Big changes are coming to Michael Schwartz’s Cypress Room. After last week’s dispatching of chef de cuisine Roel Alcudia, the kitchen’s three remaining cooks walked out in protest days later, Alcudia confirmed.
“I told them if that’s what they were going to do, they should do it the right way, with proper notice,” Alcudia said. “We all had a good, solid relationship, and that’s the formula for a solid back-of-the-house.”
Yet things in the restaurant’s elegant 40-seat dining room weren’t as smooth, according to recently departed cooks who asked not to be named. Schwartz brought Alcudia to Miami in 2012 from a job as chef de cuisine at Jonathan Waxman’s Barbuto in New York City. Though Alcudia conjured a menu with some of the city’s most impeccably sourced and executed dishes, the restaurant was eerily quiet many nights.
Weekends during high season were best and would see around 75 customers, according to one cook. On weekdays, during the slower months, however, as few as 15 patrons would cross the threshold from NE Second Avenue.
“People go there for a special occasion; it’s not a place you eat at two or three times a week,” one cook told New Times.
As the restaurant business slowed, budget cuts were implemented. Schwartz — whose empire includes cruise ship eateries along with a trio of forthcoming restaurants — became an ever-rarer presence, sometimes visiting as seldom as once a month for dinner with family, according to another cook.
“They ripped the soul out of that place, even the legs, everything is gone,” one of the unnamed cooks said. The restaurant company recently parted ways with beverage director Ryan Goodspeed as well as Michael Beltran, who was Cypress’ second in command.
Meanwhile, Schwartz in an email dismissed rumors that his most refined restaurant might close. “As a restaurant group, we are constantly evolving and changing based on our experiences from small tweaks in our restaurants to big ones, and it's now time for Cypress,” he said.
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In the meantime, the kitchen will be run by Bradley Herron, one of Schwartz’s top remaining lieutenants, who was once chef de cuisine at Schwartz's flagship, Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink. The future of Cypress Room remains uncertain. It’s unclear whether it will hold to its refined roots or move toward a more casual format. The kitchen has long grilled up one of the city’s best burgers, so more casual wouldn’t be a stretch.
Still, it would be a shame to see it stray far from the initial thrust, which former New Times food critic Emily Codik called Schwartz’s “most ambitious yet.” Even if the Cypress Room’s original form never attained the same success as his other projects, many of Alcudia’s dishes stand among the city’s best.