Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Welcome to Miami!

For the past few months I have been living my life the way I should have been living it all along, to the very fullest! Never before have I taken advantage of so many wonderful opportunities that have come my way, jumping into them with full force and a total lack of fear. Each time I resist the temptation to contemplate each decision I make or action I take and just say 'yes', I find myself taking part in the most incredible experiences. This was no different when only a few weeks ago I saw that my friend Alex's status on Facebook was "looking up flights to Miami". I commented on the status, asking what was bringing her to Miami, and within only a matter of hours I had booked a flight to beautiful Miami, not knowing where I was staying, exactly why I was going, or if I could even take the time off of work to go...nor had I mentioned a thing to my parents!

Having been back from Miami a week now, I can tell you that those 5 days under the incredible Miami sun felt like it went by just as fast as it took to book my trip! Never before has the phrase "time flies when you're having fun" been so fitting. Not a moment went by in Miami that I wasn't having an absolute blast! Needless to say my incredible trip had a lot to do with the fantastic weather, ocean, and sand, but more significantly it was thanks to the amazing company I kept.

I cannot thank Alex enough for inviting me along on this Miami adventure with her, and embracing each moment with me! I am also incredibly grateful to Abbe and Paul, the best hosts I have ever met, who not only gave us a roof over our head (which just so happened to be in the form of the sickest condo I have ever seen!) but were also so warm and welcoming, treating me, a total stranger to them, like I was truly apart of their family. Their kindness and generosity, as well as their vibrant personalities and incredible love will not be forgotten. Thanks so much to Alex, Abbe and Paul for giving me the greatest grad trip a girl could ever ask for!


Alex, Abbe, and me (Danielle Rose)
Mmmmm Mojitos!
Ropa Vieja and Platanos Maduros
Sazon Pollo Enrollado Relleno de Pure de Platanos Maduros con Salsa de Chimichurri
Arroz Amarillo and Frijoles Negros
Tres Leches

Alex and I arrived in Fort Lauderdale and were kindly greeted by Paul, who drove us to his and Abbe's stunning condo in Aventura, Miami. After getting settled and being given the grand tour of the condo, Abbe and Paul took us out for our 'Welcome to Miami' dinner at Sazon Cuban Cuisine on Collins Ave. After daydreaming about Cuban food since booking my trip, the casual, family style Sazon was the perfect way for me to start my trip! We began our meal with the traditional Cuban drink Mojitos! I've been lucky enough to have been on several vacations down South, and with each trip I always get at least one Mojito, but never before have I had one this amazing! Seriously, any other Mojito I have had in the past should be illegal, because nothing can compare to Sazon's ultimate Mojito!

For our entree, Alex and I decided to each get a dish and to share them, so that we could have the pleasure of tasting more than one dish on the menu. We decided upon the Ropa Vieja, which is extremely tender Shredded Beef enveloped in a flavorful Tomato Sauce with Red Peppers and Green Peas. Comforting, exotic and flavourful in every bite, this is one dish I must learn to make! To accompany the Ropa Vieja, were Platanos Maduros, Fried Plantains with a hint of sweetness. Our second dish was was on Sajon's specials, Sazon Pollo Enrollado Relleno de Pure de Platanos Maduros con Salsa de Chimichurri, which is Chicken Rolled and Stuffed with Mashed Sweet Plantains with Chimichurri Sauce. This was a dish unlike anything I have ever had. The chicken was moist and flavourful due to the chimichurri sauce, and the mashed plantains not only added a slight sweetness, but also a unique smooth texture. To accompany that we got Arroz Amarillo and Frijoles Negros, Yellow Rice and Black Beans, simple yet delicious.

The restaurant has a display set up at the front desk of all of their traditional Cuban desserts, enticing patrons from the moment they walk through the door. The moment we walked into the restaurant Abbe pointed out the Tres Leches, which is a Sponge Cake with "Three Milks", one of her favourite Cuban dishes. I'll be honest, I was a little skeptical upon seeing the display and hearing about Tres Leches. It just seemed too sweet to me, and I was sure I wouldn't like it. Oh man was I ever proven wrong! Yes, Tres Leches is very sweet, but the different types of sweetness from the three milks adds a complexity to the dessert. I also loved the pool of sweetened condensed milk sauce that the cake rested on, welcoming you to drench each bite of cake in its creamy, sweet goodness!


Our lovely healthy breakfast on the balcony

Me (Danielle Rose) at an art gallery on Lincoln Rd.

Me (Danielle Rose) enjoying my massive mango margarita
Rigatoni with Tomato Sauce and Roasted Eggplant

Although Alex and I had no problem indulging ourselves come lunch and dinner each day, we made sure to start every morning with a healthy breakfast. Each morning we were greeted by a fantastic array of healthy breakfast items, an assortment of teas, and a cute note, all laid out by Abbe. Life doesn't get much sweeter than waking up to a delicious, fresh and healthy breakfast on the 29th floor balcony of a luxury condo overlooking the ocean...no big deal.

