March is not Black History Month. March is not Women's History Month, Breast Cancer Month, Secretaries' Month, or Grandparents' Month. It's not even Spring Break Month, not really. It can't be, because March is Miami Media Blitz Month.
Take a look at March's reading and viewing material: Travel & Leisure did a spread on Miami in its "Where to Go Next" department. Access Hollywood spent an entire half-hour show lauding South Beach. And even features somewhat unrelated to Miami have been given Magic City settings, like Vanity Fair's cover interview with Madonna and boy toy (NOT) Rupert Everett.
The world is getting an eyeful and earful of our -- let's call it colorful -- little town. And we can use the tourist dollars to maintain our uneasy restaurant scene during the summer season, so there's nothing wrong with that, is there? Not much, until you analyze just what these nationally based journalists are saying from a local's point of view.
For instance Tap Tap, a Haitian joint that is more than a half-decade old and, quite honestly, can be inconsistent, is lumped in T&L along with higher-profile, not-yet-played-out places like Baleen and Bambú. I know the cuisine is "different" and the décor representative of island life, but Tap Tap hasn't been a destination for some time. Ditto Ricky Martin's Casa Salsa, which Access Hollywood rated as one of South Beach's hottest restaurants. Um, no. I like Ricky as much as the next susceptible female, but the eatery lost its patina long before Martin failed to score a single Grammy. In fact the last time I stopped by for a quick meal, the restaurant had cut down its hours.
As for VF, therein lies a big faux pas we could even call irresponsible journalism, if we didn't have such respect for the rag -- I mean, mag. Author Ned Zeman's quirky conversation with Madonna and Everett took place at 3:00 p.m. on December 30, 1999, at Joia. Where, you ask? Joia. You know, the restaurant Ingrid Casares opened a couple of years ago in the Century Hotel on Ocean Drive. Ingrid who? You know, the locally famous club kid-turned-impresario by virtue of her friendship with Madonna, with whom she was rumored to be having an affair.
In the article's lead, Zeman devotes an entire paragraph to Joia. He describes it as "a charming restaurant whose hostess spends the afternoon telling callers that she can happily offer them a dinner reservation at 6:00 or 12:30." He notes that "Madonna, who has a large home in nearby Coconut Grove, is a regular here," and that "Everett ... eats lunch at Joia several times a week. He lives just a few blocks away, and that makes sense. If South Beach is the new Riviera, then Joia is the Hôtel du Cap."
Forget that it would be a more accurate metaphor if Zeman wrote that the Century Hotel is analogous to the Hôtel du Cap. Ignore the recent utterances of Rupert Everett, who is now claiming that South Beach has lost its allure for him. Try to overlook the fact that Zeman offers unsavory reservation times as proof of why Joia is trendy. Hell, the interview was taking place on the day before the party of the millennium in the party place of the decade, when you wouldn't have been able to score a timely reservation at Dog Food Is Us -- even if you were a real hound.
Instead focus on why, in all of Zeman's fond ramblings about Joia, he never once mentions that 1) Joia's proprietor is, like Everett, a "dear friend" of Madonna, and 2) Casares's partner is none other than Chris Paciello. Chris who? You know, the Liquid, Bar Room -- and Joia -- owner who was indicted on federal robbery and murder charges on November 23 (see "Goon Over Miami, Part 3," in this issue), a good month of publicity before VF consented to interview Madonna there. (Paciello also has dated Madonna. What a cozy little family.)
Say Zeman is ignorant of Madonna's nepotistic and sexually charged connections to Joia. Say he'd been lying under a bulletproof rock or his head was buried in fine white SoBe sand when the accusations about Paciello came flying out of New York, where the indictment stemmed from (and where VF is based). Or say he knew or suspected all this stuff but could care less, since his job was to get a sit-down with Madonna, and that's precisely what he did.
When you interview someone as powerful as her, responsibility then falls on the editors to make sure the truth about Joia is known. And the truth is this: Joia may have been trendy once, but now it's more notorious -- and for better reasons -- than Thai Toni. From a production point of view, the magazine had plenty of time to pull all mentions of Joia before the issue went to print, or to clarify its current position in the Miami market. Lots of folks in the dining biz don't want to frequent Joia anymore, if we ever did, because we don't want to be contributing to Paciello's lawyer fund. But VF let the story run with Joia shining like South Florida sand, and one can only suspect it's because of Madonna's influence. Zeman also remarks in his story that both Everett and Madonna have "written for this magazine." Everett may still be regular ol' potatoes, but nobody mashes Madonna.
The alternative, of course, is that Casares has an awfully good publicist who did some fast product-placement work to make this interview happen where it did. Or her sphere of personal influence is large enough to coax Madonna, not to mention the editors of VF, to give her a break. Or the editors of VF and the fact checkers and copy editors who work under them were just a little careless. Or a whole lot ignorant. Take your pick. But for the tourists who flock to Miami, thanks to the national media, all they'll know is that Joia is the restaurant currently making the most joyful noise on the circuit, so far removed from the unpleasant clanging of prison bars it's not even an issue.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to Miami dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.