Stone masons smooth out concrete stairs between two of Brickell’s most anticipated new restaurants as their chefs squeeze into a booth, ready to taste one another’s food.
While they’re waiting for their dishes, Jose Andres points outside Bazaar Mar, the latest restaurant in his empire of inventive cuisine, to the trees softening the hardscape outside the SLS Brickell Hotel. He leans over to Michael Schwartz, whose new restaurant, Fi’lia, opened two weeks ago next door, and points to the shade.
“Hopefully people will know where we are because they put an entire forest out here,” Andres jokes.
“It’s like Santa’s Enchanted Forest,” Schwartz replies, looking out from Bazaar’s bright dining room toward the patio. “You have to go out there with the beard and sit on the big chair. We’ll have amusement rides, cotton candy...”
Fear not: These two will be easy to find. Andres and Schwartz are two of the biggest names in fine dining for good reason.
Andres has more than a dozen restaurants around the world, including Bazaar in South Beach and in Los Angeles. He has won just about every culinary award, from the James Beard to his native Spain’s Order of Arts and Letters. And Schwartz, whose James Beard Award-winning Michael’s Genuine Food & Drink helped revive the Design District nearly 10 years ago, is opening his fourth different restaurant (after MGFD, Cypress Tavern, Harry’s Pizzeria) in Miami alone.
Put their restaurants next to one another, and both Miamians and out-of-town gourmands will flock here, no matter the amount of tree cover.
Today, though, the chefs are cooking for a party of one. Each prepared one dish from his restaurant to present to his new neighbor.
As they wait for their kitchens to finish the dishes, they talk food and family. When Andres hears Schwartz talk basketball (he’d soon be on his way to his son’s basketball game), he jabs him about the Miami Heat.
“How many players did they lose, the Miami Heat? They tell me they call you the Miami Warm now,” he said.
“Hey!” Schwartz says.
More than a dozen chefs scurry about in a kitchen that opens to a bright, open dining room that belongs on the water, from grey-and-white marble floors to cobalt-and-white tiles with seaside imagery. From the aquarium displays at the front, with fresh abalone, lobster, mussels and clams, it’s “a restaurant that tells the story of the sea,” Andres said.
“Some things will be creative like people expect from my team and I,” he adds. “But it will be home cooking done with finesse, letting the products speak for themselves.”
One of Andres’ chefs brings over his Pescadito Frito (little fried fish). It’s a whimsical poem of a dish: a shell of beet tempura batter fried in the shape of a fish, filled with a taramasalata (a mousse of cured grey mullet roe), garnished with micro greens and lemon zest.
“It’s a pick up and eat?” Schwartz asks.
“I hope you like it. Super light. Super delicate,” Andres tells him.
Schwartz takes a bite and immediately nods, a mouthful of bursting fresh flavors, like a bite of cold salad with a crunch.
“It’s beautiful. Light bright, crisp, clean. Beautiful,” Schwartz takes another bite. “I’m going to eat the whole thing.”
And he does.
“This is the kind of stuff this guy makes look easy. And it’s not easy,” Schwartz said, finishing the dish.
“I don’t know how to make his pizzas, and they’re damn delicious,” Andres says.
“I’ll give you the recipe,” says Schwartz.
Earlier, Andres staked out a spot in Fi’lia’s warm Italian restaurant of dark wood and clean lines and tried just about everything on the menu. The artichokes. Carpaccio. Snapper tartare. An entire pizza. A bowl of caccio e pepe.
“And I was on my diet today!” he said.
So when Schwartz offers him a bite of Andres’ pescadito frito, he demurs. “ I’ll be happy with your Caesar,” he says.
Schwartz’s Fi’lia prepares the Caesar salad tableside on a cart the restaurant designed so they could toast croutons on the spot. The scent of buttery, garlic-toasted bread sparks a Pavlovian response.
“And not the silly tableside preparation where you have ingredients you just mix together in a bowl, where you have croutons that are made six hours ago,” Schwartz said.
“Or 24 days ago,” Andres said.
The salad arrives, and Andres doesn’t bother with a fork. He grabs it with his fingertips.
“This is how I like to eat my salad,” he said.
“This is a very simple thing. Five ingredients. Maybe six. But when it’s done right ...” Schwartz says and watches Andres lick his fingers. “The Caesar salad cart has been working overtime in the restaurant. It’s a good show, but aside from all of that, it’s just a good salad. It speaks to the art of simplicity.”
“But not all the Caesars are the same,” said Andres, who has eaten some of the best Caesars in Tijuana, where it is said that Italian-American restaurateur Caesar Cardini invented the dish in the 1920s. “Tijuana has never been so close to Miami. ... This is as good as the best one I had there. ...
“Let’s make Caesar salad great again,” Andres says. “No, no, don’t build that wall, please. I need to go to Mexico.”
The two clink their glasses of white wine before Schwartz has to scramble to his son’s game.
“Are we going to have enough people in Miami to come to our restaurants?” Andres asks Schwartz on his way out. “Are you going to bring them? Because everybody knows you.”
“Everybody’s coming,” Schwartz said.
“Don’t bring everybody to your place only, OK?”
“Nah, man, there’s enough to go around.”