By Giovanny Gutierrez
I’m a sucker for nostalgia. Restaurants that remind me of marathon dinners spent with friends and eateries that transport me to the far-flung destinations have always had a special place in my heart. Bal Harbour Shops has an emotional pull for similar reasons: its collection of restaurants and cafes have a way of transporting me to places and moments I hold dear and will never forget. Sappy? Maybe. But when you live in a city with an incredible dining scene such as ours, choosing where to go is easier when you follow your gut. Mine? It leads me to the spots I’ve noted below. Each one is exceptional for different reasons and no two are alike—even the ones set across from one another, sharing a sidewalk.
I can’t imagine a time when Carpaccio wasn’t the buzzy, go-to restaurant for power lunches, lunching ladies and every celebrity and socialite in between. In business for more than 25 years, the Italian spot prides itself on an expansive and authentic menu stacked with pizza options (the crispy Margherita is a personal favorite), paper-thin sliced carpaccio salads (tuna, salmon and succulent beef) and an array of fresh pasta dishes. The indoor dining room is centered around a full-service bar, but the real scene is outdoors where guests vie for the coveted shaded tables on the sun-drenched patio.
What to order: Go for the lombata milanese, a flattened, lightly breaded veal chop topped with fresh diced tomatoes, arugula, lemon and radicchio. It’s the perfect meat-to-greens ratio. Pair it with a negroni and make sure to close your eyes upon that first sip—it’ll feel like drinking along the Grand Canal in Venice. Cin cin!
As far as restaurants go, Hillstone is what I call old faithful. The impeccable service is always consistent, the food is delicious across the board and you can count on the bartenders to mix up a solid cocktail every single time. Most everything on the menu is a favorite, from the perfect cheeseburger to the seasonal grilled artichokes that disappear as quickly as they arrive. Oh, and you’ll never encounter a wobbly table either—each one is nailed to the floor. Hospitality is in the details, folks.
What to order: The French dip au jus is a drippy, delicious prime rib sandwich on a house-made baguette that’s served with a side of tangy horse radish sauce for slathering and a broth similar to a rich onion soup for dipping. Order an Old Cuban to sip with your sando. A mixture of aged Bacardi Reserva Ocho rum, sparkling wine, freshly muddled mint and lime, the cocktail’s bold flavors stand up well to the richness of the French dip.
Le Zoo brings out the Francophile in all of us. The French servers, the mound of crispy frites that arrive when you order fries (no ketchup either!), the tiny-but-adorable bistro tables seemingly plucked from the banks of the Seine—everything’s got a touch of Paris here and I can’t help but fall for it. The menu is a mix of Provencal cuisine infused with Mediterranean flavors, plus coastal ingredients. Think dishes like trout almondine, steak frites and fluffy omelets (at brunch time).
What to order: French onion soup gratinée holds up no matter the weather but, if it’s a particularly warm day, then I’m ordering the Plateaux de Fruits de Mer with lobster, shrimp, oysters and clams. Pair it with a refreshing sipper like the Romarin with Grey Goose La Poire, St. Germain, rosemary and pear.
Chef Makoto Okuwa’s perennially packed Japanese restaurant goes beyond Izakaya and sushi. It’s the kind of place that caters to well-traveled foodies, newcomers to haute Asian cooking and the curious passersby. Shoppers can’t help but crane their necks when they walk by the busy spot, and with good reason. The raw fish selection is among the freshest you’ll find in the city and the spicy tuna crispy rice is the absolute most popular from any Japanese restaurant around, lest you forget where the iconic dish first came on the scene locally.
What to order: The sashimi or sushi samplers—featuring Makoto’s signature, branded Tamagoyaki omelet—serve as the ideal introduction to chef Okuwa’s genius. As for the cocktails, you can’t go wrong with any of them, though I highly recommend the Thai mojito or the piña margarita if tropical is your vibe.
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Photos courtesy of Giovanny Gutierrez.