Miami’s food scene may conjure images of stone crabs, croquetas and tostada Cubanas, but these days the New York influence is just as heavy.
Foodies will find an abundance of familiar outposts of restaurants already popular in other American cities, but particularly the Big Apple.
It started in 1995, in what locals refer to as the “Madonna era” of South Beach, with the opening of The China Grill. The spin-off of the glitzy New York restaurant was just as star-studded in Miami, drawing crowds for 17 years before closing in 2012.
The next wave came in 2001, with the openings of Nobu and Sushisamba in Miami Beach.
In recent years, this trend has exploded, with the number of Miami outposts of New York restaurants easily surpassing a baker’s dozen, and showing no signs of slowing down.
Miami’s Design District will soon welcome an ABC Kitchen from Jean-Georges Vongerichten, as well as L’Atelier de Joël Robuchon.
“I have to pause when giving restaurant recommendations to friends visiting from New York,” says Evan Benn, editor in chief of the Miami Herald’s Indulge magazine.
“Because some of the places I’d suggest to them — Lure Fishbar, Upland, Lucali, Bagatelle, Il Mulino — they can go to at home.”
Travel hot spot
But why exactly is Miami such popular territory for these transplants?
Culinary publicist Larry Carrino, president of Brustman Carrino Public Relations, has had a pivotal role in the local food scene, working with chefs and restaurants for the past 23 years. He says there are a few contributing factors for the NYC-Miami restaurant connection.
“Number one, there’s that long-running joke of Miami being the sixth borough,” he says.
“It’s true in the sense of former New Yorkers calling this home, whether it’s full time or if they bounce back and forth. There is definitely a pipeline between the two cities.”
The second factor, he says, is “Miami’s well-earned reputation as an international travel hotspot. We are at the crossroads of the Americas, so you have an amazing opportunity to do business here.”
It also helps that this tourism is less seasonal than it used to be. “We’re not six months on, six months off anymore,” says Carrino.
Local fan base
But it’s his third point, about Miami locals, that seems to be one of the most crucial ingredients in a successful south Florida expansion.
“We have a very interesting, eclectic, and now year-round local support base,” he says.
Evan Benn agrees: “I don’t think the intent of these Miami outposts is to target New York tourists and snowbirds. I think it’s more of a nod to the international appeal of both cities, and the recognition that Miami, like New York, is really hungry for great restaurants.”
“Once upon a time,” Carrino recalls, “we had clients whose outlook was, ‘We don’t need the locals.’ We were mystified by that. “Locals are the ones who are walking into a restaurant on a Tuesday night, sitting at the bar having a bottle of wine and some appetizers.
“They’re not coming in because the [big-name] chef is cool — they like the food and, if anything, they have a relationship with the general manager or the chef de cuisine, the guy who’s in the kitchen every day.”
‘NYC at the beach’
Famous chefs and familiar restaurant names may help attract some visitors, especially in Miami hotels where many of these restaurants can be found. But they don’t automatically guarantee long-term success.
“Even the best restaurants fail if their owners are asleep at the wheel,” says Benn.
“It’s no coincidence that Lure’s chef/partner Josh Capon is down here from New York all the time, and that Upland chef Justin Smillie and owner Stephen Starr are constant presences in Miami. Or that both restaurants are always packed with happy eaters.”
“We love Miami for the same reasons a lot of other New Yorkers love it,” says David Massoni, one of chef Dale Talde’s business partners in Talde, which first opened in Brooklyn and now has outposts in Jersey City and Miami Beach.
“It’s a very diverse city, culturally and food-wise as well. While it totally has its own vibe and energy, it also has a feeling of New York City at the beach. When we turned to our staff to see who wanted to possibly move to Miami and open our new restaurant, everyone’s hands shot up.”
A number of Carrino’s current clients are successful spin-offs of New York restaurants, including Scarpetta, Lure Fishbar and The Dutch.
“Take Andrew Carmellini,” he says, of the chef behind New York’s Locanda Verde, Little Park and Bar Primi, in addition to The Dutch. “He had knowledge of Miami. He had been down here many times as a child. He said, ‘I want to do The Dutch in Miami but I don’t want to replicate it, I want to do a Miami take on it.’
