Sure, we lament the good food we can no longer enjoy at these establishments, but even worse is the city lost the work of many chefs pushing the local culinary scene forward.
The shuttering of Michelle Berstein's Cena not only represented a flame fluttering out for one of Miami's two James Beard Award winners, but also hamstrung her chef de cuisine, Mike Mayta, who was largely responsible for executing Bernstein's day-to-day vision. The pair collaborated well on dishes, such as Cena's short-lived fettuccine carbonara. The senior chef initially envisioned it built on the Japanese seaweed and bonito broth called dashi, which offered a briny, umami-laced twist. When that didn't pan out, Mayta proposed a ham hock concoction that's a perfect foil for the creamy Saint-André cheese that binds the firm noodles.
Similarly, Alberto Cabrera, who brought long-awaited upgrades to Miami's already impressive stable of Cuban sandwiches, and Alex Chang, whose creative, ground-up cuisine was homemade right down to the vinegars, will also be missed.
1. Little Bread
Alberto Cabrera's Little Bread was the place of Cuban-sandwich dreams. Inside the brick-covered Little Havana storefront, the ginger-bearded chef used a syrupy Malta concoction to glaze turkey breasts destined for his Elena Ruz. The bread for most of his sandwiches, a cross between Cuban and Pullman (a kind of white) bread, was baked daily. He made his own mustard, a grainy, nostril-burning affair that helped tamp the richness of pork-belly slabs, cured overnight then cooled, pulled, and blended with more fat to create a Cuban version of France's rillettes. Unfortunately, all dreams come to end, and the chef left for the glitter and neon of Las Vegas.
2. The Vagabond Restaurant & Bar
Miami wasn't quite ready for Alex Chang. Nevertheless, the excitement was palpable when the revamped Vagabond Hotel announced the 20-something wunderkind would helm the property's midcentury-modern restaurant. From its kitchen came chapulines — sun-roasted crickets tossed with peanuts, cilantro, and lime — and a reimagined Cuban sandwich. It was a plate of silky sweetbreads circled by a Swiss-cheese foam bound with cream and potato that's shocked into submission by a country ham vinaigrette and an inky slick of burnt-onion mustard. Chang was a divisive character. One moment, he was a young, bombastic, talented cook from Los Angeles who wanted to tell the city how things should be done; the next, he would show concern for Miami's dining community and its farmers, and even talk about starting his own farmers' market. Maybe one day he'll return from L.A. and make good on that promise.