On a recent visit to Miami Beach with my wife, Laurie and I visited the newly refurbished Fontainebleau Hotel for the first time in many years. It was nice to see the beautiful hotel and it is definitely worth a visit. The Fontainebleau, a revered Miami Beach landmark for over half a century, widely recognized for its distinctive curvilinear design, completed a $1 billion expansion and renovation the end of 2008. The 1950s era resort has been transformed into one of the country’s most sought-after beachfront resort properties, a blend of Miami’s glamorous golden era and stylish, ultramodern luxury.
For dinner, we chose Hakkasan, one of three, world-class signature dining experiences at the hotel. Opened in early 2009, Hakkasan also has locations in London and Istanbul. The award-winning restaurant was rated by Zagat as Top Newcomer in South Florida in their 2010 survey. Heading up the Miami kitchen is Chef Wen Sian Tan, formerly of My Humble House restaurant in Beijing. Chef Tan offers diners a diverse menu of modern Cantonese cuisine and house specialties reinterpreted for a contemporary palate, with a wide array of wines, sake and cocktails.
Located on the fourth floor rooftop of the hotel, overlooking the beach and pools, the restaurant is difficult to find. However, once there, the atmosphere in the restaurant is very inviting, elegant but comfortable. Having no preconceived notion, it was a very pleasant surprise.
After being seated, we received the menu and the wine list. Both were extensive. Laurie took the menu and I took the wine list. Surprise! I have seen hundreds, maybe thousands of wine lists in my life, but none as unusual as this. With over 230 selections, it is a large list and like many wine lists these days, a lot of the selections are expensive, with most of the wines priced at 2½ to 3½ times retail. But it is the way the wine list is presented that is really different. Divided into 17 sections, it is like no other that I have experienced. And, the groupings are certainly unique. They are as follows:
1 – “Exploration: wine by the glass, Nothing more to say” All I would say is that with 11 selections, a few more less expensive Champagnes, and white wines such as Sancerre and Albarino, as well as a few Roses from France, Spain or Italy would be a nice addition.
2 and 3 – “Champagne and Sparkling Wine” This grouping is on two pages and there are 34 wines to choose from (including two California sparkling wines), listed in seven different categories. It is a very diverse selection of Champagnes but quite complicated in its presentation and very pricey. Only a few selections are available for less than $100 and some of the names weigh in at around three times retail – such as Krug Grand Cuvee at $350, NV Krug Rose at $1,020, and 1997 Salon at $1,000.
4 – “Signature: Wines of Hakkasan, Wines, estate and people ever-present on the Hakkasan list” Consisting of red and white selections, these seem to be the popular choices. But, I found it hard to discern what other criteria were used when such wines as a $100 Zinfandel, $150 Chianti Classico Riserva, and $95 New Zealand Chardonnay are on this list.
5 – “Harmony: wine and food, versatile wines, comfortable throughout the meal” With nine whites and ten reds in this section priced from $35 – $120, I found these to be some of the most interesting wines on the list and many made an immediate connection in my mind with Chinese cuisine. It was from this section that I chose the white wine.
6 – “Curious vines: distinctive wines, unusual, often ancient, grape varieties. Not Chardonnay” With 12 wines listed here – eight white, four red – and priced from $40 – $75, this was an intriguing part of the list. The Italian and Spanish whites as well as the Carmenere from Chile were especially interesting and would match very well with many of the fish and meat dishes, although I did not choose them.
7 – “Biodynamics: spiritual wine, Homeopathic treatments, a crop calendar based on sun, moon and stars, and a holistic, organic philosophy: utterly un-scientific, but startlingly effective” With 13 wines – nine white and four red – priced from $45 – $250, I found this grouping unusual. I guess this is homage to the green movement, but the list of wines is very diverse reflecting the fact that this viticulture is being practiced more and more throughout the world, no longer making it particularly different.
8 – “New classics: genius without a Chateau, Bordeaux was ‘classified’ in 1855 but the wine world is bigger now and these are the new stars” There are 12 wines here – four white and eight reds – at $80 – $300. Again, I found this an unusual group with some curious choices, such as Far Niente Chardonnay.
9 – “Prestige: fine wines, Grand Crus and Superstars” This is the expense account list (unless you are employed by a TARP company!) with prices from $240 – $3,000, including four whites and 18 reds and a special listing of Classified Growth Bordeaux.
10 – “Terroir: a sense of place, Vineyards, soil, climate and methods all stamp their character on the wine” With 11 whites and seven reds, this section priced at $40 – $300 included a Chateau Grillet at $225 which would match nicely with most of the Chinese seafood dishes.
