If a city can be an epiphany, then David Caruso experienced his in Miami. On the phone from the sun-kissed coast, he spouts a string of platitudes for the city that he and his wife, Margaret, have adopted as their second home while filming the hit TV series CSI: Miami. I can barely steer him away to discuss the meat of the matter — places to see, eat, stay, and shop — because with each question, he’s off and running about how much he loves the place.
“Miami is a city that has its priorities straight. … People from all over the world are here, mingling in a way I hadn’t experienced before. … One of the reasons people are so happy here is that people want to be here. … I’ll give you another secret to the city from my standpoint … .”
Born in New York, Caruso was a regular in film and television before hitting the big time as detective John Kelly in NYPD Blue. His new breakout series, CSI, is set in Miami, which he fell in love with back in 1998. “The first time I drove over the causeway to Miami Beach,” says Caruso, “I looked at my wife and said, ‘This is it.’”
“I couldn’t believe it, the magnificence,” he says. “We couldn’t believe the color of the water, which is hypnotic. When we got down there and started to get a sense of what was available, I was shocked. I mean, it’s a jewel.”
Here’s a rave review of Miami by David Caruso, who can’t stop talking about it.
Is there a place you ALWAYS go when you get into town?
“I’d have to say Lincoln Road, which has all the great restaurants, shops, movie theaters, and so on. Lincoln Road is one-stop shopping. It has all our favorite places. Lincoln Road is really the focus of South Beach, the promenade of Miami Beach.”
What are your favorite Miami hotels?
“We started off at The Raleigh, which is fantastic. If you’ve ever seen the movie The Birdcage, there’s that great scene where he’s teaching him how to eat lunch as a man. The backdrop for that setting is the Raleigh pool. It’s completely art deco. The Delano is obviously a big spot. The elegance mixed with the simplicity of it. One of the things about Miami that is just incredible is how creative a town it is. And it was so wise in preserving its historic buildings. The Delano has a fantastic pool, too, and the restaurant there, the Blue Door, is beautiful. Nearby is The Sagamore, which was just recently redone. It’s absolutely beautiful. Coral Gables has The Biltmore, a deco hotel that was built in the ’20s. You gotta go there.”
What’s your favorite place for dinner?
“Rosinella’s, which is run by a family from Italy. Rosinella is actually Mama’s name. I hesitate to share her age, but I would say she is probably in her mid-70s. She came from Rome about 10 years ago [after her sons moved here]. They ended up opening a restaurant and now they have four. They are really a fantastic American success story. It’s family-style Italian cooking, homemade everything. Mama is great because she hasn’t learned a word of English. Not even hello or thank you. It’s really an authentic experience. We try not to embarrass ourselves by going there for every meal, so we break it up and go to a few other places.”
"Doraku is a new sushi restaurant, which is fantastic. Of course, when I’m on the show I’m always dieting, so I have to eat as lean as possible. At this particular place, they have a couple of specialized rolls, which are really interesting. Pacific Time specializes in fish. The food is magnificent and it has one of these really soothing, atmospheric settings. They do their fish on the grill with various sauces and have very fresh, very light salads.”
What about breakfast and lunch?
“Rosinella’s in Brickle has breakfast on Sunday and lunch every day. Brickle is a very interesting area developing in Miami. It’s south of downtown, and it’s becoming a really unique spot. The city is constructing a $300 million performing arts center, like Lincoln Center, to be located right at the bottom of the causeway. The News Cafe on Ocean Drive is another landmark. The best way to describe its clientele is people from all over the world. There’s also the Ice Box, which is off Lincoln Road. They’ve got everything from egg dishes with salmon to sandwiches on baguettes, and fantastic desserts, too.”
Where can you get a great meal for a couple hundred bucks?
“Tuscan Steak is fantastic. Not wildly expensive, but you’re going to have a first-rate meal, and it’s a cozy room. It has elements of a Chicago-style restaurant, meaning the big booths and it’s kind of lit in the correct way. China Grill is right across the street and it’s fantastic, too. It’s a scene, but it serves modern, nouvelle Chinese.”
What clothing essentials should a visitor pack?
“It’s best to dress light. But at the same time, people are very well-dressed. There aren’t a lot of tank tops and rubber flip-flops. Now, being red haired and fair skinned and all that, I try to spare the locals by not showing too much skin.”
