My friend Elaine Walker and I were business reporters together at the Miami Herald in the late 1990s, and always shared a love not only of creative food and drinks, but of the business of creating a profitable, popular “scene.” So recently, I asked her to visit one of the hottest new restaurants in Miami. I am thrilled to share her report with you. Naturally, it combines rich with details that foodies will eat up, along with insights that restaurateurs and F&B managers should digest, too. Enjoy!

By Elaine Walker

Following the hostess down the winding staircase from the main lobby at Miami Beach’s Fontainebleau Hotel it feels almost like you’re entering a secret members-only club. The reality is not that far off. With low ceilings, dim lighting and a DJ spinning club music, Michael Mina 74 still has the nightclub feel remaining from the space’s previous incarnation.

But make no mistake this is a foodie destination worth seeking out.

The namesake chef created Michael Mina 74 especially for the Fontainebleau, a variation on RN 74, which has locations in Seattle and San Francisco. Both concepts carry the name of the route that runs through Burgundy, France from where the Egyptian-born Mina draws some of his culinary inspiration. But while RN 74 offers more classic French Bistro flair, Michael Mina 74 is the slightly more casual cousin that also borrows from South Florida’s cultural and culinary influences.

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The focus starts with Mina’s abundant use of seafood. He puts his spin on the traditional dim-sum cart, redone here as rolling seafood carts that make their way around the dining room. The night we visited Chef de Cuisine Thomas Griese, a relative of the famous Miami Dolphins quarterback Bob Griese, was offering a special feature of giant Norwegian crab legs prepared hot or cold. The other cart featured the restaurant’s traditional assortment including a mix of lobster tails, oyster shooters with ponzu sauce, raw oysters, Pacific tuna poke and the “world’s largest” prawns flown in all the way from Nigeria.

We’ll have to try those prawns next time, but we enjoyed an equally impressive tasting of seafood from an assortment of small plates. Michael’s signature tuna tartar offers tableside theatre as the server mixes a smorgasbord of flavorful ingredients including Asian pear, toasted pine nuts, mint chiffonade, Jalapeno-infused sesame oil and a raw quail egg. Another impressive dish is the main lobster pasta where the lemon buerre Blanc poppy seed sauce perfectly complements the sea urchin. Japanese Wagyu shabu-shabu features the most creative presentation as diners enjoy an interactive experience of cooking their own beef in a mini-caldron of miso broth complete with dashi and watermelon radish. But the most sublime flavor is the octopus “a La Plancha,” perfectly grilled and served with a romesco sauce, marcona almonds and fingerling potatoes.

In today’s competitive culinary world, the cocktail menu is another place to show off and Michael Mina doesn’t disappoint. The menu offers a unique three category presentation: Punches on Tap, Barrel-Aged Cocktails and Fizzy-Lifting drinks (limited daily quantities). My favorite: the Kramer, a fizzy pink selection that arrives in a small medicine bottle accompanied by a glass that included a stunning cylindrical ice cube with a purple and white orchid frozen inside. It’s a perfect refreshing summer mix made with Grey Goose, St. Germaine Elderflower, Aperol and lime juice. For a more manly choice, try the Vieux Carre, a mix of Knob Creek Rye, Hennessey VS, Carpano Antica, Benedictine and bitters, all aged in a small oak barrel.

If you still have room left, there are plenty of additional great choices on the large plate section of the menu where you’ll find Mina’s signature lobster pot pie and his ode to Miami’s Latin culture with pig roasted caja china style and served with pigeon peas. A savory light dish is his yin and yang black cod with white miso and udon noodles. For something hearty don’t miss the melt in your mouth Wagyu beef short ribs that draws on flavors from Mina’s heritage with Moroccan-spiced carrots and pomegranate couscous. Even if you’re not a meat lover the tenderloin smoked in hay and delivered tableside in a copper pot is another winner.

Staying true to its nightclub roots and Miami’s late dining traditions, the restaurant doesn’t really get rocking until close to 9 pm and the party kicks it up a notch after 10:30 pm when DJ Ideal cranks things up. It may no longer be a nightclub but there are plenty of hipsters partying the night away at Michael Mina 74, as the restaurant stays open until 4 am on weekends. After midnight, the kitchen switches to a limited menu focusing on small plates and Mina’s signature burger collection.

End the night on a sweet note with Mina’s take on classic desserts. We dipped our fluffy beignets into a creamy, decadent mix of Macallan 18 single malt, butterscotch and caramel, a layered flan like custard.

This is just the beginning of Michael Mina’s influence at the Fontainebleau. Coming in the fall, he will be opening a second restaurant at the hotel in the former Gotham Steak location. This will be the second STRIPSTEAK following the restaurant’s success at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

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