Best Hotel Restaurant - 2009
Clay Conley took over as top toque at Azul in 2005. The prior chef, Michelle Bernstein, had propelled the property to the top of the hotel restaurant heap; Conley, a protégé of Boston celebrity chef Todd English, has kept it there. His clean, precise preparations of Mediterranean cuisine (along with some American and Asian touches) boast multiple flavors and often involve various takes of one main ingredient on the plate. To wit: a duet of Sonoma rabbit — the loin wrapped in bacon, the leg braised, and the whole served with mustard cream, herbed spaetzle, and pickled cipollini onions ($38); or Moroccan-inspired lamb harissa, featuring the loin, shank, and grilled chop with pepper salad and raita ($44). Nobody makes a better clam chowder either; Azul's rendition is chock full of crisp strips of Ipswitch bivalves, pork belly confit, and malt vinegar aioli ($16). The wine program spans 700 global labels, service is stellar, and the dining room — with a white marble exhibition kitchen and floor-to-ceiling views of Biscayne Bay — is among the most beautiful in town. Yes, Azul still represents the summit of hotel dining, but it's not lonely at the top — make sure to reserve for lunch or dinner, because we are not alone in noting Conley's talents.