It pays to have friends in high places.
Or certain places, I realized recently, on the plane to Miami International Airport to visit a friend I’d made halfway across the world. Aside from the good company, I had been enticed to visit Miami by the promise of a strong midday sun, a beautiful apartment with a view and an electric nightlife that would rival NYC. Certain places, indeed.
But what I didn’t know at the time was what wonderful cuisine I would be treated to in my adventures. It was in exploring a vibrant downtown that I found out what I had hitherto never realized: Miami Beach is good at surprising the first time visitor—like myself—as it is at catching the patron or venerable explorer off-guard with its over-the-top dining experiences.
No restaurant on my tour encapsulates this claim better than Villa Azur, which brings the charm of Southern France to Miami Beach. One of the premier gastronomies in South Beach, the entire experience is intended to delight the senses. Upon entering the establishment, your eyes alight on the stylish decor, which is an interesting mix of modern and vintage motifs that pair nicely together. The interior is the work of Francois Frossard Design, known for combining grand style with high, bold drama. Facing the bar, a contemporary bookshelf overlooks plush white sofas; in the antechamber, sumptuous curtains and traditional chandeliers evokes a wondrous parisian elegance. And if you come at night like I did, one of the featured DJs will be sure to enhance the ambiance with music that invokes the party atmosphere of South Beach with a careful ear towards fine-dining.
Like the atmosphere, in the kitchen and on your dish, it’s all about pairings. The concept of the right combination for the palate is, to my mind, the strength of Villa Azur, which offers a French Mediterranean cuisine with an Italian twist. Salmon is simmered in orange essence; homemade foie gras is served with fig jam and strawberry chutney. While there are plenty of appetizers and entrees to share with a date (or not), the raw bar and caviar selections are worth trying for their expansive plates. It doesn’t surprise me that the parties of ten to fifteen people who were seated before I came were still enjoying themselves when I left. As for my dinner, the scallops were cooked to perfection, with risotto topped with a delectable cream and salsa—delicioso.
When it came to dessert, my server, Romain, who was part of an excellent team of mostly French servers, suggested that I try one of his favorites. I relented to his offer, and was pleasantly surprised with what he came back with. His choice was a raspberry tart, which, to be honest with you, I was a little apprehensive of at first, because I have had some raspberry tarts burn me in the past. But I was pleasantly surprised by the way this was prepared by Executive Pastry Chef Sébastien Feneyrol. It was up to my discretion to apply a warm chocolate sauce to the tart, which really brought out the taste in the best way possible.
Together with a wine cellar, La Cave D’Azur, that features over 190 handpicked wines and a romantic courtyard that can seat 110 guests comfortably, Villa Azur is truly a shining example of one of the brightest star restaurants South Beach has to offer. Next time, I’ll be back to Miami for the good company, expansive nightlife and, as I know now, the wonderful food—and Villa Azur will be the first stop on my list.