The Palms Hotel and Spa in Miami, Essensia Restaurant and a recipe for Passion Fruit Panna Cotta

What comes to mind when you think of Miami, Florida?  Perhaps gorgeous beaches, year-round sunshine, nightlife and South Beach?  We also think of Miami and South Beach as a great travel destination with luxury hotels and incredible food.

A few weeks ago we traveled to Miami as a potential city to host one of our On The Road culinary adventures in 2012.  The Palms Hotel and Spa, a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts and a AAA Four Diamond Award property, is a stunning hotel that was built in the 1930’s.  This hotel was our choice for our stay.  This elegant oceanfront resort is situated on a quiet stretch of beach just minutes away from the buzz of South Beach.

View of The Palms Hotel from the beach

The primary reason we chose this particular hotel was their gourmet restaurant, Essensia, which is known for its globally inspired cuisine and use of local, organic, seasonal and sustainable ingredients in their dishes.  Their wine list is also 100% sustainable, organic or biodynamic.  They say that Essensia is “the pure essence of taste”.

The hotel was awarded the Sustainable South Florida Award in 2011 for its green practices which extend beyond the kitchen.  You will find that their Inspired by Nature Program influences everything throughout the hotel from the decor in the public areas to the rooms and the spa.

No tropical paradise would be complete without a Tiki Bar!

The pool area

Parrots compliment the tropical feel in the garden area

We loved the feel of the hotel from the moment we stepped into the lobby.  The lounging and dining areas, both inside and outside, were beautiful and inviting.  We strolled through the property and down to the beach.  The outdoor areas are a perfect venue for a special event or a wedding.  We were also very impressed with the attentiveness of the staff and the excellent service at this hotel.

Christmas in Miami

The hotel has a glow about it in the evening

We dined outdoors that evening at Essensia.  The weather was perfect with soft breezes blowing in from the ocean.  The menu, created by Essensia’s Signature Chef and Culinary Director, Julie Frans, is executed on a daily basis by Executive Operations Chef Jaime Magana and Executive Pastry Chef Christopher Jennings and their culinary team.  Their menu is truly a delight for the senses.

The outdoor seating at Essentia is stunning at night

We loved the combination of fresh and bright flavors, highlighted by all of the local and seasonal ingredients.  Chef Magana prepared a tasting of appetizers for us, including an Ahi Tuna Stack and Coffee Crusted Natural Beef Rib Eye Satay.  Each bite of these appetizers took us on a culinary journey with unusual spices and textures.

A selection of appetizers from Kimchi BBQ'd Jumbo Shrimp to Beef Satay

Mr. B had the Seafood Paella for the main course that was dramatic in its presentation.  It was not your typical Paella.  I chose grilled Cobia, a mild white fish (also known as Black Kingfish, Black Salmon or Ling).  U.S. farmed Cobia is listed as a “Best Choice” by the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch for sustainability.  The fish was perfectly prepared and served with grilled white and green asparagus.

A spectacular presentation for Seafood Paella

Perfectly prepared Cobia with grilled asparagus

We spoke at length with Chef Magana about the philosophy of the restaurant and the menu.  Magana told us that the new menu is entirely focused on organic and seasonal ingredients.  They will adjust the menu accordingly as the seasons change.  This new menu will extend beyond Essensia as the entire hotel will use only organic ingredients in their food preparations.  This will include everything from room service to banquet menus.

While somewhat of a challenge to implement throughout the entire hotel due to the expense and availability of certain products, Chef Magana says that guests are willing to pay the additional costs when their food tastes so much better, is fresher and know the care taken in selecting these quality ingredients.

Chef Magana prepared a tasting of desserts for us to end the evening.  We loved the tropical flavors that we experienced in several of these desserts.  They were refreshing and light.  The Passion Fruit Panna Cotta, in particular, was wonderfully flavored with a Tropical Fruit Salsa, Basil Syrup and Flaxseed Crostini.  The hotel has graciously shared their recipe for the Panna Cotta for Bunkycooks’ readers.

A perfect ending to a perfect meal

We look forward to another visit to The Palms Hotel and Spa.  This premier hotel with its culinary philosophy and delightfully prepared fresh and organic food and is a perfect fit for what we like to share and experience with our guests on our culinary tours.  South Florida is one of our preferred destinations for our On The Road culinary adventures.

Thank you so much to Chef Magana and the staff at The Palms Hotel and Spa.  We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and our dining experience at Esssensia.

Disclosure – The Palms Hotel and Spa provided a media package for our stay in order to evaluate the hotel for a potential culinary tour.

Passion Fruit Panna Cotta

Yield: 6 - 8 ounce portions

Prep Time: 45 minutes

Cook Time: 45 minutes

Total Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes

This elegant dessert is complimented by a Tropical Fruit Salsa, Basil Syrup and Flaxseed Crostini.


