Michael Schwartz's Culinary Love Note to South Beach
by jordan melnick
Shaded, candle-lit tables set the scene for a romantic evening.
Sitting in the courtyard of the Design District’s culinary anchor, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink, with a simply delightful dish of burrata cheese and heirloom tomatoes at the center of your undressed table and a pleasant lack of untz-untz issuing from the speakers, you might appreciate that the restaurant is everything a high-profile South Beach eatery is not.
This is all by design. So why, then, did MGFD’s namesake owner open his latest restaurant in South Beach, the very area whose glitz and glam his other concepts seem to spurn? And not in tucked-away Sunset Harbour, a South Beach sanctuary for good eats, but poolside at a beachfront hotel?
James Beard-awarded chef Michael Schwartz expands his game-changing formula to South Beach with Restaurant Michael Schwartz, at the iconic Raleigh hotel.
“I always said the only way I would ever do something in South Beach would be to do something there,” Michael Schwartz explains, “there” being The Raleigh, an “iconic property” that Schwartz feels engenders an uncommon sentiment in tourist-centric South Beach: local love.
“I don’t know what it is about the place,” he says. “But I think someone figured out that if the locals are rooting for it, maybe we should put in someone local who will give it the attention that it deserves.”
Schwartz, himself a longtime South Beach resident, is doing just that with Restaurant Michael Schwartz, which is not as surprising as it may seem to people familiar with Michael’s Genuine and restaurants Harry’s Pizzeria and The Cypress Room. While Schwartz may have made his name on the mainland, he cut his teeth as a restaurateur in South Beach back in the ’90s as part owner of the now-closed Nemo.
The menu encourages sharing with plates for all appetites.
“I didn’t like what was happening on the Beach. It went from glam to corporate,” he says. “People like me who lived on the Beach didn’t really want to get gouged for valet parking and overpay for cocktails. So that’s when I decided it was time to do something in a different area. And I felt that the Design District was an extension of the Beach.”
More than a decade later, Schwartz is completing the circle, building a bridge from his Design District mini empire to his South Beach home with the pared-down approach to food that earned him a James Beard Award for Best Chef South in 2010. The timing, he says, is right.
“The Beach has changed,” Schwartz says. “There’s more legitimacy in terms of restaurant operators. And I also think that I’ve evolved and changed. So it was a chance for me to go back there and do what I wanted to do on my own terms.”
An intimate dining room boasts a charming atmosphere rarely found in hotel restaurants.
Schwartz’s bold approach finds expression in straightforward flavors. The snack portion of charred shishito peppers, served whole with a wedge of lime; the heirloom tomato with local stracciatella, strips of basil, cracked pepper, and a drizzle of olive oil; the grilled octopus with crushed hazelnuts; the grilled rib-eye cap steak with an unlikely yet complementary side of chickpeas—all show a restraint, ingenuity, and attention to seasonality that are hardly staples of South Beach dining.
The setting is also at odds with the typical South Beach dining experience, though very much in harmony with the Restaurant Michael Schwartz menu. The Raleigh wears its historic Art Deco charm casually, and the restaurant’s palm-shaded, candlelit tables offer a relaxing view of the hotel’s iconic feature, a boldly outlined pool that, from the balconies overhead, resembles a watery coat of arms.
The poolside bar at The Raleigh draws visitors and locals alike.
As much as RMS jibes with MGFD—the restaurants’ menus share certain snack dishes and a format that encourages sharing—Schwartz says he didn’t “just bring the greatest hits of Michael’s Genuine to the Beach.” For one thing, there’s “less pork, more fish” on the new restaurant’s menu, not surprising considering its beachside location. (Ninety percent of the fish is local, adds Schwartz.) Another distinguishing factor is that Restaurant Michael Schwartz handles food and beverage needs throughout The Raleigh, which necessarily changes the character of the restaurant.
But overall, as its name implies, the restaurant is distinctly Michael Schwartz, even if an untz-untz does occasionally pulse through the seating area from a nearby beach party. 1775 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305-612-1163
photography by gary james (restaurant); genuine hospitality group (schwartz)
Cover shoot: Behind the scenes with Pitbull for the October 2014 issue of Ocean Drive magazine.