The Miami Tennis Open: Wining & Dining Around the Tournament

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<p>Kei Nishikori at the Miami Tennis Open</p>

Kei Nishikori at the Miami Tennis Open

Dwight Brown

The popular Miami Open Presented by Itau is one of the largest tennis events outside the grand slams (Australian, French, Wimbledon, US Open). It takes place every March at the Tennis Center at Crandon Park on the island of Key Biscayne, off the coast of downtown Miami.

The Miami Open is a key stop on the men’s Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) tour and the women’s World Tennis Association (WTA) tour. The total prize money of $15.5M, attendance by 300,000+ tennis lovers, the gorgeous waterside setting in a vibrant city and the 80-degree sunny weather makes it the nirvana of tennis tournaments.

2017 Miami Open Highlights

Johanna Konta Women’s Champ – When Australian Open winner Serena Williams bowed out of the Miami Open with an injury, it left the women’s draw open to top players like #1 ranked Angelique Kerber or Garbiñe Muguruza, the 2016 French Open winner. But after 10 days of play, likely winners like Serena’s 35-year-old sister Venus, Serena’s good friend Danish player Caroline Wozniacki and the Czech Republic’s Karolina Pliskova did not hold the trophy. In a heated final match against Wozniacki it was Britain’s Johanna Konta who endured.

Roger Federer Is Aging Well — Thirty-five-year-old Roger Federer, winner of 18 grand slam tournaments, with a new Australian Open title in 2017 under his belt, worked his way through the draw almost effortlessly. In his first match he defeated the youngest player in the top 100, Frances Tiafoe, a 19-year-old American. Federer then whizzed pass Argentina’s Juan Del Potro, Czech Republic’s Tomáš Berdych and triumphed over Australia’s resident bad boy and court magician Nicolas Kyrgios. In the final, he faced his old friend and archrival Rafael Nadal. Federer won.

When they are not playing, practicing or doing interviews, the pros can be seen around town at the trendiest restaurants, buying art in noted galleries or just having fun. Tennis fans and Miami visitors can do the same.

Dining, Hanging and Playing Around the Miami Open

San Francisco and New York used to be known as the culinary and cultural capitals of the U.S. These days, Miami’s variant cuisine choices, galleries and nightclubs rival any you will find in those cities. And it’s sunny year round!

South of Fifth Street

For years a traveler’s idea of a South Beach vacation was sunning on the shore, hanging out on crowded Ocean Drive or shopping on Lincoln Road. The area south of Fifth Street was residential, too quiet and off the beaten path. When several luxury towers cropped up on the southern tip of South Beach, swank restaurants followed. A cool upscale crowd came too, and this serene neighborhood became a chic area.

<p>Urbanica The Merdian Hotel in the South of Fifth District</p>

Urbanica The Merdian Hotel in the South of Fifth District

Dwight Brown

Almost sitting at the entrance of the South of Fifth area, on the corner of Meridian Avenue and Fifth Street, like a beacon, is the new boutique hotel Urbanica The Meridian. With just 71 rooms, each with bleached wood floors, spacious bathrooms and sun-kissed balconies, the feel here is cool, international and young in spirit with old world charm. Unlike large hotels, you will see the general manager Sexton Garcia daily in the lobby, mingling. When guests assemble in The Food Marchand Café for breakfast, with their heads buried in their computers and tablets while they’re chowing down, they become a part of the friendly, homey scene.

Outdoor hallways framed by palm trees and tropical foliage lead to rooms. An intimate pool terrace is perfect for sunning. Stairways with metal guardrails lead up to different tiers of the stark white-walled hotel. All of it is photogenic in an Architectural Digest kind of way. The beach is within a 10-minute walk. Local dining opportunities abound. Strolling is a must. The feel is like L.A.’s West Hollywood/Brentwood neighborhood before it got really, really popular.

