On the Upper East Side of Miami, an area many consider to be the city's next big neighborhood, there's a bright new storefront surrounded by motels with hourly rates and a smattering of boutiques and design shops. It's called Michy's and—like its namesake, chef Michelle Bernstein—this 50-seat restaurant is quintessential Miami: high-energy, colorful, sexy, a little Latin, totally cosmopolitan. At the same time, both Michy's and Bernstein possess something far more familiar to locals (who do, after all, live in the deep, deep South): a hometown sense of hospitality.
Michy's feels like the Miami version of those mom-and-pop Michelin one-stars in the French countryside. Walk in, and David Martinez, Bernstein's husband, greets you at the door ("I always know I don't have to worry about the front-of-house," Bernstein says). The room, designed by Bernstein's sister Nicky, is set with an assortment of late-'60s vintage chairs plucked from Miami's spectacular thrift shops, painted high-gloss white and upholstered in bright flowery fabric. Orange Ultrasuede banquettes line one wall, where Bernstein's parents are having dinner for the third time this week; a breezy white curtain lines the other. A plate-glass window faces Biscayne Boulevard, where customers can occasionally glimpse one of the neighborhood's working girls, um, working. (Don't worry, valet parking is in the back.)
Bernstein is in the kitchen, cooking, for the first time in her career, food that is exactly hers, a reflection of her Latin upbringing, French training, Asian travels and deep affinity for Italian, Spanish and Southern flavors. Add to that her impeccable sourcing of local ingredients and a kind of elegant rigor that threads through her life and her cuisine, and this restaurant isn't just owned by the chef, it's a perfect portrait of her. She cooks the same kind of food on her days off, when she's been known to commandeer a boat for an impromptu picnic lunch on the water.