One of the great benefits of my job is to be able to travel to all manner of amazing locations all over the world. It’s easy to get caught up in only wanting to talk about the esoteric and far flung and to forget that some of the best destinations are closer to home.
Keeping that in mind, I spent a week of vacation in July with my family at the Setai Hotel on South Beach, and it was dreamy.
Forget all the cliches about Miami as a destination as the Setai summarily dispels them all.
It is an upscale, elegant and refined property on many levels which offered more than a few moments where I smiled to myself observing the professional staff there perfectly executing their duties.
I want to briefly touch on four aspects of the experience: The physical property, the service, the food, and nearby venues
The Setai South Beach is located on Collins Avenue at 20th street. A prudent location which avoids the frenetic hustle of the main drag, but still close enough when you want it. The Art Deco landmark building which faces the street was originally built between 1936 and 1938 as the famed Dempsey Vanderbilt Hotel. Attached to the classic building and facing the beach is the new 40-story glass tower that surpasses all around it in elevation, views and design.
View of the Setai, front and center, from the beach.
The hotel features three elegant pools between the spa building and the beach. A clever design that affords much more cabana and chaise longue space than a single large pool. The pool atmosphere and service were excellent.
A Beachfront Restaurant…
An upscale lobby bar
Comfortable and well appointed rooms… Not that you would want to spend too much time inside with the gorgeous pools and beach a short elevator ride away.
A warm and inviting lobby with stone and woods salvaged from old buildings in Asia. Not the stark and spartan decor found most elsewhere in the area.
Wine cellar…light a few bottles after our visit.
The majority of the staff at the Setai are on loan from the Setai’s sister hotels and resorts in Asia. The graciousness and natural hospitality they offer is rarely experienced outside of destinations such as Thailand and certainly is not the norm in Miami. Truly, this was the best part of our stay.
I realize I’m partisan, but the best meal we had all week was at the Setai Restaurant. It is, in fact, and unimaginatively called, “The Setai Restaurant”. The nomenclature was the only disappointment.
Simply put, the menu at the Setai Restaurant features five distinct cuisines: Korean, Indian, Thai, Chinese and Japanese. The singular aspect of the experience is that they have a chef from each region who prepares the food from his own home country on the menu. If you order the Tandoori Chicken the chef from India prepares it. If you order sushi, the Japanese chef prepares it, and so on. Your culinary world tour continues through the evening as you sample all manner of authentically prepared dishes. It was fun, delicious and unique.
and now the bad news…….
The Setai is a wildly popular hotel, especially with well heeled Europeans.
While they do host groups frequently, most tend to be small (30 rooms or less).
Their function space is limited to about 35 classroom. Click here to see details on the space.
This is not the least expensive hotel in the area. If we are completing on price, this property will lose every time. If we are competing on service, facilities, food quality, cache, overall experience or most any other similar metric, the Setai is very hard to beat.
Here are some dates and rates for your reference:
Off site dining experiences:
While it was tempting to eat at the Setai every night we did, bravely, venture out and were pleasantly surprised by what we found.
For those of you who have traveled with me before know I am all but obsessed with finding “local” spots to eat and drink that offer great food and experiences away from the tourist spots.
The first place we tried (suggested by a friend in the area) was Ola Restaurant. A bit unassuming on the outside, but once seated comfortably at the bar, we were treated to a full evening of excellent shared plates. The stand out was the Vanilla Rum Cured (smoked in house!) Marlin Tacos. Easily some of the best fish tacos I’ve ever had. The amateur photo below doesn’t do them justice…but I have dreamed of them on many occasions since.
The charming bartender at Ola, competently at the helm for over five years now, and a fellow bon vivant (and B-list movie buff ) suggested we continue our food and drink orgy and dine the following night at Pubbelly. Which we did.
Pubbelly is an asian inspired gastropub on the western side of the island of Miami Beach. Definitely off the tourist radar and definitely worth checking out.
As we walked in I was warmly greeted by the managing partner. As we shook hands, I think we both had an instant sense of recognition, but it took a bit of conversation later that evening to sort it. As it turns out, we did know each other! Andreas Schreiner (below right looking like he just got off his U-Boat) was a former Four Seasons Miami and Four Seasons Great Exuma food and beverage manager. Prior to opening Pubbelly, also opened Ria Restaurant at the Elysian Hotel Chicago (where my wife now works).
The atmosphere is very casual, the food very good, and Andreas and crew are already close to opening another restaurant in the area.
Leading Hotels also has a few other excellent properties in the Miami area that we visited on this trip
The former Versace mansion The Villa by Barton G.
10 luxurious suites with commensurate pricing, and also a unique option as an offsite venue for groups
The Biltmore Coral Gables with 132 rooms, 142 suites, golf on site and over 76,000 square feet of meeting space, it’s perfect for larger groups.
For the right group, the Setai would be a memorable and unique property that will dazzle even the most veteran travelers.
Inner courtyard area between the vintage and new buildings that make up the hotel. The oranges are a reminder that despite all of the Asian tones to at this property they are part of and embrace being located in Florida.