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Jul302011

Flying With Faber - August 2011

The New, Grown-Up Miami

By Stuart J. Faber

Recently, I paid a re-visit to Miami and South Beach. It’s been about five years since my last visit. My first was in the late 40s. Imagine how this young lad in Wisconsin felt one cold winter day when greeted by the 80-degree temperature just hours after boarding a DC-6 (or perhaps it was a Connie), at snow-covered Midway Airport in Chicago. O’Hare (ORD) was not even a dream at that time.

I recall how I marveled at the immaculate streets, the palm trees and the colorful buildings. I never saw a pink building in Wisconsin – not even a baby blue one. Tanned men and women were strolling down Collins Avenue in Miami Beach clothed in colors which matched the pastel buildings. Street hawkers sold huge glasses of fresh orange juice or made-from-scratch, nonalcoholic pina colodas.  At twenty-five cents a glass, my daily consumption set me back about two bucks.

Some thirty years after my boyhood journey, I ventured back to Miami and checked into a then new downtown hotel. As I was about to take an evening stroll, the doorman admonished me not to venture outside the hotel.  I ignored his admonition. Moments later, I executed a rapid go-around. The next night, within the perceived safety of the interior of a motor vehicle, I motored across the bridge to gather my memories of Miami Beach. The nostalgia was obliterated by what I saw. The area was dismal. Most of the buildings were boarded up. The streets were filled with drug dealers, hookers and other unsavory folks. But on this visit I found that has all changed. Today Miami Beach and South Beach are vibrant, colorful, safe, and exciting communities.

I am delighted to report that Miami and the surrounding area have grown up; the homeless and criminals have been supplanted by a population of beautiful folks.  As the sun goes down and the senior citizens finish the last morsels of their early-bird dinners and head home for re-runs of the Golden Girls, sounds of live bands begin to permeate the streets. The restaurants and clubs come to life and the sidewalks soon overflow with what seems to be the entire town starting out for what will be an evening likely to end in the early morning hours.

Marriott Biscayne Bay Marina (Courtesy Marriott Biscayne Bay)For this new excursion, we searched for a hotel that was equidistant to South Beach, Bayside and Bricknell.   We selected Miami Marriott Biscayne Bay (1633 N. Bayshore Drive, Miami, FL  33132, 305/374-3900) as our headquarters.  This Marriot was an ideal choice.  Having just completed a $31 million renovation, we felt like we were walking into a Miami landmark combined with a spiffy new hotel.

Located directly on the harbor between the bustling Miami Arts and Design District and Downtown Miami, the hotel is within walking distance of the Adrienne Arts Center for the Performing Arts and minutes to Downtown Miami, South Beach, the Port of Miami, Bayside Marketplace and American Airlines Arena.

Biscayne Bay From The Marriott (Stuart J. Faber)The completely renovated 600 guestrooms (and 21 plush suites), deliver the latest in in-room technology. A full-size work desk with high-back executive chairs and fingertip-close electrical and electronic for just about any contraption you may have in your tool kit was ideal for me. Additional in-room goodies include flat screen TVs, hubs for laptops, MP3 players and high-speed internet.  The luscious Revive bedding, dual sinks and rain-style showerheads make this place like home, only better. Each room has a balcony from which you have a panoramic view of the bay, South Beach and the marina.

The hotel’s Catch Grill and Bar faces the marina. Both the views and the cuisine are great.  I enjoyed some wonderful stone crabs and just-caught fresh fish. Catch Grill and Bar also serves oysters, grilled meats, whopper salads, specially designed cocktails, craft beers and drinks with little umbrellas atop the glasses.

If you want to organize a meeting ranging from a secret board meeting to a family get-together, take your pick from over 20,000 square feet filled with a variety of function rooms. They offer the latest in technology, a business center and dedicated T1 line and wi-fi access. The staff can create any type of event from pool parties to Latin American festivals.

One of the Nation’s Great Culinary Destinations

The culinary community has also matured into a center of fine dining, innovative cuisine and choices from all over the world. We sampled a few old favorites and discovered some newcomers.

Red, The Steakhouse, 119 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach, FL 33139, 305/535-3688

A Great Steakhouse (Courtesy Red, The Steakhouse)No question here. All the beef is Certified Angus Prime, dry aged to perfection and served with sauces prepared from scratch. Wash down a succulent steak with a selection of over 400 wines – all sensibly priced.

