Glutton Onboard: Embarking in Miami

Zarzuela de Mariscos (Assorted Seafood) at Versailles Restaurant in Miami

This 6-month cruise ship diary is meant to be a a sort of personal diary, so I’m not sure what the website that takes my posts piecemeal and changes a couple of words to make it look like their own writing will make of it. In any case, today is the day. The day we get on our cruise ship. We spent last night at the Intercontinental, where passengers were given $150 a room to spend at either the buffet dinner they had prepared for us, or on any other property of the hotel’s. Naturally, we spent it at the bar. This morning, we convened in a windowless ballroom for breakfast, and these are my first impressions of my fellow passengers: average age, 75; not so friendly; and no other people of color.

I did not get to see Ocean Drive, or South Beach, or Pitbull, or anything else that Miami is famous for. My afternoon was spent looking for a pair of white walking shoes for my mother-in-law (she chose Skechers, in case you were wondering). But I did get my greatest Miami wish fulfilled, which was to have a meal at Versailles Restaurant, which calls itself “the most famous Cuban restaurant in the world”. If the Jay Fai-like line to get a table was any indication, this claim may very well be true.

I have never had Cuban food, and have only had Cubanos in Bangkok. This is embarrassing to admit, but there it is. So I felt like my first time should be at a place that is indisputably famous; of course, Versailles fit the bill. Sadly, founder Felipe Valls Sr. recently passed away in November, but the food (I’m assuming?!) has not suffered as a result, and the crowds thronging the front of the restaurant were not solely made up of tourists like us. The wait, amazingly, was not that long, even for a group of 9. It helps that the restaurant is pretty enormous.

I had read a list of the things that one must order at this restaurant (I was NOT going to come all this way just to order a sandwich). But our waiter helpfully filled us in on what else we should order, and it really saved us. Cuban food may have a few similarities with Spanish food and South American food, but really the rich flavors, slight tang and satisfying heft make up a flavor combo that is all their own.

Versailles seafood paella with roasted red peppers and parsley

Main dishes were accompanied with plates of both white and purple rice, which was mixed liberally in with black beans, and sides of boiled cassava, which my nephew Weka said “tasted like French fries all mashed together” but which I appreciated for their plainness and simplicity — a good foil for all the other stuff going on. We got vaca frita, aka “fried cow”, shredded flank steak with fried onions and a spritz of lime, which had a deeply satisfying beef jerky-like flavor. The lechon asado, the most popular dish there, is marinated pork slow-cooked for up to 7 hours and then shredded, with some crispy pork skin on top (which disappeared as soon as the plate was set down).

There was a recommended fried red snapper topped with a tomato sauce and shrimp, and a hearty paella, and a mixed seafood platter that arrived with a lobster tail, which my sister-in-law promptly claimed for her husband (I allowed this because this was the first meal together but all y’all know this will not happen again). In case you are curious: my favorite was the braised oxtail with that purple rice with black beans — obviously I did not take a photo because WTF do you expect while I’m stuffing my face, I’m no gymnast. Also the mixed croquetas, OMG.

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