Michy's or Michael's?
There was some heated debate on the subject, on another recent thread: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/779800
I didn't get to try MIchael's on a recent trip, but did head to Michy's. Here's a review, hopefully not too long winded. Photos are here: http://www.girleatscity.com/2011/05/m...
Chef Michelle Bernstein's Michy's is a study in contrasts, starting with the location. The restaurant sits on a slightly downtrodden-feeling strip of Biscayne Boulevard, where previous reviewers have noted that one can sometimes still see working girls... working. Inside, the room is an elegant shabby chic, with dangly chandeliers, white tablecloths, well-trained wait staff and pretty bathrooms that smell like cotton candy. The restaurant serves comfort food, "low" food, made fancy. And even though the menu draws from a plethora of far-away influences, including Peruvian, Italian and French, ingredients are more often than not sourced locally.
On the evening we went, the appetizers we tried were better executed than the mains. I loved the nicely balanced Peruvian style ceviche with seafood of the day, ginger, lime, chilies, corn and sweet potatoes. The "seafood of the day" was, in our case, cobia, shrimp, calamari and red snapper, which had been marinated long enough in leche de tigre to really absorb the flavors, without "overcooking". No single ingredient overwhelmed the others. Fresh ginger can be a tricky ingredient to use in a restrained way, especially in combination with delicate fish. Here, the touch was slight, but present -- perfect.
A salad of roasted beets with upland cress, bacon molasses vinaigrette, blue cheese and pecans was also straightforward and well balanced. The pleasantly, intensely peppery upland cress (similar to watercress, but grown in drier soil) was a great foil for the richness of the blue cheese, pecans and bacon. Sweet roasted golden and ruby beets and thinly sliced, raw chioggia beets (concentric circles of red and white) were both beautiful to look at and eat.
It's not really possible to dislike a dish like creamy polenta with truffle poached egg and bacon bits. Polenta was rich with cheese and cream or butter (or both). The runny yolk of the poached egg mixed beautifully into the polenta, adding even more richness. Bacon bits were a substantial, meaty dice and added some nice texture to the otherwise soft, creamy dish.
Our mains were a little bit less successful. We were really looking forward to trying the shortribs, which came highly recommended on Chowhound, but we'd had a late lunch and hadn't really been very active in the intense afternoon heat. Our stomachs just weren't up to the challenge. Instead, we ordered the striped bass with sunchoke purée, baby artichokes, preserved lemon, olive nage and the chicken cassoulet. The sunchoke puree served with the fish was creamy and lovely; the preserved lemon was added with a light touch; and the nage, which included tomatoes, red peppers, turnips and greens, was aesthetically attractive. It was a well conceived dish overall. But unfortunately, the striped bass was not nearly as enjoyable to eat. It'd been pan fried with a nicely developed crust, but parts of it were overcooked to the point of being rubbery. There was a "fishiness" to the protein that ought not be present in a restaurant, in a coastal city, at this pricepoint.
The roasted chicken cassoulet with rice, beans, chicken apple sausage, roasted tomato, carrots, and dark natural jus also had its highs and lows. Chicken was well prepared: The chicken leg had a wonderful, crisp skin, while the sliced breast was tender and juicy. I was less a fan of the bland, underlying components. What was listed as "Rice, Beans" on the menu was probably supposed to read "rice beans", a very small, narrow white bean with a firm texture and thick skin. In this dish, the rice beans were tough and a few were hard and undercooked. I just missed the rich texture of the softer, creamier variety of larger white beans traditionally used, not to mention the rich mouthfeel of duck confit and the melding of flavors that comes from baking / braising all the components together with for a long period of time. To me, this dish lacked the unity of a "cassoulet"; it was chicken -- nicely cooked chicken -- served over beans and vegetables.
James Beard Award-winning Chef Bernstein cooks with admirable restraint, subtlety and balance. And in general, her kitchen executes well. But in truth, even at its best, her approach at Michy's seems too conservative to truly wow, at least to go by the dishes we tried. (To be fair, we didn't try the shortribs, sweetbreads or fried chicken, which I know are some of her more famous standards.) For me, it's a restaurant I'm very glad to've visited because it is such a local legend and certainly, it was one of the restaurants that helped popularize the upscale comfort food movement of the past decade. But these days, I'm just not sure it's so unusual to find this type of food being done just as well, elsewhere.
6927 Biscayne Blvd., Miami, FL 33138