“It looks different, it feels different. There’s a sweet spot that needs to be struck between innovation and embracing the uniqueness of your location, whether you’re opening in Miami or Tuscaloosa or Madison, Wisconsin. If restauranteurs wanted to do the same thing over and over again, they’d roll out a chain.”
Why these NYC restaurants came to Miami
In their own words:
“We fell in love with Miami when we did the South Beach Wine & Food Festival for the first time in 2013. But the opportunity to open Talde in what was then the Thompson Hotel Miami Beach [now The Confidante] came to us. And if it was going to be in a ‘foreign’ city that none of us lived in, we wanted to do a concept that was something we had done before, something we felt comfortable doing. But we wanted to make the best version of it that we possibly could. For the first time, we were able to work with a design team and create a space that was new and fresh and about us.” — partner David Massoni.
Talde at The Confidante Miami Beach by Hyatt, 4041 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
“We saw how Miami was developing an appreciation of the cocktail culture and the food scene was becoming more substantial and appreciated. There are so many people in Miami who get us. Either because they have lived or spent time in New York and have been to Employees Only, or they just welcome an alternative New York vibe while still being in the sunshine and beauty of Art Deco South Beach.” — founder Billy Gilroy.
Employees Only, 1030 Washington Avenue, Miami Beach
“We decided to bring Lure Fishbar to Miami Beach since a large majority of our guests in New York spend a large portion of the year in Miami. Our menu of fresh seafood and sushi was embraced by visitors and locals right away.” — partner John McDonald, CEO of Mercer Street Hospitality.
Lure at Loews Miami Beach Hotel, 1601 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
“Miami is always a great destination but now more than ever it’s emerging as a truly competitive culinary destination. Upland opening in Miami brings the concept back to its palm tree roots and I think it’s a great fit for the South of Fifth community that’s very neighborhood-minded but also full of jet-setters that go between Miami, New York and other great global cities.” — chef/partner Justin Smillie.
Upland, 49 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill
“Long-time customers of Blue Ribbon, who happened to be hoteliers, presented us with a vision for their new hotel and it all clicked from there. We found the Miami dining scene didn’t really have a ton of traditional Japanese restaurants, so it was a natural fit. We think that our combination of traditional sushi and a great kitchen menu, with dishes like oxtail fried rice, and our famous fried chicken with wasabi honey, is unique to Miami and complementary to the diversity of the city” — partner Ken Bromberg.
Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill at The Plymouth Hotel, 336 21st Street, Miami Beach
“After the success of the two original locations in New York City, we knew we had to expand and we felt like Miami was the perfect choice. It was a natural, due to its South American roots, international appeal, its energy and of course the influx of New Yorkers who flock to the city and make Miami their playground during the colder months. Another important aspect was the arrival of Art Basel Miami Beach, which debuted around the same time” — CEO Shimon Bokovza.
Sushisamba, 600 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach
Coming back soon: Serafina
“Serafina opened a pop-up at Dream South Beach in 2012. We opened in time for Art Basel and tested the waters to see if our brand would resonate with Miami residents, not just our established New York customers who flock down south. Restaurants in Miami need a local following and cannot rely only on snowbirds and tourists. As we expected, the restaurant did attract Miami families and local celebs. We anticipate making an announcement soon about a new, bigger location in Miami.” — spokesperson Caroline McBride
Even more NYC flavors in Miami
The Shops at Mary Brickell Village, 900 S Miami Ave; and Lincoln Road Mall, 1111 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach
At W South Beach, 2201 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
At Fontainebleau, 4441 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
1930 Bay Road, Miami Beach
At the Nobu Eden Roc Hotel, 4525 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
1501 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach
840 1st Street, Miami Beach; and at Acqualina, 17875 Collins Avenue, Sunny Isles Beach
220 21st Street, Miami Beach
Lincoln Road Mall, 1111 Lincoln Road, Miami Beach; and 1450 South Dixie Highway (US1), Coral Gables
432 Española Way, Miami Beach
8001 Biscayne Blvd, Miami