Everyone of my nails is chipped and my nail polish has long since worn off. I am sweaty, my hair is knotty, my eyeliner is on my cheeks and I’m so thirsty I feel like my tongue is made of cotton. My feet are dirty and hurt, and my stomach is bloated from eating hot meals in the hot sun. It is my last day of vacation in Miami, Florida, and you wouldn’t know that I had just been to one of the most opulent cities in America by the way I look.
Did I do something wrong? Maybe I’m not made for warmer weather. I do get mistaken for being some kind of Norwegian once in a while, and my pale skin and blue eyes stick out like a hooker in church. But I’m tired and in desperate need of a mani-pedi, a long bath and a facial. Did I just go backpacking in Peru? No. I did not. But I did have a fantastic time in Miami Beach. Rewind seven days ago to when my friend decided to be born on the day we were leaving. Well not the exact day, but 25 years ago that day. I couldn’t miss her birthday so Dave and I decided to go for “just a few hours”. Just a few hours fast turned into 1:00 AM when we realized we haven’t completely packed yet. Then 1:00 AM turned into frantically packing till 4:15 AM when we had to leave for an 8:00 AM flight. I didn’t sleep a wink.
Enter Hurricane Joaquin. For those reading this in the future, Hurricane Joaquin was set to be the next Sandy of the Greater New York area. It was, of course, supposed to make landfall the day we were set to board an absurdly small plane to the sunshine state. Luckily, it missed us, but somehow it didn’t miss my day-old, twice redone hair into a big Irish mop of blonde curls. Passing over South Carolina was the only turbulence we hit, or so I heard. I was passed out drooling onto my neck pillow with one ear bud clinging on for dear life while Seinfeld tried to keep my attention. Before I knew it, we were landed in a beautiful, 85 degree Fort Lauderdale.
We were staying at a time share in Sunny Isles, the part of Miami that isn’t the city, but also isn’t luxurious and opulent South Beach. It was quiet, relaxing, and the house made rum at the resort kept me in a pleasant state of buzzed. The pool was like bath water, the restaurant was a convenient way to grab a light and well-prepared Italian meal, and the beach was just stunning. The entire week the water was as placid and clear as I’ve ever seen the Atlantic. When it got too hot, we left our cushioned beach chairs and bobbed in the sea. When the water got chilly from a stray cloud, we retreated to our sun soaked lounge chairs and cocktails. It was the kind of ease and bliss that only Albert Camus could write about. We even saw some schools of fish making their way up the coast, and found some fantastic shells as well. They were better than the ones we found in Sanibel which is supposed to be the shelling capital of the US.
In our attempts to find the heart of South Beach we stumbled upon a neighborhood so rich and extravagant I was embarrassed by our economy rental car. We walked past families with their perfect little kids in their perfect suits and dresses going to their perfect early dinners. We turned around after seeing the price of gas ($4.89 in Miami. A little less than $2.00 in Manhattan) and headed farther south where we found a place that was more our speed. Lincoln Road Mall is everything a pedestrian plaza should be; flanked by stores and restaurants, the occasional bar or spa, punctuated by fountains and gardens. Streets crossed over the mall but cars always yielded to pedestrians, keeping it safe and quiet. After walking back and forth on each side of the mall once, we fell in love and ended up going back every day we were there.
The first day we ate Cuban outside at a highly rated restaurant called YUCA, a main ingredient to many of their dishes but also an acronym for “Young Urban Cuban Americans.” I had the most fantastic Pork Osso-Bucco but have no photographic proof because I attacked it like a cave woman. It was fork tender and I was able to pull the bone right out of the meat. After, we went shopping and Dave bought me an Emanuelle Paris dress to wear for New Years.
On our return to Lincoln Road Mall with friends we ate at a busy cafe called NEXXT, eating enormous portions of food that none of us could finish; spring rolls, a pile of ceviche and chips, two steamed lobsters, a rib eye steak, and a giant bowl of salad. There was enough left over to eat the next day for lunch AND a snack. They didn’t call themselves family style but in New York, those are not normal portions.
