By Laurie Heifetz and Richard C. Murray
As winter falls, the thoughts of many northerners turn southward, as the delights of Florida beckon as a destination for those weary of the cold. A particularly attractive haven is South Beach (SoBe), an area of Miami Beach with an immediately noticeable European feel.
Accents and languages from around the globe are within earshot, as one strolls by galleries and stores in the Art Deco District, an architectural style adorning everything from bus shelters to the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton South Beach.
Hotel after hotel sit very close together jutting from the shore with swimming pools of various shapes and sizes glimmering in the sun. The warm, emerald waters of the ocean invite visitors to plunge in, especially after sunbathing on the cream-colored sand.
Spas are also plentiful. My colleague got the smoothest straight-edgerazor shave he ever had at the Sloane Square Barbers and Shoppe, even better than the Art of Shaving in Manhattan.
Of course, after a hot day in the sun, one’s thoughts turned to the city’s exceptional eating establishments. Fine dining Floridian style at many restaurants include de rigueur items, such as Wagyu beef, purple Peruvian potatoes, heirloom tomatoes, carmelized onions, and truffle oil.
My favorite food of all was the Muhammarah (Arabic for reddened) dip, served with lovash crackers, at the Dune Oceanfront Burger Lounge of the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne Miami. It had roasted poquillo peppers, garlic, olive oil, and crumbled, toasted focaccia, all blended together.
Dune exudes an atmosphere of St. Tropez. The resort’s executive chef, Clayton van Hooijdonk, also escorted us to the other restaurants of the $150-per-person, around-the- world dining tour: Cantina (Mexican), Cioppino (Tuscan) and RUMBAR/Lobby Lounge (Cuban).
The island of Key Biscayne has a lush, tropical feel. Paddle-boardersenjoy the key, as ripples of water lap the shores of the of beautiful, million-dollar estates.
Traveling back to South Beach, a short trip from Key Biscayne, we dove again into fine dining. At the DiLido Beach Club at Ritz-Carlton South Beach, mixologist Ramsey was making alluring drink creations. We loved the blueberry cocktail, a blend of strawberry, lime, blueberry and celery juices, lime zest, aguave nectar and, usually, a rum base.
At STK restaurant in the Gansevoort Hotel, Miami Heat player Dwyane Wade dined next to us. Warning: the bag ‘o’ donuts, stuffed with dulce de leche, tossed in cinnamon and sugar, with chocolate fondue and vanilla anglaise can be habit forming.
Celebrities were spotted elsewhere, too. Amid servings of delicious steak at RED, former Miami Dolphins quarterback Dan Marino, now analyst on “The NFL Today” was in the house.
We stumbled on a beautiful and unusual wedding, consisting of both Jewish and traditional Chinese ceremonies at The Palms Hotel in Miami Beach. We dined in the hotel lobby at Essencia restaurant, where the roasted-red-pepper potato bisque and Kimchi barbecued jumbo shrimp were outstanding.
Yet another wedding ceremony happened outdoors during our visit, this time with parrots fluttering nearby. That’s because it was at Jungle Island, a zoological theme park in Miami.
We took the VIP tour ($234/per person) and got to play with a pair of 5-month-old Capuchin monkeys, Lord Byron and Smokey -- one of whom playfully teethed on my finger!
We learned that Capuchins are only cute up until a certain age before becoming aggressive. The distinctive colors of parrot feathers streamed across our path, as we passed a nearby sign stating, “Do not try to pet them or pick them up – they could bite.’’
Jungle Island is a popular destination for celebrities. Actors Salma Hayek and Russell Brand have taken the tour, as well as the royalty of Qatar and Saudi Arabia.
The last surprise of Jungle Island for us was meeting a school girl who takes the VIP tour every week with her father. What does she want to be when she grows up? Not surprisingly, a veterinarian!