130 NE 40th Street, Miami; (305) 573-5550. www.michaelsgenuine.com
And Michael’s makes matters worse by not only printing the word in large letters on servers’ T-shirts and menus but also defining it on those shirts and menus as “free from pretense, affectation” — a pretentious, affected move that puts its genuineness in doubt.
And yet genuine is how this restaurant comes across. Once it leaves the dictionary behind, there are few games, no nonsense: just refreshingly straightforward cooking by a chef, Michael Schwartz, exercising an impulse shared by many peers these days. He’s ditching the haute for the homey and focusing more on sourcing than on saucing.
Don’t get me wrong: you most certainly can’t do this at home. You don’t have time to round up the range of ingredients that Mr. Schwartz has, especially the Florida black grouper, swordfish and pompano. And you’re highly unlikely to be equipped with a wood-fired oven, which is what he uses for a whole snapper ($15 a pound) with bulbs of fennel and, separately, a fat onion stuffed with cinnamon-scented ground lamb and apricots ($14).
But Mr. Schwartz is indeed going for the warmth and robustness of home cooking, along with its guiltiest, least sophisticated pleasures: chips (potato) and dip (onion) are on the menu, and you’d be lunatic not to order this ($6). The dip is packed with so much caramelized onion, which produces such an elegant sweetness, that you’d swear somebody splashed Cognac in it.
The restaurant’s skin doesn’t match its soul — that’s part of its sneaky charm. It’s nestled among glass furniture showrooms in the Miami Design District, and what you spot first are tables in a courtyard with tropical foliage.
You expect the tanned people there to be poking with chopsticks at tuna sashimi. But what they’re doing — at least the smart ones — is grabbing fistfuls of deep-fried hominy nuggets dusted with ginger, garlic, chipotle and sugar ($5).
They’re cutting through crisp skin to get at the gorgeous flesh of roasted poulet rouge ($23 for a half chicken, $31 for a whole), a breed raised in North Carolina. Or they’re letting their forks sink into roasted pork shoulder ($24) so tender it threatens to cross over from meat to custard. It’s slathered with an emerald sauce of anchovy, capers and parsley that, in a more perfect world, would be slathered on everything, except maybe chocolate ice cream, and I’m not even sure about that.
While these dishes don’t scream local and seasonal, others I tried on my midwinter visit did convey a sense of place and time. There’s sweet, bright orange, along with papaya and avocado, in a supple black grouper ceviche ($9), and there’s even more orange in a salad of local butter lettuce ($10).
Most of the scores of savory options on the menu are listed by size under the headings Small, Medium, Large and Extra Large. Desserts ($7 to $9) stay the comfort-food course, and this restaurant apparently read the same cue cards that Fearing’s did, producing its own amalgam of chocolate (in a brownie), peanut butter (a brittle) and banana (caramelized slices clinging to the slopes of vanilla ice cream).
The wine list, reflecting the restaurant’s cost consciousness, emphasizes affordability over intrigue. It will disappoint connoisseurs. The servers, though charismatic, tend to drift.
But the restaurant is so relaxing, whether you’re indoors, with a full view of the kitchen, or outdoors, with a breeze, that you’re likely not to care.
And it feeds you so well, in such an unforced way, that you slip into a state of contentment that’s pure. Honest. Genuine.