The next day we spent a romantic but rainy night at Sushi Samba, one of our favorite sushi haunts back in New York. We did a tasting menu because we couldn’t decide what to eat, so we let the waiter and chef decide for us. Warm dumplings, cold hamachi tuna, ribeye skewers and Peruvian corn, a platter of sashimi and ceviche, and rolls of sushi we couldn’t find room to fit in. Yet after dinner we found that secret compartment everyone has in their stomachs for ice cream and we indulged in the best gelato we’ve ever had.
On Thursday we defected from our new favorite people watching plaza to see a friend for dinner at the Hard Rock Cafe and Casino. We ate at Martarano’s Italian Kitchen, a darkly elegant restaurant that displayed portraits of old time crooners and played classic Robert de Niro movies while we ate fried mozzarella, sea bass and pastina with butter. Pastina with butter, you say? Yes I was pleasantly shocked as well. I haven’t had pastina with butter since I had strep throat in 7th grade. And you know what? It was delicious! On the menu they specified that they do not do substitution and to not break balls.
Our last full day started early on the beach and didn’t end till after a simple Italian meal by the pool followed by a well earned nap under the setting sun. By that time I was brown, buzzed on mojitos and the briny air, and thinking of nothing but that exact moment.
We found ourselves yet again at Lincoln Road Mall, but this time searching for a place to watch the Met game. Luckily our restaurant of choice was broadcasting it, right in front of two empty seats at the bar. Meat Market, another copy of a famous New York location, was hidden behind an original facade and open to the breezy summer air. Another stellar meal; Beet Salad with Goat Cheese, BBQ Kobe Beef Meatloaf with mashed potatoes, goat cheese potatoes au gratin, and an 8oz fillet mignon with peppercorn sauce. We won’t speak of the filet mignon. The most tender piece of meat they ruined;m, turning it into an unseasoned wad of gum. Daves meat loaf was out of this world.
Our final day we decided it would be a good idea to leave the comfort of our condo, the relaxing beach and cool pool to go explore boiling hot south beach during the day. STIFLING…
None the less we battled our way through the gauntlet of hostesses that stand outside their respective restaurants, a look of desperation in their sad eyes, attacking you before you can even read the name of the restaurant. As I was looking at a menu one actually started reading the entire menu to me. It’s such a turn off. We almost always turn right around and leave, no matter how good the food may look. We settled on the restaurant with the least-desperate hostess. It was a mediocre breakfast, in fact a little too heavy for a hot day.
My dad and I share a passion for Art Deco architecture and Miami Beach happens to have the largest collection of Art Deco architecture in the country. Throughout the week I would snap photos of whatever pieces I found, from light fixtures to hotel signs. I’d point and yell, “ART DECO!” and whip out my camera. However this day, this hot and boiling day, we were right in the middle of the Art Deco District and I got to see so many amazing buildings. (More on that later; I’m going to write an article just on that.)
After wandering around downtown, searching out a giant pegasus statue stomping on a dragon, and strolling around antique stores, we made our way back to Fort Lauderdale where I found myself sweaty, tired, and burnt out. I wanted my pillows and my fall clothes and my lovely New York. I enjoyed Miami for it’s extravagance and perfection. I enjoyed seeing the Bentleys and Versace dresses, the beautiful clothes and even more beautiful people. I also enjoyed it for it’s simple, sunny beach and the quiet, almost meditative time I spent there. Florida is a tropical retreat just within reach but still far enough away to make you forget you’re still in America. A place where history shows it’s face everywhere you look, from the colorful Art Deco buildings to the Pre-Civil War era lighthouses. Where the ocean churns up unique sea-shell treasures, and the occasional school of striped tropical fish that aren’t shy about coming to say hi.
As I sat in the airport saying to myself, “I can’t wait to get home to watch my hair and file my nails”, a part of me still wished I was laying on the beach, smelling like salt and sand and thinking of nothing but the wind and the ocean, holding Dave’s hand as he thought the same.
I hope you enjoyed my story about Miami Beach. I have a few more articles to write about it, and I am still continuing my Road Trip Series (yes, I know. I’m stacking with it.) As you can see I have changed my website! Please subscribe if you enjoy my writing and be sure to stay up to date on my travels and food adventures. Talk again soon!
Has anyone else been to Miami Beach? Tell me in the comments, I’d love to know your favorite place you ate at.