surf globally, pour locally, drink responsibly
April 2013

Deco Dining
By Kristine Hansen
There isn’t anywhere
I’d rather be.

Seated by the swimming pool at The James Royal Palm, South Beach’s newest hotel and fresh off a major renovation, clean lines in nature-inspired hues on neighboring buildings are my view as I sip French Rosé. Bicyclists pedal past on a grassy path hugging Ocean Drive. I’ve just walked through a Technicolor dream in the lobby – porthole windows, avocado-green lounge chairs and a midcentury dresser that would be at home on any Mad Men set – and the salty perfume of ocean air swirls around me.

But here, at Florida Cookery, the menu is dialed back to the middle of last century with chef Kris Wessel preparing dishes that bring Old Florida to mind, such as the 1948 conch chowder and fritter dipper I sampled. Coconut water is on the menu, too, the perfect pairing with foods like grapefruit-guajillo ceviche, white-cheddar grit cakes, cast-iron seared “sunshine state” frog legs, sorrel-lychee glazed Florida quail and “CSA box salad” (a montage of that week’s harvest at “Sons and Daughters Farm” in Lake Worth, Fla.).

Here’s the thing. You can get good food and drink in most any city if you know where to look. What South Beach flaunts like no other American city is a hip, vintage twist due, in part, to the many Art Deco buildings that house not only restaurants and bars but retailers too (yes, even Banana Republic). Resembling pastel wedding cakes, the curves and lines in each stellar of South Beach’s renowned architecture is enough to make anyone hungry.

Each night, after hours spent traipsing around this pedestrian-friendly slice of Miami Beach while imbibing and noshing, I slipped past the pool near my room at The Angler’s, its surface alive with star-shaped lights once the sun set. While the hotel isn’t entrenched in Art Deco design, it has some serious design credibility: the interior designer also worked on the late Gianni Versace’s Ocean Drive mansion. Sipping coffee in the lounge – which doubles as 660 at The Angler’s for breakfast, lunch and dinner – on my first morning it felt both elegant and cozy with ottomans, Persian carpets and gold-velvet banquettes. On my final night I ordered two of the many small plates, opting for those with Latin influences: empanadas and ceviche.

Gale South Beach unveiled its mod-retro look – imagine Art Deco with tropical flair or the Italian Riviera – at this brand-new hotel in early December. Across the street from the new SLS Hotel South Beach on Collins Avenue, it’s a squat, intimate property with 87 rooms and an Italian restaurant featuring not only Italian wines but an al-fresco dining space to soak up the sun too. Now, after a $35 million remodeling, you feel as if you’ve been thrust into a classic Italian film as you sip Italian wines and bite into plates of pasta or wood-oven roasted flatbreads in the 6,000-square-foot dolce Italian where, inside, the décor is all golds and creams. Chef Paolo Dorigato formerly manned the kitchens at The Rainbow Room and Le Cirque in New York City. A wall of framed family photographs near the back of the restaurant cultivates a homey feel.

Across the street, Shelborne South Beach continues to flaunt its “bubble desk” in the lounge, which one must pass to get to Vesper, in addition to stark-white hallways with ornate chandeliers overhead, the poolside all-day and all-night eatery named for James Bond’s favorite cocktail. In late 2011 the hotel finished a top-to-bottom restoration that brought the property back to the 1940s and 1950s but not without modern conveniences like WiFi. In the morning, sip espresso alongside croissants while at night it’s all about comfort foods paired with wines (such as a flute of Moet Champagne with wagyu burgers, jalapeno 4-cheese mac & cheese or warm homemade doughnuts).

Perhaps the biggest surprise during my recent food-fueled trip to South Beach was biting into Hawaiian-inspired food along Ocean Drive. At Barock Miami, which only opened last year, Polynesian meets Art Deco (batik-print pillows and a chandelier dripping with crystals) in a relaxed-vibe restaurant where there’s a bit of Maui (and other sun-soaked climates) inserted into each dishes, such as coconut cured lobster with yucca chips or Key West shrimp fritters, along with pork bo ssam “tacos” and sea bass baked in banana leaf. Although simple, the rice-paper spring rolls were the fitting finale: a citrus-sweet chili sauce nailed the perfect balance between sweet and savory. There’s even a Hawaii Five-O cocktail on the menu and a Miami Mai Tai too.

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