So we went to Miami to celebrate our 30th anniversary. We rented a cool apartment located on the beach in North Miami Beach in an extant 1930 art deco building. Art deco is big in South Beach. In fact, the entire Miami Beach Historic District is devoted to it. Our little building was far removed from that district, but was a proud monument to that era nonetheless, although a little toned down from some of the famous buildings found in the district.
There was a great Cuban restaurant, Saźon Cuban Cuisine, located directly behind the apartment building. We tried it on our first night there and loved it. Better yet, Café Saźon was a tiny enclave tucked right behind the restaurant. Café Saźon offers Cuban breakfast starting at 7am. It is quite the gathering spot as well for the locals. I think the locals had a laugh at my expense when I asked if they could fill my 32 oz. coffee mug with Café Cubano! Little did I know how potent this kind of coffee is. She said it would take 5 to fill my mug so I asked for 2. One Café Cubano uses the same amount of grounds as a large cafe americano, so with 2 Café Cubanos in my mug I was really buzzing! I had a spinach empanada to round out the experience.
On our second day we joined Miami Culinary tours for a food crawl through Little Havana. Our host was lively and engaging and of course had a well-trodden beat along Calle Ocho Walk of Fame in Little Havana (otherwise known as SW 8th St.). Here’s the itinerary from the website:
Taste authentic Cuban cuisine and listen to the stories behind those doing the cooking.
Learn about spiritual beliefs the community practices including Santeria.
Visit a cigar factory, explore Domino Park and The Cuba Ocho Art Museum.
TASTING & LOCATIONS
SAVOR ONE OF THE BEST BITES IN TOWN
Enjoy a picadillo-stuffed empanada at one of the oldest restaurants in the area. Filled with rustic charm and graced by a large illustration of Cuba across the walls, this establishment forms part of the daily routine of most Little Havana locals.
El Pub Restaurant
ENJOY CUBA’S FAMOUS DRINK
This place isn’t La Bodeguita in Cuba, Hemingway’s favorite watering hole, but the drink at this local Taverna is as close as you can get without a passport. *We also serve virgin drinks
Ball and Chain
Located next to the historic Tower Theatre, this restaurant is painted with music memorabilia from Cuba’s glorious past. Become acquainted with an authentic Cubano for a true, old Havana experience.
Old Havana Restaurant
“MUST HAVE IN LITTLE HAVANA” – by The Travel Channel
This dark, potent liquid is Miami’s everyday fuel. Similar to an espresso, this ultra-sweet and revitalizing shot of energy is a Cuban staple found at a local famous ventanita.
At La Ventanita
Baked daily at Yisil Bakery, this guava ( guayaba ) pastelito filling is smooth, light, not too sweet, and incredibly flavorful.
THE ISLAND STAPLE
Indulge with a glass of refreshing guarapo and enjoy a brief education of the various exotic tropical fruits found in South Florida.
Los Pinarenos Fruteria
Made with abuelita’s secret recipes and combined with a modern, latin flair, the mantecado ice cream will cool you down from Miami’s “sunny disposition.”
Azucar Ice cream
We had a great 2 1/2 hour crawl and were thoroughly spiced by the end. Actually, it was spicy, sweet and savory-a perfect blend! From the mojito at the historic Ball and Chain, where Billie Holiday, Count Basie, and Chet Baker all appeared in the 1950’s, to the sugar cane drink, guarapo, at Los Pinarenos Fruteria, to the old-timers playing dominoes in Domino Park, it felt like we were truly sampling a cross section of everything that Little Havana has to offer. One of the last things on the tour was a stop in a small cigar factory, where we watched the craftspeople roll traditional cigars.
I wish I would have taken more pictures to document our experiences, but I was too busy savoring every morsel and drink to break out the phone.
For our big anniversary dinner we got all gussied up to dine at La Mar by Gastón Acurio on the water overlooking downtown Miami, at the lovely Mandarin Oriental Hotel. From the website:
“Featuring the acclaimed cuisine of chef Gastón Acurio, La Mar by Gastón Acurio offers diners the chance to explore the authentic and diverse flavours of Peruvian gastronomy.
With an atmospheric setting overlooking Biscayne Bay and the Miami skyline, the restaurant’s contemporary design provides the perfect backdrop for La Mar’s signature ceviches, freshly grilled anticuchos and speciality cocktails.
Offering a mix of indoor and outdoor seating with three lively bars providing distinctive culinary experiences the menu ranges from upscale novo-Andean fare to Asian-Peruvian fusion and traditional seafood ceviche.”
The meal was divine. Afterwards we followed the sound of live music up to a gorgeous bar where we had more cocktails and listened to a trio perform a lively selection of popular songs, including a fantastic cover of one of my favorite songs by Radiohead, Creep. Definitely an evening to remember!
On our way into Miami we visited The Fairchild Tropical Botanical Gardens, in the tony enclave of Coral Gables. The highlight of the Fairchild Gardens was definitely the butterfly house, the Wings of the Tropics. There was a card you could carry around to help identify the butterflies you were seeing, but it was still a challenge. Here is a sampling:
There is also an amazing orchid garden. I am a lover of orchids of all varieties, so I was in paradise!
To round out our Miami experience we had to visit the Wynwood neighborhood, a large area of mostly warehouses graced by a stunning number of murals by artists well-known and not so well-known. Here are some I managed to photograph:
You can literally drive around for hours in Wynwood and something new will be revealed around every corner. The quality of the art never ceased to amaze me. As our guide in Little Havana mentioned, though, the area is changing fast. Old buildings are being knocked down and banal new buildings, sans art, are going up in their place. One real surprise treat was a couple of acro-yogabats posing for photographs with one of the murals as a backdrop:
The Fruit and Spice Park is amazing. Any fruit found on the ground under a tree can be eaten, for an entry fee of $8.
This delicious fruit is called Mamey Sapote, and is native to Cuba. We found it pretty quickly and as best I can describe it it tasted like vanilla custard. Early April is still a little off-season so there wasn’t a lot of fruit to be found, although there were plenty of flowers and tiny fruit on the trees. From the website:
The Park’s tropical climate can be found nowhere else in the continental U.S. and hosts over 500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, spices, herbs, and nuts, and other commercially important plant specimens from around the world.
It was truly a 40-acre educational wonderland. I wish the signage was a little better, as some trees and plants weren’t identified. Among a few specimens of each type of plant there was also an amazingly huge mango orchard with tons of varieties as well as an avocado orchard.
The jack fruit was as big as Levar’s head, and the bananas were getting close:
The Everglades are a subject for a whole other blog entry, but I will close with a video of an alligator swimming through a naturally occurring pond along the Ahinga Trail at the Royal Palms Visitor Center: