Plotting our next meal in Miami Beach, my friend looked baffled when I suggested we stay on the hotel property. “We’ve already eaten here once,” he said. True, but we were staying at the fabled Fontainebleau, and its rococo extravagance had bewitched me.
Morris Lapidus (grandfather of Atlanta PR maven Liz Lapidus) is responsible for many of the swanky architectural flourishes that made this seven-square-mile city between Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Ocean an enduring vacation fantasy. The crescent-shaped Fontainebleau, opened in 1954, remains his masterwork—an over-the-top beacon of glamour that defined midcentury decadence with its striated columns, curvy pools, iconic bow-tie floor pattern, and famous marble “Staircase to Nowhere” (which originally wound grandly upward from the lobby to a coat closet). The hotel began losing its radiance in the 1970s, but a $1 billion restoration returned it to full glory in 2008.
It’s unnerving how easy it is to slip into a contented stupor and never leave the complex. The swimming and reflecting pools among undulating palm trees are so tantalizing that hotel security double-checks room keys so lounge chairs don’t fill up with non-guests. Beyond massages and facials, the sleek Lapis spa includes “ritual water elements”—different stylized showers that splash away stress.
As for the Fontainebleau’s restaurants: The first night, we ate at Scarpetta, the Florida outpost of New York–based chef Scott Conant and his upscale take on Italian soul food. Pizzoccheri (a buckwheat pasta) with braised rabbit, a grilled octopus salad, and a twenty-one-day-aged sirloin with chanterelles all dazzled, but the most satisfying dish turned out to be Conant’s sublime house-made spaghetti with simple, balanced tomato sauce. Hakkasan, the hotel’s Cantonese restaurant, was an even better experience. The dining room is a moody, blue-lit labyrinth divided by lattice teak screens. Platters of dim sum–style dumplings, roasted mango duck with lemon sauce, and the stir-fried greens called gai lan mine familiar Chinese culinary territory, but unusually deft execution gives the food a thrilling edge.
Not to be overshadowed, the Eden Roc Renaissance next door (also originally designed by Lapidus) has just undergone a $220 million makeover, including the 22,000-square-foot Elle Spa. Last October the hotel launched 1500 Degrees, a restaurant helmed by Hell’s Kitchen finalist Paula DaSilva that blends farm-to-table sensibility with steakhouse chutzpah (pass the foie gras butter for the Kansas City strip).
Miami Beach also has its affordable pleasures. The oceanside boardwalk begins at Forty-sixth Street and continues to Twenty-first Street, where it flows into a paved path that leads to bustling Lummus Park in South Beach. The long stroll winds past prime examples of art deco, Mediterranean Revival, and Miami Modern structures—the styles represented in the city’s Architectural Historic District. A ninety-minute walking tour for $20 by the Miami Design Preservation League illuminates the distinctions. South Beach houses a deluge of pricey, over-hyped restaurants; for something offbeat and inexpensive, try Tap Tap, a Haitian gem that serves wonderful fried plantains, grouper in lime sauce, and pineapple-rum upside-down cake. And for some higher-brow culture, in late January the city’s New World Symphony unveiled its Frank Gehry–designed concert hall. A 7,000-square-foot exterior projection wall will occasionally broadcast performances for free.
Photograph courtesy of Fontainebleau Miami Beach