Happy belated Valentine’s Day! I know, I know — “V’day should be err’day,” and A & I agree! Which is why we skipped out on all the overpriced fancy-schmancy dinners and went on an early celebration two weeks ago to warm, sunny Miami Beach. As always, scroll straight to the bottom if you want to get just the tips.
Honestly, our little vacay is one of the best I’ve ever had. I think that as much as I like the idea of ‘roughing it out’ in the ‘great outdoors,’ I will always prefer nua-ing in the sun and just chilling. Springtime Miami is perfect weather for that.
Anyway, Alan bought me the plane tickets as a gift, and did all the legwork. As in, I did absolutely nothing but followed him to wherever he planned, and it was awesome. (Note to all travel planning wannabes: BF is best tour agent, ever!)
Okay fine, I must give myself some credit. I found our lodgings at Airbnb, making it our fifth stay using the couchsurfing-with-class website.
We got a studio apartment with a giant bathroom + attached kitchen right in the heart of SoBe (or South Beach) — we only had to use our two feet to get wherever we had to go. Infinitely less mafan than getting to Sentosa back in Singapore!
More beach pictures to come, but first, the Art Deco stuff. Maybe it is our Art History class rubbing off on us, but Alan and I signed up for an “Art Deco Walking Tour” with the Miami Design Preservation League. We never gave two hoots about “architecture” before, let alone go on a 1.5-hour walking tour!
As our UK-born guide Paula said, the art deco district in Miami is by no means the most beautiful. It is, however, the largest collection of buildings in the world. At first glance, the pastel colors and protruding wall features can come off a little tacky — that was my first impression, anyway.
But if you think about how art deco — short for arts décoratifs, part of the 1925 exposition that changed the way the world looked at design — is tied up with Hollywood and Egyptian-leanings… I don’t know, I think the style just grows on you.
Bands of pastel color and “eyebrows” (protruding shade things above windows) are characteristic of the style. Many Miamiian architects also played on Ocean Drive’s proximity to the water and added water-esque features: all of the above showcase some play on the porthole.
The Marlin was one of my favorites, but I think the photo would have benefited greatly if its usual hot-pink Cadillac was stationed right outside!
Other architectural highlights include fashion icon Giovanni Versace’s Casa Casuarina… That one has quite a story — Versace was shot dead on his own doorstep, framed in between his coral-rock door arch. Tragedy aside, if you want to own the 3rd most photographed private home in the US, all you need is $100 million. It’s already been reduced from its original $125m price tag!
There were buildings I liked that weren’t on the tour, such as the US Post Office (still in SoBe). The original building was constructed in 1937 under Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration, which supported unemployed artists during the Great Depression.
Besides immersing ourselves in art deco, we also went to the beach to chill. Alan studied his finance notes while I read a book on screenwriting… #secondsemestersenior for the win.
Over the course of our three days there, we spotted a lot of models and their photographers…
We even met a designer who made beautiful water-themed sequiny gowns!
With all the beautiful people around, it was only natural for Alan to want in on the action.
I love relaxing by the beach. In Singapore it’s just way too humid to do so — also Singaporean girls don’t seem to eat and are ridiculously stick-thin and pressurizing to be seen next to. We were told Miami in the summer blows, but not while we were there. Gorgeous weather, clean sand. It was the life.
On our second night, Alan and I took a stroll down a little avenue on the way to Lincoln Road Mall — pretty much the Champs-Elysees of the city! It’s a great place to people-watch almost wherever you eat, and there were a lot of stores that distracted me from getting to our dining place. One non-expensive place (free, in fact!) we got stuck at was this random carpark we passed by on the way to Lincoln Road… Alan entertained my requests for photo-spamming.
We also scheduled time to visit the Everglades. I don’t know what you think of when you hear that word, but I expected (very wrongly, as it turns out) to be treading on pine needles and glade-y things. As it turns out, the Everglades is really a natural reserve of… marshes.
Alan found a Groupon to take us there. I mean, the company seemed kinda sketch and a tad unprofessional but it was $27 per person, so I’m not going to complain. Our bilingual guide (English and Spanish — man, at times I forgot we were in the States!) dropped us off at an alligator farm that seemed to use every opportunity they could to collect tips. That said, I did get to ride an airboat.
Also I saw a few alligators. And a sassy turtle. And a colorful bird.
We spotted the most adorable baby alligators ever as well! I remember reading about how varying incubation temperatures affect the eggs’ gender when I was a kid. For a while after that I got super-afraid that if it got too hot I’d turn into a boy…
I thought it was a little weird that an alligator zoo would have these grotesque semi-mummified alligators flopping around and dressed like hillbillies.
Thankfully, the live alligators we could touch were a tad more alive. Actually this one looks kinda uncomfortable… I look like I’m about to make him into a handbag.