What are the can’t-miss sights for visitors?
“If you want to have an interesting, indigenous moment, go to the fish market, Casablanca, which is directly across from the cruise ship terminal. These fishing boats from the Keys come up and you get to see some amazing things. One day we were there and this 18-year-old young lady had just reeled in this 12-foot hammerhead shark. You must visit Vizcaya, an Italian Renaissance mansion now owned by the county. It was constructed in 1914 by this industrialist named James Deering. You have never seen a structure like it. Another historic landmark is the Venetian Pool, which was built in 1924, and is open to the public.”
What beach is the best for you?
“One of the things that absolutely knocked me out was the water in South Beach. It’s like Caribbean water. The beach from South Point all the way up to however far you want to go is fantastic. But South Beach itself, in front of Lummus Park, is a public beach, which is neat. You have people from all over the world vacationing in the hotels, but at 5 a.m. you can have two Cuban fishermen standing there arguing and fishing. So it’s not like this exclusive kind of situation where the members of the community are barred. The last time [I was there], I was up to my chest in the water and a magnificent leopard-print stingray swam by. It was great.”
Are there any great places to eat on the beach?
“Nikki Beach, down on First Street, is a very sophisticated beach club that has a fantastic restaurant called Pearl. It’s very much the Saint Tropez scene, where the original Nikki Beach is located.”
Name a few of your favorite shops.
“There are so many to choose from. On Collins, you have Versace, and, of course, Gianni Versace was a big presence in Miami. Let me check with my wife about this one jewelry store. ‘Margaret, do you remember the name of the store where we got the ring you like so much and the picture frame?’ [A moment passes.] She will let me know; she’s got the brain in the house. I just put on the makeup. [His wife calls out the name.] Oh, Liliblue, that’s right. Liliblue is a great store. I bought Margaret a ring there that had a stone in it that is the exact color of the water in South Beach. We call it the Miami ring.”
What’s happening in the Cuban district?
“Yeah, Calle Ocho, southwest Eighth Street. That’s neat. That’s real authentic Miami as well. There are some very cool restaurants out there, like the Versailles, which is famous. We shot out there this past season in the domino park along the river. What’s neat about Miami, back to the concept of hanging onto its history, is that the Cuban community, which is obviously a very important and vibrant part of the city, has really maintained their culture and history. I would have to say that southwest Eighth Street is ground zero for that history. You get a real sense of who the Cubans are just by going over there.”
What’s the most interesting thing that’s happened to you in Miami?
“We have a business down here. I don’t think I would have ever opened or partnered in a business in another city, but we did because the community embraced us and we wanted to participate in the community. It’s a clothing store called Steam. It’s predominantly women’s clothes. We got invited to the opening of the Louis Vuitton store in Bal Harbour. What was neat was there had been a little piece in The Miami Herald about the opening of our store, and when we arrived that night, most of the people had seen the piece and there was such a sense of well-wishing coming from them. This thing of, ‘I hope your store goes well and if you need anything … .’ It was surreal that there was that type of support in such a big city. Although it’s a big city and a major destination, it really is a small town.”
What’s your favorite bar and what do you drink there?
“If I were to meet somebody for a drink, I would have to say the Rose Bar in the Delano hotel. They have beautiful flowing curtains and interesting furniture and so on. The apple martini is fantastic, and the Cuba Libre is a very important part of Miami history.”
Who’s your favorite person to go out with for a night on the town and where do you go?
“Jason Benz, the co-publisher of Ocean Drive Magazine. He is the unofficial mayor of Miami. He was so instrumental in us getting settled in Miami, and you haven’t had a night out anywhere until you’ve been out with Jason. One night, we started out at Tuscan Steak and ended up going to Robin Gibb’s [of the Bee Gees] birthday party at The Forge, which is a legendary steak place.”
Tell us your favorite spot that people don’t know about.
“A very relaxed Cuban restaurant called David’s. It’s buffet-style family cooking, and you get pressed Cuban sandwiches. David’s is a very cool place because it’s really the local Miami Beach people you’ll see in there.”
If a visitor only has one day in the city, what should he do?
