Huh? What are those pointy things glaring back at me? That’s SO February 2020! No more chancletas? Do I still know how to walk in those? It turns out I do, and I wore heels twice this weekend to visit a couple of my favorite newly reopened restaurants. How did the experience compare to pre-quarantine fine dining? What safety measures did each restaurant take? Did I feel safe?
Hello, Bourbon Steak and Fiola. I’ve missed you!
Nestled inside the newly remodeled JW Marriott Miami Turnberry Resort & Spa in Aventura, Bourbon Steak reopened its doors on May 19th. The hotel remains closed for now. Upon arrival to the valet area, the masked and gloved attendants gave us the option of using their valet or self-parking in the nearby lot, a short stroll away. A temperature-check stand greeted us in the lobby. I stood as if I was waiting in a TSA line. I then was waived in immediately by the host, who stated, “The system already took your temperature.” Oh. What system, I wondered? The answer: top-of-the-line body scanner installed on the wall behind the stand.
We met the rest of our mask-wearing party in the lobby with awkward air kisses and walked in. I haven’t been this close to anyone since the second week in March. Except perhaps at the supermarket, where no one truly respects personal space when reaching over your shoulder for the must-have cilantro. But I digress.
The first noticeable change at the restaurant was the glass partition that now sits atop of the hostess stand. Wearing his uniform white mask, the host walked us past the main dining room into an adjacent ballroom. They are lucky to have this to temporarily use as they adhere to the 50% capacity rules. On the way, I peeked into the kitchen where the kitchen staff worked non-stop, also wearing masks and gloves. We sat at our uncharacteristically bare table; the white tablecloth was missing as well as all decor, and glassware. The rest of the tables surrounding us were easily spaced out a good 6′-10′ apart. A lonesome QR code sat center-table and turned out to be the menu for the night, including the wine list. I could not wait to take my mask off once allowed and did so the second I sat. And exhale. What followed was a close-enough version of the expected Bourbon Steak hospitality I have adored for the last 12 years.
Working with a condensed menu (due to the decreased kitchen staff), we chose our courses working with the provided online listing. Throughout the night, service proceeded as usual: plates, glasses, and silverware exchanged per course. Water and wine service provided effortlessly. The corkage fee is now $45. Welcoming and happy to engage, the staff worked without skipping a beat. Honestly, once we placed our orders, everything felt mostly “back to normal.” I was able to relax and enjoy myself without studying every person who passed by as if they were a silent COVID-carrying assassin. I’m sure the wine helped.
Masks were to be worn when leaving our table. Use of the bathroom was limited to one guest at a time: clean as expected, before and after regulations.
Bourbon Steak showed off its finesse, plate after plate, virus be damned. Not to worry, the signature fries remain as a complimentary starter. Although the menu is limited, it still lists plenty of the expected beautiful seafood and steaks, plus several decadent desserts.
What we tried:
19999 W. Country Club Dr.
Aventura, FL 33180
Also read: Bourbon Steak review BEFORE quarantine
This time around, I chose the first seating of the night (out of their staggered-times option) and an outside table. In typical Miami fashion, it stormed during my entire visit. Valet or (readily available) street parking were the options. As I reached the entrance, a masked staffer rushed and held the door open. Within minutes, I sat safely dry al fresco, complete with a nearby fan and rain-shielding roof.
Just like before, white tablecloths topped every socially-distanced table. A letter from the chef and owners placed on each setting welcomed us back and discussed their contract with Elite Health, a medical concierge firm, to monitor the employees daily and provide the best health practices. Complimentary hand sanitizer was also provided. Glassware appeared shortly after sitting, accompanied by paper menus. The wine list was available in full online or as a mini print version.
Thrilled when I noticed Fiola was offering their full menu, I couldn’t decide what to order. After two months of at-home and religious weekend takeout-dining, this seemed (and was) like a dream. It didn’t take long before I sat back and relished the experience of being out again. The restaurant made it easy. The food, the ambiance, the service…just, wow! Did they ever really take a break?
Outside wine is not allowed on weekends, but a $25 corkage fee applies during the week. I was pleasantly surprised the wine list prices have been revised to compete on par with other similar establishments. Making it more approachable, this is one change I hope remains.
The check was quickly paid in minutes using a QR code on my phone. Fiola has implemented a 5% fee to support their guidelines and efforts of its salaried team members.
What we tried:
1500 San Ignacio Ave.
Coral Gables, FL 33146
Also read: Fiola review BEFORE quarantine
Both restaurants seemed to be reserved to their legal capacity. The demand is real! I also noticed that every diner wore their mask correctly. Imagine that!
Overall, I am ecstatic about these first couple of dinners during the new Phase 1 of openings. Everyone went out of their way to make diners feel comfortable by going above and beyond the requirements. Within days of opening, they proved it is still possible to have an extraordinary experience despite the many rules, and regulations. The task of providing enlightened hospitality has never been easy: not before, and definitively not now. As diners, we simply show up and reap the benefits. Now more than ever, our local restaurant industry deserves our continued support and respect. When visiting a restaurant, please be aware of what it took to make your leisurely dinner happen. If something is out of sorts or “not like before,” let it go and focus on the positives. This is not the time to write up negative online reviews either. The changes are only temporary, and everyone is doing the best they can.
Up next, I will visit two of my favorite smaller neighborhood gems: Ariete and Stubborn Seed.