Neighborhood Joints

Michelle Bernstein and Friends Celebrate a Decade at Cena by Michy

In 2006, while restaurants were thriving in South Beach and the midtown Miami boom was in its infancy, a young chef and her husband doubled down on a Miami neighborhood that was still considered a financial risk by opening a restaurant and purchasing a house.

Ten years later, the Biscayne corridor's MiMo District is one of the fastest-growing areas in Miami, with restaurants and bars like Vagabond, the Anderson, Via Verdi, and Loba serving quality food in unique settings. A decade later, the couple that foreshadowed this area's success is still going strong.

The restaurant, like its neighborhood, has undergone a revival of sorts, closing for nearly a year to reopen as Cena by Michy. If, by the way, you still refer to the eatery by its birth name, don't sweat it — chef/owner Michelle Bernstein also admits to calling it Michy's.

In ten years, Bernstein and David Martinez have transformed the restaurant from a neighborhood spot to a must-do for visitors to Miami. But the restaurant retains its love for locals. That could be because Bernstein and Martinez still live in the neighborhood. "The restaurant is blocks from our house and the kind of spot we wanted and needed in our neighborhood. It’s been amazing to watch the area grow around us.”

To celebrate the occasion, Bernstein extended invitations to a group of talented chefs, all of whom she has worked with — including Lindsay Autry, Timon Balloo, Jason Schaan, Berenice de Araujo, Jacob Crabtree, Kelly Vazquez, and Sarah Sipe — to help her create one blowout meal. In addition, venerable barman Julio Cabrera was invited to make specialty cocktails, and Allegra Angelo, Michy's first sommelier, provided the wine pairings.
The evening had one hitch.

A few days before the dinner, Bernstein wasn't feeling well. Thinking it was the flu, she consulted a doctor, who scheduled emergency intestinal surgery. The chef was released from the hospital just days before the dinner. Cena's chef de cuisine, Mike Mayta, jumped in as executive chef for the evening.

A glowing Bernstein couldn't be kept away, and the chef stayed the entire evening, greeting loyal customers, many of whom have been regulars since the beginning. "This beautiful husband of mine and I took a whim. Let's buy a house a few blocks down the road and call this area home," she said after explaining why she was sitting down on the job.

Bernstein's life/business partner Martinez summed the evening up. "From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for this evening. Some of you, we've seen each other a thousand times. This is more than a business. If it was a business, we would be making money. This is truly a labor of love."

Though gimmicks, trends, and fame are fleeting, a restaurant making solid food can still stand the test of time. More important, a talented chef who's also generous with her time and wisdom can turn out more than a lovely plate of food: She can turn out a new generation of chefs. 
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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss