Chef de Cuisine's Departure Wounds Danny Serfer's New Place, Mignonette Uptown
Only four months after opening, restaurateur Danny Serfer's new North Miami Beach restaurant, Mignonette Uptown, has lost its chef de cuisine, 26-year-old Anthony Ciancio.
Serfer says the departure was “amicable,” but it might be a blow to his new place. The owner gave the chef wide latitude to design the menu and shape it.
“There’s nothing really else to share,” Serfer says when asked to explain Ciancio’s sudden exit. “I’m happy with all the work he’s done, but now it’s business as usual over here.”
The cheerful 36-year-old Serfer opened Blue Collar, his small MiMo District restaurant, in 2012 and debuted Mignonette, a larger seafood and oyster bar with business partner/buddy Ryan Roman, in 2014 in an underdeveloped pocket of Edgewater. A mix of lowbrow/highbrow, plain/fancy dishes and laid-back atmosphere made the restaurant an instant sensation.
Serfer’s newest eatery, on Biscayne Boulevard at NE 139th Street, is just a stone’s throw from his home. The Miami native and his wife recently learned they’re expecting twins, and come September, their family will include four children under the age of 4. Moreover, Serfer grew up in the neighborhood, and when the polished-steel railcar that housed the iconic Gourmet Diner until it closed in 2015 became available, he was overcome with nostalgia. Not only did he eat there, but he also got his culinary start working at chef Allen Susser’s Aventura restaurant, Chef Allen’s.
What’s more, Serfer and Roman thought the area was overdue for a high-quality yet affordable independent eatery.
Two recent visits to the restaurant show an impressive menu. Ciancio’s interpretation of crab cakes — which Serfer says he will preserve along with the rest of the menu — is prepared by combining mustard and onion varieties. It uses whole-grain mustard and Dijon, as well as white onions and leeks. Another standout was the charred octopus slathered in a homemade barbecue sauce.
Like the Edgewater flagship, this location prominently displays the day’s East and West Coast oyster selections on a large marquee over the bar. “We’re an oyster bar, and oysters are our bread and butter,” Serfer says. The raw section of the menu is identical to the one at the original Mignonette; however, the “fancy” seafood section is completely different and based on Ciancio’s ideas.
Before starting with Serfer, the Miami-born Ciancio was part of the opening team for 27 Restaurant at the Freehand in Miami Beach and at Wynwood's famed Alter. He also worked for Sean Brock at McCrady’s in Charleston, South Carolina, before submitting his resumé to Serfer and Roman. He even discovered pink peppercorn shrubs growing in the eatery's parking lot.
Despite a substantial renovation, the restaurant has maintained the essence of the old Gourmet Diner. The banquettes have been reupholstered and there’s a new bar, but the dusty-blue-and-tan color palette remains.
The kitchen at Mignonette Uptown will now be run by Serfer and sous-chef Mihalis “Mo” Tzovaras, who was a cook at Michael Mina’s Bourbon Steak in Aventura before joining Serfer at Blue Collar and later at Mignonette in Edgewater. Serfer says he has confidence Tzovaras can seamlessly take over the chef de cuisine position; whenever neither Serfer nor Ciancio was at the restaurant, Tzovaras ran the show. It should be noted, though, Serfer repeatedly said he had full confidence in Ciancio and allowed him to customize the menu before the chef de cuisine departed.
Mignonette number two happens to be the only one of Serfer’s three restaurants to have an onsite pastry chef. Devin Braddock delivers with her Valrhona chocolate cake. It includes caramel, a nut crumble, coffee-flavored ice cream, and thick slices of banana. There’s a lot going on, yet every component enhances the taste. This treat is nicely done.
Just like Edgewater before the opening of the original Mignonette, North Miami Beach was in serious need of a place exactly like this one. But though the flagship has had the good fortune of holding on to its first chef de cuisine, Bobby Frank, its sister eatery hasn’t been so lucky. Crowds have been smaller at the young Mignonette Uptown anyway. Time will tell how Serfer and Roman deal with adversity.
- Crab cakes $19
- BBQ octopus $16
- Caesar salad $10
- Roasted cauliflower $6
- Grilled peaches $6
- Fancy striped bass $29
- Whole branzino $35
- Latkes $6 and up
- Pie of the day $8
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