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Destination Grove Isle Club and Resort
A Different Miami, Just Minutes from the Action
By
Jennifer Frommer & Jeff Schock

View from Pool facing Biscayne Bay - click to enlarge
View from Pool facing Biscayne Bay

Miami in August is hot! And the South Beach scene is hot all year round! We love it, but there is more to Miami than the steamy bustle of Ocean Drive, the art deco of Collins Avenue or the shops on Lincoln Road, there’s a different Miami just 15 minutes from the action. 

 Tranquil and a world away from Miami’s maddening crowds, Grove Isle (www.groveisle.com) is a small hotel and resort built on a private island just off-shore from Coconut Grove in scenic Biscayne Bay.

Getting there is a bit tricky so pay careful attention to the directions provided by the hotel. It’s just a few turns off Bay Shore Drive, through residential Coconut Grove, and over a bridge before you’re cleared through a security gate and directed to the hotels circular drive way at the end of the island.

Surrounded by water, yachts and lush tropical gardens, it’s a romantic respite with the laid back atmosphere of a private club, where couples can luxuriate in hammocks while being serenaded by uninterrupted music piped throughout the grounds.   A throwback to British colonial days in the tropics, Grove Island and its restaurant Baleen are two of Miami’s best-kept secrets.  With romance on the mind, we settled in for three sumptuous nights and surrendered to the many charms of Grove Isle.

Sunrise at Grove Isle - click to enlarge
Sunrise at Grove Isle

Catering to the non-tourist, Grove Isles attracts a worldly clientele comprised of individual business travelers, couples desiring a convenient get-away, or guests with an appetite for culinary adventure.  During our stay, we met a couple from Boca Raton who had ditched the kids and were down for romantic weekend, a businessman from Brazil, and a successful couple on their honeymoon who decided to stay stateside without sacrificing the paradise found beyond territorial waters. Grove Isle is one of 20 “boutique properties” owned and managed by the privately held Nobel House Group. (www.nobelhousehotels.com)

Each property represents the unique personalities of its locale environ, all share a common theme: fire and water. When night falls, Grove Isle is dramatically set aglow by blazing torches stationed around the pool area and along the open-walkways, which wrap around the bay-front.

Guest Room "floating" atop Biscayne Bay. - Click to Enlarge
Guest Room "floating" atop Biscayne Bay

All Grove Isle rooms are moderately spacious with terra cotta tiled floors and contemporary blonde-wood & granite-topped furniture. Adequate bathrooms are stocked with Bulgaria amenities.  Comfortable sitting areas and large terraces face the bay - a great perch for reading or in-room breakfast. The views are spectacular, particularly the sunrises if you are up and about.  In our room the elevated king-size bed was placed against a headboard of picture windows. If you rest your chin on one of the soft pillows you’ll fell the sensation of aviating the Biscayne azure with your coveys.  Rates can range from  $ 99 for single rooms to over $400 for suites -- depending on the season and occupancy.
The swimming pool, only a few feet from the bay, provided us with an afternoon of bliss sustained by soft, plush lounges and relaxing music piped through speakers hidden in the gardens.  We swam a few laps and enjoyed the hot tub/Jacuzzi. A modest gym is available to guests and Island residents as well as, the tennis courts. The outdoor bar, reminiscent of a South Pacific hut, offered an array of tempting tropical concoctions, and interesting conversation in several languages.

Poolside at Grove Isle Club and Resort - click to enlarge
Poolside at Grove Isle Club and Resort

We resisted the temptation for poolside libation, however, as we had a date for cocktails that evening with Grove Isle’s Public Relations Director, Rebecca  Kollaras. A fashionable Miami native, Rebecca is a wealth of information, and her specialty is creating imaginative travel packages tied to the local area.

“The Still Life Package,” which took place during Coconut Grove’s world famous Art Show is one such artful escape. It included a three day-Two night stay; an artist set with a selection of watercolors and an “8x10” stretched canvas, paintbrush, and tabletop easel for guests to create their own artistic visions. 

Another package for art lovers was described as “The Museum Pass Escape,” which offered three day-two nights with a pass to the Vizcaya Museum. “Coconut Grove is the heart of artistic activity in the Miami area,” Rebecca told us, “so it was a very appropriate tie-in. The hotel is filled with art; the hotel’s charity of record is the New World School of the Arts.”

Rebecca also had a hand in creating the alternative “Star Bar” promotion, which appeals to guests interested in limiting their desires for mini-bar temptations. “We removed anything that they might consider an indulgence, not just alcohol, but caffeine, chocolate or even soda. We’ve found this to be very popular.” Should one want diversions of their own design, Coconut Grove and it’s commercial epicenter, the famed Coco-Walk, is just a few minutes away from Grove Isle. We spent an entire afternoon wandering Coco-Walk’s many art galleries, shops and restaurants.

