The White House, Elvis Presley’s Graceland and The Villa Casa Casuarina. What do these three houses have in common? In order, they are the three-most visited residences in the United States. What separates the three – among other things – is that unlike the White House and Graceland, at The Villa Casa Casuarina, you can make a dinner reservation or simply walk into the into the bar.
Perhaps you know The Villa Casa Casuarina by its unofficial name – the Versace Mansion. Located on Ocean Drive in the heart South Beach, The Villa Casa Casuarina is the most famous – and probably the most misunderstood – landmark in an area synonymous with fame, infamy and history.
Yes, it’s the former residence of legendary fashion designer Gianni Versace, who in 1992 bought a run-down hotel and neighboring apartment building and re-designed and re-built each into his ornate South Beach dream home – equal to any of his designer gowns and dresses.
The best opportunity to experience Versace’s South Beach world – short of staying in one of The Villa Casa Casuarina’s 10 guest suites – is dinner at Gianni’s at The Villa, which features outstanding Italian-Mediterranean cuisine served in an under-the-stars poolside setting that only Versace himself could create. Guests can sit directly poolside or have the option of dining at one of the balcony tables, each of which offer great views of the thousand-mosaic pool.
Either way, “The atmosphere at dinner time, especially with the way the (the pool) is lighted is one of a kind,’’ said Chauncey Copeland, general manager of The Villa Casa Casuarina for Victor Hotels, which acquired the property in 2014. “The place is amazing. And the food is good, too.’’
In The Villa’s over-the-top world, Copeland’s words on Gianni’s menu is a decided understatement. Executive Chef Thomas Stewart’s menu features nightly specials (Gianni’s is open for dinner at 6 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday) and a great variety of seafood, including Grilled Maine Lobster, Branzino, as well as aged steaks such as Wagyu Filet Mignon and a Bone-in-Ribeye.
The Maine Lobster Cocktail and Spanish Octopus make great appetizers. For those who really want to splurge, Gianni’s has three different kinds of caviar.
Much of Gianni’s appetizer menu also is available at the Onyx Bar, located just to the left of The Villa’s entrance. The Onyx Bar has a nice assortment of signature cocktails, bourbons and scotches that are perfect to begin or end The Villa dining experience.