On Friday, our second day in Miami, we decided to take it easy and sunbathe by the pool all day long to work on our tans...which, of course, for a redhead meant serious burn. After a very exhausting and hard-working day laying in a lounge chair and dipping in the pool, we had certainly worked up an appetite. We decided to drive back to South Beach to Ocean Drive, a lively strip, lined with restaurants all overlooking the beach. After walking up and down the strip several times, we decided upon the most popular looking restaurant, Cafe Milano, and got a nice table on their outdoor patio, making it perfect for Miami people-watching.

While walking the strip, I couldn't help but become totally entranced by the monstrous looking drinks that everyone seemed to be sipping on. That was it. I had to have one. If I didn't indulge in one of those fish-bowl-sized margaritas, my time in Miami would simply be incomplete! Despite the fact that I had to finish the entire drink on my own (Alex was our designated driver for the evening), and the fact that I just may be the biggest lightweight I know, I did it! I sipped, slurped, and gulped my entire Mango Margarita down all by myself and I enjoyed every last bit of it!

Of course, I wouldn't have made it back to the car in one piece had I not ordered a big portion of pasta to go along with my Mango Margarita. I ordered the Rigatoni in a Tomato Sauce with Roasted Eggplant and Red Peppers. First of all, the portion size at Cafe Milano was perfect. Just enough for me to finish every last noodle without leaving me feel like I should have worn a looser dress. It was a pleasure for me to finish my pasta as it was perfectly seasoned with a little bit of spice in the tomato sauce, there was just enough of the wonderfully flavourful and tender eggplant to allow me to scoop up a piece with each and every noodle, and a nice sprinkling of fresh basil to add a burst of freshness. Yet another delicious and comforting meal!


Saturday was Alex and I's day totally dedicated to South Beach. The day we had been anticipating since booking our trip! We spent the entire afternoon parked on the beach, and despite the slightly overcast weather, we still managed to both get bright red burns. As you lounge on the beach, you are constantly approached by different club promoters handing out fliers to get you to come to their party that evening. After being approached so many times, all the parties begin to sound pretty much the same. Finally we were approached by one promotor who told us about a deal we couldn't refuse! You begin the night at the Astor Hotel, where you and the rest of the guests indulge in 2 hours of an open Grey Goose bar, this is followed by a 2 course dinner prepared by Chef Douglas Rodriguez (whom you may know from Top Chef Masters) at his restaurant D. Rodriguez Cuba, situated in the Hotel Astor. After dinner, guests are whisked away in a hummer limo and taken to Play nightclub, where there is another open bar for women. For a mere $60, it was certainly a steal!

After hours of beach bumming around, we took a walk down Lincoln Rd., a fantastic pedestrian strip in South Beach, lined with cute al fresco restaurants and tons of beautiful shops. We shopped around a bit, and then grabbed a quick bite to tide us over before our late dinner at D. Rodrigeus Cuba. We picked a cute little Mediterranean Hookah Cafe where patrons were smoking hookah out of hollowed out fruits like pineapples, mangoes, and melons. Because the real fruit hookahs were so expensive ($95!!), we ordered a basic Guava flavoured Hookah, which our waiter recommended to us. We also got a Mediterranean Salad and Goat Cheese and Mint Baraka's. The Guava Hookah was fruity and delicious, and was also a flavour that neither of us had tried before. The salad was massive, and was generously topped with large chunks of salty feta cheese, green and black olives, chopped marinated tomatoes (which tasted like bruschetta), and rounds of cucumber. It was fresh, delicious, and satisfying. The Goat Cheese and Mint Baraka's were were also quite large (there were three large pockets) and were filled with not only mint, but spinach to cut the strong taste of the mint, and the perfect amount of creamy, salty goat cheese. There were also more large chunks of tasty feta alongside the Baraka's. It was the perfect light and fresh snack to tide us over before dinner, while still leaving us satisfied and full enough to be able to enjoy the open Grey Goose bar later!

After getting all dolled up (which proved to be quite pointless as the Miami heat melted any makeup we had put on right off our faces), we headed over to the Hotel Astor. We settled in at the bar and began enjoying multiple free drinks. After chatting up the other guests, and sipping on a few Sex on the Beach's, we were brought our dinner. I had ordered the Plantain Crusted Mahi Mahi, with Fufu (if you're wondering what that is, as I was, then click here), Smoked Red Onions and Chipotle Mayo and the Cuban Malanga Tacos with Black Been Beef Picadillo, Topped with Queso Blanco and Pickled Cubanel Peppers. The Mahi Mahi was light and flaky, with the plantain crust giving a nice texture to the fish with its slight crispness. I would have liked a bit more of the chipotle mayo to add just a hint more spice. The Cuban Malanga Tacos, were a little bit of a let down for me because, in fact, there was only one teeny, tiny, lonely taco on my plate. I would have looked past the portion size if it had tasted incredible, but unfortunately, it did not. The flavours were just not there. Not enough seasoning, not enough spice. I understand that they did alter the portion sizes for the club package, but I was disappointed by the taste as well. I left daydreaming about my amazing Cuban meal at Sazon.


