I have friends who regularly travel to Miami on food and golf pilgrimages, excursions into sun-drenched decadence that often leave me gasping with envy. After hearing their stories, I find myself imagining I’m one of them. I see myself holding a drink menu on the beach after a round of golf and a late afternoon swim, joyfully going over the details of the day—there I am, leaning back and gazing upward at the blue sky, the crowds and stress of New York City miles and miles away.
This past weekend, I canceled my plans, gathered up my courage and my bankroll, and announced that I would be joining them. The itinerary included a University of Miami football game and tailgate—the food courtesy of one friend’s summer Chipotle rewards program—at Hard Rock stadium; a mid-afternoon seafood snack to celebrate the start of the stone crab season; a nap on the beach; and dinner at the buzzed-about Watr.
Watr, located on the 18th-floor rooftop of 1 Hotel & Homes, is blessed with magnificent views of the city and the ocean, a major reason I enjoyed eating there. The space itself is airy and clean. The décor, simple. Bistro-style globe lights. Beach umbrellas. Candles, driftwood floors, white plates. You know the look.
The staff is sweet, the drink list is just right, and the menu filled with dishes inspired by the cuisines of Polynesia and Japan. In the kitchen is Fernando Cruz, a “Hell’s Kitchen” contestant who has served as 1 Hotel’s executive chef for nearly two years. When the restaurant first opened, he told CBS News that Watr hoped to create a relaxed European dining vibe with shared plates and good drinks. “Think Ibiza luxury lifestyle,” he said. Late at night, the globe lights are dimmed and there is music from a live DJ. The crowd is young, energetic, and good-looking. After hearing all this, you may think the obvious draw to Watr is its ambience, but many of the dishes here are confident and sophisticated.
Among the vegetables I had were crispy Brussels sprouts with a beautiful range of sweetness and spiciness. After that came a miso roasted Japanese eggplant, which was rich in flavor. Kimchi—made with tuna, avocado, and crispy garlic—is crunchy and juicy, impeccably fresh. We shared an exquisitely designed Dragon Roll that would delight the Manhattan fashion-week crowd and made me realize the virtues of spicy mayo. Then we had pork-belly bahn mi buns, pillow-y in texture. Those early nibbles (tiny portions, big flavors) were delicious—vegetables, fish, and meats at their best. The thrill is in the presentation, the combinations, and the element of surprise.
Another favorite of mine, although I didn’t expect it, were the sweet and sour chicken wings, prepared with a perfect crisp. Desserts are limited, but quite good, the best being the ginger bread pudding. (They also offer fried ice cream and a white chocolate mochi cake with strawberry umeboshi, a popular pickled fruit of Japan.)
A meal at Watr represents the products and the landscape of today’s Miami, plus the commitment of Cruz. It is a curated menu that showcases the city’s diversity in one of South Beach’s most charming settings. I never doubted that Watr would offer one of Miami’s best views. But I am now convinced that the food is just as delightful.