Estella Shardlow discovers tucked-away treasures unearthing at Delano South Beach – not least this bijou Japanese restaurant…
Rarely are ‘Miami Beach’ and ‘understatement’ uttered in the same breath. From the blunt Art Deco glamour of its soaring buildings to the bronzed bods on its powdery shores, and of course the en masse hedonism that is ‘Spring Breeeaaak!’, hiding its (neon) light under a bushel just isn’t Miami’s style.
Intriguing, then, that one of the finest sushi spots in town is so unassuming that I literally walked right past it. Strolling down the sleek Philippe Starck-designed lobby of Delano South Beach, I made it all the way to Italian restaurant Bianca before backtracking to locate Umi: an intimate low-lit nook comprising a sushi counter, a solitary server and one communal marble dining table.
However, I soon discovered this very table is the stage set for some seriously memorable and beautiful dishes.
The first creation to impress didn’t involve rice at all; it was the deceptively named tuna ‘pizza’, one of Chef Nawee Sungkamee signature dishes. The pretty pink disk scattered with micro shiso comprises a crisp wafer-thin tortilla topped with melt-in-the-mouth slivers of Big Eye, drizzled in just the right amount of truffle-infused oil. Rich yet delicate, brining heavenly textures, I wasn’t in the slightest bit disappointed by the absence of dough, melted cheese or any of the other usual pizza components.
Next came a platter of omakase (chef’s choice) sashimi, including Japanese eel, salmon, tuna belly and snapper. These were generous jewel-like cuts of beautifully fresh fish, accompanied by the classics of lemon slices, a leaf-shaped serving of wasabi and a mound of ginger. Why mess with perfection?
Then it was time for the sushi proper. My usual salmon and avocado default option was trumped by an array of more creative hand rolls. There was snow crab, soy paper, dynamite sauce; the ‘fdr’ combining tuna, salmon, yellowtail, crab, soy paper; and the ridiculously decadent ‘delano’ starring poached Maine lobster, wagyu beef and black truffle.
While the sakes and craft cocktails are no doubt top-notch, a few minutes perusing the digital wine list we settled on the 2010 Tantara Pinot Noir – something of a rare find since only 207 cases were produced. Hailing from the Santa Maria Hills, Monterey County, it follows an earthy, peppery nose with complex red berry and mushroom notes.
Usually I skip on dessert at sushi restaurants, but luckily I was coaxed into trying the Concerto, Umi’s signature sweet. The finger of rich chocolate cake piped with thick mascarpone mousse and dusted with cocoa powder had the flavor of tiramisu in more refined form, and praline gelato on a base of crumbled almond biscuit made the perfect partner.
Small, sophisticated and a little secretive – Umi’s traits are in fact all part of The Delano’s wider allure. Ian Schrager – who’s credited as the originator of the modern boutique hotel – created the place as one of South Beach’s first exclusive openings in the 1990s, when the likes of Prince, Madonna and Jennifer Lopez partied here. Shielded from Collins Avenue by a wall of greenery, the main entrance is discreet compared with older neighbours such as the Fontainebleau.
Then you enter to find a grown-up Alice in Wonderland-inspired fantasy world of Salvador Dalí and Antoni Gaudí furniture, and billowing white gossamer curtains (meant to evoke a table cloth in homage to Starck’s childhood memories of playing underneath his grandmother’s kitchen table). The surreal charm continues in the ‘secret garden’ beyond, where life-size chess pieces stand between gumdrop-shaped topiary. Full-length mirrors are propped against the Ficus trees, while a silver table and chairs stand in the shallow end of the infinity pool.
Reclining on one of the snow-white cabanas to polish off the Pinot Noir, I decided this was one rabbit hole from which I was in no hurry to escape.
Umi Sushi and Sake Bar at The Delano. 1685 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-674-5752. For more information, visit www.morganshotelgroup.com.