Hints: 1.) Breakfast at the Food Marchand Café should include the Smoked Salmon with Eggs and Toast. 2.) Urbanica has 17 bikes, which is a nice way to tour the area and get to the shoreline. 3.) Complimentary lounge chairs at the beach are included in the low $11 daily resort fee. Follow Fourth Street going west to the beach, turn right and look for a white shack.

<p>The Blue Point Oysters appetizer</p>

The Blue Point Oysters appetizer

Dwight Brown

The menu focuses on seafood in this neighborhood restaurant that is largely filled by locals, and only a few tourists. On view: Two-top tables with young couples of all persuasions; senior citizens in groups of four; singles eating and drinking on their own. Everyone feels comfortable here in a dining room the size of a large parlor, or they dine on the outdoor terraces.

Set in the lobby of the Sense Beach House Hotel on the south side of Ocean Drive, it’s on the corner of Fourth Street. There’s a very intimate atmosphere here. You will find yourself talking to the wait staff like they were old friends and asking them for menu suggestions.

Hints: 1.) The Tempura Calamari, Shrimp & Vegetables appetizer is as fresh and tasty as the Blue Point Oysters. 2.) The Chuck Brisket & Short Rib Burger is their version of the American classic. Seafood lovers may prefer the Wild Scottish Salmon Grilled With Broccoli Rabe. 3.) You won’t go wrong ending the evening with their refreshing Key Lime Pie.

<p>The elegant dining room and wall of wines.</p>

The elegant dining room and wall of wines.

Dwight Brown

The high ceilings, red banquettes and private booths are very noticeable the second you walk in the door. Next comes the friendly attentive service that defies expectations. You’re in a world-class steakhouse, yet the staff is as friendly as the one you’d find in a local diner, only classier. The atmosphere makes you feel like you are in the presence of greatness.

Then out walks affable chef/partner Peter Vauthy. Ask for a taster’s menu, and he’ll specially prepare a few of his favorite things, parade the over-the-top culinary specialties to your table and present them to you with the respect he’d give a tech billionaire. Rarely do you get to watch a chef take so much pride and delight in the food he serves.

Hints: 1.) Start with the Lemon Garlic Shrimp or the Foie Gras En Bocal. 2.) It’s a steakhouse, order meat. If you ask for the C.A.B. Prime Bone-In Ribeye to be charred on the outside and medium within, you will get a steak that looks like a work-of-art and is also the juiciest, most tender and tasty ribeye you have ever had. It’s been seasoned with Kosher salt, peppercorns & “Aglio Brushing;” just enough to bring the flavor to a state of ecstasy. The Scallops entrée is delectable too. 3.) Save room for the Cheesecake topped with Cherries, it’s from a recipe Vauthy has had since he was kid.

The Design District

Twelve years ago, the Design District was an artist refuge neighborhood with a few galleries and some vacant condos looking for buyers. These days top fashion houses and jewelry stores line the streets (Fendi, Rolex, Tom Ford), sitting next to impressive galleries, top restaurants and trendy cafes. Think Madison Avenue, Rodeo Drive, downtown San Francisco or the Champs-Elysées.

<p>The Wagyu Beef Roll with crispy shrimp tempura, avocado, shibazuke and chimichurri soy. </p>

The Wagyu Beef Roll with crispy shrimp tempura, avocado, shibazuke and chimichurri soy.

Dwight Brown

This popular eatery, which has been a staple in the community for seven years, has witnessed the area’s transition and in the process built up a loyal clientele that adores its eclectic and endearing cuisine philosophy: Globally-inspired small plates, which are prepared in three different kitchens: A) Open fire grill. B) A raw bar. C) A traditional kitchen.

With that set up the eating style is “tapas.” Food comes out when it’s ready; there is no coordination between the kitchens. Hang on to your seats, it’s going to be a fun ride with creative culinary items coming at you left and right. It’s all designed by award-winning executive chef and partner Timon Balloo, who was a James Beard Foundation “Best New Restaurant” semi-finalist. The interiors are inviting but the crowd likes to dine outside on the 850 sq-foot, shrub-framed terrace. And two different happy hours (4-7, then 11pm to closing) optimize drinking/socializing time.

