Alright, I admit it. I couldn’t bring myself to go through another trip to southern Florida without including at least one ambitious restaurant on the itinerary. After conducting a modicum of research, I decided to make it Michy’s (6927 Biscayne Boulevard, Miami). Chef Michelle Bernstein and husband David Martinez opened Michy’s in 2006, designing a menu that successfully dances between nods to Bernstein’s South American roots and a clearly Mediterranean approach to main ingredients and technique. Asian flair, Florida tradition, the occasional Italian influence and classic brasserie selections also present themselves. It’s all wrapped up in a two-part menu, smaller offerings followed by slightly more substantial plates, with every dish available in half or full portions. The idea is not to be a tapas bar but rather to provide the diner with the option of creating a personalized tasting menu or selecting a more traditional appetizer/entrée pairing.
Michy’s is a street front operation, set in an active business and shopping district in the Upper East Side of Miami proper. Though a front entrance is available, most patrons arrive from the rear. A back porch, adjacent to the parking lot which is valet-only on weekends, allows for al fresco dining. That’s never my thing when dining more seriously, particularly not with the smelled but not seen dumpster ambiance that’s inevitable given a parking lot frontage, no matter how nicely it’s dressed up with plants and palms. In any event, we dined on a Sunday evening in the midst of a violent, spectacular thunderstorm. Open air dining was not an option. Once inside, the rear entrance hallway leads past the restrooms to the host table set in the corner opposite the bar and looking into the main dining room. The square room is inviting and smartly casual, with twilight blue walls offset by white linens and mix-and-match dollhouse dining room style chairs. Tables are spacious without being oversized and are set in an uncrowded yet intimate arrangement. The small bar itself serves mainly as service space, an alternate dining area or as a place to have a quick drink while waiting for a table; it does not appear to draw an active drinks-only or wine tasting crowd.
The main wall behind the bar is functionally decorated – a wall of wine. While it provides some eye candy for the room and easy access to bottles, it does a disservice to the wine itself, leaving the bottles exposed to the vagaries of Miami climate control. Aside from the storage snafu, the wine program at Michy’s is well conceptualized, sized to offer variety and to complement the menu without being out of scale with the space nor overtly pretentious. Like the menu, the cellar offers some international variety but centers its strength in versatile, food friendly offerings from France. Particularly good depth is available from Burgundy and the Loire. Few bottles break the $100 barrier with plenty of solid choices under $50. Mark-ups are quite reasonable.
The t-shirt and apron clad wait staff were friendly without being intrusively so, relatively well informed as to the food and wine selections and not afraid to share an opinion or some constructive criticism about the menu offerings. We were given plenty of space and time to peruse the menu and wine list. Service was done in tag-teams and was solid though just a bit shy of the ideal attention to pouring and timing. After taking some time to consider the menu, I finally decided on a mixture of half portions chosen for diversity, interest and local inspiration.
Changed daily based on local market availability, Sunday’s ceviche was a mixture of grouper, shrimp and scallop, prepared with just the right level of lime driven acidity – refreshing, lively yet unobtrusive. The plate, extremely generous given the $8 half-portion, consisted of well-sized morsels of seafood offset texturally by crisped, puffed Peruvian corn – somewhat akin to CornNuts® with a gourmet flair – and a garnish of roasted yams.
Turks and Caicos Conch, Escargot Style, Garlic, Parsley, Butter
Here’s a dish that just doesn’t exist in the Mid-Atlantic States. While I knew that it was unlikely to showcase the real talents of the kitchen, I simply had to order it in the context of eating locally. The menu description was apropos, a pair of smallish conch par-boiled to a toothsome yet tender chew, sautéed in garlic and parsley butter, and then reinserted into their shells and set in a shallow pool of the same garlicky sauce for presentation. There was nothing cutting edge nor even particularly interesting about the dish; I wouldn’t order it a second time but I couldn’t pass it up the first.
