Food News

Michelle Bernstein's Disbanded Cena Team Reunites for Dusk Pop-Up

The untimely closing of Michelle Bernstein's Cena scattered one of Miami's best kitchen crews to the wind. 

Its primary prep cook, Augustine Gamboa, was devastated the day he learned the building was sold and the longstanding restaurant would soon shutter. "There’s no way that place could’ve run so smoothly without him," former chef de cuisine Mike Mayta says. "The day we told him, I'd never seen him work slower. I think he spent something like two hours shucking fava beans while we talked."

That wasn't the only heartbreak. Mayta had to interrupt a waiter's vacation to tell him his job wouldn't be there upon his return. He and the others learned of the restaurant's imminent closure only three days before the kitchen crew stripped the place nearly bare and hauled its equipment onto the sidewalk. The news came less than a year after Michelle Bernstein and husband David Martinez reopened her namesake MiMo District restaurant to glowing reviews (including one from New Times) and as the space itself approached its tenth anniversary. 

Some of the Cena team members will reunite this summer for weekend pop-ups inside Bernstein's Design District restaurant, Crumb on Parchment (Thursday through Saturday from 6 to 10:30 p.m. through September). Mayta, along with wife and pastry chef Keily Vasquez, is partitioning off the space, dubbed Dusk, with faux brick walls and lining tables with white tablecloths. 
The brief, reasonably priced menu tries to play on familiar dishes and flavors before turning them on their head. Case in point are caesar salad croquetas ($8). Heads of romaine lettuce are charred, chopped, and then blended into a béchamel with Parmesan and anchovies. The crisp fried exterior mimics the crouton crunch. "We wanted to do things that sound kind of comforting, like things people have had before, but play around with different techniques," Mayta says. 

The same thinking goes into the ratatouille ($18), which leans more toward Italy and Spain than its name leads on. Eggplant is charred, floured, and rolled into gnocchi, and the dish is plated with romesco, an addictive purée of nuts, bread, roasted red peppers, and sherry vinegar. Mayta taps into his childhood with the ajiaco potpie ($21) in a pastry crust, while the brisket saltado ($23) applies the savory, piquant flavors of Peru's favorite stir-fry to a slow braise.
Dusk has been a long time coming, and it seems there's no bad blood between Mayta and Bernstein. And though Cena shuttered nearly two months ago, Mayta, sounding magnanimous, says his focus (while receiving an offer from the Vagabond that he eventually turned down) was on placing his crew. Gamboa is now working at the St. Regis Bal Harbour. Anyone else looking to pick up a few extra hours can find them at Dusk. 

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Zachary Fagenson became the New Times Broward-Palm Beach restaurant critic in 2012 before taking up the post for Miami in 2014. He also works as a correspondent for Reuters.
Contact: Zachary Fagenson