Sunday, July 23, 2006

Restaurant Review: Michy’s, Miami

Michy is the girl at your high school with the really great collage on the inside door of her locker. She’s not a brainiac, but she gets fairly good grades, and all the teachers love her. She’s not in a clique, but the alternative kids, the smart kids and the cheerleaders all think she’s a cool girl. She’s got plenty of guy-friends so she always has someone to take her to school dances without dealing with the whole dating thing. Yes, everyone either wants to be friends with Michy or be just like her. Unlike most of the kids at your high school, Michy doesn’t lack self-confidence. She likes being unique and feels comfortable in her own skin.

Are you starting to wish you could revisit your awkward high school years and be more like Michy? Let me save you and your inner child the unnecessary angst and suggest that you check out Michy’s in Miami for your next dinner out. Unlike so many Miami restaurants, particularly the South Beach establishments, Michy’s is not a loud, over-glammed prom queen or a pouty, cooler-than-thou fashionista. Michy’s is fun, sassy and confident—the kind of girl who’s not afraid to laugh out loud. Sure, the host staff and most of the servers definitely fall into the category of “beautiful people,” whose presence seems to be a requirement in Miami restaurants. Aside from being staffed mostly with models, Michy’s seems to be consciously trying to break the mold of the standard Miami hotspot.

These chandeliers represent Michy's original Florida style. They could have come out of Miss Havisham's Florida house in that remake of Great Expectations with Ethan Hawke and Gwyneth Paltrow.

Michy’s is the baby of Chef Michelle Bernstein who made her reputation at Azul in South Beach’s Mandarin Oriental Hotel. Now that she has her own place, Ms. Bernstein appears determined to infuse as much of her personality into the Michy’s as possible, and this individuality shows. Situated on a comfortably worn-in stretch of Biscayne Blvd., the restaurant is a tiny space with a narrow dining room right up front and a surprisingly comfortable bar area in the rear. In fact, as soon as we stepped in the door, we were standing right next to a table of diners finishing up an early dinner. We had to walk along the narrow right side of the room to the host stand located in the back, near the bar. This set up obviously makes use of every available square foot of dining space, but it is a little awkward.

Once you find your way in, however, the Michy’s vibe starts to take over. The right wall of the space is covered with a crisp white curtain and the left side is a long, comfy banquet with bright orange cushions and a mirror along the wall. Bordering the ceiling, around the entire room is what I can only describe as a Hawaiian shirt design of graphic white flowers on an orange and blue background—more surf shop than catwalk. The high ceiling is the same bright royal blue shade and is nicely outfitted with recessed lighting. The tables and chairs are all painted with a glossy white enamel, accented with flower-patterned cushions in hot shades of green, yellow and fuchsia. The 8 to 10 chandeliers that hang throughout the room add a cheeky, dramatic effect that completes the fun, unpretentious South Florida style. This bright, lively room instantly conveys that Michy’s is all about fun, and anyone looking for a serious, ceremonial dining experience can find it at somebody else’s restaurant.

Mike and I went to Michy’s on a Saturday night to celebrate his 29th birthday. I have been hearing good buzz since before it opened a few months ago. Then Food &Wine did a big feature story on Ms. Bernstein, so I was thrilled to get a reservation just 4 days in advance. Still, the place filled up over the course of our meal, keeping the large, energetic and attractive staff busy. Michy’s menu works a little differently, giving a nod to informal, small plates dining. The menu is not separated into appetizers, soups and salads and entrees, although there are salads and some clearly lighter options. Every dish on it is available in either full or half portions so you can chose a traditional app and entrée or mix it up, sharing and tasting as many items as you like.

We started with one of the night’s specials, Gnocchi with Bay Scallops in a Parmesan-Pepper Sauce. The creamy sauce, bespeckled with fresh ground pepper was light and spicy, and the scallops were sweet and perfectly cooked. The gnocchi, although lightly caramelized, tasted a little too doughy. I recently ate the best gnocchi of my life at a restaurant in Denver, so maybe nothing would have compared. Mike thought the gnocchi quite good, so try it for yourself. We also got a half portion of the Truffled Polenta with Parmesan, Bacon and a Poached Egg. If there is a heaven, and I go there, this is the breakfast I will eat every day on my cloud. The texture of the polenta was silky but not too creamy and the egg yolk was golden and runny, just as it should be. The delicate shavings of parmesan were like angel dust…divine.

