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With great warm weather in winter a fabulous beach and bay, vacationers have been flocking to Miami Beach for nearly 100 years. In the early days Miami Beach was a military training base and many veterans returned to make Miami Beach their home.
Today the cultural diversity of the area is another reason to love Miami Beach. Delicious Cuban cuisine, kosher delis and many other ethnic delights will make any visit to this fun filled beach a hit.
A leisurely stroll along Lincoln Road with it’s shops and eateries is a must and also check out Espanola Way to enjoy its Spanish architecture. If museums are of interest there are several of fine quality here including the South Florida Art Center and the Bass Museum of Art

South Beach remains the primary focus for many visitors to Miami Beach. During the day scantly clad, thoroughly fit bodies, both male and female strut along the shore, while others stroll the famous display of Art Deco hotels and trendy restaurants with their epicurean treats. Once the sunsets over Biscayne Bay, the nightlife slowly emerges often with intensifying excitement, with many dancing their way into the wee hours

There are many great Hotels and Resorts in the area but for a different approach check a vacation rentals at one of these sites.
Goin2travel.com
4beachnuts.com

Tempranillo varietal wine bottle and glass, sh...
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KELLY LEVISON AND MARK HENEGAN
When Mark and Jenny Henegan opened Madiba New York in 1999, the South African restaurant boasted the United States’ largest selection of that nation’s wines. Walt Disney World’s South Africa pavilion at Epcot Center usurped that title. Undaunted, Henegan brought a love of his native wines to his second location — Madiba Miami in South Beach, which opened in September 2005. Henegan’s wine consultant, Kelly Levison, of distributor The Country Vintner, joined us at Madiba Miami to introduce us to some of South Africa’s best.

Two things to know: Do not be fooled by retail prices that, according to Levison, will rarely top $150 a bottle; a comparable wine from a more established winemaking nation would cost from 30 percent to 100 percent more. Also, many of these wines are produced in limited quantities, so you may need to ask your favorite wine shop to order them for you.

We began with a 2004 Rhine Riesling from the Buitenverwachting winery ($32 per bottle on Madiba Miami’s menu). It is an off-dry white wine with a flower bouquet smell and a hint of Riesling’s characteristic kerosene scent. That may not sound appealing, but the wine tastes deliciously of lemon-lime and tart Granny Smith apples, living up to the winery’s name, which means “beyond expectations.”

This wine is an excellent aperitif, Levison says, and its “petrol nose” mellows in the mouth to an acidity that makes this Riesling less sweet than most, and easily paired with food. Levison recommends it with raw or simply prepared shellfish. As he puts it, “It’s a nice, acidic, beautiful wine.” Since Riesling is best served very, very cold, it is also a perfect complement to South Florida weather.

We found a more complex white wine in a 2005 Sauvignon Blanc from Mulderbosch vineyards ($52 on the menu). Levison calls it “probably one of the best wines from South Africa, bar none,” and says each vintage is nearly sold out before it comes to market. A soft-on-the-palate wine, the Mulderbosch tastes of kiwi and fresh peaches, and also of local vegetation. “It’s got a lot of fruit flavor wrapped around this herbal note. It’s almost grassy,” Levison says.

He recommends drinking it with poultry, seafood, paella, and even goat cheese, adding that it goes best with herbal or citrus seasonings and fresh, light cuisine (think vegetables and low-fat sauces).

Not all of South Africa’s wines are so familiar to the palate. A 2004 Hamilton Russell Pinot Noir ($48 on the menu) was positively shocking, exploding like Pop Rocks in our mouth. An estate wine grown at Hamilton Russell Vineyards in Walker Bay, it has pinot noir’s familiar cherry, blackberry and tart, under-ripe currant taste, but it also has a “mushroomy, funky, forest floor kind of feel,” Levison says. “You get the bright berries, but underneath there’s a lot of minerality.” That taste of South Africa’s soil — a crisp earthiness with a faint hint of, yes, minerals — takes some getting used to, but we found our second glass warmer and softer on our palate. This wine goes well with lighter meat dishes and especially with game birds, Levison says, and was a perfect complement to Madiba’s Bobotie — curried lamb and beef covered with an egg custard.

Even less familiar to American palates was a 2003 Pinotage from the Kanonkop estate winery ($82 on the menu). Pinotage grapes originated as a cross between pinot noir and Hermitage grapes. With its harsh scent, high tannins and metallic, root-like taste, the Kanonkop makes your mouth pucker. As Madiba owner Henegan puts it, “They say it’s like drinking the color purple. … It’s a very sturdy, hearty, meaty drink.”