Hints: 1.) Sip on the Rosé Sparkling, Marquis de la Tour, Brut, Loire Valley, France to pique your taste buds. 2.) Order a variety of small plates, like the Bacon Wrapped Dates. The Specialty Sushi Rolls are tempting too, especially the Wagyu Beef Roll (thin raw steak on top of a rice roll teeming inside with crispy shrimp tempura, avocado, shibazuke and chimichurri soy). 3.) Cap the night with Torrejas (maple caramelized apples sitting on what can be described as the softest, mushiest, eggiest French toast concoction.)

<p>Owner Bernard Markowicz prides himself on being a purveyor of the finest pop art of today and yesterday. </p>

Owner Bernard Markowicz prides himself on being a purveyor of the finest pop art of today and yesterday.

Dwight Brown

Man does not live by bread alone. Art can be as fulfilling as a tender prime steak or sweet fluffy soufflé. Set in between the high-end stores on East 40th Street in the Design District, this pop art gallery exhibits Warhol limited and signed 1967 Marilyn Monroe silk screens next to works by up-and-coming international urban artists from the U.S. and particularly France. It’s a three-story, industrial-looking visual oasis.

Owner Bernard Markowicz prides himself on being a purveyor of the finest pop art of today and yesterday. Many say that he is one of the best representatives for French art in the country and particularly in Miami, where festivals like the annual Art Basel have made the Design District rival the art scenes in New York’s Soho or Chelsea or Paris’ Montmartre. Markowicz’s gallery, in it’s own way, is a mini contemporary museum.

Hints: 1.) Check out the works by Kai, particularly his graffiti-like EKG, a montage of Cement, Paint & Paper on Concrete. 2.) The photography of Maurice Renoma positions the faces of Marilyn Monroe and James Dean on seductive body images in black and white photographs. At first glimpse, they look like real historic photos. Then you see that it is a masterful illusion. 3.) The exaggerated, color-saturated cartoons by Alain Godon focus on cityscapes in Paris, New York, Miami and other destinations.

Mid Miami Beach

<p>Order the exquisite Colorado Rack of Lamb. Meaty, moist and thick chops sparingly seasoned to perfection. </p>

Order the exquisite Colorado Rack of Lamb. Meaty, moist and thick chops sparingly seasoned to perfection.

Dwight Brown

First opening in the 1920s, then reopening in 1968, this Miami landmark restaurant continues to host a high-end set of customers who love their meat as much as they love their seafood and fine wine. The Forge distinguishes itself on all those levels, besides being a hotbed for celebrity sightings, from Michael Jackson back in the day, to Beyoncé in the here and now. They’re probably attracted to the ultra-hip, toe-thumping music.

You enter through a palace like door on East 41st Street (Arthur Godfrey Blvd.) in Mid Miami Beach. Then you head into six dining rooms, with mile-high ceilings and throne-like seats. Pay special attention to the private 300,000-bottle wine cellar that includes an 1822 Chateau Lafitte Rothschild or the vintage chandeliers from the White House, circa the Jackie Kennedy days. Ask to meet The Forge’s sommelier Dean, and he will give you a private tour with all the requisite colorful stories.

Hints: 1.) Craving subtlety sweet wine? Order the Eroica by Chateau Ste. Michelle. Then start with the very generously proportioned Crispy Crab Cake. 2.) If you’ve had your fill of steak, but still crave delectable meat, order the exquisite Colorado Rack of Lamb. Meaty, moist and thick chops sparingly seasoned to perfection so you get unadulterated flavor. A side of Black Truffle Mac & Cheese Pot Pie is cool, too. 3.) End your dinner with the Spiced Pear Bread Pudding.

Out On the Town at Sunset Harbour and a Boat Trip

<p>Test the Baos (steamed, filled soft Chinese buns shaped like a pillowed taco) and try the Shitake. </p>

Test the Baos (steamed, filled soft Chinese buns shaped like a pillowed taco) and try the Shitake.