Monkey Business at Baleen - click to enlarge
Monkey Business at Baleen.

That night we experienced another very popular Grove Isle event, dining in the award-winning restaurant: Baleen. Its festive mood is enhanced by some serious monkey business, artifacts of monkeys that is – You’ll find them everywhere throughout Baleen’s whimsical décor, and in the titles on the menu. The moment we were seated at our spacious banquette, a piping hot loaf of “Monkey Bread” swooped down to the table and kept us company while we thought about what to order. Our knowledgeable waiter Virgil explained the Baleen theme: “Monkeys are not only cute and fun but they bring out the restaurant’s tropical flair.” 

We started off with jumbo shrimp the size of langoustines imported from Vietnam followed by the freshest oysters we’ve had in quite some time. Hand-towels were then presented, and the deck cleared as we awaited Baleen’s signature entree: Chinese fried snapper with coconut rice.  The artfully prepared yellowtail snapper has taken first prize in many competitions with trophies to numerous to mention. We savored every last drop of the sweet and spicy sauce; the coconut rice puts a nice spin on the tireless staple.  Some other signature dishes include: a three pound lobster cooked over a wood burning fire made sweet and succulent, fresh mahi-mahi, filet mignon with a Roquefort crust cooked to pink perfection, deep Dover scallops and an incredible lobster bisque.

Baleen's Chef Extraordinaire, Robbin Haas - click to enlarge
Baleen's Chef Extraordinaire, Robbin Haas

In 1999, Nobel House approached one of Miami’s hottest chefs, Robbin Haas, and succeeded in luring him away from his wildly successful South Beach endeavor Red Square, to champion Baleen into the echelons of South Florida’s great restaurants.

Robbin, who lives just down the road in Coconut Grove, dropped by to share some of the secrets of his success. Bountifully energetic, Robbin started his career 12 years ago at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach. His culinary vision is summed up and maintained in two words: “Consistency and simplicity.  I cook for the restaurant the same way I cook at home.”  He went on to tell us about the grilled chicken with risotto he had just whipped at home before coming over to the restaurant to meet us. His initial idea was to create an up-market American Steak House that serves seafood.  “I imagined New York City meeting South Florida – a steak house, a fish house, with best attributes of both worlds. ” Hence, large steak-house sized portions married to consistent and inventive preparation make Baleen a study in contrasts: clubby yet formal, American yet exotic. 

The Grove Isle success has led to the advent of new Baleens opening soon in Naples, Florida and San Francisco, California. Baleen’s boast many satisfied customers who return frequently, from celebrity out-of-towners to locals in the know, Robbin has the Midas touch, and will undoubtedly capture more fans as his Baleen monkeys find new markets to play in. 

Our last night was spent alfresco, back at Baleen’s. Our meal was exactly as Robbin Haas likes it – simple and consistently great! The wine, a Blassen D’dassan Margeaux 1996; the meal, filet mignon with a Roquefort crust, roasted chicken, creamy mashed potatoes complimented by bib and ceaser salad. 

Baleen's Dining Room, formal, yet clubby - click to enlarge
Baleen's Dining Room, formal, yet clubby

The writers dining al fresco at Baleen - click to enlarge
The writers dining al fresco at Baleen

We toasted yet another great meal on this island oasis. This was our last night on the island, and the next morning would find us up at dawn and off to the airport.  We lingered at Baleens sipping our espressos spiked with Sambuca, again lost in the tranquility of Biscayne Bay.  In the channel a pair of motor yachts slipped silently into the night, as the lights of Miami Beach beckoning from across the bay. We looked at our watches and smiled with the same conclusion: South Beach was just minutes away and still sizzling with some of the best dance clubs on the planet, tomorrow would just have to wait!  We ordered two hot espressos to go and called for the car.

Grove Isle Club and Resort

Four Grove Isle Drive

Coconut Grove, FL 33133


Phone: 305-858-8300 or 800-884-7683

Web: http://www.groveisle.com 

 

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Jennifer Frommer & Jeff Schock are a wife and husband team specializing in Caribbean and Mexican travel and cuisine from a multimedia perspective.  Frommer is a Marketing Executive for one of America’s leading teen magazines and former Vice President of Entertainment for Sony Music. Schock is writer and television producer who creates entertainment programming for networks such as MTV, HBO,  and the Disney Channel.

Frommer and Schock are currently at work on an in-depth feature on the influences of music on Cuban culture. 

You can reach the authors at: jbfrommer@hotmail.com

This Article is Copyright © 2003 by Jennifer Frommer & Jeff Schock.  All rights reserved worldwide.

 

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