The Mediterranean Revival-style mansion’s pale exteriors and gold accents shone bright in the hot Miami sun, the same I had been walking under for about 4 hours. Sweaty but trying to keep my cool (literally), I made my way up to the podium, slightly worried the hostess might turn me away. I’d read online that they weren’t usually the kindest, but thankfully that wasn’t the case. At least not today.
I was lured to the restaurant in the first place by a mix of a) the prominence of pictures showing up on my feeds, courtesy of my fellow Disney CRPs making daytrips from Miami to Orlando and bougie-ing it up, b) top 10 things to do in Miami lists, and c) the attractive price tag of a $29 lunch deal that included appetizer, entrée, and dessert.
squints eyes in disbelief
But with quite a few hours ahead of me, it’s not like I had anything to lose.
Immediately after making my way in through one of many arches, I was greeted by the large courtyard, with an antique French fountain in the middle. Four of the pillars in the courtyard were adorned with busts of characters that Alden Freeman, the builder and first owner of Casa Casuarina, felt most influenced the new world. Each pillar represents one of the four continents: Columbus for Europe, Confucius for Asia, Frederick Douglass for Africa, and Pocahontas for America; choices that I didn’t attempt to read into.
Did I mention the mansion now houses a boutique hotel?
Quickly ushered to my table, the restaurant was emptier than I expected but still an interesting mix of clearly-tourists, bougies, and a few who were visibly annoyed at the above.
While reading the menu, I noticed there was a 20% service charge in addition to the 9% tax. I still went ahead and got the $20 Lychee Martini. big mistake
Taking advantage of the lack of patrons, I chatted up my waiter, Juan, for quite a while. He’s originally from Cuba but has been living in Miami for a very long time now. As soon as he left, I went up to The Thousand Mosaic Pool to snap a picture of the iconic water feature.
Suffice to say, this is my favorite part of the mansion. Which by the way, wasn’t a part of the mansion until 1993 when the adjoining property was bought, torn down, and the land used for the garden and pool area.
The tilework is not exclusive to the pool; the steps that lead to the lower part of the restaurant are intricately decorated as well.
Almost as soon as I sat back down, Juan came over with my Tuna Tartare.
“Su platillo, señorita”
I suspect he may have been keeping his eye on me, just waiting for me to come back to swoop in with my plate. The service here is fantastic, and so was the tartare. It could have used a little salt, though. It’s a small detail, but the fact that they serve it plated over ice is a great touch, especially in this weather. The wooden ceiling fans slowly spinning above me were not enough to ward off the heat.
For my entrée I went with Spinach & Ricotta Ravioli, although I had been seriously eyeing the Lobster Spaghetti. But between the $15 supplementary and the reviews I saw later online, I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t know why I find it slightly hilarious that both my appetizer and entrée were topped with the same garnish. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, just… lol. According to Juan, the pasta is made fresh daily, and it certainly did taste like it.
Sadly, the only thing they had for dessert was lemon sorbet, which was pretty good, but not really exciting or new or anything.
When it came time to pay the check, between the surcharges and the cocktail and all the things in the fine print, my total came up to $60-somehting. Plus, with Florida’s standard tip of 18%, it really ended up at $80. So much for a 29-dollar lunch.
Before leaving, I snuck into the restrooms for a quick peek, which look pretty much how you’d expect. Surely, the rooms in the hotel above are even more lavishly decorated than anything that us plebes have access to.
I legitimately can’t decide if the experience it was worth it or not. I wouldn’t call it a tourist trap, no, not necessarily. The food was good, but by no means what I would have expected from the way the ~influencers~ drool over it. That was my mistake though, trusting them. The service however was as impeccable as can be, and that itself is worth its weight in tips. The staff was extremely patient and accommodating to the amount of people snapping selfies and just generally getting in the way of them doing their job. The Villa’s extravagance certainly set my expectations quite high, and I have a sneaking suspicion that they really do have amazing food. They just keep it for the dinner patrons who respect the sanctity of a proper meal that costs a pretty penny. If you were attracted here by the potential of a cheap meal in a stunning setting, you get what you wish for.
Gianni’s Restaurant is located at1116 Ocean Dr, Miami Beach, FL.
Based mainly in Colorado. Loves cheese, rain, and starry nights. Can usually be spotted in the wild wearing a Spirit Jersey and balancing two cameras. Often laughs and cries at the same time. Barely survived one Master's program, but wants to do another.