I’ll admit it. It takes a lot to impress me. In the job that I have, where I see all sorts of off-the-wall, elaborate people and objects on an hourly basis, nothing really phases me anymore. I remember a certain athlete flirting with me a few years ago. He told me he used to play for the University of Miami. “Basketball?” I asked him. No, football, he said. “Oh, that’s nice,” was my plaintive response. Turns out he was one of UM’s best wide receivers and a former first-round pick. And my thoughts? Unimpressed.
I used that example to show how when I become impressed, it’s for good reason. And yes, I was impressed the second I stepped foot inside the SLS Hotel on South Beach. The brand-new property (located at 1701 Collins Ave.) has softly opened this summer to much intrigue and curiosity among locals. “What’s that opening at the original Ritz Plaza Hotel?” is a common question by any resident who’s passed by SLS.
Despite being a non-South Beach resident, curiosity got the best of me, and I had to check out what all the fuss is about. In short, SLS is impressive. It’s designed by Philippe Starck, who in the world of design is the equivalent of a Mozart, a Peyton Manning, a Steven Spielberg. Starck’s credentials include designing the iconic Delano and Mondrian hotels. With SLS South Beach as well as its predecessor in Beverly Hills, Starck wanted to create a fantasy world, a surrealistic feel he describes as the guest’s “journey into your own dream world.”
But beyond the imaginative, innovation interior design, what SLS might actually come to be known for is its cuisine. SLS has partnered with two masterful chefs to create a couple of signature restaurants that might define all of South Beach. Katsuya by Starck has the delicate, deft touch of Master Sushi Chef Katsuya Uechi at its helm. At his home in Los Angeles, Uechi has been named Chef of the Year by Angeleno magazine, and his Brentwood restaurant was selected by Travel + Leisure as one of the Best New Restaurants of 2007. Katsuya makes its East Coast debut at SLS South Beach with a clear goal of providing distinct, first-rate sushi. “Irashaimase,” the hostesses will tell you as you walk into the restaurant. And yes, you will feel welcomed.
I dined at The Bazaar by Jose Andres. It wasn’t my first time dining at a Jose Andres establishment (the first being his lauded Washington D.C. restaurant, Jaleo). But I felt The Bazaar was going to be a different Andres take on food.
After seeing Philippe Starck’s innovative vision with design, it was absolutely apparent SLS wanted to carry that theme with its food. After a multi-course meal of tapas (I think the number of dishes were well into the double digits) and wine, I can honestly say that I am clueless who I think is more of a genius: Starck or Andres. It’s an absolute toss-up to me. The Bazaar’s menu is a story of contrasts, heralding traditional Spanish tapas and inventing modern ones. We even had the croquetas come out in a “dish” shaped like a sneaker (plastic in construction, but complete with actual white laces). Each tapas were more impressive than the last. Flavors bursted out of the pork belly sliders as did in the Japanese Taco (grilled eel, shiso, cucumber, wasabi and pork chicarrones).
I was told SLS is going to have a grand opening in November. At this point, it’s only a soft opening, where the service and staff are using this time to prepare for the season. Don’t let it fool you though: The entire team is well prepared to take in hotel and restaurant guests. Here and there are a few cosmetic touches that the hotel looks to polish and redesign, but other than that, what you see now is exactly what you’ll see come November. I’ve made a personal request with The Bazaar’s manager to not change a thing on the menu. Change anything, and you’ll feel my wrath, I chided. He smiled, laughed and said, “Don’t worry, Nila.” I noted that he pronounced my name correctly. Now that’s impressive.