Miami Trip Recap

26 Sep

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Here’s my recap on where we stayed, what we did, saw, and ate during our trip to South Beach two weeks ago. We were invited to a wedding there and decided to make a 7 day vacation out of it. We went out of our way to find some really great vegan and vegetarian friendly spots that aren’t necessarily marketed as so, which were all fantastic and worth checking out! A warning in advance, this is a very text and photo heavy post, so be warned.

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Where We Stayed: The Betsey
We had a really tough time when planning the trip deciding on where to stay. When we finally had it narrowed down, it was going to be one of two Jetsetter deals we were going to take advantage of. The Betsey Hotel and the Modrian. The Modrian was a much larger hotel, located on Biscayne Bay that was across the street from a Whole Foods, which appealed to me. We ultimately decided to go with the Betsey because it was located right on Ocean Drive (the main strip in South Beach), looking over the beach. The location alone we figured made it worthwhile for our first visit to Miami.

Upon checking in we were informed that the hotel upgraded us from a pool view suite, to an ocean view suite. We were stoked! Our room was gigantic. It had a king size bed, living room, giant walk in closet and a massive bathroom with the largest shower I’ve ever seen. And the bathroom mirror even had an invisible TV built into it, which was pretty cool. All in all the hotel was beautiful and the perfect place to call home for our trip.

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I also loved how almost all the art in the hotel were original works by various artists. There was a lot of great photography on display, including a kick-ass print of Kurt Cobain over our bed (odd placement, but a great piece nonetheless). The hotel also had lots of zebra and striped accents which of course appealed to my style sensibility.

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The hotel had a really nice, private, enclosed pool area that we frequented a few afternoons. It was nice and quiet and they had plenty of towels and fruit infused water on hand for the guests lounging by it. They also had a rooftop deck with an amazing view of Ocean Drive, the park, and South Beach in general.

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Ocean Drive
Our hotel was located at the very north end of Ocean Drive, which is the main strip in South Beach right in the heart of the Art Deco district. Jim and I are huge art deco fans, so we were excited to get out and explore a bit.

Ocean Drive is filled with old art deco hotels, cafés and night clubs. It’s really hopping at night. Here’s a few of our favorite photos we shot while out and about exploring Ocean Drive during the duration of our trip.

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The Beach
As part of our resort fee, we received two guaranteed beach chairs a day at the beach, which was located directly across the street from the hotel. You’d walk up to the cabana check in area and give them your name and your room number, and they’d escort you to a set of two beach chairs complete with towels, cushions, and a beach umbrella. They also had a small concession stand on site where you could get cold drinks, sandwiches and snacks.

The beach actually surpassed my expectations. My favorite place to vacation is in Negril, Jamaica specifically for their beach. Negril’s beaches are pretty quiet with the exception of folks soliciting you to parasail and do various activities. I expected Miami’s beach to be a crazy party scene, and was surprised to see that during the week they were as quiet and peaceful as what I was used to. They were super clean, and the water crystal clear. It was amazingly relaxing.

We actually lucked out because we made the first few weekdays of the trip our “beach days”. Over the weekend, when the weekend crowds rolled in and the beach turned into more of a giant party, the jellyfish also rolled in. So I’m glad we got our beach fix prior to all the craziness as well as when we could safely go in the water.

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The Deco Bikes, South Pointe Park, the Modrian and Lincoln Road
By far, our favorite day during our trip was when we used the Deco Bikes to explore South Beach.

The Deco Bikes are a bike share system with stations located throughout Miami Beach. Using a credit card, you check out bikes at any station for a specified amount of time. Since stations are located all over the place, you can pretty much have any destination in mind and there’ll be a bike station located with a block or two of it. You don’t chain up the bikes, you instead return it to any station, visit your destination, and then when ready to continue on your journey check out another bike at whatever the closest station is. So conceivably, you can bike to another station, walk on foot for a mile and then check a bike out at another station to ride back to your original location. It was an awesome way to explore the city, without needing the hassle of renting a car.

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During our self guided Deco Bike tour, we rode our bikes all the way south down Ocean Drive to South Pointe Park, explored the park for a bit and then headed back uptown on the Biscayne Bay side to check out the Modrian. We wanted to see what we were missing out on by not choosing that hotel.

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The Modrian is a huge hotel. Style wise, it’s totally up Jim and my alleys. We, just like Rachael Zoe love our interior to be white lacquer and full of mirrors, and the Modrian delivers on this design aesthetic.

