–Trip Notes: Miami. A Trip Of Firsts (2011)
–Trip Notes: Miami 2012.
–Trip Notes: Miami 2014.
-Winter Break 2015 Trip Notes Part 1: Miami
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Last month I flew to Miami for the bris of JJ’s firstborn son.
I flew without my wife and kids, so activities weren’t high on the agenda, but I did get to try out a few new eateries that are finally putting Miami’s kosher food scene on the map.
Read more about the trip after the jump:
I nabbed a 7.5K British Airways Avios award ticket the day beforehand and headed to the airport an hour before the flight. Even in rush hour traffic on Monday evening the drive to the airport took just 25 minutes and it’s only a 3 minute walk from Cleveland’s long-term parking to the terminal. Thanks to TSA PreCheck (which is included in Global Entry that comes free with an AMEX Platinum or Business Platinum card) I was through security in just 60 seconds and had time to get a drink from the Airspace lounge, which is also free with an AMEX Platinum or Business Platinum card.
American flies RJ-145s with no wifi from Cleveland to Miami in the summer, which means 2.5 hours with no WiFi. I was able to knock out a post on an ultra-rare award ticket sighting before takeoff though.
American’s RJs pull into the ultra-distant D60 gates at Miami, which means a hike (more like a swim through the humidity) just to get inside the terminal, then a train to get to baggage claim. When renting a car you then need to shlep a while until the next train which takes you to the rental car facility. No wonder MIA is one of the least liked airports in the world.
Flying solo, I decided to try out Silvercar for my first time. It was pretty fantastic. When I landed I got a notification to give them a call when I was ready to get picked up from the rental car facility. I called and asked if they could just pick me up from the terminal and they said no problem!
That’s a huge time-save in Miami considering how long it takes to get to the rental car facility there.
Silvercar only carries Audi A4s, so there’s no upgrades to haggle for.
That’s good and bad. It’s a small car, so it was perfect for this trip where I was flying solo. But it wouldn’t be a practical car when traveling with the whole family along with the strollers and other sundries that entails.
It is a really fun car to drive though and the price was right.
For dinner I went with JJ to Fuego. They moved a few weeks ago into a much larger and glamorous location in Aventura’s Waterways.
I always review restaurants anonymously, but after writing in the aforementioned post that I was posting from onboard a plane to Miami a partner at Fuego somehow put 2 and 2 together and let the staff know to take care of me.
I’ve had Fuego’s Avocado Eggrolls in their previous location and was not a fan. I had been hoping for a copy of Los Angeles’ version in La Gondola, but Fuego’s version has too much sun-dried tomato, no spicing in the avocado, and they don’t have the cilantro dipping sauce. Their empanadas didn’t impress me either.
Instead we opted for a pastrami eggroll which was very good ($13, 7.5/10):
The Miami Mule drink ($12, 7/10), consists of Vodka, fresh grapefruit, lime, ginger syrup, angostura, and ginger beer.
The Perfect Date drink ($12, 7/10) is made with Vodka, amaretto, cream of coconut, pineapple, angostura, and cinnamon sugar.
The highlight of the night for me was the BBQ Pulled Beef Flatbreads ($18, 9.5/10) that is heaven on a delicious dough.
The center cut filet ($44, 7/10) was a decent steak, but not particularly memorable. It didn’t come with the three corn pepper sauce that we ordered with it as they were out of it. The included fries and sweet potato fries were very nice though.
I ordered BBQ Back Ribs ($49), but they brought out this ribs pictured below. When the owner came over to chat he said next time I need to order the BBQ Back Ribs. I told him that’s what I ordered, but they brought me short ribs, so he went to see what happened. Turns out they were out of the back ribs so they substituted the short ribs.
And the owner said they would be on the house.
And this is why I guess I’ll have to start making reservations under fake names. I’d rather be able to write about what would happen to a regular customer in that situation than be comped a meal.
The Creme Brulee was pretty standard, a solid dish, but again, nothing memorable (7/10).
The Smores dessert is delicious though (8.5/10), with ice cream, graham crackers, and toasted marshmallows.
I’d definitely go back for another flatbread, smores, and to try the BBQ Back Ribs.
After dinner it was off to the W South Beach where I got a “fantastic studio.”
