Restaurant Reviews

Mess Miami Is a Neat Surprise

Buenos Aries-born chef-proprietor Facundo Kairuz moved to Miami from New York during the pandemic.
Buenos Aries-born chef-proprietor Facundo Kairuz moved to Miami from New York during the pandemic. Photo by Ricardo Mejía
You might find yourself a little puzzled by the Alexander, a mid-Miami Beach oceanfront resort, which you perhaps last thought of as a dining destination when Shula’s Steak House opened in 1998. The sputnik light fixtures overhead are half-extinguished at the valet, which costs a retro five bucks. Inside, glittering chandeliers also recall its 1960s past, as does a sweeping staircase.

But patterned carpets and a clashing array of upholstered, mismatched furniture challenge any mid-century elegance — or even its most recent restoration in 2019. And because guests skew mostly Orthodox Jewish, drawn to the property for its Shabbat elevator and kosher conveniences, the presence of the
decidedly non-kosher restaurant Mess Miami is almost illogical.

Mess is wedged into the back corner of the hotel, accessed by going up to the mezzanine level and out to the main outdoor deck, which is largely deserted at night. Right before you cross the threshold of its exterior entrance, you think, is this restaurant named for what I’m about to find inside?

In fact, Mess has its act completely together. The slightly odd moniker is thanks to Argentine chef-proprietor Facundo Kairuz, who moved to Miami from New York during the most intense portion of the pandemic. Before opening the restaurant, he worked as a private chef in the all-suites building. He named his eatery in honor of “messmates” who routinely sit together for meals, such as those in the armed services or those who work in hospitality and have a family meal before they take to the floor. Or those who have survived a pandemic.
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The dining room features a variety of woods, black metal, leather, and woven lighting fixtures that dangle bare bulbs.
Photo by Ricardo Mejía
A complete departure from the hotel in aesthetic, Mess gleams with variations of woods, black metal, leather, and greenery, courtesy of Suma Design Studio. It’s minimalist and modern, yet cozy and inviting at the same time. It attracts a wildly different crowd, with guests ranging from locals to sleeveless, tattooed tourists.

A veteran of Chopped, Kairuz applies the same style to the fare, which he makes from scratch as much as possible — including the rosemary focaccia he bakes with specialty artisanal flour he sources from Anson Mills in South Carolina. A graduate of the Gastronomic Institute of Argentina (IAG), he has worked with chefs throughout South and North America, from José Ignacio at Isla de Flores in Uruguay to Camille Becerra at the James Beard Award-winning DeMaria.

Working with the latter, who has appeared on Top Chef, he developed a fascination with local, seasonal, organic, and health-conscious cuisine. He’s also been influenced by his wife, he told us during dinner one evening, who was a vegan until pregnancy cravings encouraged her to become vegetarian.

To that end, plenty of items on the menu appeal to flexitarians. These range from the roasted maitake mushroom with goat cheese plated over black-eyed peas and topped with pea sprouts to a housemade pork sausage that he offers with a sweet potato mash and herb salad.
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The chef's plate of marinated tomatoes, guava, and mixed herbs
Photo by Ricardo Mejía
The chef wasted no time getting to know the local produce, most of which he sources from Redland and Homestead farms. For those craving what an experienced Argentine chef can cook in his sleep, the New York strip steak with chimichurri is top-notch, as is the red snapper with semi-dried tomatoes and marinated eggplant.

The organic and seasonal theme extends to the wine list, where funky orange wines are featured next to more standard selections. The same goes for dessert, which Kairuz is also adept at making. He offers vegan chocolate avocado mousse next to richer, classic pies and cakes.

Any way you look at it, there's no wrong move to make at Mess — unless it's to take your first impression at face value and not go at all.

Mess Miami at the Alexander Hotel. 5225 Collins Ave., Miami Beach; 786-496-9568; Wednesday through Saturday 6 to 11 p.m., and Sunday 6 to 10 p.m. Brunch is served Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m.
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Jen Karetnick is an award-winning dining critic, food-travel writer, and author of the books Ice Cube Tray Recipes, Mango, and The 500 Hidden Secrets of Miami.
Contact: Jen Karetnick

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