Dining in Bal Harbour, Florida is much more than a revolving display of Wall Street South titans coming in for dinner. Gifted chefs—known and unknown—are doing noteworthy things here.
Chef Makoto Okuwa, who worked closely with Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto and earned the head sushi chef role at Morimoto New York and Morimoto Philadelphia, is now winning rave reviews with even the most jaded patrons thanks to his eponymous eatery. The simplest thing can make or break sushi: the ratio of fish to rice must be just right; the briny edge must be there but not perceptibly so; the grains need to be sticky, not clingy. Okuwa is exact on this score.
The 200-seat venue is located on the south end of Bal Harbour Shops, a stone’s throw from old standbys La Goulue and Carpaccio. Earth-toned interiors are framed by dark stained-wood panels and distressed oak floors. Standout dishes include fire and ice oysters with yamamomo granita and serrano chili, tuna air bread, frosty Kobe fried rice, and the many offerings from the bincho charcoal robata grill. An impressive craft sake program is in tune with plates coming out of the kitchen.
Across the street, chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s name headlines the culinary show at the St. Regis Bal Harbour Resort. Indeed, J&G Grill, helmed by chef de cuisine Brad Kilgore, is the trophy at the end of the hotel’s hall of mirrors. Within the restaurant, no detail has been overlooked, from the soaring ceilings strung with pewter bell lights, to subtle hues of the hotel’s signature violet, to the spectacular 2,500-bottle wine cellar. The floor-to-ceiling views of the palm-lined beach heighten the drama of the space. Everyone recommends the black truffle pizza with fontina cheese, and for the record, everyone is right. Also notable is the J&G Grill lobster, prepared with a whisper of steam, then coated with a trace of tempura and served over a superb slaw of curly cabbage, ginger, scallion, and mint.
One final food destination was found in a rather unlikely place. The menu at Mister Collins at One Bal Harbour Resort & Spa may not be innovative, but it delivers on a wide range of home-style American cuisine, anchored by old-school classics. The restaurant is situated on the waterfront with mouthwatering views over Baker’s Haulover Inlet, and the venue’s best tables are on the terrace. For a taste of the Atlantic, try the blackened diver sea scallops, and in keeping with the tony resort feel, your side of macaroni and cheese can be spiked with jumbo lump crab on request. When in Bal Harbour, it never hurts to upgrade like the locals do.