Yes, I just said "angel dust"...look at this picture and try to tell me I've exaggerated!

Our next round of dishes was a bit more substantial. We ordered the Duck Breast in Mole Sauce with Squash Ravioli and Duck Ragu. I did not find this to be very successful. There was not a blissful union of the dish’s separate components, creating a harmony of textures and flavors. The duck was cooked nicely with a crisp skin, but it sat awkwardly adjacent to the bright butternut squash and shredded bits of dark duck meat and squash-filled ravioli. The mole sauce was so chocolatey, it tasted more like dessert, and its role on the plate was not quite clear. Again, I have to mention that Mike thought the mole sauce was very good. He says that it should taste this strongly of chocolate. Still, with the sweetness of the squash, it was all too much even for a sweet-lover like me. Perhaps the thing about this dish that gave me the most pause, however, was the pasta. The ravioli noodles were thick and heavy and had a bit too much bite. Technically speaking, everything we tried at Michy’s was well done except for these and the gnocchi. Maybe pasta is not Michy’s forte?

When Michy’s stuck to its strong suits, the results were wonderful. The Steak Frites was delicious twist on the venerable bistro dish that incorporated a respect for the classics with a little Miami spice. Inspired by the Argentinian Churrasco, Michy’s served a generous cut of marinated skirt steak cooked to a text book medium rare and expertly cut against the grain into thin slices. It was accompanied by a homemade steak sauce with soft green peppercorns and a wonderful, frothy béarnaise sauce, for dipping. The steak was so moist and flavorful on its own, we mostly used the dipping sauces for Michy’s fries. They were not the tough little shoestrings that are often served with steak frites. These fries were medium cut, crispy on the outside and soft in the middle. They were not at all greasy and truly tasted like potato. They go into my personal French fry hall of fame.

Even though we had a big hunk of birthday carrot cake (check out tomorrow’s post for all the birthday cake details) at home in our fridge, we were not leaving Michy’s without sampling the dessert menu. When Mike was a kid growing up in Utah, he thought he was pretty special because his parents told him that the big parade every year on July 24th was held in his honor. Eventually he figured out that July 24th is a Mormon holiday (Mike’s family was among the roughly 1% of non-Mormon Utes), and the parade was not all about him. Well, Mike got to experience that special feeling one more time, because Michy’s was serving the dessert of his dreams: A dark chocolate ganache tart with peanut butter-banana sauce, served with peanut butter ice cream and peanut brittle. Mike loves chocolate and peanut butter, as well as bananas. It’s like they made it just for him. The tart was sweet, yet had the rich complexity of quality chocolate. The pastry shell was flawless, and the peanut butter ice cream was refreshing and flavorful without being overpowering. It was a wonderful dessert, and the espressos we ordered were hot, foamy and fresh.

"This cup makes me feel giant...I love Michy's!"

Michy’s wine list has a nice mix of varieties and price points. We got a summery pinot noir from Monterey, California that had a lot more forward berry flavor than is typical. It worked with Michy’s bold flavors and bold ambience. In keeping with the fun, casual vibe, two can eat and drink very well at Michy’s for less than $130. The menu design lets you control how much you eat, as well as how much you spend. The restaurant is just as good for a casual bite as it is for a birthday dinner. We had intended to order 4 half portions and decide if we were still hungry, but our waiter, in an honest misunderstanding, made our second round of plates full size. Happily, it turned out to be just the right amount of food, but next time I will be very clear when ordering to avoid confusion.

Despite the very few flaws, Michy’s is a delicious change of pace. It is breezy and relaxed, yet the service and the details are on point. It plays with comfort foods like polenta and remixes classics like steak frites. It retains its own unique spirit, but can still mingle with the other kids at the party with ease. I like to think that Michy’s is like that cool girl in high school who does not look back on the prom as the highlight of her life, but only grows more confident and capable over time.

6927 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33138
(305) 759-2001

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi, just randomly found your Blog (I am from Miami and wanted to read some reviews on Michy's) and I must say that you wrote a great and thorough review. Sounds like a fun place, even with some flaws. Keep up the good work.