First Bites

Gianni's at the Villa: Opulent Dinners at Versace's Former Mansion

Probably the number two tourist attraction in Miami Beach (behind the beach itself) is Gianni Versace's mansion. The three-story villa, located at 1116 Ocean Dr., still holds a fascination for all walks of life, with people stopping to take pictures in front of the opulent gates. 

The mansion, of course, was home to the Italian designer's lavish parties, where he entertained everyone from Madonna to Princess Diana. Then, in July 1997, Versace was famously murdered on the steps of his home by Andrew Cunanan. 

The 23,000-square-foot mansion, once the only private residence on Ocean Drive, has gone through many changes, including a turn as the Villa by Barton G. One thing remains: its mystique as a symbol of a decadent and opulent lifestyle and how it can all be lost in one split second.

The Villa Casa Casuarina is now a 10-suite luxury hotel, with suites starting at around $750 a night. That price, of course, includes access to the grounds, including the fabulous courtyard, and 54-foot long mosaic pool that features the designer's trademark Medusa in the center, trimmed by real 24-carat gold. There is one more way to gain access to the villa — by dining at the recently opened Gianni's at the Villa.

The menu is a collaboration between the Restaurant at the Setai's Mathias Gervais and executive chef Thomas Stewart. It features visually stunning interpretations of modern Italian Mediterranean cuisine. Of course, the star of the show is the venue. The restaurant is split into three distinctly different dining rooms. The Medusa dining room, formerly Versace's formal dining room, is a 30-seat room featuring pebbled mosaic and shelled walls. The Moroccan room features Greek gods and imported coral. 

If the weather permits, opt for patio seating, where you can dine overlooking the pool while you envision in your mind's eye what must have taken place there when Versace held his infamous Miami parties.

Appetizers include capesante di Viareggio ($32), Maine scallops a la plancha with fennel puree, croutons, frisée, and Gianni vanilla oil.

Burrata millefoglie ($25), stacks vine ripe tomatoes, burrata, roasted eggplant, and prosciutto di parma. 

Langosta ($52) features a pan-seared Florida spiny lobster with tear drop tomatoes, basil, and baby vegetables.

A whole branzino is also offered at market price.

Gianni's also offers caviar, starting at domestic Alverta President ($175) to a Versace-worthy Tsar Imperial Kaluga ($420).

Dinner at Gianni's is no typical weeknight chow. A dinner with cocktails will run over $300 for two. But if you're looking for a glimpse into Miami Beach's rich-and-famous party scene, an evening at Gianni's is an experience not to miss. 

And if you come across a black cat with curious eyes, say ciao. Some say it's the fashion maven himself, coming back in feline form to watch over his villa.
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss