Eight years after opening Michy's in Miami's Upper East Side, chef Michelle Bernstein and her partner/husband David Martinez are proof that there's more than one way to be a successful chef and restaurateur.
Together, they are a brand. If they were a sauce, they'd be Bern-nez.
Turn on the TV, and there's the James Beard Award-winning Bernstein hosting her PBS series, "Check, Please! South Florida." She consults with Delta Airlines, hawks Lean Cuisine and works with Macy's Culinary Council. Along with Michy's, Bernstein and Martinez operate the lunchtime-only Crumb on Parchment in Miami's Design District. She even has a cookware line.
I last reviewed Michy's three years ago, and revisited it last month in my quest to return to every four-star restaurant I've ever reviewed. Michy's remains a four-star experience, one of South Florida's best.
That's because Bernstein is an elegant culinarian, whose classic training shows up in the most surprising ways. But she also understands that many of our favorite flavors have nothing to do with the instruction chefs receive in culinary school. Witness how she uplifts croquetas ($8 half, $13 full), that greasy staple of Cuban restaurants, into the stuff of dreams. They have been on her menu since day one, and the combination of Serrano ham and blue cheese never fails to enthrall. She serves them with fig marmalade. Haute meets homey.
Bernstein confidently puts out Korean-fried sweetbreads followed by chicken cassoulet, foie gras with oxtail tarte tatin and then yellowtail snapper with Malaysian curry. Juggling all these precise flavors takes a special kind of skill.
Tuna tartare ($24) gets its flavor from fresh diced tuna, soy, ginger, scallions and chili oil. The mixture is served with some of the thinnest house-made chips around. I only wish there were more. Roasted beet burrata salad ($19) has red and golden beets along with apple, celery and apple-cider vinaigrette. It is freshness on a plate.
Duck confit ($23) gives Michy's a chance to show off its classic French chops. The meat is beyond tender and served with shaved Brussels sprouts salad, Sicilian-blood-orange marmalade and mustard vinaigrette. Short ribs ($38) are similarly tender and come with a bit of sinful marrow. Roasted cod ($36) has a perfect partner in sage-brown-butter sauce, mushroom risotto and celery-root puree. It's the kind of complicated dish that only Bernstein can execute so brilliantly.
Flat-iron steak is used in her steak frites ($35). The tender and flavorful beef is served with two dipping sauces — bearnaise and au poivre — and a pile of crisp fries. I love the goat-cheese gnocchi with lamb meatballs ($34), complimentary orbs, one just as tender as the other, served with a harissa tomato sauce. Seafood stew gets an update in tiny diced seafood spaghettini ($32), where clams, mussels, scallops, shrimp and calamari join kale, roasted tomato and seafood nage. I could eat this once a week.
Michy's baked Alaska ($9) is entirely made with pistachio cake and dulce de leche ice cream before being topped with meringue. It's plated with fruit salsa. Michy's bread pudding ($9), with raisins, orange rind, chocolate chunks and a big splash of cognac, arrives in its own baking dish and topped with vanilla ice cream. But my favorite is coconut panna cotta ($9), which richly satisfies with its creaminess and tartness from its accompanying citrus soup.
Michy's menu is ever evolving. So why, I wonder, isn't its decor? While the kooky combination of mismatched, whitewashed chairs and long, orange banquette hold the test of time, a wall draped in white needs rethinking. This is small stuff for a restaurant with so many splendidly big ideas.
Service at Michy's has always been stalwart. The servers wear jeans and aprons, which is keeping with the casual elegance of the place. This time, we didn't even have to pour our own wine. In my last review, I called Michy's a neighborhood restaurant with destination food and service. That still holds.
6927 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Cuisine: Contemporary American
Hours: Dinner Tuesday-Sunday, Sunday brunch
Reservations: Strongly suggested
Credit cards: All major
Bar: Full service
Sound level: Bustling, but always conversational
Outside smoking: Yes
For kids: Highchairs, boosters, menu items on request
Wheelchair accessible: Yes
Parking: $5 valet