New York City has them. The San Francisco and Wine Country area has them. Chicago has them. Miami does not. Well, why not? How much longer do we have to wait? Miami restaurants are ready. Bring them on!
I am, of course, talking about the much coveted Michelin stars given out annually by the Michelin Guide. Yes, this Michelin. No, Miami doesn’t have any rated restaurants yet. No, I don’t care who told you we did. We don’t. Twenty-four countries and hundreds of restaurants going head-to-head annually, vying for a one to three-star rating by the guide. A three-star rating is a top honor to achieve. Only about 140 restaurants have stars in the United States. Out of those, only twelve have reached three-star status so far. Those twelve restaurants are:
Alinea (Chicago, IL), The French Laundry (Yountville, CA), The Restaurant at Meadowood (St. Helena, CA), Benu (San Fracisco, CA), Saison (San Francisco, CA), Per Se (New York City, NY), Le Bernardin (New York City, NY), Chef’s Table at Brooklyn Fare (New York City, NY), Eleven Madison Park (New York City, NY), Jean-Georges (New York City, NY), Masa (New York City, NY) and brand new addition Grace (Chicago, IL).
The guide has certainly had its share of controversy. Some complain it heavily favors French cuisine. You know what? It might! Still, I have found the Michelin Guide Selections to be extremely accurate when naming some of our country’s best (mostly upscale) dining. Of course, it will be even better once Miami is added!
Here are the Michelin Guide Selections explained:
1- One star indicates a very good restaurant in its category, offering cuisine prepared to a consistently high standard.
2- Denotes excellent cuisine, skillfully and carefully crafted dishes of outstanding quality.
3- Exceptional cuisine where diners eat extremely well, often superbly. Distinctive dishes are precisely executed, using superlative ingredients. Three Michelin stars is considered the utmost international recognition in the culinary world.
I have been fortunate enough to have dined at twenty-three (and counting…) Michelin rated restaurants: thirteen one-stars, four two-stars, and six three-stars. Needless to say, I have a long way to go before I try them all. I don’t know that I ever will, but it’s a good start and I have learned a lot in the process. After visiting my first few Michelin rated restaurants, I began to appreciate food differently. I have now come to expect a certain level of culinary greatness, expertise, presentation, service, and ambiance. When comparing those twenty-three restaurants (from Chicago, New York City, San Francisco, and Napa Valley) to our local restaurants, I always find myself thinking, “Why not us? Why can’t Miami be rated by the Michelin guide?”
For most food enthusiasts all over the world, dining at one or more of these restaurants is a welcomed learning and highly enjoyable experience. However, one look at crowd-sourcing review sites like Yelp or Trip Advisor reveals just how behind South Floridians still are when it comes to understanding and enjoying quality ingredients or even just embracing a different concept such as molecular gastronomy. Just to be clear, I am not suggesting we dine like this every single day. My hope is that diners learn to appreciate fine dining on occasion and thus, allow us to grow as a food town.
A couple of things stand out to me when studying some local reviews. For one, Miamians seem to have an absurd fear of not receiving enough to eat or being cheated out of food at nicer restaurants. It seems, the second diners are served a bite-sized portion, panic strikes. Why must everything be super-sized in order for it to be deemed impressive? The other common complaint I read about is diners’ low tolerance (and lack of understanding) of paying more for better quality or rare ingredients. It seems way too many diners are perfectly content with a tough, dull, antibiotic and pesticide filled, large chunk of meat coupled with a loaded baked potato (and don’t forget that molten lava cake!) than in taking a chance on a beautiful, much smaller, A5, BMS 12 Miyasaki wagyu tenderloin with Abruzzo black truffle, and Golden Imperial Osetra Caviar (as offered by one of our local restaurants). Simply put, diners in other cities are way ahead of us when it comes to dining out. I am hopeful it will all start to change very soon. Thankfully, love them or hate them, the Michelin inspectors have their own rating scale and know a good thing when they see it. The notoriety alone of being rated and listed would bring Miami a lot of positive attention and international acclaim.
Based on the type of restaurants that receive praise by the guide in other cities, I think NAOE would be Miami’s sole, three-star recipient. Chef Cory brings us that elevated gastronomy seemingly sought after by the guide’s inspectors. Not surprisingly, service, presentation, and execution are all part of NAOE’s vocabulary. Some of the fish I was served while there was swimming just minutes before it was served to me. Others were even flown in overnight from Japan (shipping certificate available for the naysayers, just ask!). The menu changes often at NAOE. When I last visited, the nigiri progression (which followed his version of a bento box) was stellar. I can still taste the delicate salmon belly one bite wonder. Served with warm rice, lightly brushed soy sauce, and freshly grated wasabi, the salmon became the star of the night for me. The gooey duck clam, without a doubt, remains the most memorable. The clam? Well, it was brought out alive, in a bowl, for us to see. Nothing like watching it move around as they showcased it for us! The clam was then shocked in ice water to prevent muscle spasms once it was served. The restaurant’s tagline is ” It’s not fresh, it’s alive.” Shocker. NAOE has only two, ten person seatings nightly and scoring reservations can be challenging.