“I would say that you would want to visit two locations. You should absolutely visit Lincoln Road and Ocean Drive, because that’s where most of the deco hotels line up in a row. You should also end up at Joe’s Stone Crab. They have a great takeout facility. It’s a three-hour wait for a table, but if you don’t want to wait, just drive up and order and take it with you. They have the greatest crabs in the world, no question about it.”
Where do you go when you want to get away from everything?
“It sounds kind of corny to take an airboat trip in the Florida Everglades, but it’s mandatory. You drive out Tamiami Trail and get on these airboats, and they take you for miles out into the Glades, and it’s completely intact. I mean, you go back in time. It is a prehistoric ride. All of the wildlife that is still there and is being protected is just amazing. People need to see it. Any hotel can hook you up.”
What should every Miami visitor know?
“Just be prepared to let go. Just allow the city to reveal itself to you and embrace you and it will. You’ll become relaxed and comfortable and a part of it very quickly. It does get inside of you. When we have to leave Miami, we start sinking. We’re in the cab, going to the airport, and it’s like, ‘Oh no, we’re leaving.’ If you allow yourself to be swept up in what’s happening here, you will be glad you came.”
HERE ARE ALL THE GREAT PLACES DAVID CARUSO RAVES ABOUT IN MIAMI.
THE BILTMORE, very expensive; (800) 727-1926
DELANO, very expensive;
THE RALEIGH, expensive;
THE SAGAMORE, expensive;
CHINA GRILL, Asian; expensive; (305) 534-2211
DAVID'S CAFE, continental/Cuban; moderate;
DORAKU, Pan-Asian; moderate;
THE FORGE, French steakhouse; very expensive;
ICE BOX CAFE, continental; inexpensive;
JOE'S STONE CRAB, seafood; expensive;
(only open October to May)
NEWS CAFE, continental; inexpensive;
PACIFIC TIME, Pacific Rim; expensive;
PEARL RESTAURANT & CHAMPAGNE LOUNGE, Asian fusion;
ROSINELLA, Italian; moderate; (305) 372-5756
TUSCAN STEAK, Italian steakhouse; expensive;
VERSAILLES, Cuban; moderate;
STEAM ON SUNSET,
THE ROSE BAR,
CASABLANCA FISH MARKET,
VIZCAYA MUSEUM AND GARDENS,
HERE ARE THE PLACES WE RAVE ABOUT IN MIAMI.
SILVER SANDS BEACH RESORT, moderate;(305) 361-5441. The best old-time beach motel around. It feels like the clock stopped in 1960, and oceanfront rooms are truly steps from the water.
SONESTA HOTEL & SUITES COCONUT GROVE, moderate; (305) 529-2828. Features picturesque views of Biscayne Bay. Try their piña colada from the pool bar; it’s topped with dark rum. Yum.
THE TIDES, very expensive; (305) 604-5070. Incredibly hip and trendy hotel on South Beach.
MOON THAI & JAPANESE RESTAURANT, inexpensive; (305) 668-9890. At this Japanese/Thai place, the servers wear authentic Asian apparel and are very friendly. Better yet, the prices are reasonable and the food is awesome.
PERRICONE'S MARKETPLACE & CAFE, moderate;
(305) 374-9449. Delicious continental food, an outside terrace under huge banyan trees, wine, desserts … need we say more?
WHIP ’N DIP, inexpensive; (305) 665-2565. The line at this ice-cream shop sometimes wraps around the entrance, but it’s worth the wait.
FLANIGAN'S SEAFOOD BAR AND GRILL, (305) 446-1114. A sports bar perfect for a cold beer and cream-cheese poppers. A big angler hangout.
TOBACCO ROAD, (305) 374-1198. A blues bar that’s been around since 1912.
(305) 248-6345. This kooky historic landmark off U.S. 1 was built entirely out of coral by a Latvian immigrant as a tribute to a young lass who dumped him back in the old country. Some folks say the coral rocks were so heavy he must have been aided by aliens.
OLD CUTLER ROAD. If you like to walk, jog, or bike ride, try this tree-lined boulevard in Coral Gables. Head south and you’ll come across Matheson Hammock ParK, with a beach and more biking trails and a great restaurant called The Red Fish Grill, which has outdoor seating on the bay.