Oh Florida, dear Florida, we love you. We are sun-worshipping transients, fugitives from a cold and unforgiving climate. We appreciate that you are user-friendly to us Canadians. We eagerly pay our way and contribute handsomely to your economy every year. In fact, according to StatsCan, 3,099,300 of us spent more than $3.5 billion in Florida last year. And worth every penny, we say. Miami is our Mecca, and it has wondrous enclaves for us to explore. Each one is different, yet they showcase their one commonality: The warm and all-embracing sun.
At the Fisher Island dock, security confirms that I am a bona fide guest. The tone is set at registration with a glass of Veuve and a charming generosity of spirit. Hotel Director David Smiley tells me that the residents and guests come from about 40 different countries. It is evident that they are the well-dined, well-traveled, names-in-the-news internationals, and discretion is part of their life-code.
About a century ago, Carl Fisher and William Vanderbilt made a trade: Seven acres of Fisher Island for the Eagle, Vanderbilt’s luxurious 220-foot yacht. Located just a few miles off the southern tip of Miami, it has the highest mean income in the United States. Today, Fisher Island Club continues the tradition of luxury.
The electric golf cart is the transportation of choice and one is plugged in at each front door. My guide drives through the Island, pointing out the flora, fauna, golf course, 18 lighted tennis courts of all surfaces and two marinas. The lovingly restored Vanderbilt Mansion (circa 1935), the Spa Internazionale, five indoor/outdoor restaurants and the fresh market are all well-used by residents and guests. Wherever the eye falls, there is meticulously groomed natural beauty.
I could move in and stay forever in this modern, Mediterranean motif hotel suite, and there is even enough closet space to accommodate my wardrobe. Dinner hour approaches. I climb nimbly into my golf cart. It all looked so simple in the light of day. Now, I have serious doubts. A quick phone call, and a driver is dispatched to deliver me to the Garwood Grill. It’s a handsome room, with warm lighting, a convivial buzz and the aroma of good food.
The piano player favours Sinatra, and that suits the crowd here just fine. At the bar, highballs and cocktails, that’s the long and short of it. There is a fine line between professional friendliness and fawning, and the staff has it nailed. The stone crab claw is cracked, shelled and ready to eat; the steak sizzles with the scent of mesquite and the baked potato could be a model for the phrase, “love is a big baked potato and someone to share it with.”
Back in my suite, the “pillow menu” offers a range of pillows, including Isotonic, Magnetic Therapy, Buckwheat and Goosedown. I want them all! No problem, madam.
After a wonderful night’s slumber and a cup of coffee on my terrace at sunrise, I watch the joggers get their heart rates up. At the beach club for breakfast, I hesitate to leave a footprint in the sugar-soft, Bahamian sand. Is it the idyllic setting or is my omelet with asparagus and lobster really so delicious?
Executive Chef Stefan Caporal arrived from Paris to take over the gastronomic life of Fisher. While we lunch at the Trattoria, on thin crust California pizza and salmon Carpaccio, he explains, “I want to build the menus by working closely with the members and follow what they like.” Cheese tortellini with chicken, as well as penne Bolognese are signature dishes and will never be deleted from the menu. Delectable Italian comfort food stays.
On the terrace of the Vanderbilt Mansion, the City View restaurant is filled today with people who are friends from winters past. According to CEO Larry Brown, these people have picked Fisher Island as their lifestyle. Many have several homes, but in the winter months, this is where they live. People stay and chat and tablehop, while they lunch on salads, burgers, roasts, even barbecue ribs.
A favourite dining room is Café Porto Cervo. The room’s imposing dimensions give it a modern edge, seamlessly fused with the traditional. Everyone looks beautiful in this warm golden lighting, and the staff is trained to the tips of their polished shoes. As the waiter makes his way from the kitchen bearing a festooned and flowered tray of duck l’orange, folks stare and wonder who has ordered this gorgeous dish. Dessert? Yes, please. Mine is a chocolate gift box, filled with ice cream. It’s all very special. Yes, why waffle when you can soufflé?
A diner who notices that I am taking notes and photos reminds me nicely that this is a private club, not requiring criticism and that the members and guests like the food, menu and service the way it is. Duly noted. As it happens, I like the way it is, too.
Fisher Island Hotel & Resort, 1 Fisher Island Dr., Miami, FL, 305-535-6000, www.fisherislandclub.com
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.