It’s definitely winter in NYC after last Saturday’s blizzard, but a couple of weekends ago, I was fortunate enough to get away for a few days to Miami. I had never visited Miami up until that point, but my best friend — who’s getting married — wanted to go there for a getaway with the bridal party, which gave me a perfect excuse to find my way there.
Usually when I go on vacation, it’s all about cramming in as much as I can do — part of my logic is that I should do this while I’m still “young” and have the energy for it. I feel like I should do the tourist thing during a first time visit and then if I get to go back somewhere someday, I can be more relaxed about it.
We treated Miami a bit differently though, largely because this was a bachelorette party, and largely because while Miami is a party city, there is an element that calls for some legitimate relaxation. We indulged in hotel amenities, we lazed by the pool, we hid from a first day of relentless rain by eating and drinking under outdoor awning. We also did the obligatory art deco tour and toured the Wynwood area, known for its murals, though as our tour guide pointed out, some people would say the area is “over” now. There was the obligatory night of dancing at a club, but it was a generally classy and relaxed trip that suited the personality of the bride and everyone else involved.
But no matter how busy or relaxed a vacation is, I think one key element usually remains: food. And we did treat ourselves to some good meals while in Miami. So I thought I’d tell you a little bit about where we went and what we devoured.
Byblos – Unfortunately, aside from one photo of the bride-to-be, I have no pictures from this Miami Beach spot that night. For one thing, it was dark in the restaurant. And we were pretty hungry and also exhausted (I woke up at 5 a.m. to catch my flight. If you know me, you know I am not a morning person). The food was delicious though, which is why it still warrants a mention.
Byblos has what could be defined as modern Eastern Mediterranean food — traditional items, but some with a twist. It was best to go family style at this restaurant, where we received items as they were ready. I won’t go into every single thing we ate, but standouts included eggplant kibbeh, which featured zucchini flower, the spice mixture baharat, chickpea batter and house yogurt. The labneh was beautiful. The roasted Brussels sprouts and the seared cauliflower, the latter of which was cooked in duck fat, were wonderful. Our table’s greatest obsession was the sweet jeweled rice, which featured carrots, saffron, barberries and almonds. We loved the flavors of just about everything we ate, but we were all so incredibly blown away by the jeweled rice that I’ve mentally vowed to figure out my own version. I’d definitely recommend this place for a nice night on the town, even though there was regrettably no room in our bellies for dessert.
Wynwood Kitchen & Bar – Another spot where we ordered a ton of stuff family style, this place was a hit with us. Now mind you, this was in the middle of the aforementioned trendy Wynwood District. The guide who showed us around the murals was a Miami native who still loves the area even with all the hype surrounding it, but she implied that this is an overrated eatery. And it might be — it’s embedded in the heart of the Wynwood Walls, a section of a somewhat curated, rotating set of murals and street art, that is still visually cool even if it doesn’t have a “raw” feeling to some. Yes, it’s cool, but obviously there’s a sense of a gimmick and it’s possible the prices might be a little high, especially for a native. (That said, our food and drink was cheaper here than it was at Byblos, so we had no complaints.) We had reservations for this spot and for a moment, one of the bride’s other friends said we didn’t have to keep it. But then we stuck with it and ended up being really happy.
There’s definitely a fusion factor going on at Wynwood Kitchen & Bar, and it’s exactly the sort of thing that appealed to those of us out to dinner that night. Pictured above are only a few of the savory items we ordered: ropa vieja empanadas (made with chicken, not beef) — which really look like samosas — along with pork belly skewers and maduros (we had to get two orders of those because the bride-to-be loves maduros). We found it all incredibly delicious. Other items we ordered included: flash-fried bok choy, a simple but interesting contrast to the predominantly Latin flavors, chicken skewers, chips and guacamole of course, and deviled eggs. The flavors were wonderful. The portions were perfect for sharing without making us digustingly full. We were happy.
And because we weren’t disgustingly full, we got dessert! The molten cake on the left was fairly classic with cinammon, ancho and vanilla ice cream. I am always happy with anything chocolatey, so I had no complaints. Then there was the spiced wonton ice cream, which was also a delight and definitely at least a different choice than what I’d normally order. The ingredients, according to Wynwood’s menu, are: “crusted vanilla ice cream, Grand Marnier, macerated strawberries, mint chiffonade.”
All in all, we were not a disappointed group — however, the crew that tried to roll in for dinner around 9 p.m. as we were leaving might have been another story. The restaurant was booked the rest of the night, so if you’re going for a short trip and have your heart set on checking it out, I suggest making reservations.
Versailles – The last standout spot I’d like to mention is this Cuban eatery, which proclaims itself “the world’s most famous Cuban restaurant.” You feel like you’re in a diner that’s still stuck somewhere in the ’70s (and as someone who grew up in New Jersey, I deeply appreciated this). We each ordered our own meals this time and I got the chicken “chicharrones” — fried chicken chunks, accompanied by Cuban mojo and onions, served with black beans, white rice and of course, sweet plantains.
There is also an adjoining cafe/bakery at Versailles, where I think you can pick up coffees and baked goods quickly, but being rather full from lunch, that did not happen. All that said, we were told there was a five-to-seven minute wait time for four of us sometime after noon, and were still seated within a couple of minutes thanks to the restaurant’s large size, so it’s worth trying your luck to go there.
I think the bulk of the places where we ended up going for our meals were on the “touristy” side, in the sense that they’re well known, but I’d still recommend these spots especially if you’re new to Miami. It doesn’t hurt to get some legitimately delicious food at some tried-and-true places, especially when it’s definitely the opposite of stopping at say, a Red Lobster or Olive Garden in Times Square while you’re in New York City. There was still something absolutely authentic and wonderful about the places we stopped in and I loved the variety of options available to us. If I get a chance to go back to Miami at some point, I think the food will still remain a major draw for me.