As things go, I generally have good luck when I go to great restaurants. I manage to get reservations at hard to book spots, get invited into the kitchens of masters, and generally eat well. But the karma scales tipped into the other direction last week when I ate at Michael’s Genuine in Miami. I won’t bury the lede: it was the worst restaurant experience I can remember.
Miami often gets trashed for being all style and little substance, and as restaurants go, Michael’s Genuine was supposed to be the institution that bucked that trend. While others were focused on ambience and presentation, Michael’s focused on food that was “homemade, unpretentious, delectable, with an emphasis on great local ingredients.” Chef Michael Schwartz supposedly did such a good job with the concept that he took home the James Beard Foundation’s Best Chef: South Award in 2010.
I visited Michael’s Genuine shortly after it opened in 2007, and was impressed. I had some sort of mussels in tomato broth over black rice, and it was phenomenal. My memories were so positive that the second thing I did after booking my trip to Miami was make a reservation there. I couldn’t believe how the place had changed.
obligatory menu shot
Our reservation was for 8:30 on a Thursday— peak dinnertime in Miami, but nothing an established institution can’t handle. I’d requested an outdoor table, and wasn’t thrilled when the hostess informed me that we’d be sitting inside, but I figured that it would be fine. It wasn’t. We were seated at a four-top that had been separated into two two-tops— with about six inches of space between our tables. When the woman at the next table wanted to use the bathroom, I had to get up. When they left and a new couple came, I had to get up. Servers reached across my food to clear the next table’s dishes, pour more water, and give them their check. At one point, the other couple’s food was set on my table until I told them it wasn’t mine. The food was promptly taken away and reappeared 10 minutes later, cold, but in front of the right guests.
Though there seemed to be an abundance of servers, bus boys and wait staff, everyone was harried. I would have told the servers who brought the wrong food to check with the next table, but they were gone before I could get a word out.
Our table had a view of the kitchen, which I usually love, but in this case it just made me more uncomfortable. One of the line cooks was clearly pissed off, and a sous chef spent the better part of 20 minutes cracking eggs into a bowl and then fishing out the yolks with his hands. Ever try to eat while you watch snotty eggs drip through someone’s fingers? Yeah, you don’t want to.
And the food? It wasn’t worth the abuse of sitting at that table. A baked farm egg was pretty good, but nothing I couldn’t make at home. Same with a greasy faro salad. An $18 shiitake mushroom and leek pizza arrived cold, somehow burnt on the edges and undercooked in the middle, and topped with raw mushrooms. Similarly, our cauliflower was burned and raw at the same time, tasteless despite the green sauce it was bathed in. The pork belly that is supposed to be one of the Schwartz’s signature dishes came with a kimchi that was an insult to the world of fermented vegetables: a pile of cold cabbage doused in red pepper.
I would have tried dessert, but our waiter disappeared for 40 minutes: from the time I got my appetizer until after our dinner dishes were cleared. I finally got so exasperated I told a busboy to please just bring the check. (They did take the pizza off the bill when we complained, but our server was otherwise unapologetic).
What happened to a place that held such promise? How did I have such an across the board bad experience? Did the staff just get complacent? Was the management focused on other things? Are James Beard Awards just not that hard to get? I’ve been to diners with better food, and dive bars with better service. I’m still stunned.
Not wanting to just post something negative, I tweeted Michael’s Genuine’s PR person and Chef Schwartz to try to talk to them about my experience, but they haven’t responded, and the restaurant’s web site lists no email contact. The lack of response just reinforces my bad feelings about the place… it kind of seems like they genuinely don’t care.