Dwight Brown

The Sunset Harbour neighborhood sits just west of Alton Road on the west side of South Beach on the bay. It was once a quiet locale defined by some stunning condo buildings. With the advent of a new parking garage and redesigned streets, a host of hip restaurants have opened their doors and pulled in some of Miami’s most finicky cuisine followers. Many have come to cherish the continuously surprising fare at this Asian/Latino fusion restaurant, thanks to The Pubbelly Group’s founding Partner and Chef, Jose Mendin.

Mendin, who opened Nobu, Miami and Nobu, London and was chief chef overlooking all the SUSHISAMBAS, is Puerto Rican with a great experience in Asian and Latin-influenced cuisine. That background brought him to a high-level creative space which helps him concoct imaginative dishes for this Pubbelly and its sister restaurants in Miami, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and even onboard the Norwegian Cruise Line’s Escape. You will notice that the chatter from patrons is muted. It’s hard to talk when your mouth is full.

Hints: 1.) Go for the tasting menu. Spread your desire for discovering delicious food over several treats. Test the Baos (steamed, filled soft Chinese buns shaped like a pillowed taco) and try the Shitake or the Baja. A small plate of Robatta Octopus (the most tender you will ever eat) is a must. 2.) For Dim Sum, the Short Rib (with corn soy, parmesano and black truffle) is so good you may order it twice. 3.) For a noodle entrée, go for the Uni Pasta (Uni fish with harissa butter, horseradish and pan rayoo) 4. Wash it all down with a light-as-ginger-ale lager: Cigar City Lager (from Tampa, FL).

<p>The U-turns, jetting across waves and sudden starts will get your adrenaline going. </p>

The U-turns, jetting across waves and sudden starts will get your adrenaline going.

Taking a boat ride is a good reason to head down to the Bayside Marketplace off Biscayne Blvd. and Fourth Street in downtown Miami.

The market is a tourist haunt with restaurants, cafes, stores and live music. The biggest attractions are the various boat rides, and the one that will shake you up the most is the Thriller Powerboat Tour, which reaches speeds up to 45/50mph.

It’s a yellow 55-foot power catamaran that skims along the water as it takes you on a 45-minute offshore adventure at speeds that will recall chase scenes from TV’s Miami Vice. You pass Port of Miami, the Venetian Islands, Fisher Island and Star Island. You view “Millionaires Row,” where celebrities live in waterside mansions. Then you take a heart-pounding jaunt out into the Atlantic Ocean riding parallel to Miami Beach.

Hints: 1.) Sit in the front and you will get splashed occasionally. Sit in the back and you’ll get sprayed. 2.) Hold on. It isn’t exactly a roller coaster ride, but the U-turns, jetting across waves and sudden starts will get your adrenaline going. 3.) When the boat slows and the saucy DJ/MC/guide reels off who lives in what mansion on Biscayne Bay, names like Ricky Martin, Carmen Elektra and Jennifer Lopez will pop up. But the most memorable tidbit is that Lenny Kravitz’s home on Palm Island used to belong to Al Capone.

Welcome to Miami Where You Can Brush Shoulders with Tennis Heroes

<p>Venus Williams taking a selfie with a fan at the Miami Open.</p>

Venus Williams taking a selfie with a fan at the Miami Open.

Dwight Brown

The Miami Open at the Crandon Park Tennis Center uses twelve hard courts for competition courts and six practice courts. The Center is also home to two European red clay courts, four American green clay courts and two grass courts. When the Open is not in gear, the Tennis Center is a city park open to the public year-round. That means you can play on the 13,000-seat center Stadium Court, just like your favorite tennis champs. And if you’re at the Crandon Park Tennis Center when the Open is on, you just may luck out and get to take a selfie with a very famous and friendly tennis star.

The fine dining, lush hotels, sports opportunities and thrill rides give you lots of reasons to enjoy Miami before, during or after one of the most prestigious tennis tournaments in the world.

Visit travel writer Dwight Brown at

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