletta alla Milanese, bistecca alla griglia, and scampi alla Francese at the Michelin-rated restaurant.
Tucked in the Design District, Mandolin Aegean serves up Greek and Turkish dishes prepared simply and beautifully. The mezes, salads, sandwiches, mains, and sides, made of seasonal ingredients, freshly caught fish, and vegetarian options, make it easy to indulge. As is the case with much in Miami, the garden terrace built from a 1940s-era home is ideal for an intimate dalliance or the place to see-and-be-seen – or both.
To add to the excitement of this 24-hour buzzing city, the famous phrase, “What happens in Miami, stays in Miami,” can easily be applied.
The writer is a global real-estate agent and lifestyle consultant based in New York and Miami. First published in eShe’s December 2019 issue