Foodies Rejoice in Florida

Written by  Rita Cook

USA
You know your clients want to go to Florida for the sun, lots of beach time, and outdoor activities. Travelers should also be aware that the sunshine state has just ramped it up with an outstanding selection of foodie activities. Even better, you can eat and drink at these restaurants while also hanging out in some of the best Florida addresses.

In Miami Beach, go for conscious cocktails and farm-fresh fare at the Essensia Restaurant in the Palms Hotel and Spa (www.thepalmshotel.com). At Essensia Restaurant and Lounge, signature Chef Julie Frans sources organic produce from local South Florida farms, as well as from her own on-site organic chef’s garden. Her creations are an inspired Miami menu with unexpected Caribbean and Latin American influences. If you want a drink with the meal, Essensia’s cocktail menu features better-for-you “conscious cocktails” - each made with fresh herbs or seasonal fruit from Frans’ garden, plus organic or craft spirits. For example, the “Hot & Bothered” margarita puts a fresh Miami kick on this classic libation. Hand-crafted with Cimarrón tequila, Solerno Blood Orange liqueur, and fresh guava and lime juices, the cocktail offers a hint of Sriracha instead of chiles for some spice.

Bistro Bagatelle in Miami Beach is modern French with executive chef Matthieu Godard running the show. The signature dishes range from Tartare de Thon Bagatelle (Yellowfin Tuna Tartar, Avocado Salad, Lime Soy Dressing) to Gnocchi Truffes a la Parisienne (homemade Parisian gnocchi, black truffle sauce, aged parmesan cheese) or the Gambas au Pastis (jumbo prawn, flambéed with Ricard anise, green vegetable risotto). The whole truffled roasted chicken comes with country style potatoes, caramelized cipolini, button mushrooms, thyme chicken jus and it is perfect for two. Godard has done time at the three Michelin starred restaurant, Daniel so he knows his way around the kitchen. Of course, the Miami Beach outpost of Bagatelle is only the latest addition to the already successful options in New York, Los Angeles, Sao Paulo, St. Barths and St. Tropez. Expect the recognizable design of beige and white furnishings accented with decorative moldings at this location too. Top that with numerous crystal chandeliers, fresh flowers and eye catching pop art. For drinks, the stone top bar offers the finest selection of wines and Champagne, perfect to fit the outdoor and indoor dining and modern French cuisine.

Also in Miami, consider the low key Café at Books, and Books at the Arsht Center. The kitchen is helmed by Allen Susser and you might even forget it’s a bookstore while you dine on the delicious fare. Even so, the food is fresh and the location is Miami proper, offering a casual outdoor dining experience for those who are lovers of the arts.
In Fort Lauderdale, the cocktails and sushi at the newly renovated W Fort Lauderdale (www.wfortlauderdalehotel.com) boasts not only a $55 million renovation, but now a refresh of its sips and bites menus too. On the WET Deck, the property’s rooftop pool and bar, there is a selection of colorful beverages, including the property’s new Hyppo-Pop cocktails. This new cocktail experience allows guests to enhance the flavor of the drink with the twist of a frozen, gourmet ice pop, creating a whole-new flavor combination once mixed. After a day of lounging up on the WET Deck, it’s time to either be whisked away by Sushi Bar, the new dining option with a menu concept by the renowned Sushi Chef Shuji Hiyakawa, a protégé of Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto, or indulge in a decadent meal at the award-winning Steak 954, curated by Stephen Starr, a recent winner of the James Beard Awards. For an after dinner aperitif check out the Living Room’s cocktail menu where you will also be able to enjoy some entertainment while you sip.

Naples is known for an upscale way of living so high-end dining should be no surprise. At Sea Salt the dining experience still takes it up a notch. Chef/Owner Fabrizio Aielli is a native of Venice and he brought that idea to his little niche in this town. Aielli showcases fresh seafood and some excellent contemporary specialties alongside a delicious wine menu as well as a selection of craft cocktails. The oysters on the oversized dinner menu hail from British Columbia, Prince Edward Island, Maine and even Virginia. The “Fire and Ice” Platter is really worth a try with the Sommelier’s choice of oysters on the half shell and crispy calamari, rock shrimp, baked oyster Rockefeller and crab puffs to add to the flavor.
Another Naples must is 1500 South in the Naples Beach Resort (www.naplesbeachhotel.com). The food is sheer artwork under the culinary influence of celebrity chef Art Smith, a two-times James Beard recipient. Indeed, 1500 South is all Floridian since the chef hails from the state and is proud of his heritage. It is southern American food with Italian accents and that means many surprises. The cocktail menu is also a shout out to creativity with a variety of popular options made 1500 South style. The Hot and Skinny Margarita with Maestro Dobel tequila or the Bourbon Peach Cobbler featuring Corner Creek Reserve and Carpono Antica with peach and brown sugar are a unique mix with plenty of flavor.

In Jupiter Beach the Hook to Table at Jupiter Beach Resort & Spa (www.jupiterbeachresort.com) is not only in close proximity to the Gulf Stream, but the destination has some of the best fishing in all of South Florida. That means local fishing charters and marinas are just minutes from the resort so the meals are tasty and fresh. Hook to Table also allows people to bring their catch of the day back to the hotel where the chef prepares it with a variety of options from grilled to broiled, blackened or made into taco platters or ceviche appetizers.

In Clearwater at the Opal Sands Resort (www.opalsands.com), the Sea-Guini merges Italian cuisine and fresh-caught seafood for a coastal-inspired vibe and Gulf of Mexico views. The restaurant is dedicated to sourcing the freshest ingredients through its sea-to-table and farm-to-table approach and calls on the best of the area’s local farmers and fishermen. The large brick pizza oven and a homemade pasta making station has the chefs showing off their skills as they create the staple components of the restaurant’s many menu items.

At the Sandpearl Resort (www.sandpearl.com) in Clearwater Beach, the AAA Four-Diamond Caretta on the Gulf is perched above the beach with indoor and outdoor seating. There is a ceviche and sushi bar, a private wine and dining room, and a lounge and bar. The cuisine is Floridian coastal inspired and the sunsets come free while dining. The menu changes seasonally, keeping the chefs on their toes offering inventive flavor combinations that often include grouper and snapper choices.

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