South Florida two ways: Miami Beach and Sunny Isles Beach; great food/hotels

MIAMI BEACH – I have a new favourite hotel.

I spent Wednesday night at the Soho Beach House in Miami Beach. Even with lousy, Hurricane Sandy-influenced weather I absolutely loved the place.Cecconis.JPG

Soho House began as a private club in London in 1995 and now includes restaurants, hotels, cinemas and more in cities across Europe and North America. The latest is in Toronto, adjacent to the new Shangri-La hotel.

Soho Beach House is located on Collins, just north of 43rd, in the heart of Miami Beach and on the site of the Sovereign Hotel. And it’s a stunner; without doubt the coolest, hippest place I’ve seen in my travels.

Although it’s a private club, the hotel can be booked by the general public. The main restaurant, Cecconi’s, also is open to the public and is worth checking out just so you can get a sense of the property.

Soho Beach House has 50 bedrooms for rent with a private beach area, a tiki bar in a lush garden and two pools. One pool, on the ground floor, is a long, linear affair with bright blue and white cushions and is backed by thick gardens and towering palm trees; very Miami cool. The upstairs affair is a small plunge pool on the 8th floor and is for adults only. It offers fine views of the sunset and also a very cool, outdoor tequila bar (closed due to the weather when I was there) called Ocho, which features funky Mexican artifacts on the wall and a long row of faded red, yellow, blue and green chairs at a wooden bar with views out to the beach and the Atlantic Ocean.

Cecconi’s dining area is in a covered (when needed) outdoor garden with beautiful lights at night and features fine Italian food. They also have a good deal at lunch; with a starter, main course and dessert for $23. I had a cool salad with kale, radish, ricotta and mango, a fabulous spaghetti pomodoro with deep red tomatoes and fresh basil and key lime pie, which I quibble with a bit as it had pistachios in the crust and there was no warning for folks with nut allergies. I’d never heard of a key lime pie with pistachios so didn’t think to ask about the nuts, but I also think in this day and age nuts should ALWAYS be pointed out on a menu. But it was an excellent lunch.

Dinner was even better. I went to the 2nd floor club bar and had stone crabs and a fine plate of Caribbean-roasted chicken. I also sampled the Jamaican-spiced shrimp. But the best part was a drink Soho-Beach-House-Hotel-Miami-Beach-Usa-1called Picante de la Casa with tequila, lime, cilantro and agave, topped with a bulbous red chile pepper that infused the drink with a smoky, spicy tang. Possibly the best mixed drink I’ve ever tasted.

The lobby (see photo at left) is ultra-cool, with warm furniture and artsy black and white prints and a cigar bar. The second floor features rough wooden floors and walls and a spa, as well as one of those fun, cheesy photo machines. The hallway is littered with thousands of prints people have pinned on the walls.

My room featured an incredible bar and beautiful furniture, plus a huge shower and stand alone tub and a fabulous view out over the beach. The hallways have beautiful art and furnishings and it seemed like every time I turned a corner there was an interesting array of books or an old board game or a fun knick knack to gaze at.

They also have fun with their Cowshed toiletries. The shampoo and bath bottles have names like Lazy Cow or Horny Cow or Knackered Cow.

Some rooms go for $600 and higher but the web site also lists rooms at $435. That’s a lot of money, sure, but it’s worth the splurge for a place that’s utterly unlike any place I’ve stayed.

I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention Timo, a fabulous restaurant in Sunny Isles Beach, just north of BalTimo Harbour. It’s an intimate, fun Italian place with a beautiful bar and a terrific menu. I tasted a wonderfully rich lobster risotto with an entire lobster in it, plus a perfectly cooked veal chop. They also make a beautiful fennel and arugula salad with figs, oranges and a pistachio vinaigrette.

As excellent as the meal was, the desserts were even better. They brought out a giant baked alaska with blueberries and a huge, thick, toasty meringue on top. Even better for my money was a chocolate genoise with cheese flan, topped by lovely vanilla ice cream rolled in toasted coconut and surrounded by a sea of salted caramel with chocolate drizzle. Unbelievable.


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