The morning was spent packing up my things before Phyllis arrived to take me down to the USA’s southernmost Toastmasters meeting to dry run my contest speech. I shall miss the Marquesa: it’s a few old houses turned in around a couple of pools, and the whole place has a lazy, laid-back attitude that just invites you to kick back and do very little. The madness of Duval Street is minutes away, but here is a quiet sanctuary, where there is no rush for the loungers, I am the youngest resident, and every plane that flies overhead reminds you that you aren’t leaving – yet.
But tonight I have an appointment in Miami, and so I put on the bulkiest clothes that wouldn’t fit in my bag and did my speech, which by the strict rules of Toastmasters involved a little cheating: contest speeches have to be 7min 30sec maximum. The speech I was doing was 8min minimum. I flung in a minute of saying how nice Key West was, and how lucky I felt to be there, flattery being the most pleasant form of filibustering.
A final oyster at the harbour, then off to the airport. Key West international was apparently the first international airport in the states, according to the taxi driver, though I find it hard to believe as we arrive at the toy-town check-in. Security make me take off my shoes but are dismissive of my belt.
The stewardess warns us that it is unlikely the seatbelt sign will be switched off during the eighteen minutes we are actually in the air, which I assume is a mis-hearing on my part until we land almost immediately afterwards at Miami International, and this time, it’s a convincing title.
Miami is a hard city to love at first sight. It’s big. It’s hot. And as I checked in, it felt noisy. The Marquesa wouldn’t dream of pumping 80s pop through speakers in Palm trees, but Loews on South Beach wouldn’t not.
Dinner is at Katsuya, a new Japanese restaurant at the SLS Hotel. Regular readers will know that my greed is not matched by my powers of description, but here I am going to completely fail you, reader, as I failed myself to have a reaction I trusted to what I ate. Keep in mind, this has recently been named one of the top 50 restaurants in the USA. All I could do as I laid my chopsticks aside at the end was say, ‘What the hell was that?’ It was nice – really nice – and I would eat there again in a heartbeat, but the experience left me confused. Profoundly confused. And I thought Pret sushi had trained me to appreciate Japanese cuisine.
I started with crispy Brussels sprouts with roasted almonds. Fine, we can all imagine that. At the end was a quartet of beef medallions topped with fois gras (I don’t want your approval, just your understanding). In the middle was an enigma, cloaked in a riddle wrapped in some sort of seaweed I think.
The waiters kept passing he table with trays of food, none of which looked like each other, what I got, or anything I’d ever had before. I has a sea urchin on a cucumber plinth and there was something as flat and as white as the plate it was served on and it was delicious but I couldn’t tell you what it was supposed to be.
I gave up looking for the men’s room (I asked for directions but the instructions given were complicated and began with leaving the restaurant. I stood by the pool in utter bewilder,net for a moment before returning to the table). I drank Italian rosé as it goes with everything, and as it went with the meal, I can only say that the food was indeed food and good food at that, but it was a bit like finding someone unexpectedly sexually attractive, or the early days of cinema: I don’t think the western vocabulary – or my corner of it at least – can quite capture the experience. The Japanese almost certainly have a word for it. I’m going to stick at ‘yum’.