12 Top Miami Chefs Who Were Not Too Big To Fail, Part One

Financial institutions are too big to fail. Chefs are not. Almost all of our highly regarded toques have wiped out in spectacular fashion at one point or another in their careers. We present a dozen such flops in alphabetical order. Young chefs, heed the lesson: Persistence pays off.

1. Chef: Michelle Bernstein, Michy's, Sra. Martinez
Flop: The Strand
Before gaining national recognition as chef at Azul, and then more fame for her own restaurants, Bernstein was chef at Red Fish Grill, Tantra, and then chef/owner of the Strand, a hotel restaurant south of Fifth Street in South Beach. It opened in 2000, never clicked with the public, and was gone in about a year. Then Bernstein headed to Azul, and the rest is history.

2. Chef: Sean Brasel, Meat Market
Flop: KISS Steakhouse and Lounge
In a 2002 review, I wrote, "With its red walls, checkerboard terrazzo floor, fabric-wrapped columns, fiber-optic lighting, and caped, oversize chairs, the two-level KISS Steakhouse and Lounge looks like the Mad Hatter's tea party on location in Vegas." Add scantily clad girls gyrating from Lucite stages suspended above the dining room, and -- you know, now that I'm thinking about it, how could this place not have worked in South Beach? But it didn't. Brasel kept on cooking at Touch and then moved across Lincoln Road to Meat Market, an unqualified success.

3. Chef: Jonathan Eismann
Fin, Q, Pizza Volante
Eismann has hit his bump in the road more recently than most of the other chefs on this list. That's the thing about duds -- never know when they'll happen. Eismann recently helped Spartico get off the ground at the Mayfair Hotel and is moving ahead with plans for new projects (at an SBWFF affair, I heard him say he was looking into South Beach). Whatever happens, he'll always have the original, pioneering Pacific Time as part of his legacy.

4. Chef: Jan Jorgensen, Two Chefs
Flops: Scotty's Grocery, Two Chefs Too
One week we praise him in interview; next week we put him on our flop list. Go figure. But seriously, Jorgensen has been the man, and his Two Chefs has been the restaurant in South Miami since 1994. But in 2001, he took over ownership of the quaint Scotty's Grocery in Coconut Grove; the post-9/11 economy took its toll, and it closed after less than two years. Two Chefs Too moved into the old Mark's Place locale in North Miami in 2009 but fizzled after less than a year. Maybe it was just that too many Two Chefs spoiled the broth.

5. Chef: Mark Militello
Flop: Mark's CityPlace in West Palm Beach
In 1988, Militello opened his first restaurant, Mark's Place, in North Miami Beach. It was a huge hit and influential for years. After selling Mark's Place, Militello opened Mark's Las Olas, which was arguably the finest restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Then he opened Mark's South Beach, which was damn good too and had a solid run. Mark's at the Park lasted a decade in Mizner Park. Those efforts can hardly be considered failures. But the Militello empire crumbled suddenly and quickly -- all four restaurants went down in two months. We list Mark's CityPlace as the flop, because that one really never succeeded on any level and didn't last long. Militello hasn't found a venue appropriate for his talents since then, but we're still hopeful. Seriously: He could teach some of our gifted young chefs a thing or two.

6. Chef: Pascal Oudin (Pascal's on Ponce)
Flop: Sweet Donna's Country Store Restaurant & Bakery
In 1995, while working at the Grand Café in Coconut Grove's Grand Bay Hotel, Pascal was named one of "America's Best New Chefs" by Food & Wine magazine. Oudin opened his 16-table Pascal's on Ponce in 2000, and Esquire named it "Best New Restaurant in America." It has consistently been one of our finest restaurants. But in 1999, Pascal hooked up with the owners of Café Tu Tu Tango to open a contemporary family-dining restaurant in the Shops at Sunset Place in South Miami. It was a complicated business, with restaurant, bakery, country store -- heck, they had private-label candies and made 27 types of bread each day! Sweet Donna crashed fairly quickly, and Pascal has never again cooked any type of cuisine other than that he knows and loves.

Tomorrow: Six more big guns that fired blanks.

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Miami New Times' restaurant reviewer for the past decade, and the world's indisputable master of disguise.
Contact: Lee Klein