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We had a lot of fun exploring the hotel’s lobby and pool area, and then continued on our way back uptown a bit to check out Lincoln Road. Lincoln Road is Miami Beach’s pedestrian shopping mall (i.e. tourist strip). There are lots of restaurants and cafe’s with sidewalk seating, and lots and lots of shopping. We explored a few shops and then stopped in for lunch at the Cafe at Books and Books, which was delicious and one of our favorite meals of the trip (see below in the Eats section for a full review and photos).

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After lunch we checked out the actual Books and Books bookstore, which was probably one of the coolest designed book store I had ever been in. I loved how they displayed all their books on the thick, dark bookshelves and how the store was laid out in a little maze of small, well curated rooms. They had a great selection of art and design books.

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By the time we were done at Lincoln Road, we were beat and still had to get ready to go out for dinner with the bride and groom, who had just gotten into town that day so we found the nearest Lincoln Road Deco Bike station, signed out our bikes and rode back down to the station by our hotel. If you’re ever planning a trip to Miami Beach, I highly recommend forgoing the rental car and using the Deco Bike system, it was the highlight of our trip!

Where We Ate
I’m used to going to all-inclusives, so this trip for us was one of the first vacations we’ve been on where we could eat wherever we wanted. Using Yelp, as well as the Miami Restaurant Guide magazine in our hotel we located a slew of vegan and vegetarian friendly restaurants to check out. Being the food snobs we are, Miami definitely did not disappoint!

Juice and Java
Our first day in Miami our plane got in around 11 am, so by the time we got to the restaurant and settled in we were jonesin for a good, quick, healthy bite. I found Juice and Java on Yelp and it was only two blocks away, so we went to check it out.

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Juice and Java is your typical health food joint. They had a huge menu, and it was super vegan friendly. Jim and I shared a freshly squeezed carrot juice, and Jim got a steamed vegetable plate and I had their baked falafel couscous meal. Yum! It was so good I inhaled it, which for me is always an issue because any time I eat to fast I get a really horrendous stomach ache. So needless to say it ruined the rest of my day, but was worth it because it was delicious!

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We also stopped by Juice and Java a few mornings after our workouts for smoothies, which was great because it allowed us to keep up with our usual morning routines. On a totally unrelated to Juice and Java note, one morning during our walk back from getting our smoothies we passed not only the apartments the cast from Jersey Shore stayed at in Miami, but also the gelato shop they worked at. Jim snapped this quick pic of me outside it, immediately posted it to Facebook and titled it “GTL- Gelato, Tan, Laundry”.

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La Marea
After the beach on our second day, we were starving so we took off down Ocean Drive to look for someplace to have a cocktail and some lunch. Ocean Drive is full of tons of places to eat, many of which running super cheap lunch specials. While somewhat appealing, they all had crazy club music going outside by their patio seating. Jim and I are not really into that, so we looked for a chill place with quieter music, and an easily adaptable menu. We settled on La Marea, which is the restaurant at the Tides Hotel.

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The Tides is currently rated as the number one hotel on Trip Advisor and I can understand why. It’s in a perfect location, and it’s a gorgeous hotel. The interiors from what I understand were designed by Kelly Wearstler. The most we got to check out was their lobby, which I loved all the finishes. The interior design was really textural, with lots of lush fabrics, metals and natural stones.

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Our meal at La Marea was great. We ordered the nacho tower with the cheese on the side for Jim to start. For our meals Jim had a veggie burger and I had their falafel sandwich (order it sans the yogurt sauce to make it vegan). To round out our meal we had two of the best margarita’s I’ve ever had. They were expensive, but they were strong. I actually got a little too tipsy and while getting ready to go out for dinner later on that evening, I split my head open on the shower temperature control. Long story not getting into, but there was a lot of blood and it ruined our evening since we didn’t know if I should get stitches or had a concussion. Yikes. I’m totally fine now and my head is healing fine, and I wouldn’t take back that margarita for anything it was totally worth it.

BLT Steak
I know what your thinking. What would a vegetarian and a vegan want going into a place called BLT Steak? BLT Steak was located in our hotel and they by the end of the trip wound up being our favorite place to go for breakfast. They were very accommodating by allowing me to modify their vegetable omelet to an omelet with no egg (i.e. sauteed vegetables), and they had these little roasted tomatoes with pesto breadcrumbs that were to die for! I actually want to try to figure out a similar recipe so we can have them at home, they were that good.

