Chef Dena Marino's newest restaurant venture, MC Kitchen in the Design District, has a restaurant mantra of "local, seasonal, modern Italian."
Named for the chef and partner, Brandy Coletta, (thus the M and C in MC Kitchen), the idea simply began with a conversation between the two regarding Miami's cuisine scene. However, creation of the restaurant and concept was a little more complicated, requiring a six month location scouting process. Why did they ultimately choose the Fratelli Lyon space, and how did MC Kitchen come to be? Keep reading.
New Times: Is this your first partnership with Coletta? Have you worked together before?
Dena Marino: This is our first partnership together, but we have known each other since
Aspen, since Ajax Tavern. Brandy was the hostess when I first started as
the chef there, she rocked the door, rocked the house, the place was
insanely busy and had such a high volume of people coming in and out of
the door, it was a lot of to handle. She went to school at UM, and
always had a connection to Miami. We stayed in touch and she was excited
when I moved here, she said to me, "Let's do a project here, I feel that
Miami would love to have your creative style of food and I feel that
there is a niche for it."
What made you decide on the Fratelli space?
I've always loved the Design District because I have always felt that it was more of a neighborhood dining vibe than in other parts of Miami. You see the same people, the same customers that have dined there before, and we looked at a huge amount of spaces, both on and off the beach, Midtown, downtown, we looked everywhere.
The space was not originally on the market but I was doing a demonstration for Locust [Projects], and someone in the audience asked me if I had found a location yet. He gave me a card and told me to call him in the morning. It was a work in progress over about six months, but it ended up being the space that we kinda of fell into. There were hardly any restaurants available that didn't require us to do a complete restaurant build out. Things sometimes are meant to be, and it happened for a reason.
Obviously that space is so specific, considering the furnishings as it appears right now, what will the renovation look like?
It will not be connected to any of the furniture spaces surrounding, there was a see thru wall that separated the Alessi store and the restaurant, and now that is going to be a solid wall. We are opening up the kitchen, the bar is being rearranged. There is a lot of warmth coming into the space, we are building banquettes, adding color, putting in new floors. It's rustic with a splash of "lush," a little bit of high end, but warm. We are using really beautiful materials.
How do you define the characteristics of traditional versus modern Italian?
I like to use traditional techniques, and I've always cooked in the season and feel it is really important to do so. Obviously, Miami's seasons are different than everywhere else, but when it's corn season, you should see corn on your menu, when asparagus is in season, you should be using that. I like to take the traditional technique of making prosciutto, ricotta, bresaola and tweaking them into a modern take.
Can you give us some specifics on how that translates to the plate?
For example, I love to pull mozzarella by hand, and serve it warm, with a hint of sea salt, and usually it would be served with amazing olive oil and basalmic vinegar to take the edge off the creaminess of the cheese. So taking the vinegar and making balsamic caviar, instead of simply drizzling the vinegar, that's modern Italian. People love veal marsala, an Italian-American dish, but instead, I like to create fresh ravioli with the veal, and use the mushrooms and marsala instead as a sauce, with a crispy spinach on top. Same flavors, different dish completely.
Do you see a large difference between Italian and Italian-American cooking?
Definitely, 100 percent. I grew up Italian American, I am from New Jersey, but I feel that a lot of Italian American cooking depends on what area your family happened to have come from originally in Italy. A lot of heavy food, red sauce, that doesn't happen in Italy. Like lasagna, it's so different, in Italy, it has a white sauce, a béchamel with fresh ground meat and a lot of layers of fresh pasta. Here, it's good, but a lot of cheese. We are bringing in a wood burning oven because I love that char on baked items, so if we do a lasagna, I love finishing it in the oven in a crock.
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What's one of your favorites that can we expect to see on the menu?
During lunch we will be offering a variation of "the piadina", but we are doing a play on words, it's called the 'pia-Dena.' It's pizza dough, with seasoned rubs all over the surface of the dough, loaded with cheese, and there's salad on top of it. Then you fold it up and eat the whole thing like a panini sandwich. It's crazy good!
For more, see Part One of our post on Dena Marino's MC Kitchen.