For Panna Cotta:
Top layer:
1 teaspoon powdered gelatin
2 teaspoons cold water
6 ounces Passion Fruit juice
Bottom layer:
16 ounces heavy cream
12 ounces milk
12 ounces Passion Fruit juice
3/4 cup sugar
1 ounce cold water
1 tablespoon powdered gelatin

For Flaxseed Crostini:
2 cups sugar
4 each eggs
4 each egg whites
4 ounces canola oil
2 ounces butter, melted
7 ounces sour cream
1 3/4 cups cornmeal
1 cup flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 ounces flaxseeds

For Fruit Salsa:
Simple syrup:
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
Fruit Salsa:
1 mango, diced
1/2 papaya, diced
Zest and juice of 1 lime

For Basil Syrup:
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1/2 cup fresh spinach
1/2 cup simple syrup


For Panna Cotta:

Top layer:
1. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon gelatin on cold water and stir until gelatin is completely moistened. Heat 6 ounces passion fruit juice until warm, add gelatin/water and stir until dissolved. Pour this mixture into the ramekins, dividing evenly. Carefully place in refrigerator to set, about 30 minutes.
Bottom layer:
1. Sprinkle gelatin on cold water, stir until gelatin is completely moistened. Set aside.
Heat cream and sugar until it steams. Remove from heat. Add gelatin, stir until dissolved, then add milk and juice. Pour through a fine chinois. Pour into the ramekins (on top of the top layer) and chill at least 4 hours or overnight.

Serve in ramekins, or dip them in hot water and unmold.

For Flaxseed Crostini:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2. Whip sugar, eggs, and whites until thick. Add oil, butter, and sour cream. Stir in dry ingredients.

2. Bake in a 9” x 9” pan, sprayed with nonstick coating, or lined with foil at 350 degrees, about 25 minutes.

4. Chill until completely cold. Slice into 1/4-inch slices, 4-inch long, or any length you prefer. Brush each slice with a little butter, and bake at 350 until toasted on bottom, about 15 minutes. Turn over, and bake 5 more minutes. When cool, put in airtight container so they stay crispy.

For Fruit Salsa:
Simple Syrup:
1. Heat 1 cup water and 1 cup sugar, bring to boil and chill.
1. Add the zest and juice of 1 lime to the diced mango and papaya, and pour simple syrup over to cover. When serving, strain fruit before plating.

For Basil Syrup:
1. Blanch basil and spinach in boiling water, immediately remove and place in ice water. Squeeze out all water and put in blender with 1/2 cup simple syrup. Blend for a few minutes, until bright green. Strain and chill.

Reserve left over simple syrup, if any, for another use.

Recipe courtesy of Essensia
The Palms Hotel and Spa
Miami, Florida



9 Responses to “The Palms Hotel and Spa in Miami, Essensia Restaurant and a recipe for Passion Fruit Panna Cotta”

  1. 1

    Barbara | Creative Culinary — January 2, 2012 @ 6:39 pm

    Forget the fact that we’re freezing and Miami’s warmth sounds pretty good right about now…THIS would win me over in a heartbeat. Wow is all I can say; nice right-up; gorgeous place.

  2. 2

    Denise@There's a Newf In My Soup! — January 2, 2012 @ 6:59 pm

    I vaguely recall wandering around South Beach when I spent the night in Miami on my way to Club Med Turks & Caicos, 20 or so years ago! It seemed like quite the happening spot then, and I’m sure it’s continued to grow. Lovely hotel and restaurant for the beginning of your travels at sea.

  3. 3

    Jamie — January 3, 2012 @ 4:28 am

    Wow! How gorgeous is this hotel?! And the food looks extraordinary! Wish I could come along on your culinary adventures! This is the side of Miami Beach that would get me to head there. What a perfect holiday trip! xo

  4. 4

    Jamie — January 3, 2012 @ 4:28 am

    And, oh gosh – panna cotta! I have to make panna cotta – it has been on the to-do list since before the holidays!

  5. 5

    Baker Street — January 3, 2012 @ 4:40 am

    Oh my! Looks like you had the perfect holiday! The panna cotta looks divine gwen! Absolutely delish!

  6. 6

    Carolyn Binder — January 4, 2012 @ 3:35 pm

    This looks like a perfect midwinter getaway spot to rest and rejuvenate. I love that the hotel is dedicated to sustainability and quality. Great post!

  7. 7

    Lora ~ cakeduchess — January 5, 2012 @ 9:53 am

    Spectacular! I wish I had the time to meet you down there that night. I think we’re going down to SB next week for the day. This panna cotta looks amazing. Beautiful review of the hotel and the food. xx

  8. 8

    Roxana GreenGirl {A little bit of everything} — January 7, 2012 @ 7:15 pm

    we’re planning on going to FL in late March or April. After seeing your sunny photos I’m dying to get there!
    The hotel looks so nice and the food, oh the food is so tempting!

  9. 9

    Leslie Schoenfeld — January 9, 2012 @ 5:30 pm

    Hi Roger and Gwen. I have my culinary and wine friends reading BunkyCooks. If you do have a trip to South Beach, I think that I can get them interested in joining you there.

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