Wine note: Rias Baixas Albariño, Do Ferreiro 2005
At first sip this was classic Albariño: crisp, lemony, briny with a suggestion of off-dry fruit up front wiped away by cleansing, refreshing acidity. The problem was that the finish included a hint of rot, a possible growing season flaw but more likely the result of a short bout of heat damage somewhere in the shipping or storage cycle of the bottle. A bit disappointing as a result, the wine nonetheless worked well enough with the simple seafood starters.
Crispy Sweetbreads, Braised Pork Jowls, Jason’s BBQ Sauce, Fava Beans
For an ex-vegetarian (long past), I’m astonishingly fond of organ meats. The honeyed pungency of sweetbreads, in particular, can be hard to refuse. And Michy’s preparation didn’t disappoint. Lightly crisped, still quite juicy, the sweetbreads were set atop a cluster of smoky, tender pork jowl glazed by the executive chef’s own BBQ sauce and balanced on the palate by a sprinkling of small, perfectly cooked favas.
Lamb T-Bone, Eggplant-Harissa Terrine, Fruit & Nut Couscous
The sweetbreads may have been the most inventive combination of the evening. The lamb, though, proved to be the kind of dish I’d go to again and again. A single, thick-cut lamb t-bone, cooked perfectly medium-rare, stood on end topped by a dollop of herbed butter. The couscous, fine little pearls, was cooked just past al dente, seasoned with aromatic Moroccan spices and sweetened with the addition of just enough Mediterranean fruits to offset the fiery, earthy kick of the harissa slicked eggplant terrine.
Wine note: Santenay “Vieilles Vignes,” Michel Colin-Deleger 2002
Red Burgundy has a reputation for delicacy, for being one of the most easily damaged wines in the general marketplace. But there were no problems with this bottle, a welcome relief after the bruised Albariño. Warm red cherry and berry fruit, medium ruby color and delicate aromas combined with well balanced acidity and soft, supple tannins to make this an excellent pairing for the sweetbreads and to provide just enough stuffing to do justice to the lamb dish. It didn’t hurt that it represented a reasonably good value given the all too often insanely high price points of village level Bourgogne on restaurant wine lists. My only complaint goes right back to Michy’s wall of wine – the serving temperature was about five degrees too warm.
Pear-Apple Tarte Tatin, Thin, Crispy and Warm, Sabayon Ice Cream, Sea Salted Thyme Caramel Sauce
Though tarte tatin is not the signature sweet of the house, I was drawn to the idea of rum-infused ice cream and the promised savory accent of sea salt and thyme. That accent would prove to be the only real saving grace of an otherwise mundane dessert, an all too common ending at many smaller chef-driven restaurants. The tarte itself was reasonably executed but lacked that certain something extra that could have taken it to the next level.
Wine note: Cadillac, Château Reynon 1999
1999 was a solid vintage for botrytis affected Bordeaux stickies and wines from the somewhat obscure Cadillac AOC don’t often appear on US lists so I was jazzed to try this. As soon as I saw the thimble on a stem in which it was served, I knew I should have passed on dessert wine. Tiny “liqueur” glasses do not provide enough room for wine, no matter how sweet, to show its aroma; I’d always rather see a small pour in a regular white wine glass than the illusion of a full pour in a tiny stem. In any event, the Cadillac was tasty if simple and worked reasonably well with a dessert that was sweeter than expected.
All in all, Michy’s is a destination restaurant that would also make a great neighborhood haunt; I would visit regularly if it were in my own town. The menu is interestingly conceptualized, the food skillfully executed and the wine list manageable and selected with care. Aside from the somewhat lackluster dessert offerings, the only noticeable faults related primarily to minor flaws in service and presentation, problems much more easily rectified than those emanating from a less well-honed kitchen. I think I’ll look forward a bit more optimistically to my next Miami sojourn.
6927 Biscayne Boulevard