Navigating the Miami dining scene can be a tricky proposition. Drive down Collins Avenue and nearly every place you pass looks pretty cool, but we know from experience few of them have cuisine that could be called “more than edible.” On our last trip to the glitzy city we did some research and honed in on a few that have consistently garnered rave reviews: Hakkasan at the fabulous Fontainebleau, Katsuya by Starck, and The Bazaar by José Andrés at the stunning SLS South Beach. What we wanted was both great food and a South Beach scene to match—beautiful people, a beautiful setting and beautiful dishes. Total immersion in the best of everything Miami has to offer. Go big or go home.
Hakkasan is one several restaurants at the Fontainebleau, and serves succulent Cantonese cuisine with a contemporary flair. Originally opened in 1954 and designed by famed architect Morris Lapidus, the Fontainebleau was long considered one of the most luxurious hotels on Miami Beach as well as the largest with 1,500 rooms. The Art Deco style treasure was completely revamped and reopened in 2008 and has been a non-stop scene ever since. In addition to Hakkasan, it is home to LIV (one of the hottest nightclubs in town), Michael Mina 74 and Gotham Steak. The first Hakkasan opened in London in 2001 and the Miami venue is now one of five in the U.S., with others scattered around the globe. Many of them have garnered Michelin stars.
The interior design of Hakkasan is exquisite, stemming from the London original created by famed interior designer Christian Liaigre, whose A-list clients include Valentino, Karl Lagerfeld and Calvin Klein. The restaurant refers to its style as “sultry Shanghai-Chinois chic,” and the effect is striking and sensual with carved teak walls and lacquered wood and marble accents. The bar has a shimmering water light effect and offers up delectable cocktails created by its master mixologists. But even just getting one of its highly coveted seats is a reason to celebrate. You can dine at the bar or reserve a table in the mazelike main room, which is located on the hotel’s fourth floor and opens onto an enormous terrace overlooking the lights of the city.
The menu is graced by such specialties as Hakkasan’s signature dish, charcoal grilled silver cod with Champagne and Chinese honey—justly celebrated around the world—and a decadent helping of Peking duck with Russian Osetra caviar. Everything is perfectly prepared and presented, making it obvious that one is dealing with a world-class operation. The whole experience is exotic, glamorous, and guaranteed to please any well-traveled gourmand. Coupled with the vitality and playful decadence of Miami, it fulfilled every one of our criteria for seeking out the best in all respects. And a stop at LIV or the hotel’s happening lobby Bleau Bar on the way out is a must as well.
Katsuya by Starck
The next night we arrived at the SLS South Beach in suitable style at the wheel of a Mercedes-Benz SLS AMG Roadster. Opened in 2012, it is one of the newest, coolest and most luxurious hotels in town, and certainly the most glamorous. Credit its rock-star style to the collaboration between hotelier Sam Nazarian, designer Philippe Starck, chef José Andrés and American singer-songwriter Lenny Kravitz, who designed the incredible Villa and Presidential Penthouse as the ultimate celebrity hideouts. To cross paths with the likes of Leo DiCaprio, David Beckham and Lebron James in the SLS’ lobby would not be unusual—though they’re more likely to be holed up in its VIP Dragon Lounge.
That’s where we started the evening with a cocktail prior to delving into its culinary delights. Our first stop was Katsuya by Starck, the city’s hottest sushi spot and a tour de force of Starck and master chef Katsuya Uechi’s talents. The restaurant occupies one huge, oval room, which affords a glimpse of the action from any seat in the house. We quickly realized why Katsuya ranks as one of OpenTable’s 50 Hottest Restaurants in the U.S., holding its own against top-ranked eateries in LA and New York. Starck is a genius at creating environments that are super stylish and always a ton of fun, with his signature surrealist touches.
The sushi goes beyond the expected as well. In addition to the classics there are Katsuya’s innovative takes like yellowtail sashimi with spicy jalapeño and his mouthwatering baked crab hand rolls. While Hakkasan was dark and a bit mysterious, Katsuya is all about the energy of the open room and sharing the enjoyment of the other diners, who range from well-heeled families with perfect tans to hipsters on first dates, all of them having a great time and loving every chopsticked piece of toro. It took an awful lot of self-restraint not to order everything we wanted, because as the saying goes, “The best [was] yet to come.”
The Bazaar by José Andrés
The Bazaar by José Andrés was one of the most epically-delicious dinners of our lives. Andrés, the James Beard award-winning chef credited with bringing the concept of modern tapas to America, was born in Spain and trained under Ferran Adrià of El Bulli, often cited as the best restaurant in the world. He taught a culinary physics course with Adrià (at Harvard no less) and was named to Time’s 2012 100 Most Influential People list, all the while inspiring chefs all over the world to push the envelope and embrace all of their creative faculties in the kitchen.
And for The Bazaar, Starck went all out to create a worthy setting, like something out of a stylish palazzo inhabited by a Spanish nobleman who just happens to own a famous fashion label. We were simply not prepared for the incredible array of dishes that arrived at the table, course after course from every corner of the globe with Andrés’ dose of wit and expert interpretation. Andrés’ Spanish heritage takes pride of place, with ingenuity and influences from Miami’s local Latin fare putting in a strong showing—none of it quite like anything you’ve ever had before.
The menu is divided into two main sections: Miami Meets the World and Spain Yesterday and Today, and 14 subsections. Categories include Singapore Connection, in which Andrés draws culinary parallels between Miami and the Orient; Latas Y Conservas, a haute gourmet version of canned goods; and Some Little Sandwiches, a disarmingly simple name for some extreme combinations. Just to throw a few of the more eye-popping items at you there’s also a Japanese Taco with grilled eel, shiso, cucumber, wasabi, and chicharrónes (fried pork skin); bone marrow with Caribbean white truffles, Florida citrus and capers; a foie gras peanut butter and jelly panini; and smoked oysters with apple mignonette—literally smoking thanks to a dose of liquid nitrogen. More pyrotechnics ensued when we were served Andrés' version of the Caipirinha cocktail with Brazilian cachaça, fresh lime and sugar frozen with liquid nitrogen right at the table.
Over the course of a long, indulgent and romantic evening we became good friends with our waiter, who guided us through the innumerable offerings and conjured up perfect wine pairings as well. Rarely have we seen any server so passionate about his place of work, and with such good reason. Even if Leo DiCaprio didn’t show up, we still felt like celebrities due to the truly impeccable service and the love coming from the kitchen in the form of flawless little plates. It will probably be quite a while before we have a meal to compare with the one at The Bazaar by José Andrés. Already it seems like a bit of a dream, one we often close our eyes and conjure up again.
Jared Paul Stern
Jared Paul Stern has written for the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, the New York Times' T magazine, GQ, WWD, Vogue, New York magazine, Details, Hamptons magazine, Playboy, BlackBook, the New York Post, Bergdorf Goodman magazine and Luxist among others. The founding editor of the Page Six magazine, he has also served as a judge for everything from the International Best Dressed List to the F...(Read More)