Marriott eatery earns prestigious honor

Ario one of only two Florida restaurants to make the Wine Enthusiast best 100 list

Lance Shearer

Part of being a world-class hotel is having world-class eateries. The JW Marriott Marco Island, within the space of one week, has been recognized nationally for two outstanding food and beverage accomplishments, at flagship restaurant Ario and Kane beach bar.

Wine Enthusiast magazine honored Ario, the hotel’s fine dining restaurant, as one of the best 100 wine restaurants in America. The awards, featured in the magazine’s August issue, were announced at a reception in Manhattan, attended by four members of the JW Marco Island team.

Michael Broughton, restaurant manager/wine director, sommeliers Lexi Rivera and Rob Smith, and director of sales and marketing traveled to New York to receive the award, then returned to Marco Island to put on a celebratory dinner at Ario.

The restaurant was cited for its wine list – and this is a list with a twist. You could say they won for what they don’t have, and what they don’t have on the wine list is any wine from any other countries’ vineyards. Ario features an “All-American” selection of wines, carefully curated by the sommeliers to offer something to please their guests’ discriminating palates.

It is a bold move to remove all French, Italian, Argentinian, and New Zealand wines from the restaurant. Broughton described the process as “risky and adventurous. There was no blueprint for it. Candidly, we weren’t sure how the guests would react, but the initial feedback has been amazing.”

Speaking to the diners at Ario’s dinner in honor of the award, sommelier Rivera said it had been hard for the wine professionals to contemplate going all-domestic with their list.

“You cannot have Champagne. It hit me here,” she said, indicating a spot somewhere between her heart and her stomach. “It hit me hard.”

In place of the iconic sparkling wine, the restaurant offers a 2015 Domaine Carneros from California, which was part of the six-course (plus welcoming cocktail) dinner, paired with Kumamoto oysters. Other courses featured Summer in a Bottle rosé from New York, a Herzog California chenin blanc, and Barboursville Viognier from Virginia, all designed to make diners forget about wines from elsewhere. Ario’s wine list features approximately 50 wines by the glass, with prices up to $26 per glass, giving guests the chance to try something new, Broughton pointed out.

A specialty at Ario is their dry-aged steak, and to go with the New York strip offered, they featured a K Vintners Syrah, as well as a tour of the frigid dry aging room, where cuts of beef and foie gras shared space with multi-colored salts which did come from around the world.

Even Florida wineries are represented on Ario’s new wine list, with a sweet Lakeridge white blend served as a dessert wine. Ario was one of only two Florida restaurants to make the Wine Enthusiast list, along with the Surf Club Restaurant in Miami.

“This is a huge honor. Only two restaurants in Florida were recognized, so to have a title so large reach our four by six-mile island is truly exciting,” said Cox.

“This is a big deal for Marco Island,” said Marco Island Area Chamber of Commerce executive director Dianna Dohm, who attended the dinner with her husband Kevin.

Kane, the beach bar at the JW that opens directly onto the strip of sugar sand behind the hotel, was just named one of the top 15 “Best Bars in the World for a Summer Drink” by Travel and Leisure. While they will serve you your “poison” of choice, Kane features rum, rum and more rum, with dozens of bottles from everywhere the juice of the sugar “kane” is distilled, and signature cocktails along with the classics, paired with exotic Pacific cuisine.

“Kane is one of those hidden gems that you feel extra lucky for stumbling upon,” said Travel and Leisure. “The outdoor oasis has one of the biggest and best rum selections in the United States, which you can enjoy in flights, cocktails and even paired with a hand-rolled cigar. Come for the sugarcane spirit and stay for the Indonesian street food.”

Whether it’s the national recognition, the prestige of the “JW Marriott” name, decades of goodwill, or just the facility and the location, Marco Island’s JW Marriott is hopping, even in the off-season. Cox reported that this weekend, in the middle of July and not including the Independence Day holiday, the hotel is at 95 percent occupancy.