Fast forward 20 years to my recent trip to Miami. Versailles is still in business, but the concierge at the conference hotel where I was staying did NOT think it was a good idea for me to go there by myself.
(Note: I travel alone to lots of different places and have never been one to skulk in my room rather than explore my surroundings, but I also ask for recommendations and pay attention to advice. It’s a strategy that’s worked well for me over the years.)
The concierge advised me to try Larios* on South Beach for authentic Cuban food and the safety of a crowded tourist district. Not knowing what the past 20 years had done to or for Versaille’s neighborhood, I took his advice and hailed a cab for 820 Ocean Drive. The driver (Balthazar Lucien–I hope you or the Miami Taxi Board read this!) argued with me about the street address, but finally agreed to take me there. He apparently still thought I was wrong since he dropped me at 120 Ocean Drive (the address he had insisted on in the first place).
By the time I figured out the mistake (no visible street numbers until I was out of the cab and in the wrong hotel) and hiked eight blocks in heeled sandals, I was hungry enough to eat anything. Found Larios at last and put my name on the waiting list guarded by a visibly bored hostess who looked like the love child of Victoria’s Secret and Darth Vader.
Went inside to anesthitize the stumps of pain that were once my feet (thanks again, Mr. Balthazar, for taking me eight blocks out of my way!) with a mojito. Twenty minutes later (the wait time offered by Victoria Vader), I asked a different member of the staff if the inside wait was shorter than the outside wait. Turns out there was no inside wait–the outside wait was due to limited seating (and probably the discretion of Ms. Vader).
Long post short: I started with a corn tamale appetizer, then an entree of shrimp creole with rice and plantains (tamal de maiz, entonces el camarones criollos con arroz y platanos). Good food, fast service, loud atmosphere. Wait staff was attentive, which is not always the case when dining alone. Do servers fear they won’t get a big enough tip when it’s a lone diner? I tend to leave more, because I know they’ve gone to as much trouble for my single table as they would for several diners–so don’t judge this book by its lone cover!
Certainly didn’t need dessert…but ordered tres leche cake anyway. It arrived in short order and I jumped right in. Perfect cake texture and richness, perfect “soakiness” in each bite (cake was completely saturated, but completely firm), pure heaven, just like I remembered.
I had to leave a little on the plate (even a locavore has her limits), and I regretted not being able to finish it. The plate was whisked away, I paid my tab, and prepared to stand back up on my heeled sandals and take another cab back to my hotel. Had to walk a couple of blocks (ouch, ouch, ouch!) until the crowd thinned out enough that I could see/hail a cab. Luckily, this guy believed me when I gave him the hotel address, and even pointed out some sites along the way (like Al Capone’s last house). I arrived back at the hotel in good shape (aside from the soles of my blistered feet) and thanked the concierge for his advice (mostly to let him know I was still alive).
As I said, I have no idea what the neighborhood around Versailles is like these days. It’s probably fine and I would probably not have had any trouble…and maybe the cab driver would have taken me directly to Versailles without argument. But, whatever. We live, we learn, we indulge in tres leche cake. Can’t wait for the next opportunity!
*Larios is owned by Gloria Estafan and/or her family, and like Versailles, it gets mixed reviews in most of the sites. My dinner was good, if not incredibly authentic, and less expensive than I expected–although the mojito was pricey. Definitely better than staying in and wishing I’d gone out!