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Salt-baked beets and hazelnut salad with Woodlands ham and cured squash

Mina's Touch

by Jen Karetnick | Photography by Michael Pisarri | Miami magazine | January 28, 2014

Imagine you’re a chef. Not just any chef, but a big-time celebrity kind of chef who operates nearly 20 high-quality concepts on both U.S. coasts. You’ve modeled signature methods and dishes that many have emulated over the years. You’re the recipient of James Beard Awards and Michelin stars, and various honors from publications like Esquire and Bon Appetit, and your Mina Group partner is tennis great Andre Agassi.

How many employees’ names would you remember?

If you were Michael Mina, owner of the recently established Michael Mina 74 in the lower level of the Fontainebleau Miami Beach’s lobby, the answer would be every single one of them. “I think he learned all of our names in the very first week,” one of our servers confided to us on our first night in the restaurant, when Mina, in town for a spell, visited tableside. “I was surprised about how hands-on he is.”

Aside from Mina’s all-around nice guy-ness, the attention to detail that this feat suggests is carried out in every aspect of the multilevel restaurant, starting with the carefully trained servers, who are exceptional. In fact, a swarm of good intenders, including managers and sommeliers, present themselves at your table from the get-go, with water preferences requested and drink explanations forthcoming immediately.

Verbal, as well as written, cocktail definitions are actually necessary, as MM 74 is doing something more original than I’ve seen in the muddled, organic, small-batch, artisanal, farm-to-highball glass lately. Punches, including a seasonally rotating Pimm’s Cup (as of now being made with Patron Silver, Thai basil, ginger beer, lime and pomegranate), are on tap, available singly or for the entire party.

The presentation of a tableside shellfish cart, however, is somewhat self-explanatory. Wheeled over after the libation discussion, the cart is laden with bivalves and crustacean such as stone crabs, rock lobster tails, pink shrimp and Malpeque oysters on the half shell. With the exception of the oysters, much of the seafood is uberlocal, unloaded daily from the hotel’s own pun-worthy fishing vessel, BleauFish. Platters arrive with a quartet of excellent housemade sauces: mignonette, Dijonnaise, a seamless cocktail sauce and a garlicky green goodness that is reminiscent of chimichurri. It’s hard not to overindulge on the succulent iced offerings, but my advice is to refrain as much as possible, as many other treats await.

You might wonder just how the waiters steer the carts around this clubby, cozy bistro. Designed by AvroKO, it has a slight ’60s aura with curvy, burgundy banquettes and a royal blue, geometric bar; a low ceiling lined with stamped metal; candles and sconces adding a golden glow; and lots of rich textiles and polished floor and wood reflecting each other. But the intimate groupings of tables actually belie the breadth of the 7,400-square-foot, 215-seat establishment. It’s possible to feel like you’re one of the only parties in the place (which becomes a late-night dining lounge complete with DJ at the turn of the Cinderella hour), while still getting some valid cardio finding your way to the restroom. That said, you also might want to wear a comfortable waistband. Despite your best New Year’s resolutions and post-holiday intentions, this is one place at which you won’t be following any faddish diet—Chef de Cuisine Thomas Griese, whom Mina personally tapped to oversee his vision, guarantees it. You’ll start by giving up being gluten-free and fat-free with the presentation of personal-size baguettes, warm and crunchy, and served with sweet cream butter dusted with flaky crystals of sea salt, and end by abandoning your sugar-free status with the arrival of a melt-in-your-mouth pavlova—the crumbly meringue exterior hiding a homemade marshmallow center with sticky hints of coconut, cardamom and pineapple.

Butter figures largely in some of the dishes as well, and I don’t care what your physician or scale says, it’s all good—especially as employed in the pompano layered with perfectly shaved potatoes and then sauteed to a duo of layered textures in tamarind brown butter. Underscored by crisp florets of purple and golden cauliflower, this irresistible entree is destined to become a favorite. Equally as compelling, the Locker 28 Beef tenderloin is hay-smoked and butter-basted, and arrives fork-tender and juicy.

Then there are the noteworthy main courses that are confited by their own fat, such as the Tamworth suckling pig cooked ever-so-slowly in a caja china. It’s offered nightly (until it runs out) and given Caribbean flair with pigeon peas and annatto rice, mojo and an intensely flavored kumquat-chile relish. As for the pig itself, the Tam or Sandy Back, as the Tamworth is also known, is an old Irish heritage breed, though too fragile for widespread production, and considered one of the finest available. MM 74’s treatment of it makes the meal a transporting experience for those accustomed to caja china results, and a most worthy introduction for those first-timing it.

And of course there are the dishes that are simply buttery, such as the grilled quail and foie gras appetizer, two sections of tender bird bedded down on seared sections of foie gras, enhanced by jerk spice and sweetened with mango. Or the Japanese wagyu shabu-shabu, delicate slices of beef wrapped around pea-shoots and served with dashi. The idea is to swish the meat through the broth until it’s cooked to your liking; I confess, carnivore that I am, that I enjoyed it nearly raw.

It’s quite possible to dine lightly on starters like hamachi poppers, which feature a spoonful of raw, minced fish mixed with ginger dressing. The tuna tartare is just as easy on the limited appetite, and not too hard on the eyes, either. The jeweled fish is mixed tableside with minced Asian pear, scotch bonnet pepper, mint, pine nuts and sesame oil. Even with the chile peppers, the tartare is flavorful but only mildly zesty, and the toast points served with it add blandness for those who might find it too powerful.

Regardless of what you choose for dinner, dessert is of paramount importance. They read simply—a noteworthy cake presentation is described as “chocolate, peanut butter, cocoa nib, malted milk”—but the combination of textures and temperatures is masterful.

Indeed, masterful is the appropriate word for Mina himself, as well as the right descriptor for his immensely able crew. In press materials, Fontainebleau President and COO Philip Goldfarb refers to MM 74 as the “fourth pillar in our award-winning collection of signature restaurants,” which includes Scarpetta, Gotham Steak and Hakkasan. The hotel may not have been leaning before, but MM 74 is certainly propping up the place higher than it has ever been.

Cocktails and Cocktail Dresses
Don’t don that fading fedora; this is the Fontainebleau, not Brooklyn. Even hipsters head to Michael Mina 74 dressed in heels, jackets
and jewels.

Beer Bash
A craft beer selection is on tap, bottled and canned, and includes selections from Tampa-based Cigar City Brewing, including a citrusy and refreshing India Pale Ale.

Wine Wonders
Complementing the sophisticated basement ambience of the bistro, a fabulous wine cellar boasts a serious collection of Champagnes and sparkling wines.

Getting There
We agree—the Fontainebleau is confusing. So from the valet, enter the hotel; head left to the lobby; look for the staircase, also on the left; and descend into heaven.

Michael Mina 74
Fontainebleau Miami Beach, 4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, 305.674.4636

Dinner: Sun.-Mon., 6pm-1am; Tues.-Sat., 6pm-midnight
Menu: raw bar, $16-$340; snacks and starters, $12-$18; appetizers, $16-$26; salad and veggies, $10-$18; supper, $26-$42; MM’s Classics, $26-$40; sides, $10; desserts, $11