Levison calls it “smoky, leathery, iron-y,” with the taste of un-ripe blackberries. We found it had a delightful undertone of aged whiskey. “There are a lot of complex flavors. It’s a wine you sit down and think about,” Levison says. He suggests a pairing with “big hearty meats” such as beef, game or oxtail. Indeed, it worked well with Madiba’s hearty ostrich carpaccio and oxtail stew.

Although South Africa is considered a New World winemaking region, its soil and climate give many of its wines an earthy Old World taste. Straddling those worlds is the 2003 Fusion V from De Toren Private Cellar ($104 on the menu). The wine is a blend of the five red Bordeaux varietals: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc, malbec and petit verdot. Each vintage’s taste depends on which grapes ripened best, and the 2003 Fusion V tastes strongly of merlot’s blackberry flavor. It is a very dry and complex wine, “almost an Asian spice box,” Levison calls it. The hearty Fusion V pairs best with heavier seafood, meats or dry, sharp cheeses. “This is your steak wine,” he advises.

Just as we thought we had finished our South African wine odyssey, Levison opened a bottle of dessert wine. A heavenly, peachy, honey scent nearly overcame us. It was a 2000 Vin de Constance estate wine from Klein Constantia ($133 on the menu). The viscous, golden peach-colored wine is made from muscat de frontignan grapes allowed to raisin on the vine and dehydrate until only a sweet syrup is left. “It’s liquid gold,” Levison says. “Very high sugar, very exotic.”

The Vin de Constance seduces with tastes of dried apricots, honeysuckle and honey, sliding down smoothly and lingering warmly and sweetly. At the same time, its acidity is high, so it is never cloying. “It’s very vibrant, but it turns into caramel,” Levison says, adding that it is a wine you “just want to sip and sip and not finish.”

We agree, and although the Vin de Constance is produced in limited quantities, Levison assures us it will age for 300 years, and can continue to be savored for several months after opening. — Rochelle Broder-Singer

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Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse & Wine Bar
Image by ZagatBuzz via Flickr

FLEMING’S
The square logo with an “F” on the front door is the first thing you see when you walk into Fleming’s Steakhouse, but that is far from the grade we would give this year-old Coral Gables eatery.

First of all, this is not your typical stuffy upscale steakhouse. The light jazz and pop music playing overhead, cherry wood walls and tables, and dim lighting from saucer-shaped lights give Fleming’s a comfortable, romantic feeling that makes you want to kick off your shoes after a hard day at work.

You might be tempted to do so, but restrain yourself, since this is certainly not a casual dining spot. Men and women sporting business suits are commonplace, and it is not unusual to find a group of businesspeople huddled at a table holding a meeting.

Fleming’s is famous for its selections of wine by the glass, and our server’s pinot noir suggestion whet our appetites for Fleming’s table offerings: a basket of crunchy flatbread and crispy celery, served with a side of chardonnay-infused smoked cheddar cheese spread and a reddish brie with sun-dried tomatoes and a hint of cabernet. The sharp cheddar flavor danced on our tongues in the first dip, but the brie was simply bland.

We followed with one of Fleming’s signature wine flights, which was hit and miss: The smoothness and subtle strength of the Penfolds Shiraz, South Australia Kalimna Bin 28, 2002 made it ideal to enjoy with a steak, but the Altum Merlot TerraMater, 1999 was too bold to even take more than a sip.

The appetizer course proved that Fleming’s has mastered far more than steak. Jumbo lump crab cakes with roasted red pepper and lime butter sauce were almost pure crab — unlike the filler-packed cakes at most other restaurants that serve this delicacy. The butter sauce and tomato bits made the dish rich and creamy, without overpowering the delicious crabmeat. We also enjoyed seared ahi tuna on a fresh vegetable salad with spicy mustard sauce.

Although it was served with wasabi sauce, our waiter suggested dabbing it in soy sauce. The tuna, with its red center, tasted like delicious bits of a juicy steak.

We indulged in a medium-cooked filet mignon for one of our main courses. The corn-fed prime beef was butter-knife-sliceable, tender and juicy. When dipped in the tangy, creamy homemade béarnaise sauce that accompanies all steaks at Fleming’s, the meat’s juices and flavor really came out.

We also ordered two Australian lobster tails. The lobster was slightly larger than its Florida counterpart, with a firm white texture. It also was noticeably sweeter than its local cousin, and dipping it in butter sauce only enhanced the meat’s flavor.

On the side, we enjoyed home-cut fried shoestring potatoes and
sweet creamed corn oozing with melted parmesan and gruyere cheese. Fleming’s signature potatoes — a generous portion of scalloped potatoes topped with Monterey and cheddar cheese and some parsley — were rich, saucy and a must-have when eating there.