11 –“ Terroir Intense: Burgundy, Experience over centuries has identified distinctive flavours from tiny plots – even from adjacent rows of vines” From six whites and five reds here at $75 – $235, I found these selections rather weak and lacking interest.
12 – “Purity: the expression of fruit, Direct, fruity wines proclaim the nature of the grapes” The 13 wines here may be fruity, but not seemingly any more so than wines in other parts of the wine list. The pricing at $35 – $120 includes some of the least expensive wines on the list.
13 – “Age and Grace: mature wine, Maturity brings complexity; certain grapes only reveal their beauty with age” Here are 10 wines – four whites and six reds from the vintages of 1988 – 2003. Priced at $70 – $350, this did not seem especially noteworthy for a special section.
14 – “Vieilles Vignes: old vines, Grapes from vines aged from 50 to more than 100 years old: lower yields, more flavor and complexity” With two whites and seven reds priced at $55 – $225, this seems to be another section that could easily be included elsewhere on the list.
15 – “Blends: the art of the winemaker, grape varieties combined – more than the sum of their parts” Here are nine whites and seven reds priced from $35 – $155. This is another section that seems redundant as there are other wines on the list that are also blends such as Chateau-bottled Bordeaux.
16 – “Rose: pale wine from red grapes, Strong affinity with Chinese food” Priced from $35 – $100, there are five wines listed here as light pink and two as chilled light red. I guess that makes them all Roses! For me, I would expand the list of true Roses (which match great with most Chinese food) and have a separate section for lighter, chilled red wines, such as Beaujolais, which also matches well with a lot of Chinese dishes. After all, they did describe this section as having a “strong affinity with Chinese food,” something with which I totally agree. However, why then are there only five selections of Roses out of about 230 wines?
17 — “Meditation: sweet wine, Sweet but not simple: risky and complex to grow and make” Priced at $45 – $300. with five categories from Sweet Sparkling to Noble rot, Dried grape, Late Harvest, and Fortified. Is this categorization really necessary? With 11 wines and six served by the glass, a simple category of dessert wine would suffice with the by the glass selection listed with other wines served by the glass.
(Please scroll down on the menu)
So, what did we order? Well, we first decided what we wanted to eat. The menu is extensive and varied. How about Peking Duck with Caviar? Unusual in itself. We could not imagine the contrast of flavors even though it is a signature dish of the chef. And at $195, we were not that adventuresome. Also, many other dishes were tempting such as Stir-fry lobster with Chinese chive, Stir-fry ostrich in spicy yellow bean, Stir-fry Szechuan duck with Chinese mustard green, Crispy Szechuan shredded rib eye beef and many other ususual but interesting flavor combinations. However, we did not want to order too much of any one dish so we settled on different appetizers served in several courses. This is our favorite way of eating and allows for sampling a larger part of the menu. We chose Sesame prawn toast, Fried soft shell crab with chili and curry leaf, Dim sum platter and Jasmine tea smoked ribs, served in that order.
For wine, Laurie wanted Champagne. A bottle seemed too much as we wanted to have another wine or two. So we opted to order Champagne by the glass, a bottle of white wine, and, for me, a glass of red or rose for the last course with the smoked ribs.
That narrowed things down. So what would you have ordered? There are many unusual wines on the list so actually asking the sommelier would not be a bad choice. However, I was familiar with most of the wines and narrowed it down fairly quickly. We had already decided not to order a bottle of Champagne.
By the glass, we had two choices! The NV Roederer is always a good choice and it did not disappoint. For white, the choices were more challenging. I wanted something that was crisp and flavorful, but not heavy. Also, we wanted something that would not be overly expensive. With these criteria, I settled on the 2008 Elk Cove Oregon Pinot Gris at $50. It was delicious, round yet crisp and very fresh, with a subtle perfume and nice flavor and complexity of apple, citrus and pear nuances.
Laurie decided to continue with the Pinot Gris with the last course of the Jasmine tea smoked ribs, and I was debating between a glass of red or Rose, but not being too excited by the selection of red wines by the glass, I looked at the Rose selection, which, to say the least, was limited (there is only one wine!). So, I took a chance and ordered the Rose that was unknown to me — the 2007 Adelsheim Oregon Pinot Noir Rose, priced at $10 a glass ($50 a bottle, under two times retail). My choice was a mistake. It was flat, simple and lacking flavor interest (almost any Rose from Italy, France, or Spain would have been a better choice for a wine by the glass).
The food was excellent. We enjoyed all the dishes. The ribs and prawns were particularly good. Overall, it was a very good and unique experience that we would recommend with the caveat: be careful with the wine list because of its complexity and pricing.