Sun and sea, surf and turf—the stuff that dreams are made of. As the first feathery snowflakes hit the ground, more than four million Canadians begin their annual winter migration to Florida and, according to Statistics Canada, we spend more than $5 billion a year. This is our sybaritic playground. It is in our DNA.
“We love you Canada,” they beckon, “come on down.” Ocean-front beaches have been combed free of winter’s debris; golf courses are meticulously coddled and groomed into plush grass carpets, hotels advertise multi-million dollar renovations; chefs have perfected new menus incorporating ethnic trends with local vendors.
Some things change, some stay the same and some stand the test of time. South Florida is golfers heaven, in no small part due to the Doral, originally built in the 1960s and home of the PGA for 55 years. Long before Donald Trump was a President, he was a hotelier. Trump National Doral Miami sprawls over an 800-acre manicured property. Acquired by Trump Hotels in 2012, a $250 million transformation was begun immediately, succeeding admirably in making the Doral great again. Home to four uniquely designed courses, the most challenging and iconic is the Blue Monster Course. Practice, practice, practice. The state-of-the-art LED practice facility, the cut- ting-edge True Spec Golf club fitting lab and the No. 1 ranked Jim McLean Golf School make this a mecca for serious golfers. In homage to golf greats, each villa is named for a champion—I am in the Ben Hogan—and the walls are hung with his memorabilia and photos.
Comfort is key in these accommodations. The décor is a calming collage of yellow, cream, grey and mauve, nothing to interfere with relaxing thoughts. Luxurious marble bathrooms, white, plushy towels and robes, in room and at the adults-only swimming pool, with just the sounds of water, an occasional bird and distant music to disturb our reverie.
The renowned Pritikin Longevity Center and Spa is on the property and, since I’ve been a frequent guest over the years, I took a tour of the renovated facility. These luxury spa suites in pale blue with gold leaf details, crystal chandeliers, Italian bed linens and onyx tables are a far cry from the mundane ’60s-era guest rooms of the past. My first thought is of Cinderella’s pumpkin being transformed into a golden coach.
The inner man (and woman) is not neglected. B.L.T. Prime Steakhouse has an outpost here: a men’s club ambience with iconic leather and wood décor. I’ll have what President Trump eats when he visits, and am delighted with a delectable 16-oz USDA Prime New York Strip Steak, 28-day dry-aged, with a side order of unique hen-of-the-woods mushrooms.
At lunch in the Champions Bar and Grill, a high- light is the chocolate dessert, aptly named Blue Monster. The Executive Chef stops by for a chat. Newly arrived from Bordeaux, he has been on the job nine days. Bon chance, Didier Lailhuegue.
Loews Miami Hotel, built in 1998, has been re-imagined to even more fabulousness than the original, with its $50 million, full-body makeover. Many factors make a hotel great, and first and foremost is the welcome. There is an abundance of staff who greet us with enthusiasm, remember our name, and answer every question, from help to order an Uber or tell us where to go shoe-shopping. We feel cared for.
I am mesmerized by the fantastic mural in the lobby by New York artist Sarah Raskey that pays homage to the elements, with its intriguing design reflected in the hall carpets. It is just one of the many curated art pieces that fill the public spaces and rooms. The amenities are captivating in this resort. Lounging on a day bed, enjoying lunch and cocktails in a St. Tropez-inspired, adults-only SOAK Cabana with butler service, internet, iPad with Netflix—I don’t ever want to leave. Elsewhere, there is Lowes Loves Kids family programming. My scenario for tomorrow is the oceanfront poolscape with private beach access. After a tough day of catching sunshine, a massage at the Exhale Spa is in order. My East workaholic persona is bewildered by all this relaxation, but I’m handling it. That evening, we cross a sculpture-filled courtyard to Lure Fishbar, a sibling of the popular SoHo, New York restaurant. The setting is luxury-yacht-dining-room and the menu is a compendium of every fish and seafood we love. The sushi chef has recently arrived from Japan and prepares his morsels Tokyo-style, to be eaten with fingers. Grilled fish is meticulously boned, glissed with olive oil, showered with herbs and served whole, clearly cooked by someone who speaks to fish. And yet, at neighbouring tables, they’re digging into gorgeous steaks with sides of pasta.
While the heart of a hotel may be in its rooms, surely the soul is its kitchen. Executive Chef Frederic Delaire began his career as a teenager at a Michelin star restaurant in his native France, before discovering Florida in 1999. “I fell in love with tropical fruits, colourful fish and foods that I had never worked with before in my life,” he said, resulting in his Made in Miami cuisine for the 65,000-square-foot meeting and function space. Guests are thrilled with fish from the Florida Keys, and exotic tropical fruits rarely seen in New England or the Midwest. Local products have splashed over into the breakfast menu at Preston’s, but it is in the vast Bar Collins, in an expansive arm of the lobby, where there is an explosion of Delaire’s Made in Miami cuisine. The succulent Cuban sandwich becomes made-before-your-eyes thin crust Cuban Pizza; chipotle-rubbed chicken wings are roasted in the pizza oven, as is Argentine Provoleta. “This is one of the beauties of Miami,” he says. “Everything is always in season. People come here in the winter and come out of the airport smiling, so it’s why we need to make sure we have food that is colourful, exciting, exotic.”
After a few days of quiet well-being, I am ready to experience a new kind of hotel, clearly built for the unconventional traveler. EAST is the Swire Group’s first foray outside of Asia into the U.S. and it’s part of the new Brickell City Center Mall, which is destined to give Bal Harbour stiff competition. This is a “smart” hotel with keyless entry, paperless check in and out, and exotic dining experiences. Discreetly designed with Zen-like minimalism, it takes a few minutes to find the bathroom and figure out the app-driven room controls. Ah, here’s the coffee maker—hidden by a secret panel. Yet, the room is gorgeous, hanging in the sky within glass walls looking at the city spread below is a departure from reality.
Watching the sunset from Sugar, the 40th floor rooftop bar that serves outstanding Asian inspired tapas and exotic cocktails in a jungle-like setting is an exciting experience indeed. And Quinto La Huella, the Uruguayan restaurant offers steaks and dishes with Latin seasonings that are a delicious challenge to a foodie like me. Millennials will love this hotel. Predictability be damned. This is the new Miami.
Sara Waxman is an award-winning restaurant critic, best-selling cookbook author, food and travel journalist and has eaten her way through much of the free world for four decades, while writing about it in books, newspapers and magazines. She is the Editor in Chief of DINE and Destinations magazine.