Me (Danielle Rose), Abbe, and Alex

After sleeping in a bit, to recover from the damage that was done the evening before, Alex and I headed out to grab some breakfast (although it was just what I needed at the time, it was certainly nothing memorable to report), and then settled back on the beach. After lounging on the beach for a few hours we grabbed some gelato and hopped back in Abbe's car to go back to the condo. Sunday was Abbe's birthday so we were all going to go out to Hollywood Beach to go for Flaribean food, which Abbe described as fresh Florida fish with Caribbean flavours.

Abbe had heard from several people that the Hollywood Beach restaurant Sugar Reef was something worth checking out. We grabbed a table on the outdoor patio, overlooking the beach, and each ordered a glass of white wine to toast to Abbe's birthday. For our appetizer we ordered the Blackened Sea Scallops, Served on Cucumbers, Filled with Spicy Mayonnaise and Topped with Mango Salsa. Oh my goodness, that has got to be one of the best fish dishes I have ever had! There were so many different complex flavours going on in this dish that complemented eachother perfectly, not to mention the wonderful different textures. The sea scallop was perfectly cooked, with fantastic flavour, the cucumber is rested on was fresh, light and crisp with the spicy red pepper mayo oozing out from the inside. To top it all off, the mango salsa added some extra heat as well as sweetness, and even more texture. So unique, fresh, and delicious! What a treat!

For my entree I ordered one of the specials of the day, the Blackened Mahi Mahi with Mango Salsa. The Mahi Mahi was nicely cooked, and flaked perfectly, with delicious flavours that left a hint of heat on your tongue. The bit of heat was cut with the refreshing sweet and spicy mango salsa. The fish rested on a bed of potato gratin and was topped with crisp and flavourful green beens.

We finished off our meal with a little slice of Florida, Key Lime Pie, which of course was fitted with a big sparkler in honor of Abbe's big day! No ladies night is complete without an incredible meal, and our meal at Sugar Reef did just the trick!


Alas, I have now arrived at Monday, our very last day in Miami, Florida. Unfortunately we had a little passport mishap...or should I say disappearing act, which needed to be taken care of, so we spent the majority of our day in the office of the Canadian Consulate. We were able to slip away for a few hours to grab lunch in downtown Miami, and head back to Lincoln Rd. for a little more shopping. We picked a restaurant with an outdoor patio for our lunch, where I ordered a Club House Sandwich on the restaurants house-made focaccia bread. The club was very tasty, stuffed with moist chicken, creamy avocado, spicy mayo, maple bacon, and fresh spring greens, and the focaccia bread was out of this world! I only wonder why it didn't come with a salad or fries.

After we resolved the passport issue, we had a nice final dinner at Abbe and Paul's condo, where we cleaned out her fridge of all the tasty treats, snacks, and leftovers Abbe had bought for us. It probably would have been the sensible thing to do to hit the sheets a little early to prepare for our 6 AM wake-up the next morning for the airport, but that's just not how we roll. Off we went again, down to Ocean Drive one last time for another massive margarita. We once again picked the most lively restaurant, which on this evening was Primetime (which so happens to be right next to Cafe Milano). Me and Alex shared a giant Strawberry Margarita, which just like the mango one, was spectacular! Because we were feeling that tequila a little too much for our liking, we ordered some Warm and Creamy Spinach and Artichoke Dip with House-Made Tortilla Chips. The perfect snack to sober up from a fish-bowl sized margarita! After swapping stories about all of our favourite memories from throughout our trip, we headed back to our cozy king-sized bed for our final sleep before flying back to Toronto.

Listening to:
Kid Cudi - Up Up & Away

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Amy said...

I really enjoyed reading about your trip!! I lived in South Florida for ten years and have been dreaming about my favorite Cuban food since the day I left. I guess if I don't get to eat it, the next best thing is seeing your great photos. I think I better go book MY trip, right now.

shelly said...

the food in Miami is insane :) i love it down there! thanks for stopping by by little spot. xoxo

Amanda* said...

You go girl!

Lazaro Cooks! said...

Glad you had a wonderful time in my city. Come back and see us again.


Sara Szatmary said...

Oh man! That trip sounds wonderful! I could use some Miami sunshine myself...

knk said...

wow thats great looks you had a great week

thats nice lovely pictures

Vinda Sonata said...

what a fun story and fab journey! miami is such a magical place. and those food shots sure look sooo yummy. the rigatoni <3 (and all of those mexican meals too!)

Kendra said...

Sounds like a fun trip!

Kristen said...

It looks like you had sooo much fun! Miami sounds and looks sooo nice!

Diana Mieczan said...

I loved reading this post! You have such a lovely style :)
I adore the photos and the food...yum :)
Thanks so much for your comment on my blog! So lovely of you! Hope to see you soon and I will be back for sure!
Kisses and have fun this weekend :)