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They also had soy milk so it was a great spot to get some coffee and people watch on Ocean Drive. We enjoyed our breakfasts here so much we returned three times during our trip.

The Restaurant at the Setai
Any time we go on vacation, we like to go out one evening to a super fancy, romantic restaurant being vacations are the perfect opportunity to justify spending that much money on a meal. I found the Restaurant at the Setai by accident, checking the Miami Restaurant Guide magazine in our hotel room while looking for vegetarian and vegan options. They were actually listed in the vegan section, which confused me considering when you go to Yelp for the restaurant they’re are very few mentions of them having vegan options. Come to find out, they have an entirely separate, vegetarian menu from the main menu. In addition to being in town for a friends wedding, we were also celebrating our own upcoming wedding anniversary and based on the Yelp reviews saying how romantic this place was we knew it was the place to go to celebrate our now three years married.

Jim and I got all dressed up and caught a cab up to the Setai. The Setai was a gorgeous, gorgeous hotel. The best way I could describe the lobby and hotel bar is asian zen chic. Lots of orchids, natural woods and dim lighting. It was very romantic.

The restaurant was located right off the lobby entrance, and we were escorted to our table in the back corner of the restaurant. It was very romantic and private. Since all the lighting was basically candlelight, I didn’t really have the opportunity to get the best pictures and what I got hardly do the restaurant or hotel any justice. So you’ll have to just go by my word to know it was the best meal we had our entire time in Miami, and we received the most amazing service while there.

As with most high-end restaurants the Restaurant at the Setai’s chef’s sent us over an amuse bouche to start off our meal with. What they sent over was a beef short rib, which Jim and I politely declined, letting the food running know we were vegan and although we appreciated the gesture, we couldn’t eat it. Not even 5 minutes later, the executive chef personally came to our table, delivering to us a vegan butternut squash amuse bouche that was to die for.

I honestly don’t remember what Jim ordered, but I had their Tom Kha Gai soup as my first course, their mock duck dim sum as my second and tofu curry as my third. OMG is all I can say! The soup was seriously the most delicious soup I’ve ever had. It was coconut milk infused with lemongrass, and a ton of fresh vegetables. The dim sum was fresh and light, and the dipping sauce complimented the dim sum perfectly. By the time my curry came along, I was so stuffed I could only fit a few bites, but it was delicious as well and I wish I had a fridge in my hotel because I would have taken it back and eaten it all week.

I wish I had gotten better shots while at the Setai, but everything came out pretty grainy since I only had my point and shoot and iPhone and the only real lighting was by candle light.  Here’s a few shots I was able to salvage.

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Other highlights included them bringing us some freshly made Naan with curry dipping sauce, as well as surprising us with a sorbet platter that said “Happy Anniversary” on it. The coconut sorbet was my favorite.

If you’re visiting Miami and are looking for a higher end place to check out for a romantic dinner, check out the Restaurant at the Setai, you won’t be disappointed!

The Cafe at Books and Books
The Cafe at Books and Books was another Miami Restaurant Guide Magazine find. They’re located on Lincoln Road, and have sidewalk seating making it perfect for people watching. We stopped in for lunch here during our Deco Bike day.

The Cafe at Books and Books has a vegan section to their menu! I was beyond excited. They were having a prefix lunch special that day which included a soup or salad, entree and dessert so we decided to go with that. I decided on the tomato gazpacho, tofu mushroom stir-fry and fresh fruit with mint dressing for dessert. To drink we both had unsweetened raspberry ice teas.

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I’m not a big fan of cold soup, but after our long bike ride that day their gazpacho was insanely refreshing. The tofu stir fry was huge, and amazing! I had to use every ounce of effort not to inhale the whole thing. I didn’t want to get another stomach ache like I did our first day at Juice and Java. The stir fry had a sweet, teriyaki type sauce on it, and it was served over a bed of couscous. The fresh fruit with mint-dressing was also very refreshing. I find fruit salads can be like playing russian roulette sometime, they’re hit or miss. This was the freshest fruit salad I’ve had in some time, and the sauce was a great compliment to it.

One word of warning, the portions here are huge. They’re definitely sharable. Also, be sure to check out the book store while here, it’s definitely worthwhile!

