When my husband and I moved to the Brickell neighborhood of downtown Miami a few months ago, we looked forward to city living in a tropical setting. Our new apartment looks out over Biscayne Bay, yet we are right on the main drag in the business district. No complaints so far!
The two of us have explored local restaurants, walked the bayfront path, and gazed at the stars from our balcony. A southeast glance from our perch on the 45th floor provides a blue-green vista thanks to sea and sky, and the barrier islands of Virginia Key and Key Biscayne. When I look out, it’s easy to imagine I’m on a tropical island far, far from home.
One fine evening Gabe and I mused over a day trip to Key Biscayne. It wouldn’t require much planning given that it’s only 15 minutes away from downtown: just a quick drive over the causeway and we’d be there. That Saturday we mobilized (i.e., we actually got in the car and left the building) in search of a late lunch on Key Biscayne.
In no time we had left the largely uninhabited Virginia Key and crossed over to Key Biscayne where things were a bit livelier: lots of cyclists, tennis players, and shoppers out and about. I had read that the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne had two casual outdoor restaurants that were open between lunch and dinner, so we headed there.
As we drew up to the entrance I thought, hmmm, looks nice but like a typical hotel. When we walked inside, however, it was a different story. I felt as if I’d been transported to a private Caribbean resort many miles from home: a balmy breeze drifted through the windows overlooking the beach, where a band played lilting island music. We were a million miles away from civilization yet no more than 10 miles from downtown.
We walked around the comfortable lobby, at once bustling with staff yet tranquil and serene, admiring the reflecting pool just beyond. Next, we wandered through the Rumbar, dark as night with its mahogany wood décor that conjured up visions of bootlegging pirates from another era.
Finding Cantina Beach
Both of us were hungry so we made our way toward the terrace, anticipating a delicious al fresco meal. As we turned down what we thought was the right hallway, a gentleman came around the corner from the opposite direction. Dressed casually in khakis and a polo shirt, he could have been a guest or an employee, we weren’t sure. His warm welcome confirmed the latter, and he offered to show us to Cantina Beach.
“Where are you guys from?” he asked, assuming we were guests at the hotel. Gabe laughed and told him “All the way from Brickell!” We chatted about the wonders of Magic City, locals exchanging anecdotes, until we arrived at the hostess stand. At that point he shook our hands and introduced himself: “Mark Ferland, so pleased to meet you.” Then he smiled again, wished us a wonderful lunch, and expressed his hope that we would decide to come back soon.
It wasn’t until later, as I did some research for this post, that I discovered that Mr. Ferland is the general manager of the hotel. He never mentioned his position and neither did the employees at the restaurant, and I so love that! He was just a guy helping out some wayward guests – and very nice about it, too!
Cantina Beach is just one of four restaurants in the resort, but I already know it will be my favorite one: it’s right on the Atlantic Ocean, with comfortable seating under a thatched palapa roof that was made by the local Miccosukee Indian tribe. It’s open to the breezes yet shielded from the afternoon sun – the best way to dine at any Florida beach.
Menu items are inspired by Mexican cuisine and ingredients, but local specialties shine too: a spicy mango barbecue sauce and fresh fish tacos come to mind.
The restaurant stocks 110 premium tequilas (the largest collection in Miami) and employs a “tequilier” named Heriberto to manage the inventory and create food pairings. Every evening at 6 pm Heriberto conducts a complimentary tequila tasting for the guests. Note to self: make a date to return for that event!
We started with a basket of homemade chips and salsa while we perused the menu. There was much to tempt us, but we settled on a starter of Crispy Shrimp (personally recommended by Mr. Ferland) followed by Tacos Pescado for me and Tostada de Atún for Gabe. I also had a glass of Aix Rosé from Côteaux d’Aix en Provence.
Each of the dishes looked as good as it tasted, and the ingredients were fresh, fresh, fresh. As for the setting, it felt like we had stumbled upon a secret club nestled on a deserted beach. The tension seeped out of my bones and my breathing slowed down. I was officially on Island Time.
We lingered over our lunch and then Gabe splurged on dessert – vanilla bean rice pudding, the house specialty. Yes, it was that good.
I think we could have sat there for three more hours.
But as with all good things, this escapade had a time limit and we slowly went back to the car. As we rode west on the causeway a thunderstorm was moving in; we probably made it out of Key Biscayne just in time. Although I bet it would have been fun to sip a glass of reposado under the palapa and watch the storm pass . . .
If you’re local to Miami and need a break from the day-to-day routine, I highly recommend a quick drive to the Ritz-Carlton Key Biscayne. After just a few hours you’ll feel as though you’ve been on an extended tropical vacation.
And if you’re planning a trip to South Florida this winter, I can’t imagine a better place to land than this hotel. If you want shopping, art galleries, and clubs, downtown is a few minutes away. But if you are craving the quiet of a private island getaway, just stay at the resort.
I’ll meet you at Cantina Beach at 6 pm for the tequila tasting!
Note: Many of my posts are sponsored by wine importers or PR companies; this one is not. I was so happy with our late afternoon lunch that I wanted to write about it. Cheers!