Last time I was here I got a Mega Suite, though that was denied this time around. The fantastic studio is a large room with a nice sized balcony and the bathroom and the bliss amenities are great.
However on the 2nd night of the stay my bed literally shook from music and bass. I called the front desk and they said they’d look into it. I called back a couple times until we realize that the noise was actually coming from the W club, which is open until 4am!
Luckily the club was only open on the 2nd night of the stay…
Miami in the summer is ridiculously hot and humid. On the plus side the restaurants are empty and rates for everything are much less. The locals have it pretty bad though. They wait through a miserable summer for the weather to become tolerable and as soon as it does, the city fills up with snowbirds who clog up the traffic and make it impossible to get a reservation at a restaurant…
As soon I went outside to take a picture the lens (and my sunglasses) got fogged up:
In the morning I enjoyed the “secret” pool all to myself:
It was so hot that it burned my feet just walking barefoot on the sand:
Spending time in the water is definitely the only way to make it tolerable to be outside in the Miami summer.
Then it was off to Zak the Baker for lunch. Zak’s is located in Miami proper in a cute neighborhood where you wouldn’t expect it. The clientele is the most varied I’ve ever seen in a kosher restaurant, ranging from hasids to hipsters and everyone in between.
The menu is eclectic and varies somewhat from day to day. His breads and sandwiches have a real cult following.
I couldn’t find a menu online, so here are pictures of the offerings of the day:
Being a die-hard lemon fan I had to try the Lemon Curd and Lavender butter toast ($5, 9.5/10). The lemon curd was deep and rich and the toast was amazing.
The carrot ginger soup ($4, 6/10) wasn’t to my liking.
But the fresh mozzarella sandwich is loaded with flavor and is fantastic ($8, 8.5/10)
Chocolate/caramel croissant is excellent as well (8/10)
If you do find yourself as Zak’s before 11:30am, beware that AJK won’t forgive you if you don’t get the breakfast sandwich, which he calls one of the best sandwiches in the world (Photo credit: AJK):
The Tuna Melt also got rave reviews from him (Photo credit: AJK):
After lunch it was off to the bris, which was in the afternoon so that my parents would be able to make it in.
I didn’t have time to checkout the nearby Wynwood walls, though AJK did and they’re pretty neat!
(Photo credit: AJK)
Unfortunately for my parents (and the mohel who was flying in from Cleveland with them), their 6am departure from Cleveland to Miami was delayed indefinitely while they were on the plane.
So of course they called me frantically from the plane asking what to do, so I helped find them a few other flight options. Alas the phone agents weren’t able to finalize anything and the line for rebooking once they deboarded was so long that many of those options departed by the time they got to the podium.
One last option for them was a United flight connecting to an American flight is Orlando. They got the agent to agree to put them on it, but by the time the agent was finished it was just 15 minutes prior to United’s departure time. When they got to the gate the door was already closed and the jetbridge was already pulled back.
Shockingly though, they shared their predicament with the gate agent and she opened the gate back up and they reattached the jetbridge and opened the plane doors for them! I don’t think that would happen anywhere in 2015 except in Cleveland 😀
Even more surprising was that their baggage (containing the mohel’s knife) actually made it to Miami with them, despite the bags having to be transferred from American to United in Cleveland at the last minute and them catching an earlier flight once in Orlando to Miami!
After the bris I went out with my mother to nearby Backyard BBQ.
The house chili fries ($11, 3/10) are not good at all. Bland chili on very ordinary fries. Though granted, it’s tough to enjoy chili once you’ve had Milt’s Chili in Chicago.
They were out of dinosaur ribs ($48), so we got a plate of 3 spare ribs ($39, 7/10). These were moist and tasty, though lacked the deep flavors that come from ribs that are made in a real smoker instead of those made with liquid smoke.
The small plate of smoked Texas Brisket ($18, 2/10) was bone dry and flavorless.
Late that night I walked from the W to The Frieze, a unique sorbet spot off the Lincoln Road Pedestrian Mall in South Beach.
Even at night Miami doesn’t cool down in the summer. It was a toasty 90 degrees with humidity so thick that everyone was dripping from sweat. Of course that just makes the sorbet that much sweeter.
They were out of Red Wine sorbet, but their champagne and peanut butter sorbets are always incredible:
On Wednesday morning it was back for another swim in the morning is the W’s secret pool before heading off to Foozo to meetup with some DDF members and talk miles and travel.
