For the record, I wasn't wrong last year when I predicted that South Beach and Miami-Dade would become, as more and more Americans stayed within country limits, a destination in a way that it hasn't been since the mid-Nineties. But I have to admit it took a little longer than I expected.
If you measure Miami's success in terms of models, rest assured I've been on the prowl for the pout, and if a recent flight back to the area is any indication, we're about to be inundated with silicone-injected lips. If you think celeb sightings in restaurants constitutes renewed interest in the area, then allow me to fill you in: Rod Stewart disembarked from a yacht to dine at the new Orsini restaurant in Coconut Grove (in the erstwhile Brasserie Le Coze spot); Susan Sarandon and Tim Robbins supped at Wish; Tia Carrere put in an appearance at Mark's South Beach; and Janet Jackson, according to last week's People, "spent $449.58 on dinner at Kiss, a hip steak house, then retreated upstairs to a private room, taking along the restaurant's entertainment -- a Latin-themed, fire-wielding dance troupe." Which explains why I haven't seen more than a single dancer gyrating at Kiss whenever I've stopped in -- apparently the dancers have been busy teaching certain power brokers some new moves.
Then again, if you consider that monthly magazines put spring issues to bed like bulbs in the fall and early winter, maybe I wasn't so far off. Because here's how I take note of the degree of our subtropical allure: whether or not we get any national media play. And glancing at the April newsstand, I'd have to be just a little smug and brag that not only are we getting play, we're starters in the game.
But I'll let Rosie O'Donnell, who dedicated her April issue of Rosie entirely to Miami, speak for itself. In her letter "From Rosie," she notes, "Miami is perfection to me. It is magical, serene, it is paradise." Eight more paragraphs of gushing, in both English and Spanish, conclude her piece. That's just an intro to the rest of the issue, which kisses Miami's thong-clad ass the way Guy Ritchie must Madonna's.
Then there's New York magazine, which despite the fact that its restaurant critic Hal Rubenstein was arrested here, cites South Beach as number 6 on its list of 52 weekend trips for New Yorkers to take. The fact that it named Cody, Wyo-ming, as weekend numero uno means nothing; hey, we're all for rodeos as long as there's a kir royale at the end of it.
As far as enthusiasm goes, however, no rag -- I mean, mag -- seems more enthralled than boob-happy, hypersexed Maxim, which in April declared Miami "the greatest city on earth" -- never mind that it gave twelve other cities the same title, the mag just loves to be scandalous. It described the geographical location of the city as "the supersensitive tip of America's penis, right where it dips brazenly into the balmy Caribbean." Among other passages: "Here at the crossroads of North and South America, 152 ethnic groups swelter together in an atmosphere of supercharged chaos. Thumping discos, boozy outdoor concerts, and a wild street festival every 12 minutes. Nobody parties like Miami." Add in a boatload of banana republic politicians, boyz, and you've got it so on the drug money I'll forgive you for calling the pastrami sandwich at Wolfie Cohen's Rascal House "the best hangover medicine." P.S. The dump -- and I say that with all the affection of someone who's never been particularly known for her housekeeping skills -- finally closed.
There's more to come. In the May issue of Food Arts, Wish restaurateur Tony Goldman, a SoBe go-getter who introduced wine flights to Ocean Drive in the early Nineties when every other restaurant was still spearing maraschino cherries with paper umbrellas, will be profiled. He's been chosen to receive the magazine's Silver Spoon award. And beginning this week, uber-chef -- or is it ubiquitous chef? -- Mark Militello will be featured in the New York Times "Chef" series. Food writer Florence Fabricant will highlight him and his recipes for eight weeks in the "Dining In/Dining Out" section. The only other chefs outside New Yorkers who have been so honored include Thomas Keller (French Laundry), Patrick O'Connell (Inn at Little Washington), and Charlie Trotter (Charlie Trotter's), so Militello is in super culinary company. Apparently Fabricant was so impressed by Militello's Mark's South Beach when she was down here for the South Beach Wine & Food Festival that he was a natural decision for her, especially since the section is going to be distributed nationally starting, well, now.
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All this adulation is a far cry from the press South Beach got from outfits like the Times back in the Nineties, which constantly asked snide questions like, "Is South Beach Over Yet?" The final answer, then as now, is not if the natives and those transplants like yours truly who took to the territory like iguanas and malagueta can help it.
But even I have to confess more than a little irony lurks like a hurricane in the Atlantic in this current climate of rah-rah hoopla. As always, rumors concerning the seedier side of Miami dining and nightlife have taken root easily. The "hip steak house" where Miss Jackson spent what amounts to my paycheck? One former dancer tells me hips are right, but it's more like a bawdy house. She says that girls had been dismissed for solicitation early on, but gone are the requirement that the girls be trained dancers, along with Michael Tronn, the original director of talent.
As for New York magazine's report, it's not all as rosy as Rosie's. Rather than highlight a few of the region's best and brightest, author Sarah Bernard disses the scene at Nobu and the Shore Club, where "the more we wanted to shut out the world and talk to each other, the more attention we attracted.... Waiters wouldn't leave us alone; neither would neighboring diners who wanted to try our sake." Tip to Bernard: You're probably the only one who ever got solicitous service on the Beach and complained about it. For future reference, however, be advised that no one, but no one, comes to stay at a resort property on South Beach, bankrupt or not, to shut out the world. We are the world.
And speaking of bankruptcy, there's a rumor afloat that Chris Blackwell's Island Outpost, which owns the Marlin and Tides hotels, among others, has written a new chapter for its decade-long book about the Beach. Numerous sources have told me they have been formally informed by superiors that the company has filed for bankruptcy. Vice President Wendy Hart says it's ab-solutely not true, that Island Outpost is "alive and well," and quite frankly I can't find any documentation to support the whispers. So I err on the side of hope: nothing but love for Blackwell, another of those brave pioneers (remember Shabeen?) who engineered South Beach to its current status. If these are April showers, I can't wait to see the May flowers.