Story and photography by Barbara Penny Angelakis
Additional photography courtesy of Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa
The Westin Diplomat Resort & Spa
3555 South Ocean Drive
Hollywood, Florida 33009
There was a time before international jet setting was commonplace that Florida was the place for celebrities to party. Hollywood California’s elite flocked to Hollywood Florida, when in 1958 the glamorous 750-room beachfront Hotel Diplomat was inaugurated. The Diplomat was a haven for big name acts attracting huge crowds to performances by the likes of Milton Berle, Buddy Hackettt, Maurice Chevalier, Bing Crosby, Xavier Cugat with coochi coochi (sic) and many others. Of course the Rat Pack led by Frank Sinatra visited frequently, and then there were the politicians like the Kennedy’s and every U.S. President from 1974 until the historic building was demolished in 1998. During its long career, the Diploma saw many entertainment firsts such as the first joint concert in 1967 with Sammy Davis Jr. and Liza Minnelli, or the “return” from retirement of Frank Sinatra in 1974. But times changed and the hotel eventually lost its élan. After 40 years of unfettered sybaritic indulgence, the hotel was imploded and the big bang made room for the fashionable resort of today.
The “new” 39 story Westin Diplomat opened its doors in January 2002 with 998 rooms and an adjacent 209,000 square-foot convention center. Connected to the hotel is The Diplomat Landing, a retail center and marina, and seven wonderful dining outlets from a poolside bar and grill, to gourmet heaven at indoor-outdoor glitzy AiZiA, or Hollywood Prime, one of South Florida’s premier steak houses.
My stay at the Westin Diplomat began at the Ft. Lauderdale airport where I was collected by a liveried limousine driver who drove me the 25 or so minutes to the hotel. A warm welcome awaited me by an Ambassador (Diplomat’s moniker for its employees) extending a tulip of sparkling white wine along with a dazzling smile and an offer of assistance. The impressive multi-level lobby’s soaring atrium is home to a strand of massive palm trees and colorful constructed orchid trees, with many comfortable seating arrangements for meeting with friends or business associates or for enjoying a libation. Continue past the lobby reflecting pool and you are gazing out at the 120-foot infinity pool and the 240-foot lagoon pool below it, which overlook the hotel’s white sand beach and the multi-colored blue Atlantic beyond… what a view!
But my room awaits, and I am whisked to the 24th floor and an ocean-view deluxe room with balcony. All rooms have great views and mine extends from the marble bathroom that opens on to the bedroom and the sea beyond so that when soaking in the bathtub you can see the sea. Even with all the luxury features of the room, by far the best to me was the Heavenly Bed . Truly heavenly, I considered ordering one for home so great is the comfort it provides.
I had access to the Executive Lounge on the roof and meandered up to check-out the view and the goodies I knew would be available. The lounge was unusually large and handsomely decorated, with choices for table or couch seating and floor to ceiling windows providing views of the ocean on one side and the Intercoastal Waterway on the other with the golf course and Club/Spa beyond. The breakfast offerings were not grand but very comprehensive with excellent quality meats and cheeses and smoked fish along with all the fixings, plus the usual cereals and bread and pastry selections. Later on, I had a chance to meet the pastry chef Henry Marignago, a French-born charmer who, like all the other staff I met at the Westin Diplomat, was passionate about his job and the hotel. Chef Henry is called on to create confections for special occasions as well as everyday treats and his kitchen is equipped to handle any guest’s request, large or intimate.
The next morning Executive Chef David Hackett extended an invitation to a chef’s table breakfast; a very special honor from the talented and gregarious chef. Chef Dave had a table set up in one of his extensive kitchens and the dégustation began with freshly squeezed orange juice and the ubiquitous tulip of sparkling white wine. The starter was a surprise frozen yogurt lollypop served on a scallop shell and was followed by a very unusual and innovative Irish oatmeal cup topped with sliced bananas and crème Brûlé. A tidbit of fresh plums, goat cheese and Patanegro Ham wrapped around guava paste was next, followed by a fresh fruit carpaccio of berries, watermelon, pineapple, cantaloupe, etc., all drizzled with mint flavored yogurt. Chef Dave stood at the top of the table from time to time explaining his selections based on fresh locally sourced ingredients and recounting humorous encounters he experienced over his extensive career. And just when I thought we were finished, out came another tasty tidbit such as silver dollar blueberry pancakes speared by a skewer, and the pièce de résistance, open face tamale with jumbo prawn over scrambled eggs and cheese flavored grits with grilled cherry tomato garni. What a delightful morning spent enjoying good food, good company, and abundant good cheer, thanks to the bottomless sparkling wine tulip.
After a turn on the putting green at the golf course and a great Zen Ritual Signature Treatment at the Spa (see Spa article) I was ready for dinner at The Diplomat’s Pan-Asian contemporary restaurant AiZiA (pronounced Asia) with Chef Mauricio Gutierrez at the helm. Chef Mauricio pulled out all the stops for us. We were fortunate to have a balmy evening so that we could dine outside next to the Intracoastal Waterway watching the lights playing on the water, while we sipped one of the exotic cocktails the mixologist at AiZiA had developed, and dipped into the self-serve amuse bouche. On a table setup next to ours was a large ice bowl holding a seafood sampler of black and red caviar with all the fixings, Octopus ceviche, and Ahi tuna tartar that was to die for… and this was just the amuse bouche.
The appetizer or first course consisted of large carved ice boats loaded with an assortment of sashimi and specialty rolls followed by trays of hot samplers of shrimp lumpia, duck spring rolls, kona coffee rubbed beef satay, and char sui pork belly bites, all of which were tasty and delicious. For our main course, we had a choice of 36 hour sous-vide short ribs – Chef Maricio’s signature dish – or cedar plank salmon or roast duck with a Mandarin glaze. I choose the duck and it was absolutely the best I have ever had, my companions said the same about the short ribs. I almost groaned when dessert was served, a sampler of chocolate lava cake, passion fruit crème brule, and mochi ice cream. Although I was sated I did taste each one and could not tell you which was better, they were all perfection. Kudos to Chef Maricio and his spectacular dinner.
The weather was picture perfect and one day was spent enjoying it at a poolside cabana. However, The Westin Diplomat is at the seaside, so it was de rigueur to check out the white sand beach fronting the hotel. A long walk on the silky sand with periodic dips into the sparkling clean water convinced me that whether you are a pool person or a beach devotee, the Diplomat is a resort well worth visiting. Families are welcomed with extensive facilities for entertaining younger guests, and at such a large resort there are areas designated children free for those guests that are seeking peace and quiet. One of the most delightful Ambassadors I encountered was Jeffrey Mikus, officially the “Director of Fun” and whether he is entertaining children… or adults… he feels he has the best job at the Diplomat and I tend to agree with him. He knows everyone at the resort and everything about it, and is a source for not only fun, but information and problem solving as well. If a guest has an especially difficult request like how to celebrate a special occasion far away from home, Jeff is your go to guy. His job is to see everyone has a good time and with Jeff, that includes him.
Our farewell dinner was at the Diplomat’s renowned steak house Hollywood Prime, which is in the lobby of the hotel. The classically elegant restaurant has only 15 tables so reservations are necessary. The service is impeccable; the wine list astounding; the quality of the meat perfection; and as with many steak houses the side dishes such as medley of mushrooms, jumbo green and white asparagus with Hollandaise, creamed spinach, mashed potatoes with cheddar cheese, hash brown potatoes with truffle oil, were served family style allowing a taste of all of them. Appetizers and desserts were mouth watering delicious, a truly memorable ending to a truly memorable destination.
© May 2012 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.