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Travelog Miami Number One

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We are here in Miami for medical attention and it looks as if we will be here a while. However for the first days we decided to splurge on expensive hotels and some eateries (excuse me, restaurants, tabernas, trattorias, ristorantes, etc.) until the Miami season changes on October 1st or 3d and prices go back toward normal.

So, first installment: The Biltmore Hotel is a Miami landmark hotel. The Biltmore dominates Coral Gables, Florida which is a piece of Miami that never became exactly part of the Miami-Dade Metro Area. It is a fine, old building of orange-pink stucco and has the largest hotel swimming pool in the world, some expensive restaurants and the obligatory (for the rich, conservative traveler) golf course. The grounds are residential, quiet and large even though it is close to Coral Gables’ “Miracle Mile”.

The pool is, indeed, gigantic; very long and L shaped, wide and sufficiently deep for swimming laps on one side near the row of funky statues and outdoor restaurant. There is a convention center and spa that allows use of the gym and pool.

The room was nice enough and the bareness of tile floors hardly bothers those of us who live in the tropics. It had the usual amenities of comfortable beds, TV, telephones and the pretentious kind of lobby that was important in the 20’s and still commands the respect of those who like The Easter Parade. I, personally, like small, boring lobbies that never intimidate and don’t seem to require a suit and tie with which to walk through them.

Sadly, the pool was closed the next day for repairs to the restaurant and we are obsessive swimmers so we considered checking out. Then we discovered that the “disabled accessible” room was anything but. When my wife finished showering in a slightly converted 1920’s bathroom the water had filled the bathroom and was slowly soaking the room. Out we checked.

Still caving in to my wife’s command to enjoy the low season prices; we moved to the Ritz-Carlton of Coconut Grove. I always wanted to put on the Ritz. Or perhaps to have a diamond as big as the Ritz. Now I have put on the Ritz and it’s really better than poverty (which I have also managed for long periods of my life). The Ritz is a new high-rise with a formal lobby of marble and glass but without all the pretentiousness of that earlier era. The rooms are super comfortable and really accessible for the disabled. The staff, as befits the price, are extremely attentive and pleasant rather than the New York version of elegance which, for some reason, includes pretentiousness and a superciliousness that disgusts me. Anyone putting me down because I haven’t dressed as they wished is of no use to me. For some reason New Yorkers seem to enjoy the puffed up ego of the put down.

After traveling a long way by taxi to a Chinese restaurant, Ming’s on South Dixie Highway (which was fine with Chinese green vegetable and a great Ma Po Tofu with a specially made bok choy in mushroom sauce dish) came to $25 with tax and tip) we discovered the taxi fare and the restaurant came to as much as the hotel’s extravagant dining room so we tried it.

The hotel dining room was one of those comfortable, elegant, attentive and delicious experiences that made up for the shock of the bill. We had each grilled salmon with a sweet, soy glaze, perfect asparagus (that are impossible to find in Mexico), home made breads, garlic puree and no wine which was sad but necessary under our medical circumstances. The bill was $60 for the both of us which isn’t bad for the level of comfort and taste. I prefer my usual Chinese dinners for $25 but the comfort of eating elegantly here and not making a long taxi ride which is difficult for someone in a wheelchair.made eating in the hotel highly desirable. I highly recommend the Ritz, Dinner at Eight and the Bizcaya Room (Vizcaya, the Miami Mansion landmark, is nearby.

Another Chinese restaurant with four separately owned restaurants is Canton King with two of its four restaurants on Dixie Highway in the Kendall area (near Dadeland Mall) and another on Ponce de Leon in Coral Gables. One of the excellent dishes there has been the “Shanghai Salmon”, a grilled salmon with pineapple sauce. The one in Coral Gables was a bit better with more salmon, grilled crispier but served with undercooked yam slices instead of broccoli and carrots. The vegetable soup was best in the Coral Gables location with “Chinese Green Vegetable” which is the Chinese version of a number of Western vegetables only I like them better. This one was a lot like bok choy hearts with a slightly more pungent taste.

Miami is a overly growing city that has become desirable and chic and is beginning to suffer from its virtues. Miami went from boom to bust in the 50’s and then was brought back from the edge of oblivion to become a highly coveted address. The result is a housing boom where mid-level condos cost in the 4-500,000 dollar range with 6 or 7,000 dollar taxes, multi-million dollar houses and roads more and more heavily trafficked (with terrible traffic jams) and a car culture beyond anything I have seen in Tampa, Westchester, New York or Los Angeles. The place drips Porsche’s, BMW SUV’s, Ferraris, Hummers, Mercedes two seaters and a sea of other expensive machines. Traffic jams give the view of fender benders between BMWs and Maseratis hitting the rear of a Mercedes sports car.

Back home in Mexico the mechanics complain that my Jetta is too lujo, too luxurious a car and therefore parts and service are harder to come by in our village. $650 peso dinners for two are still unusual. But for fun and night life and an American version of the gateway to Latin America; Miami cannot be beat. Certainly not by any other place in Florida.

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