Michy’s

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I possess a Florida driver’s license–I lived there from 1990 (when we moved to Boca Raton from Oceanside, New York) to 1997 (when I graduated high school and left for college)–but I do not possess a favorite Florida restaurant. My parents certainly have theirs: steakhouses, both (New York Prime, Prime 112). Yet, on a recent trip home for my brother’s college graduation (congratulations, Michael!) I think I think I may have finally uncovered a Florida favorite. The location’s crazy–it’s in a seedy section of Biscayne Blvd.–our table, near a window, gave us front row seats for a parade of sketchy characters with brown paper bags loitering near a bus stop. My dad said the room looked like a converted shoe store. And yet, this restaurant–Michy’s, named after chef Michelle Bernstein (who went to Emory, my alma mater)–fully upholds the values by which I judge a restaurant. The food is honest, the service unpretentious. The space is charming. And, most importantly, I had fun and thoroughly enjoyed my dinner.

Here’s Michael and his girlfriend, Tali, with their menus:

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There are several things to note in that picture: look at those quirky chandeliers. They’re unique–long, handmade-looking–they give the space character, warmth, levity. So does the wallpaper above the mirror. And the chairs aren’t traditional restaurant chairs: they’re white and wooden with colorful, floral seats.

The giant glass window (with the unfortunate scenery–bus stop, dirty street, ugly buildings) floods the restaurant with light. It’s as if, given a bad situation, the design team, the staff, Michy herself did everything in their power to create a lovable space. And, for me, it worked. (Can’t say the same for my family!)

Our waitress was bubbly, down-to-earth and really helpful. She helped us with the wine–suggesting a crisp Chablis, which we all liked–and then steered us towards popular menu favorites. I went for an innovative appetizer: blue cheese, shredded duck and jamon croquetas with fig marmalade.

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These were like mozzarella sticks for adults. The blue cheese was the dominant flavor, and the way it played against the fig marmalade was like a movie about a bitter old lady who’s undone by a spunky teenager with a heart of gold and a flask of Bourbon. (James Beard committee–did you read that sentence? Award me!)

Tali had a crazy beet salad that looked like a banana split (sorry for the blur, blame Tali!):

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Those puffs that look like whipped cream are actually goat cheese puffs. Nuts!

Now for the entree. With the exception of my dad, who ordered spaghettini seafood pasta, we all had paella. Specifically: “Paella style rice with Mariscos, seared Pumpkin Swordfish, shellfish nage.” (What does any of that mean?)

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The fish was a bit bland–probably because it was so fresh, they prepared it simply–yet the rice was packed with flavor. I loved the rice half. I could’ve used a lot more of the rice, and a lot less of the fish. And, unfortunately for Tali and my mom, they ordered half portions and could’ve used a lot more rice AND fish.

I’ll be honest: none of us were groaning in ecstasy with our entrees. Plus, we arrived at 7:00 PM and we had our entrees by 7:40. That kind of sucks, when you want an evening out and it’s over before you know it. But I’ll still defend this place: not every entree can be a hit. And, again, the rice was packed with flavor. But I’ll let my family off the hook for not sharing my enthusiasm.

We were all enthusiastic, though–raving, in fact–for the desserts. How could we not? Look at this bread pudding:

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Some kind of chocolate cake, I think:

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And, my personal favorite, this post-modern Baked Alaska:

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Remember how I had baked Alaska at Chez Panisse and how charmed I was by it? For how unpretentious it was and for how it wasn’t about trends or gimmicks but just good, crowd-pleasing food? That’s Michy’s too. What Michy’s and Chez Panisse have in common is their capacity to make you feel like you’re visiting a great friend’s house for dinner. Michy’s, like Chez Panisse, is intimate, unfussy, risky, carefree—it’s not the straight-A student reading their book report, it’s the funny kid with glasses doing cartwheels and singing the collected works of Donovan. If that’s the kind of kid you’d want to raise, then you know where to eat the next time you’re in Florida.

Michy’s. 6927 Biscayne Blvd, Miami, FL 33138. (305) 759-2001.

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