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Michelle Bernstein and Julio Cabrera's Cafe La Trova Is a Love Song to Cuba and the American Dream

Last evening, hundreds of Miami A-listers braved a thunderstorm to attend the opening-night party of the highly anticipated Cafe La Trova.

The restaurant combines chef Michelle Bernstein's take on traditional Cuban fare with the cocktails of Julio Cabrera. La Trova is set to officially open Monday, January 28, but diners wanting a sneak peek can grab a well-made rum old-fashioned and some croquetas this weekend.

The space consists of two rooms, both taking cues from Miami and Havana. The front room is a re-creation of a Cuban street scene, complete with a clothesline hanging over a stage where musicians will serenade guests nightly.

Across from the stage, an oversize wooden bar is festooned with gleaming glasses, bottles of rum, beakers of house-made syrups and bitters, and gleaming silver bowls of fresh fruit. These are the tools of the trade of Cabrera and his team of cantineros, resplendent in burgundy tuxedo jackets with sharp black satin lapels.

Julio Cabrera (center) and his staff. See more photos from the opening night here.EXPAND
Julio Cabrera (center) and his staff. See more photos from the opening night here.
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The bartenders spent the evening making precise cocktails created by Cabrero and Orestes Pajon, including the crisp Buenavista, containing Bombay Sapphire gin, cucumber, mint, elderflower liqueur, lime juice, and sugar, and the El Guayabero, a sweet-and-spicy blend of Casa Noble reposado tequila, guava marmalade, cayenne-agave syrup, and lime juice, as well as mojitos and old-fashioneds ($12 each).

Bernstein's dishes, executed by Cuban chef Raulito Salgado, the former toque at Havana's iconic El Floridita, include paella croquetas, served with shot of seafood caldo and saffron aioli ($10); mezcal tempura fried calamari ($15); and the Juicy Lucia, a burger filled with Manchego and cheddar cheeses, topped with gravy, and served on a seeded bun ($15).

To the left of the stage, an indoor/outdoor ventanita serves cafecito, empanadas, and croquetas, and a back bar features a neon palm tree that nods to '80s Miami. A large "Miami Vice" sign ties the familiar colors together. Rounding out the experience, a patio offers a cigar bar and domino tables.

Taking the stage to thank party guests, Bernstein said Cafe La Trova was conceived three years ago, when Cabrera invited her and her husband David Martinez to his house for rum and cigars. "I know there were dreams of Calle Ocho; I know there were dreams of a beautiful bar. We're coming home to Calle Ocho."

The menu at Cafe La Trova. See more photos from the opening night here.EXPAND
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It was Cabrera who stole the show last night, though. The dashing cantinero was everywhere at once — slinging drinks, greeting guests, and making music at the bar before bringing the house down with a simple, heartfelt speech. "In 2001, I promised my dad someday that I would open a bar," he said. "I came to the United States to have the American dream." 

Last night, both the American dream and a son's promise to his father came true.

Café La Trova. 971 SW Eighth St., Miami; cafelatrova.com. Open 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday, January 25, through Sunday, January 27. After that, open 4 to 11 p.m. Monday through Thursday, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. Sunday. The ventanita will be open daily beginning at 8 a.m., and lunch and brunch service will be added in the coming weeks.

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