For dessert, we considered the Baked Alaska but opted for the chocolate lava cake served with two scoops of vanilla ice cream in a crispy shell. The warm cake with melted chocolate inside and ice cream topping melted in our mouth almost as quickly as it did on the hot plate it’s served on. – Jaime Hernandez

Flemings: 2525 Ponce de Leon Blvd., Coral Gables.
305-569-7995, www.flemingssteakhouse.com.
Dinner: Mon-Thu 5 p.m. to 10 p.m., Fri-Sat 5 p.m. to 11 p.m.,
Sun 4 p.m. to 10 p.m.

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Rocky Mountains
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Our journey to Keystone Resort — a skiing, snowboarding, hiking and golf village in Keystone, Colo. — did not begin auspiciously.

After a long flight and a traffic-congested climb into the Rocky Mountains from Denver International Airport, we were tired and cranky by the time our van rolled into the snow-covered entrance to our hotel, Keystone Lodge. We had chosen the RockResorts International LLC-owned property from among Keystone Resort’s 1,500 rooms, which range from condominium rentals to small hotels to the AAA Four-Diamond Keystone Lodge.

It did not disappoint. Our spirits lifted as we emerged from the entranceway into the warm and cozy lodge lobby, where families lingered around the couches. From there, we wound our way through the long hallways to our room, which we found spacious and comfortable. A large, snow-filled private balcony was perfect for practicing our snowball making. But with images of ski lifts and hot chocolate dancing in our heads, we did not linger.

Transportation proved easy enough through the resort’s bus system, which links guests to all hotels and restaurants and the two main activity areas: River Run, a large village of shops and restaurants, and Mountain House, a smaller group of equipment rental shops and fast food.

At the equipment rental store, employees were friendly and knowledgeable as they fit us for skis and boots, and we soon headed up in the lift. With three different peaks and a large selection of ski runs — ranging from the easiest green to moderate blue, to steep, obstacle-filled black — getting down the mountain was a pleasure for all levels.

The next morning, we took a private lesson. Our instructor was not only helpful and encouraging, but also immediately honed in on our turning problem (it was all in the knee). Our confidence built up, we hopped on a lift at mid-mountain and headed to the top for a long run down. At the bottom, we met up for a late lunch at River Run’s Kickapoo Tavern, where we munched on surprisingly tasty burgers, salads and sandwiches and enjoyed an interesting selection of beers from local microbreweries. Full and exhausted, we headed back to the lodge, planning a quick nap, but instead found ourselves drawn to the frozen lake behind the resort. There, we proved ourselves true Floridians on ice skates.

Eager to experience all the winter sports Keystone had to offer, we abandoned our skis for two days of alternative exercise. First, we hopped aboard snowmobiles for a three-hour experiment in fear. Twisting and turning down the snow-covered trail was exciting, and the scenery was gorgeous, but our southern blood was beginning to freeze. We broke for hot chocolate in a clearing the size of two football fields and watched our enthralled traveling companions race in a mock Indy 500.

Safely back in the hotel a few hours later, we relaxed with a glass of wine and a game of Clue on plush couches in the Lodge’s Tenderfoot Lounge, and vowed never to ride a snowmobile again.

Later that night we headed downstairs to Keystone Lodge’s Bighorn Steakhouse, where we were seated promptly, and to our delight, directly in front of a giant picture window. We took the opportunity to marvel at both the backlit mountains and the ice skaters. Our food was traditional steak-house fare, but the salad was crisp and tasty, the filet tender and sizzling and the prime rib succulent.

The next morning we found ourselves back at River Run, where we enjoyed a 20-minute gondola ride up the mountain to our next adventure: tubing — riding an inner tube down an icy mountain slope. The gondola trip up was smooth and scenic, giving us a bird’s eye view of the skiers gliding down the runs, as well as the even more exciting snowboard park at mid-mountain.

After a quick tutorial at the top we emerged from a makeshift locker room to what looked like a frozen water park. Three lanes of vertical drops lay before us, carved into the snowy mountain, and a pile of rubber inner tubes lay waiting to one side. With music blaring over giant speakers, we grabbed a tube, sat down and let the staff fling us down the mountain as we yelped with delight. At the bottom we high-fived the waiting attendant and hooked our tube into the “lift” to be pulled back up the hill. For the next hour we spun ourselves silly, flying down the runs single and in groups of two, three, four and — in a moment of inspiration — six. Like children at an amusement park, we begged for just one more run, but alas, our hands numb from clutching the tube handles and our cheeks burning from laughter, we grudgingly dragged ourselves back to the gondola for the long ride home. – By Andrea Carneiro

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