If shopping is the ultimate escape—a kind of meditative therapy—then Bal Harbour Shops is retail Nirvana. The outdoor concourse—with its murmuring koi ponds, kaleidoscopic bouquets of bougainvillea and regal palm trees—offers an intoxicating blend of luxury, freedom and the promise of a new stylish discovery.
These days, the opportunity to dine safely outdoors also beckons. While you may come for the plush Brunello Cucinelli window displays, the sexy Zimmermann lace dresses and just about everything in Gucci’s expansive boutique, you will likely stay for a colorful sushi platter at Makoto or a distinctly French brunch at Le Zoo.
My introduction to the Bal Harbour Shops restaurant scene was a festive luncheon at Makoto to celebrate the publication of my memoir, My Paris Dream, following a book signing at Books & Books (still one of my favorite independent booksellers). Local journalists, socialites and influencers took over the plush banquette along one wall of the moody, minimal interior while I regaled them with stories of my first job in fashion working at the Paris office of Women’s Wear Daily. At the time, my boss, John Fairchild, was as much a foodie as he was a fashion rainmaker and our beat involved discovering both new designers and new restaurants. It made sense to celebrate my book at one of the world’s premier fashion destinations with a Champagne toast and many platters of chef Makoto Okuwa’s Edomae-style sushi.
Today, Makoto offers its signature impeccable service and cuisine on the outdoor terrace where soccer stars as well as celebrities like Mick Jagger, Roger Federer, Gloria Estefan and Alicia Keyes can be seen feasting on the irresistible truffle ponzu salmon and ginger lamb chops, or simply taking an evening break from Miami’s blazing heat. As food influencer and reality TV star Jonathan Cheban likes to say, “shopping with a side of sushi? Yes, please!” According to his @FoodGod Instagram feed, Cheban’s favorite brunch-time splurge is Makoto’s exquisite caviar platter.
A little more low-key, but no less low calorie, Hillstone is always on the itinerary when traveling with my teenage children, if not for the Mid-Century modern vibe of Poulsen artichoke light fixtures and super friendly service, then for classic menu items such as the famous spinach and artichoke dip and Carolina-style beef ribs. Personally, I love Hillstone’s Thai steak and noodle salad and, let’s be honest, it’s hard to resist the hot fudge sundae (just one bite, I promise). Fans still flock to the teak-paneled room overlooking the Shop’s portico fora sampling of what Bon Appetit magazine has called “the best cheeseburgers on the planet.”
If current travel restrictions leave you missing the sunny Piazzas of Capri or Sorrento, drop into Bal Harbour’s buzziest establishment, Carpaccio, where an additional fifteen tables have been added to their corner patio location. The oldest of the Shops’ restaurants, Carpaccio is a favorite among celebrities and athletes such as Leonardo DiCaprio, Eva Longoria, Phil Collins, Martha Stewart and Brazilian soccer star Ronaldinho Gaúcho. Tables outside provide ample people watching, but the real draw might be the parade of vintage and exotic cars lining up for valet parking—think Maseratis, Lamborghinis and countless Rolls Phantoms. Order chef Manuel Paucar’s easy plates of calamari or his signature razor-thin tuna carpaccio and you might, for a minute, feel that much closer to the memory of a summer sojourn on the Amalfi coast. And, if Milanese fare is more to your taste, fashion world favorite Sant Ambroeus will be opening in the Spring of 2022, along with an outpost of their café, Felice.
Like any true Francophile, I personally cannot resist a goat cheese omelette for lunch at chef Julian Baker’s Le Zoo, the closest thing Miami has to an authentic French bistro. When I lived on Paris’s Left Bank in the early 1990s, I clocked a lot of time on Café Flore’s leafy terrace and made weekend trips down to St. Tropez to meet up with friends at Le Sénéquier, so I appreciate Le Zoo’s authentic woven rattan bistro chairs and hand-drawn paper menu filled with Gallic favorites like escargots in hazelnut butter, onion soup topped with rich slabs of melted gruyere cheese and heaping bowls of mussels served with the crispiest frites. For a special occasion, I will even splurge on the towering Plateaux de Fruits de Mer—plates of fresh oysters, little neck clams and Alaskan King crab—just like a real Parisienne.
Photos courtesy of Bal Harbour Shops (Hillstone, Carpaccio) and Starr Restaurants (Le Zoo, Makoto).