Both the service and interior are straight forward and crisp. I felt great the moment I walked in.  With a blend of steel, stone, glass and mahogany finishes, this interior is an example of how modernity can be warm and cozy.

Chef Peter Vauthy knows how to prepare a steak. You want rare? That’s what you will receive – every time – and with a ruddy sear on the outside. An old favorite, Clams Casino in a broth with bread crumbs was my opening selection. I also sampled hot peppers stuffed with homemade sausage and tomato sauce. Both were extraordinary.  I never pass up a steakhouse chopped salad. Peter chops up just-harvested iceberg lettuce along with red onions, tomatoes, anchovies, capers and green olives – all dressed to kill in a red wine vinaigrette.

Now for the steak. I ordered a 16-ounce, bone-in ribeye and it came just as I directed – rare, juicy and seared with a thick mahogany bark. The 48-ounce porterhouse for two will have the recipients fighting over the last morsel.  For those who shy away from beef, pasta with Maine lobster is an excellent choice. The king crab legs are fresh and hearty.  Fabulous sides include parsley and garlic fries, creamed spinach or delightful sautéed asparagus and béarnaise sauce.

Delores But You Can Call Me Lolita, 1000 S. Miami Avenue, Miami, FL 33130, 305/403-3103

The name is lengthy, and the place is gigantic.  From the moment you enter, you will be swept away with the sight of beautiful people dressed in their finest. In one room, dancing until the early morning hours – in another, music, music, music. The joint jumps with noise and excitement, and that is the charm. Service personnel are jolly, friendly and efficient. No attitude here.

The restaurant was carved out of a 1923 fire station.  Back in those days, fire stations were built with some architectural class. The Mediterranean Revival style was very popular at the time. This two-story building with balconies, hipped roofs and an arcaded porch is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  Located in the heart of the Brickell Financial District, the restaurant offers a selection of international fusion cuisine which means that anything goes. There are several huge rooms. In one room, innovative snacks are served. In the next room, exotic drinks.  Another room, more dancing and general frivolity.

For appetizers, we tried the fabulous Peking duck dumplings, the fried artichoke hearts in a sweet, spice sauce, the Serrano ham croquettes and the Cuban quesadillas with ham and pork – how much more international can you get?  For entrees, we ordered an array consisting of Kobe beef sliders, potato dumplings in mushroom and sun dried tomato sauce, shrimp and mahi-mahi scampi over fresh linguini, and baby BBQ ribs with shoestring fried potatoes – the latter comes with a pair of gloves.  The cuisine is not excessively gourmet, but the dishes are attractive, quite tasty and the prices are reasonable, plus the place is a barrel of fun.

Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, in the Miami Design District at 130 NE 40th St., 305/573-5550 is owned and operated by super-chef Michael Schwartz. This is a restaurant where the owners are passionate, indeed obsessive about everything having to do with food – from the growing and harvesting to the preparation and serving. The menus change daily and the selections are generated by what the farmer delivers that day. The waiters are like no other I have experienced. They must stay up the night before and study the next day’s menu.  They can describe each item in precise detail, from the ingredients to the preparation. They won’t hesitate to steer you away from an item which might not be up to standards.

We showed up for brunch – heretofore not my favorite meal of the day – but at Michael’s, I make an exception. How about homemade pop-tarts with fresh local peaches and blueberries?  Lemon ricotta pancakes were divine. Homemade granola, homemade jams, fingerling hash is served with a basket of homemade rosemary crumpets, (when is the last time you had a crumpet?), sourdough bread or brioche. Bacon, smoked in house, is like no other bacon I’ve ever eaten. They also serve homemade pastrami and breakfast sausage. For snacks, try deviled eggs, crispy hominy with chili and thyme, chicken liver crostini with caramelized onions or a crispy pig ear. It’s been a while since I had a good pig ear.

A few other sweets include apple pie streusel or a strawberry cream cheese Danish. If you enjoy a good drink with brunch, try St. Germain Champagne with soda water and fresh watermelon juice or a great wine by the glass.  I settled for a double espresso and a homemade cherry rosemary soda.

Half Moon Empanadas, 1616 Washington Avenue, South Beach, FL 33139, 305/532-5277

For those who are unfamiliar with empanadas, just imagine an apple turnover; like an apple pie with the crust folded over the filling.  Well, an empanada is virtually the same thing except about half the size, no apples, but filled with wonderful spicy meats, fish or veggies. At Half Moon, the folks make their own dough fresh several times a day. They will fill the dough with prime chopped beef, pork, turkey or fish. They also serve outstanding soups and salads.  For a refreshing departure from traditional lunch selections, I highly recommend this place.

