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Food + Drink

Chef Michelle Bernstein Goes Back to the Beach

Michelle Bernstein has been around the world. But she's always returns home, this time to a buzzy Floridian brasserie in the new Thompson Miami Beach. Emily Saladino dishes with the chef

Trash can be treasure. It’s a lesson James Beard award-winning, Bobby Flay-besting Iron Chef Michelle Bernstein knows well. And it’s one she learned sitting on milk crates in Malaysia at 2 am eating street food with her mother. “We ate fish head curry, hot goat’s milk and flatbread made in a hollowed-out garbage can.”

These days, Miami’s hottest chef stays closer to home. In addition to an overhaul of Michy’s, the critically lauded restaurant she and husband David Martinez opened in 2005, Bernstein will soon debut the Seagrape, a Floridian brasserie in the city’s swish new Thompson Miami Beach. _______________________________________________________

SHOP THE STORY: Thompson Miami Beach On Sale _______________________________________________________

Plenty of restaurants pay lip service to buzzwords like “farm-to-table,” but Bernstein’s delivers. She commissioned several farmers in South Florida to grow specific products for the menu, which is heavy on seasonal vegetables and local seafood. Bernstein’s favorite items on the menu include house-made squid ink buccatini, and salt-encrusted whole Florida snapper.

The Seagrape is also something of a homecoming for the Miami native. “I’m returning to the beach after more than a decade,” she enthuses. Bernstein previously helmed Azul, an award-winning fusion restaurant at the Mandarin Oriental in Biscayne Bay. Bernstein likes the Thompson’s location on Collins Avenue, calling it “an emerging area away from the hustle and bustle of South Beach.”

When the restaurant and hotel open on November 21, they’ll bring considerable panache to mid-Miami Beach. Design firm Martin Brudnizki, creators of London’s buzzy Dean Street Townhouse, give interiors a breezy, beach house vibe – provided your beach house occupies a 1940-era Art Deco skyscraper, and comes fitted with Sferra linens and Frette bathrobes.

The Seagrape has terrazzo floors and Gio Ponti-esque chairs upholstered in yellow leather. It’s no Malaysian milk crate, but we suppose it’ll do.

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1

Best Meal on an Airplane

It was on a flight to Spain, way before I worked with Delta. It taught me how good the food can actually be on a flight. I believe a famous Spanish chef, Sergi Arola, created the dish. It was really simple but perfect: filet mignon (medium rare!), potato confit gratin and braised greens.

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Best Food Souvenir

Olive oil. And I brought home a whole leg of Pata Negra once. I hope that doesn’t get me into trouble!

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Best City for Culinary Inspiration

Definitely San Sebastian. I’ve never been anywhere else where every single bite was amazing, unforgettable and perfect. My time there taught me how very little you have to manipulate a perfect ingredient to put it on a plate and be a masterpiece. The white asparagus, chanterelles, fresh sardines, blood sausage, pimentos de pardon, everything with a little salt, possibly a touch of oil – amazing!

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On Eating Out in Miami

My three favorite places to eat in South Florida are Gabose Restaurant, Garcia’s Seafood, and Khoury’s Mediterranean Restaurant.

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Favorite Hotel Memory

Of all the elegant, five-star, over-the-top hotels and not-so-over-the-top hotels we have stayed in, the One & Only Palmilla in Los Cabos keeps coming to mind. Maybe because my husband and I had an amazing three-day stay there unexpectedly.

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Best City for Street Food

Singapore. You can find the best Malay, Chinese, Singaporean, Peranakan dishes in the world, all in one place.

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Best City for Culinary Shopping

I’ve never seen better than Tokyo. I remember going to a beautiful, elegant Japanese department store with a food hall on the lower floor. I cried it was so amazing!

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Dream City to Own a Restaurant

New York. It would have to be the most perfect food I’ve ever made.

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Dream Travel Destination

New Zealand is high on my list. I heard it’s one of the most beautiful places to visit, and they grow such different produce than we do here.

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Favorite Childhood Travel Memory

My first trip to Argentina. We stayed in an estancia, rode horses and ate barbecue everything with the gauchos.