Sebastian Fernandez and Leslie Ames were eager to show Miami their new concept.
The husband-and-wife duo, best known in Miami for the much-missed Coconut Grove establishment 33 Kitchen and their current project, Rare Burger at the Citadel food hall, wanted to spread their wings beyond burgers and Peruvian cuisine with a Mediterranean concept.
The duo leased space inside Dadeland Mall. Though the small bistro would compete with corporate giants like Cheesecake Factory and Earls Kitchen + Bar, the couple believed they'd benefit from the foot traffic and the uniqueness of being a local, independently owned operation inside a major shopping center.
"We wanted to do something different, and that's why mall management chose us instead of another chain," says Ames.
The couple started working on the project in January, aiming to open on March 20. Fernandez set about creating a menu, Ames hired and trained staff. The two named the restaurant Barbarella — for the movie and for their 16-year-old daughter, who signed on as a busser. (Barbarella is truly a family affair, as the couple's two sons are also pitching in.)
Of course, a few days before the scheduled opening, dining rooms across Miami-Dade were ordered closed.
"At the beginning, we thought restaurants would be closed only two weeks, and then it was two weeks more. Now, two months later, we're happy to open at 50 percent capacity, " says Ames, who was finally able to open when Dadeland Mall came back to life earlier this month — albeit with a tightened menu and shorter operating hours than they'd originally anticipated.
Menu items include pan con tomate topped with white anchovies ($9), roasted beets prepared with Greek yogurt, zaatar, glazed pecans, and mint ($14), a spicy pancetta pizza topped with mozzarella, calabrese peppers, pomodoro sauce, and honey ($14), and pappardelle tossed with littleneck clams and white wine garlic sauce.
The small restaurant achieves social distancing by setting up tables six feet apart on an outdoor terrace.
"About 40 percent of stores are open [at the mall], with the rest planning on opening by the weekend," Ames told New Times late last week. "There's been some confusion regarding the reopening rules."
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Though the current curfew means Barbarella must close at 8 p.m., Ames said she was pleased with the response to date. "Yesterday was good. A lot of old friends came in and some chefs had dinner to support us. It's slow, but people really like the food. We're considering this a soft opening."
Barbarella is offering takeout, which is attracting mall employees as more shops open.
"You know what they say: When life gives you lemons....," Ames said. "What are you going to do — wait until this is over and sit around and do nothing? We want to work on this project."
Barbarella. 7535 N. Kendall Dr., Unit #2380, Miami; 786-542-5661. Open for takeout and dine-in service from noon to 8 p.m. Mon through Saturday and from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday.