It was four days in the city of Doral in South Florida that turned out exceptionally well, in spite of the fact it was not part of our vacation plan.
We were to stay only two days in Doral, and then move on down to the South Beach area. But after a couple of nights in our hotel, the condo-style Provident Blue at Doral, we realized how much there was to do close at hand, and how easy it was to use it as a base to easily travel to the rest of Miami’s attractions. And we really enjoyed our accommodations.
With a kitchen and living room in addition to a separate bedroom, we were able to bring in breakfast foods and then enjoy the days "on the road" and experience a different restaurant every evening.
The trip turned out to be a truly excellent series of culinary discoveries.
The Provident property is adjacent to the Trump National Doral golf courses. "The Donald" was not there to consult with me, or even to offer a warm welcome to a Canadian, but the morning on his Red Tiger track proved most enjoyable.
The Trump courses are only minutes away from the Provident, and while it is not associated with the Trump Organization, the hotel offers a regular shuttle service to and from the courses.
After the game, my wife, Rae, joined me for an absolutely delicious lunch at the course. My selection of snapper fish on paella was exceptional, and much more than I would expect from a golf course club house restaurant.
But to be fair, the other restaurants we went to, which were also close at hand, were also decidedly excellent. During our stay we would experience a world of tastes, making us feel we were in a different country every evening. And gratifyingly, because it meant we could wine and dine without having to drive, most of the restaurants we visited were within walking distance of the Provident.
At Pisco y Nazca, a restaurant inspired by the Ceviche eateries of Peru, my wife and I would share the two different ceviche selections. We then did the same with the fish and beef options we ordered. But there would be no sharing of their signature Chocolate Dome dessert. After the chocolate mounds were placed in front of us, our server poured a hot sauce over the top, melting the chocolate and revealing a mixture of ice cream, Cracker Jack popcorn, sweet potato custard and warm ganache, creating one of the best desserts either of us had tasted in years.
Situated in the same Shops at Downtown Doral complex, the Dragonfly Izakaya and Fish Market is different than any other Japanese restaurant I have visited. There the emphasis is on freshness, with fish flown in from Japan daily, and cooking with only unprocessed, harvested farm produce.
Had we stopped after the appetizers, we would have already been raving.
I have not been a huge fan of octopus, but at the suggestion of our server I tried it. Rae went with the Goma Miso roasted tri-cauliflower with raisins and pine nuts.
Let someone show me another restaurant that can duplicate the taste and tenderness of the octopus I ate there, and I will order it every time.
The next evening we walked to Bulla Gastrobar, the third in Florida; apparently, their Spanish tapas menu spells success with each location.
Like most tapas restaurants, many of the items are small, allowing the opportunity to taste and test any number of items that draw your fancy.
We would share the manchego cheese and the croquetas de jamon (Iberian ham croquettes with fig jelly).
But Bulla also serves some large-plate selections as well. Rae’s black grouper with lemon caper butter served with a quinoa soy salad suited her desire for a seafood dish. My 32-hour slow-cooked medium lamb leg with robuchon mashed potatoes au jus was exceptional.
It was a huge serving. What we couldn’t complete there, we savoured over lunch in our room the next day.
For most of its time Doral would hardly have been seen as a destination city. As a suburb of Miami just a mile from the airport, it was not a centre for tourist development until recently.
Incorporated as a city only in 2003, it was then that a more concerted effort to build this into a business and commercial centre really took hold. Today, it is a city on the move. New public parks are being created, an Olympic-sized swimming pool is being built and significant numbers of residential condos and apartments are already under construction.
The area was already established as a centre for importers and exporters because of its closeness to Miami International Airport, but it’s now growing rapidly with the addition of new retail shops and financial institutions.
According to a Wikipedia report, "In 2008 Fortune Small Business and CNN Money ranked Doral as 51 on a list of 100 cities with the best mix of business advantages and lifestyle appeal."
For us, it was that less-hectic lifestyle appeal that kept us exploring the Miami area from this home base.
We shopped at the Dolphin Mall, only a 13-minute drive from our hotel. Even closer was the Miami International Mall, with its 140 retail and fashion brand outlets.
As if by good luck alone, when we visited the International Mall we decided to have lunch in a chain franchise restaurant called BJ’s Restaurant and Brewhouse. Because we were in need of a break away from the rich meals we’d been having, we both ordered the ahi tuna salad. We were blown away by the taste of the tuna, enhanced by wasabi, ginger and rice vinegar.
With South Beach, which was on our initial agenda, under 30 kilometres away, we made sure we spent time in this now-famous home of those who love to party hardy.
January is in the heart of stone crab season, so we felt obligated to visit Joe’s Crab Shack, the huge restaurant at which it seems every visitor, if not resident, must dine. Hardly a shack, the ambiance is rich and the food pricey, but the crab was absolutely delicious. In the end, we felt it was worth every dollar.
But where most here congregate is on the beautiful beach, or in the dozens of restaurants that line the streets across from the beach. While the demographic mix is to some degree wide, the area is clearly a young and active person’s paradise.
We made a number of other short trips during our four days, but we were happy to get back to our comfortable, spacious accommodations at the end of each long day.
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