I recently met an old college friend in South Beach, Miami for a fun "girls getaway." It was a quick trip -- just 48 hours -- but it was just what we needed. Warm weather, sunshine, shopping, a bit of exercise, great accommodations, and some good cocktails and meals.
We stayed at the Royal Palm South Beach. It is located right in South Beach, about a block north and west of where Ocean Drive ends, on Collins Avenue. I can't think of a more perfect spot in South Beach. While close to Ocean Drive and all its restaurants and bars (nightlife in this town starts at 11 pm!), the hotel's location is even better, because it is right on the most beautiful beach I've ever seen. I've been to Hawaii and many places in the Caribbean, and I've never seen such a wide beach, such beautiful fine white sand, and the most exquisitely clear water. The water was warm, and with a sandbar, you could go out so far in the ocean and still touch the smooth bottom (no rocks, seaweed...just beautiful white sand). The beach concierge takes good care of the hotel's guests, bringing water and fresh fruit. Our room came with lounge chair access, although umbrellas were extra.
Upon check-in, the receptionist had upgraded my friend and me to an even better room, since one was available. It gave us a sitting area, as well as a small dining table. Complimentary bottled water was refreshed daily -- a nice touch and necessary with the hot weather. Toiletries in the room were all labeled GLUTEN FREE. How wonderful! I had never heard of the brand -- Harmonic -- but it was so nice that the shampoo, conditioner, and body wash (all in large containers in the shower) and the body lotion were gluten free.
My friend and I had a drink before dinner on the first night in the lobby bar, and there were lots of fun cocktails to choose from.
Dinner at the Florida Cookery right in the hotel was wonderful. My friend and I couldn't decide between all the wonderful choices (most of which were gluten free by nature) so we decided to share two salads and two entrees. We ordered the Red Kale Salad with smoked almonds, mandarin oranges, and citrus vinaigrette as well as the Baby Beet Salad with herbed goat cheese, baby beets, and baby greens (shown below). Both were outstanding -- and presented beautifully. They were not stingy portions, either!
On to our main course...we ordered the Pan Seared Yellowtail Snapper with local baby carrots, spinach, and pomegranate and the Poached Grouper and Cedar Key clams, coconut lemongrass broth, beech mushrooms, and forbidden rice. Both were very good, the Snapper being our favorite. The only thing on any four of these dishes that is not gluten free is a fried beet chip used as a garnish on the beet salad, because our server told us it is fried in a shared fryer. Clearly, she was well-trained.
Billy Boyle is the Executive Chef, and after many years working in both Los Angeles and Las Vegas, he arrived at the Royal Palm South Beach one year ago.
He explained that, while there are no "gluten free" notations on the menu, most of the menu is gluten free or can be easily altered to be gluten free. Even the crab cakes are only coated with breadcrumbs, which can be left off upon request. That is rare -- to find a crab cake without breadcrumbs!
He and his staff are very aware of how to avoid cross contamination in the kitchen, and he encourages all gluten free diners to mention to their server if they are on a medically necessary diet. He will then come to talk to the guest personally. Another suggestion is to call the restaurant in advance of one's meal. That way, options and preferences can be discussed in advance.
Although we did not eat either breakfast or lunch at the hotel, Billy mentioned that the majority of choices on both menus are gluten free. They keep gluten free bread on hand if a guest wants toast (and take care not to use the common toaster) or a sandwich. However, there are so many other options for breakfast and lunch (omelets, salads, fish, tacos with corn tortillas) that bread isn't even really necessary.
There are several areas to eat, both upstairs and downstairs in a restaurant next to the pool.
I only wish we'd had longer to enjoy the hotel, wonderful food, and gorgeous beach. As my friend said, "Well, we'll just have to go back." I'd highly recommend this hotel to any gluten free traveler. Be sure to talk with Billy Boyle, Executive Chef. He'll take good care of you!
Miami's "busy" season starts in late November and goes through June. If you're looking for the best rates, you can save money by traveling when we did (July through October).