While the Michelin guide doesn’t officially take service and decor into consideration when awarding stars, I have found they usually go hand in hand. Some exemplary South Florida restaurants are on the right path towards that one to three-star superb service found elsewhere. Per Se in New York City leads by example. Service is not just about a friendly waiter who promptly fills up your water glass. It’s about the impeccable attention to detail in everything restaurants do to prepare for and during your visit. Once you’ve experienced Per Se’s choreographed service per course, you will wonder why it isn’t like that everywhere else. Their performance usually involves one server, per person, who brings out and explains your order in detail. Imagine that service, for one second, with a party of eight: all at the same time, course after course. The waiters never write a single thing down either and yet, still get it all correct. I’ve also witnessed the staff at New York’s Eleven Madison iron table linens on the spot, right before a guest sat down. I have never seen such a beautiful cloud-like, dreamy white table linen anywhere else. They also provide jackets to patrons not wearing one, as required. And oh, the details: an amuse bouche, custom servingware and glassware, small compliments-of-the-chef additions to the menu, terrific music selection, or maybe even no music at all.
Back home, db Bistro Moderne, where dinners are gracefully orchestrated, leads Miami’s restaurants when it comes to service. Owned by multi-starred Chef Daniel Boloud and headed by Executive Chef Jason Pringle (who worked at San Francisco’s AQUA and starred Cafe Boloud), db Bistro regularly lists escargot, pâté, frog legs, and coq au vin on the menu. Their most popular, not to miss, signature db Burger (made with foie gras, braised short ribs, and black truffles) is a menu standout. With its excellent cuisine and high level of service, it’s easy to see why db Bistro should be a Michelin star recipient.
Miami local Chef Michael Schwartz’s restaurant Michael’s Genuine might be wildly popular amongst South Floridians, but it is his other restaurant, The Cypress Room, that will steal a spot on the Michelin Guide. Chef de Cuisine Chef Roel Alcudia and Executive Pastry Chef Hedy Goldsmith are an essential part of Schwartz’ triple threat team. The traditional, yet sophisticated decor is the perfect match for the small restaurant’s big personality. The varied and (at times) exotic menu may feature frog legs, Beef Wellington, or even just a burger: each course will be meticulously curated and then served proudly.
My favorite candidate in Miami to most likely receive a star, hands down, no questions asked, is Shikany in Wynwood. How cool would it be to have a local chef, win a star (or two, or three) in his (our) hometown? Michael Shikany’s namesake restaurant is way ahead of the game when it comes to advanced culinary brilliance. Everything about the food there excites me. With just the right amount of molecular gastronomy, the utmost ingredients, and an incredible eye for plating, Shikany’s adventurous cuisine is unlike Miami has ever seen. I’m aware I’m making a big claim, but I stand by it 100%. The nori macaron and wagyu smoked gouda croquettes with foie gras truffle spheres are just a couple of the many menu items I dream about. Unintentional or not, it seems the Michelin guide has developed a pattern of awarding three-stars to restaurants that have a more formal ambiance than Shikany’s casual elegant vibe offers. If it’s truly only about the food as they claim, then this one is a no-brainer. Three. Done deal.
I was going to also nominate J&G Grill and 1826 Restaurant & Lounge as my other Michelin selections. Given that both executive chefs parted ways with their restaurants just several days ago, I can’t do so any longer. What I will do is suggest that wherever Chef Danny Grant and Chef Bradley Kilgore go, the Michelin inspectors should follow. I do know Kilgore is the new chef-owner of Alter, which has an expected early 2015 opening date. I can’t say I’m surprised; I’ve always been a fan. No word as of yet about Grant’s future plans. I’m keeping my hopes up those plans still include a South Florida stay. Hopefully, both J&G and 1826 will remain open and continue to maintain the quality they experienced under the command of these two fine chefs.
After hiring Kilgore, J&G Grill quickly became textbook Michelin selection material. Power duo Chef Kilgore and Pastry (God) Chef Antonio Bachour, always used quality and exquisite ingredients to put forth delectable dishes.The restaurant also featured menu creations by multi-Michelin starred veteran Chef Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Coincidentally, Chef Jean-Georges also happens to be opening a new, namesake restaurant later this year, further south on the beach. Does this mean J&G Grill will be closing? I have no idea. 1826 Restaurant & Lounge in Miami Beach boasted Danny Grant as Executive Chef upon opening earlier this year. I won’t get into too many details given I just recently reviewed 1826 and Grant right here. Already coming in as a Michelin star recipient for his former Chicago restaurant, RIA, Grant could easily accomplish a rating again.
For now, know that every other day, a new Michelin rated chef (or one listed in the equally distinguished The World’s 50 Best Restaurants list) announces his or her move to Miami. I’m delighted to see (my secret chef crush-shhh) Chef Tom Colicchio coming to us soon at the 1 Hotel & Homes building in Miami Beach. Recent arrivals of Chef Masaharu Morimoto, Chef Christopher Lee and Chef Gaston Acurio are equally exciting. The restaurants I’ve highlighted are only a small sample of the many gifted chefs we have in South Florida. I have so many others to nominate! I will continue to explore our city’s eligibility and corresponding Michelin Guide criteria in future blog posts. South Florida is full of talented stars and our future shines bright. I can’t wait to see what happens next.
UPDATE 7/20/2016 Part 2 is now up….HERE!