Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A Weekend in Miami for March Madness!

We flew to Miami for March Madness this past weekend. My first time in Miami, first time at a NCAA game....and a very welcome break from Winter! Loved the fans, the trash talking, and the jams. I'd go again in a heartbeat! The highlight: Cleveland's hick band, inadequate cheerleaders and unknown team upsetting Wake Forest. The crowd started with laughs and jeers, but quickly started rooting for the underdog. Too bad Cinderella went home in the 2nd round, losing to Arizona. And can't beat our row 9 seats....right under the basket! If you were watching the Miami games in HD, you probably saw us!

No trip is ever complete without some good food and drinks, so here are some of the highs and lows of places we tried.

Talula: Highly recommended on Chowhound and other forums, we made this our first foodie stop in Miami. Was a bit surprised to show up at 9pm and the place was dead....isn't Miami supposed to be a late night place? We had risotto with lamb, ceviche, seared diver scallops, cork braised octopus, and snapper. Was tasty, but for being the "best of Miami," we were disappointed.

Lario's (SOBE Bongos): We got our Saturday start with lunch at one of the many restaurants lined on Ocean Drive, determined to do some people watching and eat Cuban food. I was sold by the "best mohitos on south beach" sign, and they delivered! Tony had the "winning" dish of Cuban pot roast. I also loved the sweet plantains that came with our meals. Delicious!

Joe's Stone Crab deserves all the hype and more! After skirting the rain by stopping in stores along Collins, we made our way to Joe's for an early dinner hoping to avoid the crowd and a 2-3 hr standard wait. but lucky us, we walked right into the dining room! Stone Crabs claws are $$, but everything else on the menu was unbelievably affordable (1/2 chicken for 5.95!). The succulent and sweet stone crab claws come cracked, you just pop off the shells and eat it like a lollipop! We also had perfectly chilled Florida lobster stuffed with crabmeat salad, seafood bisque and clam chowder, lobster mac & cheese (as good as it sounds!), homestyle hashed brown (crispy outside, mashed in the middle), delicious east coast oysters, and keylime pie for dessert. Yes, our calorie count shot through the roof, but it was worth every bit. We were wholly satisfied with this foodie experience, and surprised that it cost little more than our average Ocean Drive Cuban lunch. We loved it so much, we made our way back to the take-out side for a last meal before departing - more stone crab and bisque, and a grouper sandwich and crab cake to go. No Quizno's on the plane for me!

Wish: Never will I take a restaurant reco from Trip Advisor again! The food wasn't...terrible...but expensive and unspectacular. The waiter talked up the poached seafood appetizer - it was little more than boiled calamari and shrimp in a glass jar. yawn. My branzino (white fish) was also decent, but nothing I was licking my lips about...especially after waiting an hour to eat. Overrated and not worth the $$.

The Epic, a Kimpton hotel, is SPECTACULAR. I have never had such amazing service - including a welcome bottle of champagne (maybe for my birthday?), a computer in the room for easy travel research, and free wine reception daily from 5pm to 7pm. We had a windy experience, but the ocean side heated pools were luxurious with towel and sunscreen service. This new hotel is wonderful, although a little far from the action being in downtown Miami (but convenient for the games). To stay in the same type of hotel on the SOBE side would have cost us more than twice as much. We decided to try room service from Area 31 on Monday for lunch. Although the in-room dining options seemed unexciting, the restaurant offered up a slew of other seafood for lunch NOT on the in-room dining menu. We had a satisfying meal - mahi mahi, snapper, and fresh squeezed orange juice. We were excited by our good find on our last day, restoring our faith in food reviews online. If i were a regular business traveler to Miami (i wish!), I would make Epic my hotel of choice.