Finally, on our last day, we decided to cycle to the southernmost point on South Beach. The rent-a-bike was heavy and way too tall for me; I was the crankiest cyclist on the road. I’m glad Alan made us go, though. The views were beautiful.
Now onto my favorite part of the trip: the food! Alan pulled out all the stops researching for places to take me (“I Googled the top 10 restaurants in Miami Beach with three dollar signs and less in TripAdvisor” hahaha). And every restaurant was amazing. (And expensive, but more on that later.)
We first had lunch at Otentic, which turned out to be our absolute favorite for its un-intimidating, casual atmosphere, good prices with great food to match. For $50, two of us ate the richest French appetizers we could ever have: a generous portion of fatty foie gras, duck terrine, escargot and french onion soup (which pretty much turned out to be a staple at almost every meal). We even heard one gentleman (who flew in from Philly with his wife) tell the owner post-meal: “If we come in early on Sunday, we might even be able to fit in both breakfast and lunch before we leave!”)
In spite of how bloated we were (we tried to make up for it by walking up and down the beach several times), Alan and I somehow managed to eat quite a bit at A Fish Called Avalon. The restaurant is located in a hotel so it’s better for special occasions (the price reflects that too). Somehow our experience was slightly marred by a raucous group of old drunk men, but no matter, we were really there for the food.
Here I fell in love with the most amazing bowl of lobster bisque I ever had in my life. (Look at the presentation too! It’s like the lobster’s chilling in a jacuzzi or something.) Alan thought the “bang bang shrimp” — jumbo shrimp grilled in tumeric-curry, mint-yogurt and cucumber-pepper relish — were out of this world, and our seafood paella was decent. To finish off we had key lime pie, which is next on my to-bake list!
We opted for Southern comfort food to change up the seafood routine in Yardbird, and it was packed for Saturday brunch/lunch. I thought my “Mama’s Chicken Biscuits” (top lefthand corner) were deliciously juicy and tender… But for $12 for 2 tiny things, rather overpriced. Thankfully, prices were fairer for the Bourbon Blackberry-Lemonade, Chocolate Chip Pancakes (accompanied by bacon butter + banana compote) and mac + cheese (which I think I can make decently well at home now).
Meatlovers won’t want to miss Baires Grill — a great place to eat and watch the world go by at. Just order the parrillada straight, and it’s best to share the for-two dish among three. There is a lot of meat on this plate. The sweetbreads were great, and I enjoyed the blood sausage even if Alan didn’t.
The cheapest meal we ever had was at La Sandwicherie where we got a giant prosciutto + mozzarella croissant sandwich and a slightly strange-tasting strawberry-banana milkshake for ~$16. After all the fawning over at sit-down places, it was nice to just wait by this bar for our warm, aluminium-wrapped lunch. I mean, it’s the ultimate beach bum’s place — the shop delivers and opens till 5am. No excuses for being hungry. If only Philly had something like that.
Our last meal in SoBe we had at Provence Grill. Best way to end a foodie tour ever (and I think it’s quite obvious that Alan catered to my preference for French cuisine). My smoked duck and foie gras risotto was freaking orgasmic (and now I’ve invoked images of Meg Ryan in Katz’ Deli, haven’t I). Everything else, including Alan’s braised short rib, was amazing. But the risotto? Oh-oh-oh-so-good. Lol.
RACHEL’S MIAMI LOWDOWN
- Where to stay: If you don’t have $600 to splurge on Delano’s, and think that $50 per person per bed at a dorm room is ridiculous, then go for the middle ground at an Airbnb apartment. We booked late, but thankfully found Pierre’s studio apartment for ~$140 a night. It’s the most expensive place we’ve stayed in so far but Miami is expensive.
- Where to eat: If I had to shortlist the abovementioned restaurants, prioritize Otentic, then Provence Grill and A Fish Called Avalon. Word of warning, these restaurants are not cheap. We averaged $55 for two for lunch, and $95 for dinner.
- What to do: Shop! Beach! Eat! Chill! If you’re going to the beach and have money to throw, go to the beach early and grab a couple lounge chairs from various kiosks for $36. We went budget for this and brought towels that Pierre provided plenty of in his apartment.
So yeah, my Valentine’s was awesome and amazing. We avoided the crowds and inflated prices (though we didn’t exactly save money…) but best of all, I got to spend time and relax with my sweetheart and best friend.
And to top it off, my not-as-PDA-y boy played to his exhibitionist-girlfriend’s tendencies by making a public declaration of awesomeness on Facebook. (I realize the irony in blacking out everyone’s names but I’m just being sensitive to various people’s need for privacy!)
Alright then — Happy Valentine’s Day everyone. Because you should show your love for that special someone every single day… #corny #trite #needtostophashtagging