I really love summers in South Florida! Many of the obnoxious tourists have gone back home, there are no major festivals going on that make some of my favorite neighborhoods virtually impenetrable human fortresses, the beaches are full of sexy locals, and there is almost always some sort of deal on some of South Florida's most luxurious leisure activities. Whether you crave a spa day during Miami Spa Month, discounted rates on chic hotels, or all-you-can eat fried chicken, there always seems to be something for the sophisticated local on a budget during our balmy summer months. Of course, for any local foodie (myself included), the most anticipated event of the summer is Miami Spice during the months of August and September, when locals and visitors alike can dine at some of Miami's finest restaurants for a fraction of what it would normally cost. I'm sure I don't speak for myself when I mention that I am already planning out my Miami Spice itinerary, and no serious attempt at tackling Miami Spice is complete without a visit to at least one of the Fontainebleau's award-winning restaurants.
There have been a few pleasant changes to the Fontainebleau's dining scene this year, especially as it pertains to Miami Spice. For starters, there's been a slight change in the roster of participating restaurants this year with Blade, the resort's stellar sushi bar, dropping out of Miami Spice to make way for La Côte, a French Riviera-inspired poolside eatery that has recently added a weekend dinner service. Additionally, Gotham Steak has gained a new chef who is proving that a steakhouse can be anything but predictable. Furthermore, in typical Fontainebleau above-and-beyond fashion, weekday Miami Spice diners will be presented with a fourth course in addition to the customary three courses we have come to expect from this yearly promotion, usually in the form of an intermezzo or amuse bouche. Below are some highlights from three of the resort's participating restaurants, including some dishes that should not be missed:
Dinner offered Sunday through Thursday ($39)
If you have to visit just one Italian restaurant during Miami Spice, this would be it! The ambiance evokes a sort of maritime feel with polished brass, ropes, rich woods that mimic the decks of old boats, crisp whites and deep blues. The iridescent mosaic tile present in the front of the restaurant is almost reason enough for any design enthusiast to stop by. For an open air feel without Miami's open air heat, choose to sit in the enclosed terrace where diners get a virtual panoramic view of the Atlantic Ocean. An elegant appetizer of thin sheets of swordfish cured to resemble bresaola served with segments of Cara Cara oranges and shaved fennel tossed in a tangy vinaigrette with a smear of black garlic purée presents a complex medley of flavors and textures ranging from sweet, salty, and smokey to crunchy and chewy. My favorite first course, however, is the creamy polenta with fricasse of truffled mushrooms. The polenta is slowly cooked for hours rendering a cloud of almost fluffy cornmeal that provides the perfect backdrop for the chewy meatiness of the mushrooms. Scarpetta is perhaps one of the few places where a carnivore can have a completely vegetarian meal and leave completely satisfied as can be evidenced when ordering their spaghetti with tomato and basil. Even if the staff admits that it is a simple recipe made with simple ingredients, the flavors and textures that one experiences while eating this perfect bowl of pasta demonstrate that it is anything but! This is also one bowl of spaghetti that requires absolutely nothing.
Dinner offered Sunday through Friday ($39)
I was excited to see that Gotham Steak had a new chef this year, and I was even more excited to discover that his Miami Spice offerings include items that have been specially created for this event and are not featured on his regular menu. Whereas this could be seen as a letdown at a lesser restaurant, the chef at Gotham Steak has taken the opportunity to flex his culinary muscles during Miami Spice and offer some truly creative dishes. A first course consisting of heirloom tomatoes from Homestead, compressed watermelon, French feta, basil purée, and pearls of Nobel XO demonstrate a molecular gastronomy touch and a keen eye for presentation, as well as a mastery at combining textures. Asian influences are noted in Gotham's Miami Spice entrée selections, such as a pan seared black sea bass on a bed for fried basmati rice with crispy shallots that offers crunchy confetti like quality to counter the smoothness of the fish. A phenonemal entrée of braised short rib of beef showcases a Korean influence inspired by the kitchen staff's grandmothers' recipes. It arrives at the table emanating an intoxicating aroma, and the meat literally melts in one's mouth as the sweet and umami flavors of the marinade envelop one's palate. The entrée is served with spicy pickled onions that cut through the richness and sweetness of the beef, as well as a bright green purée of potatoes with fresh scallions and roasted garlic that acts as a sort of palate cleanser.
Dinner offered Sunday through Thursday ($39), Dim Sum Lunch offered Saturday and Sunday ($23)
Hakkasan's dark winding corridors and private rooms partitioned with intricately carved screens makes it among South Florida's sexiest and must alluring settings. As soon as the elevator doors open, one's senses are struck by the smell of burning incense and smokey woks cooking up some of Miami's finest gourmet Cantonese cuisine. Apart from dinner, Hakkasan will also be offering a special Dim Sum lunch on weekends for Miami Spice, which will include an assortment of dumplings, congee, and hot tea. Hakkasan does not stray too far from its roots, offering diners authentic Cantonese fare utilizing the finest ingredients and cooked in a state of the art kitchen specifically formulated for preparing the cuisine of this Southern Chinese gastronomic region. Their crispy stuffed tofu puff provides a delicately crispy exterior that reveals a subtle combination of minced chicken and chive in the interior. Chive and prawn dumplings also offer a delicate flavor and texture with delightufl presentation: cinched pouches tied with a noodle "string" and topped with a dollop of masago. The crispy sea bass with wheat flake is perhaps one of the most interesting dishes at Hakkasan and offers a slightly sweet, dry, and almost astringent crispy exterior that gives way to an intensely flavored, juicy, and tender piece of fish.
Miami Spice diners receive a discounted parking rate of $12
For more information on Fontainebleau's Miami Spice Menus, please visit: www.fontainebleau.com/miamispice2012
To make reservations for Miami Spice, please call 877.326.7412
Fontainebleau Miami Beach
4441 Collins Avenue
Miami Beach, FL 33140