Foozo makes artisan thin crust pizzas with a wood burning oven.
DDF member JayWhy went with the Pomodori personal pie ($10, 7/10) with fresh mozzarella, roasted cherry tomatoes, and roasted garlic.
You can choose from dozens of toppings, such as fresh mozzarella, roasted corn, roasted garlic, and caramelized onions ($10, 7.5/10)
The star of the meal though was Caprese Foozoli, loaded with fresh mozzarella, roasted cherry tomatoes, pesto sauce, basil, balsamic glaze, and with caramelized onions added in for good measure ($10.50, 8.5/10). It’s one of the better calzone type dishes I’ve had in a long time.
Miami is known for its summertime showers and there were heavy thunderstorms and rain all afternoon and evening. So I found a Groupon for a hot stone massage and took it easy.
Of course no stop to Miami is complete without picking up the best cholov yisroel chocolate in the world.
Alas they were out of my favorite sea salt caramels, but they had plenty of other awesome stuff:
And finally for dinner I went out with JJ to 26.
Beautiful decor and by far the best service you’ll find in Miami.
I loved the Passion Rita last time I was in 26, but they’ve taken up the heat several notches on this drink.
It was a bit too intense for me, but they happily offered to swap it out for a milder Passion Fruit Mojito and it was incredible:
Tequeños are a delicious fried cheese stick in empanada dough, one of the best versions of a mozzarella stick around ($10, 9/10)
Sushi Pizza with cooked salmon is phenomenal as well, ($13, 9/10)
Trio Fritas include truffle fries, sweet potato fries, and salt, pepper, and cilantro fries that are great ($21, 8/10)
26 has an incredible range of sauces, and they’ll only be too happy to bring them all out for you!
The Sake Teriyaki roll was a real treat ($15, 9/10)
As was the Crunchy Mozza roll with cheese inside and delicious tempura on the outside ($16, 9.5/10). The sushi here is some of the best you’ll find in the country.
Cream of Purple Potato Soup was an amazing dish as well ($4, 8.5/10). Their cream soups here are a real treat:
Although Silvercar charges just $5 to fill up your car, I had plenty of time still before my late night flight back home, so I filled up the tank myself further away from the airport where prices are much cheaper.
Silvercar drove me right to the terminal in my car and is really a seamless process.
Without any checked baggage and with Global Entry/Pre-Check I was through security in no time and had time to checkout the Centurion lounge in Miami. Access is free for the cardholder and their spouse and kids or 2 guests with an AMEX Platinum or Business Platinum card. Additional cardholders get the same privileges and you can add 3 additional cardholders to a personal platinum card for just $58.33/year each. Additional cardholders also get Airspace, Delta, and Priority Pass lounge access on top of free Global Entry/TSA PreCheck membership.
There are complimentary 15 minute spa treatments, though those end at about 7:30pm.
There’s lots of food in the lounge, but nothing aside from fruit for kosher observers.
And so the dilemma for me was only smokey or extra smokey (Hint: I sampled both 🙂 )
Lounges are nice for their WiFi and because they take you away from the hustle and bustle of the terminal, though nobody will confuse this lounge for something like the Lufthansa First Class Terminal or a Qantas First Class lounge in Sydney or Melbourne.
But for a US lounge, the bathrooms had very nice amenities, the premium drinks are a big step up from the US airline lounges, and the spa treatments are a nice touch. Originally the Centurion lounges had kosher food options, but the lead time that it took to heat up those meals proved too challenging. That’s too bad, though it won’t stop me from using the lounges when available.
Centurion lounges can currently be found in Dallas, Las Vegas, LaGuardia, Miami, Seattle, and S. Francisco. Houston will be up next and more airports are in the plans as well.
I had the bartender fill up my Hydroflask (was happy to learn that I’m not the only one crazy about this thing) and headed to my gate for an uneventful flight home, despite the warnings of heavy storms throughout Florida.
I’m still unsure about the right season to visit Miami though. The winter with awesome weather but the higher prices, brutal traffic, and horrendous service from restaurants? Or the summer that is horrendously hot, humid, and wet, but is cheaper and comes with light traffic and much better service?
But it’s great to see Miami’s kosher food scene show some signs of life.