South Beach

Breakwater Hotel-Classic Art Deco (Stuart J. Faber)As I mentioned, back in the 40s and 50s when we used to stroll down Collins Avenue and Lincoln Boulevard in those halcyon days, the Art Deco  pink and pastel buildings seemed normal. Now, they are classics.

Art Deco is considered one of the first twentieth century architectural styles in America to break with traditional revival forms. This art form was born in Paris at the 1925 Paris Exposition des Arts and immediately took root in the United States.

 Building configurations in the Art Deco style were typically angular and clean, with stepped back facades, symmetrical or asymmetrical massing and strong vertical accenting. The preferred decorative style included geometric patterns, abstracted natural forms, modern industrial symbols and ancient cultural motifs employing Mayan, Egyptian and Native Romantic South Beach (Stuart J. Faber)American themes.

 In South Beach a unique form of Art Deco employed nautical themes as well as tropical flora and fauna motifs. Stucco carvings of ocean liners, palm trees, and flamingos graced the exteriors and interiors of the new local architecture. The favored materials included stucco, keystone, etched glass, a variety of metals, cast concrete and patterned terrazzo.

Today, South Beach is considered “America’s Rivera.”   Over 800 buildings, which were constructed in the 1930s and 1940s and were slated for demolition in the 1970s, have now been restored.  South Beach Miami has risen from virtual ruins to becoming one of the hottest destinations in the world.  Within a few square miles, South Beach offers unparalleled excellence in recreation, culture, nightlife and shopping. You can spend days strolling along Lincoln Boulevard or walking through the numerous hotels which have been restored to their 1920s and 1930s splendor.  Examples include the Adrian, Avalon, Beacon, Breakwater, Cardozo, Casablanca and the Netherland. As you approach any of these architectural masterpieces, you will feel as if you have been transported to the Art Deco era by time machine.  Everything, from the floors to the ceilings, has been authentically restored.  Most of the lobbies are adorned with black and white photos from the original Art Deco period.

In addition to the restaurants I have reviewed here, there are countless South Beach eateries featuring cuisine from all over the world. The streets are lined with outdoor cafes. At almost any time, day or night, folks are populating these chic, colorful tables. When the sun goes down, the streets illuminate with bright lights and blaze with the sounds of jumping bars and clubs.

The Airports

Miami International (KMIA) is the major commercial field. It is one of the busiest in the world.  The field is the closest to the city, but I prefer one of the more general aviation-friendly airports. If you like to land long, try Runway 9-27 at 13,000 feet or 8R-26L at 10,500 feet. Approaches include GPS, RNAV, LOC, LOC/DME, NDB or VORTAC.  I recommend Landmark Aviation. 305/874-1477

Kendall-Tamiami Executive (KTMB) is about 12 miles southwest of the city. At an elevation of eight feet above sea level, the field has three runways. Runway 13-31 is 4000 feet in length. The two parallel runways, 9L-27R and 9R-27L are each 5000 feet long.  Approaches include a GPS, RNAV, ILS, LOC and even an NDB. Reliance Aviation (305/233-0310) is one of several FBO facilities.

My favorite is the legendary and historic Opa-Locka (KOPF). Runway 9L-27R is 8000 feet long. Runway 9R-27L is 4300 feet long. In addition, there are two diagonal runways, 12-30, which is 6800 feet in length and 18-36, which is also 4300 feet long. Approaches include GPS, RNAV, ILS and ILS/DME. The field, at eight feet above sea level, is about 15 miles north of town. Orion (305/455-2295) is my FBO of choice.

This airport is filled with aviation history. Aviation pioneer and manufacturer Glenn Curtiss founded the airport in 1927. He started the Glenn Curtiss Aviation School at what was then Glenn Curtiss Field. The field underwent several name changes. The airport became the center of naval operations, then civilian flight training. During WWII, the field was designated a Naval Air Station and was headquarters for the U.S. Naval Training Command.

Many noteworthy events occurred at this airport. The Graf Zeppelin landed here.  Amelia Earhart launched her attempt to circle the globe from this field.  A more infamous morsel of history is the fact that some of the 9/11 hijackers trained at Opa-Locka.

I love the new Miami.  It has evolved into a refined blend of childhood and adulthood.  I can’t wait to visit again.

 

 

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