Michael Mina 74 might remind you of a nightclub. Lingering behind the ivory counter in the Fontainebleau Miami Beach lobby, a leggy hostess in a tiny red dress is the restaurant's gatekeeper. She subtly eyes you and then escorts you downstairs, her black heels clacking on the marble steps. Inside the cavernous dining room, bachelorettes clink glasses of Louis Roederer champagne; men in suits chat over stone crabs and Vieux Carrés; and EDM beats pulsate incessantly through the speakers.
The windowless space resembles a secret lounge, a hideaway for Miami Beach's flashy crowd.
Past the glossy bar, where cocktails age in small oak barrels, seafood platters adorn nearly every table. Some come from the BleauFish — the Fontainebleau's 43-foot commercial fishing boat and the source for some of the hotel's pristine seafood.
Its bounty includes a perfectly cooked red snapper laid atop a rich red curry sauce and served alongside shrimp, a plump scallop, and a fried rice cake. This dish proves that, in the right hands, even showy restaurants can boast delectable fare.
If you've heard of Michael Mina, this success shouldn't come as a surprise. The James Beard Award-winning chef oversees 20 restaurants across the country, including his Michelin-starred namesake in San Francisco. In Miami-Dade, he oversees Bourbon Steak at Turnberry Isle in Aventura and, since December, Michael Mina 74 at the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. Located in the basement space previously occupied by the dance club Arkadia, it's a stunning blend of nightlife and cookery.
Mina's food, prepared by chef de cuisine Thomas Griese, reworks classic, refined dishes with playful touches. Often, this calls for some showmanship. Two servers ceremoniously deliver a beef tenderloin to your table. "Oh, that's a big one," says one, scooping the meat from a black pot lined with smoked hay. She slides it onto the plate delivered by her colleague, who serves the meat with celery root purée, roasted radishes, and horseradish vinaigrette. It's a wonderful steak — medium-rare, juicy, and infused with smoke's earthy aroma. It also shows Michael Mina can make fancy cooking fun.
The same can be said about his hamachi poppers. Minced amberjack is dressed with a sriracha aioli and then spooned over round sushi rice cakes. Finished with tobiko, it's accompanied by a vibrant ginger sauce. You've probably tasted this several times before: spicy fish, crisp rice cakes, and a slightly saccharine dressing. Here, though, Mina's precision adds a sense of novelty.
Choose the poppers over his duo of ceviches. Hidden beneath a blob of coconut-key lime whipped cream, the raw pompano tastes like a dessert. When the marinade's acid blends with the sweet cream, it looks like a sloppy, broken sauce. Sure, the neighboring octopus ceviche is delectable, but coming from a well-renowned chef, this one stands out for its laxness.
At times, Mina's food can rush at you with sugar. The caja china-style pork trio is a nice way to honor Miami's favorite way to roast. The threesome — featuring pork belly, tenderloin, and a swine-stuffed spring roll — is whimsical and enjoyable. Its cloying kumquat-chile relish might please some diners; however, it might also turn off diners accustomed to garlicky mojos.
Along with throwbacks to Cuban cuisine, there are old-school extravagances such as an $85 lobster potpie and a Russian royal osetra caviar service worth hundreds of dollars. And, yes, you might also spot the kind of diner who enjoys photo-bragging about his oyster platter more than chatting with his date. But splurging is unnecessary here. You can order thrilling dishes without such lavishness.
There is pasta laced with Florida lobster, uni, and lemon beurre blanc; Mina's signature tuna tartare with Asian pear and Scotch bonnets; and a grilled quail coupled with foie gras. Spiced with a fiery jerk seasoning, the quail's flesh is balanced flawlessly with a glazed mango sauce. Pecans, pomegranate seeds, golden raisins, and Roquefort cheese scattered throughout a shredded kale salad makes eating the hardy cabbage much more pleasant.
Passionfruit panna cotta might seem like a predictable choice, but at Michael Mina 74, it gets a subtle makeover. Poured in a thin layer into a wide bowl, the golden fruit custard rests beneath slivers of avocado, grapefruit, guava jelly, and coconut sorbet. Mina can rework something classic and then impress you with his thoughtfulness and restraint.
He implements a similar strategy with his late-night menu. At 4 a.m., after a wild night of partying at LIV next door, you can try Mina's Cuban sandwich.
Condolences to the abuelitas of Miami: It costs $22, and it's packed with foie gras.