Spring is the time of year when you take stock and ask yourself certain questions. If you’re of a faithful bent, it might be about what you’ve given up for certain holidays and what those sacrifices symbolize. If you’re philosophical, you may think about the renewal of the seasons and the overall cycle of life. And if you’re a dedicated diner and lover of nightlife, you may be wondering about the chicest waterfront place to dine and lounge that is not only perfect now, but will maintain its breezy integrity throughout the summer. The Deck at Island Gardens caters to this last individual rather well.
Located on Biscayne Bay’s Watson Island, behind the Miami Children’s Museum off the MacArthur Causeway, Island Gardens is a mixed-use development-in-progress that includes Deep Harbour, the only marina with capacity for mega-yachts in the Western hemisphere. The 5,000 feet of slips for these billionaire toys bring Miami into the stratosphere of resorts like Capri and Cannes, making good on that “American Riviera” nickname our city was given so long ago.
Situated entirely outdoors and replete with greenery, The Deck is Island Gardens’ first culinary component, put together by the development’s CEO, Mehmet Bayraktar, a Turkish real estate tycoon who relocated to South Florida. He recently nabbed Alfredo Alvarez to be executive chef—and yes, Alvarez brought with him his signature cognac-enhanced lobster risotto—and legendary club entrepreneurs Michael Capponi and Eric Milon to head up the entertainment. The result is a venue that’s attractive for numerous reasons: terrific food, high-end pours, eclectic live and DJ-mixed music, unbeatable views of Miami’s skyline, a light stir of wind no matter the time of day and an endless loop of wheel-heeled patrons in head-to-toe designer apparel.
Like other places where Alvarez has been chef—Seaspice and Palmeiras Beach Club among them—The Deck is a lure for those on the floating party circuit as well as locals who want to impress clients in a waterside canopied cabana or enjoy an evening out that diverges from the tried and true.
Whatever visuals you might be there for (private helicopters landing and discharging celebrity passengers among them), don’t let them distract you from the plated views. Alvarez’s menu includes the kind of dishes that are easy to snack on as you table hop, some nodding to yacht culture like caviar and charcuterie, others harking back to owner Bayraktar’s Turkish heritage. Lahmacun, a palate-satisfying pizza layered with sauteed ground beef and served with sliced tomatoes and handfuls of fresh parsley, remains one of my favorites, beating out a pie dressed with arugula, San Marzano tomatoes, mozzarella and 24-month-aged prosciutto di Parma by a notch. One also has to admire the range of refreshing, texture-driven mezzes (accompanied by puffed toasted pita), like kabak tzatziki (zucchini, walnuts, yogurt and dill), shakshouka (a chunky blend of eggplant, pepper and tomatoes) and mercimek (an addicting lentil dip with surprise counterpoints of green onion and sweet-sour pomegranate seeds).
If you’re settled at a table for a meal, start with a skillet of octopus, where succulent sections are nestled over sizzling rounds of zucchini. Or if it’s a long, lazy afternoon at the bar when you’d rather not consume the equivalent of a sun ray, try that zucchini—a popular ingredient here—marinated and julienned along with baby artichokes and shaved fennel, then parsed with a mild Champagne-shallot salad dressing and lidded with a Parmesan tuile. Continue to cool down with the Tower of Tartare, which offers a plethora of chopped raw salmon, tuna and scallops over a bed of young, organic watercress. A quenelle of seasoned, mashed avocado on top gives earthy flavor to the chunks of fish and shellfish, which are larger than tartare generally requires and, as a result, make a nice, light meal.
After assessing your net worth, you can decide if you wish to spring for the fish special of the day, which is usually an enormous red snapper or turbot baked in salt, paraded through the dining area, then flambéed and dismantled tableside. A smaller option, the Chilean sea bass with truffle-porcini mushroom pate is an explosively rich alternative. Carnivores can’t complain about either the baby rack of lamb with Dijon mustard au jus or the 16-ounce rib-eye garnished with a generous block of maitre d’ butter—both are of superior quality. For the chicken enthusiast, a casserole of poultry, sausage and Cubanelle peppers is enhanced with vinegar and lemon confit—tart, tender and tasty. Alvarez really shines when it comes to pastas, however, and tosses a satisfying al dente pappardelle with velvety braised short rib and black truffle.
If you find yourself a bit too full for dessert, tune in to the DJ and chair dance for a little while, or take a stroll down to the water to admire the yachts before ordering some Nutella-filled donuts. Because the question you ultimately have to ask yourself here is not if you should or shouldn’t, but how can you possibly resist?
THE DECK AT ISLAND GARDENS
888 MacArthur Causeway, Miami, 786.479.3443
Lunch and dinner: Wed.-Sat., noon-1am
Caviar, $100-$400; charcuterie and artisanal cheeses, $8-$13; raw bar and skillets, from $15; mezze tray (choice of three), $25; appetizers and salads, $16-$25; pizzas, pastas and risottos, $14-$29; main courses, $28-$120; desserts, $14; cocktails, $15-$17; wines by the glass, $12-$18; wines by the bottle, $80-$8,300
Put on your best designer resortwear and make sure your tan screams Portofino.
All to Yourself
The entire property is available for events during the day and certain evenings. Inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org.