By request…CTBites is trying a new column, TravelBites, for our readers heading out of the great state of CT. These articles will feature popular vacation/business travel destinations for local CT residents, and if you have a suggestion for a TRAVELbites article, please contact us.
Our first TravelBites article features Chef Dena Marino and MC Kitchen in sunny Miami...one of the fastest growing “foodie” hubs in the US.
Hot culinary spots are opening in hotels like SLS South Beach with Katsuya or The Bazaar by Jose Andres as well as Soho transplant, Lure Fishbar in the Loews. Funky hipster dining options are popping up practically daily in the emerging fashion and art neighborhoods like in the Design District, Midtown and Wynwood…Miami and Miami Beach has something for everyone.
MC Kitchen opened a little over a year ago and is the passionate creation of Chef Dena Marino and her friend, Brandy Coletta...hence, the M and C. Chef Dena, who originally hails from northern New Jersey, moved to Miami a little over three years ago from her executive chef position at Ajax Tavern in Aspen to head up the kitchen at the now defunct Danny Devito’s restaurant, Devitos.
Located on NE Second Ave., in the burgeoning Design District (recently profiled in the New York Times for the influx of designer high end retailers), MC Kitchen and Chef Dena garnered glowing reviews in no less than five local publications including The Miami Herald and Miami New Times. They were also awarded Top New Chef by Eater Miami and just named one of the Top New Restaurants in the US by Esquire Magazine.
My sit-down with her came on the heels of a very crazy Art Basel week, where all day and into the wee hours of the morning, visitors to the area flocked to massive art shows, art installations and performances and to the newest food destinations…dare I say EATBasel?
MC Kitchen is a refreshing change from the expense account and tourist driven restaurants that have been the Miami mainstay for many years. Offering freshly made pasta and locally sourced fresh fish, produce and herbs, Chef Dena has created a wonderfully diverse menu drawing from her Italian roots carving out a culinary niche for well prepared, fresh Italian fare.
I asked Chef Dena how being a chef in Miami differs from Aspen…or for that matter, anywhere else. Her response was very telling…mostly it is about the ingredients. She receives a text each day at 3 am advising her what fresh fish will be available by 8:30 am. Her greens, tomatoes, mushrooms, peas, produce and fruit are all sourced by local farmers in and around Homestead, Fl., allowing for seasonal creativity and flexibility with the menu each day. A colorful display of heirloom tomatoes topped the marble bar seating overlooking the kitchen.
Her clientele is as diverse as her menu, as she commented that it was a 50/50 split between regular Miami residents and visitors to Miami, including a large International clientele, creating its own challenges as many international patrons arrive not understanding her desire to stay true to her culinary roots and not offer standard tourist fare. She chuckled, eyes twinkling, as she told me the story of a customer who once asked her for sushi.
Proud of her menu and its fresh ingredients, popular dishes include Shaved Truffle and Egg Bruschetta, Black Mission Fig with Prosciutto and Arugula Pizzette, Stone Oven Roasted Octopus, all of the freshly made pastas, like the Cavatelli with Vine-Ripened Tomato sauce, a Stone Oven Roasted Veal Chop Milanese, and of course daily fresh fish like the perfectly prepared Pan-Seared Cobia.
MC Kitchen is also a favorite among both visiting and local celebrities, with this years Art Basel attracting visits from Eva Longoria and Marc Jacobs.
Dena is proudly an avid Miami Heat fan, and on any given evening after home games, the restaurant can be populated with the likes of LeBron James, Chris Bosh and Shane Battier. A Pop-Up MC Kitchen is even represented at the Heat season ticket holders Flagship Lounge at the American Airlines arena.
Always enthusiastic, and very energetic, Chef Dena chose to not just bask in her success with MC Kitchen, but as recently as this past February, opened Mercato, directly adjacent, to offer her version of a Cantinetta market café.
Open daily from 9-5, Mercato offers freshly made croissants and muffins for breakfast, and light fare like a fresh tomato quiche, a tortellini salad with peas and sundried tomato, a freshly made tuna salad, a crab cake on toasted brioche roll and homemade empanadas for a “grab and go” lunch, Mercato, in its own right, has become a beloved spot for the local businesses, Design District shoppers and retailers in the area.
Chef Dena smiled when I asked her about the empanadas, as she acknowledged these were the only items “off the grid” for her…a nod perhaps to the local Latino influence in Miami dining.
Operating a very popular 200 seat restaurant with a staff of over 40, has its daily challenges, yet Dena has managed to create a welcoming and comfortable atmosphere for all who dine at MC Kitchen or Mercato. Dena is honored that Miami has embraced her and her restaurants with such support and we feel equally honored to have been able to feature her on CTBites.
SO, When you go…NOT IF, make sure you call ahead for reservations, there is even a private Chefs Dining Room, valet parking is available, and tell them CTBites sent you!
4141 NE Second Ave.
Miami, Fl 33137