Sushi Samba Dromo

Going to Sushi Samba Dromo was a blast from the past for Jim and I. Jim a long time ago used to work at one of the Sushi Samba’s in NYC, so one night while walking along Lincoln Road we decided to check out the Miami location and have some of our old favorites. They had sidewalk seating so we decided to have a few cocktails, a small bite and people watch. If you’ve never been to Sushi Samba, they have a really interesting menu. Their cuisine is Japanese fusion with a South American twist.

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My favorite cocktail in the whole wide world is Sushi Samba’s Nina Fresca. I love them so much, we had them as our signature cocktail at our wedding. They have freshly muddled strawberries along with strawberry infused vodka and a few other ingredients. Delish, but you have to be careful they go down really easy and work quickly. Jim’s a big time sake fan so he had one of his favorites while there.

Sushi Samba actually has several really solid options for vegans. For my appetizer, I had the green bean tempura minus the aioli dipping sauce. As a second course I had their eggplant, mustard and miso antichuchos which was skewered and marinated eggplant, grilled to perfection served with a side of peruvian corn (also marinated in miso and usually butter, though they subbed the butter for oil for me and it was still amazing). For my entrée I had their O Fenômeno Samba roll, which was pickled napa cabbage, baby carrot, asparagus, satsumaimo, tempura flake. The cabbage was an unlikely surprise in a vegetable based sushi roll, and it was delicious! I love getting to try more creative vegetarian sushi and Sushi Samba definitely didn’t disappoint.

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G&T Miami Wedding
Our close friends, who I’ll refer to as G&T being that’s the way we always refer to them as were the main reason we were in Miami. They love Miami and decided to tie the knot there. I had never been to Miami, so Jim and I were super stoked to plan a vacation around their big day.

G&T do everything VIP style, and love to have fun (in fact, they had “always fun” engraved into their wedding bands). And their wedding was a blast and totally non-traditional. Instead of a typical rehearsal dinner, the grooms parents instead hosted a welcome dinner for all the wedding guests at the Big Pink, a Miami mainstay. The entire restaurant was reserved for the wedding, so even when Master P and Lil Romeo stopped by for a quick bite they were denied entry and had to eat on the patio, which made the brides day. It was hilarious.

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As a surprise for the guests, G&T arranged for dessert to have a Mr. Softee truck some to serve all the guests ice cream. Isn’t that the cutest idea ever?

Their wedding reception the following day was held at a local hotel, and they lucked out with the most amazing weather ever. It was important to them to have all their friends involved in the wedding, so instead of having typical wedding vendors they instead enlisted the help of their friends. In a previous life, I was a high-end invitation designer so as my gift to them, I created their invitations, save the dates and wedding logo for them. Throughout the wedding they included the logo in all sorts of little details, like these sunglass favor pouches.

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They also had other friends create their wedding rings, officiate the wedding, and more. They’re ceremony was one of the sweetest I’ve ever been too. It was personalized and perfect for them, and I was so happy to see them married! One of my favorite things they did right after tying the knot was change into customized bride and groom, neon Nikes.

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Immediately following the wedding they had a cocktail hour which included a live band and dance floor, and then the wedding continued at Nikki Beach Club. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to say I’ve attended a wedding at a night club after this wedding, and it was perfect!

When entering the reception, all guests were stopped to get their photo taken in front of the G&T step and repeat (i.e. red carpet background), which they used to get photos of all their guests entering their reception. Everyone at the reception got to hang out and relax, there was no assigned seating or pre-determined dance floor. No mandatory macarena. It was awesome! We had the best time. They even had surprise entertainment, like these fire dancers.

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After the reception, the party continued on Ocean Drive where a group of around 40 people went club hopping with G&T. We went out for a bit but had to call it a night shortly after being our flight was the following afternoon. Their wedding was the best way to end our visit to Miami, and we intend on visiting again sometime soon.

Have you ever been to Miami? What should I check out next time I go? Do tell.

2 Responses to “Miami Trip Recap”

  1. simplemanhattan2010 September 26, 2011 at 8:05 pm #

    So glad that you guys had a fabulous time! I’m definitely going to have to try the restaurant at the Setai the next time I’m down there. I LOVED the drinks there!

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. 2011 Year in Review « Brooklyn Bliss - December 31, 2011

    […] destinations I got to check out included Las Vegas, Denver, Annapolis Maryland, Philadelphia, and Miami. One of my goals for 2012 is to visit and explore more cities in the US that Jim and I both have […]

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