I have followed award-winning Chef Michelle Bernstein for about 20 years. Starting at Azul at the Mandarin Oriental in 2001, where the food was sophisticated haute cuisine, and I had never had food like that in Miami before. In 2005 she opened Michy’s, along with her husband David Martinez, and it quickly became my favourite restaurant in Miami. It was named in the Top 50 Restaurants in the Country by Gourmet Magazine, and Food and Wine Magazine named it the Best Restaurant in the Country in 2006. In 2008 she became a James Beard Award winner for Best Chef in the South, and became Miami’s very own sweetheart, going on talk and cooking shows where she was victorious in competitions. I was devastated when Michy’s was closed. Following she has had numerous other ventures, some successful some not. I’ve always loved her Crumbs on Parchment in the Design District where I was guaranteed a delicious lunch or take-home treat. She had her own successful talk show as well.
In 2019, Bernstein began a totally new venture, a labor of love, along with her husband and longtime friend and business partner Julio Cabrerea, who has been in charge of Michelle’s beverage program since Michy’s. Cafe La Trova is in the heart of Little Havana at 971 SW 8th street. It is part bar, part restaurant, and part performance venue. Dancing, drinking, and eating establishments don’t always work because usually, one factor is weaker than the others, but here it all comes together in what I assure to be a good time.
The menu is heavily Cuban, but Bernstein has put her own spin on Cuban classics. In my opinion, you are never getting food this delicious in Cuba.
The 5000 square foot space has the look and feel of old Havana, with a clothesline strung up with laundry, mismatched chairs, posters and photos of Cuba, a 1950’s car, and live music every day of the week, where you can sit back and listen or get up and dance. There are two large bars, one in the front is more classic and the one in the back is more Miami Vice. There is a large party atmosphere with the feel of being invited to someone’s street party in Cuba.
To top it off, the food is damn good. I have never had such flaky delicious empanadas, one with hand-cut steak, caramelized onions, Spanish olives, and Jerez. Or, the sweet corn and chicken empanadas with fermented garlic and charred scallions. From the tapas section of the menu, we had the seafood ceviche – this is one dish Chef Michelle’s has always done well. There are a handful of salads and we went with the gem salad with shaved cucumber, and grape tomatoes in a jalapeño ranch dressing topped with crunchy shallot rings. I’m not usually a fan of croquetas, but here these deep-fried beauties melt in your mouth. The jamon Serrano with melting cheese on a bed of fig jam is ethereal. The main plates offer boneless snapper, pulled pork, the local catch of the day served in a banana leaf and braised short ribs. We tried the arroz con pollo, a free-range half boneless chicken on saffron bomba rice with peas, and it was a scrumptious version. For dessert, you can’t go wrong with Chef Michelle’s bread pudding, with Cuban rum-soaked raisins and orange rind, or a perfect flan. Kudos for changing plates, silverware and napkins with each course. It is noticed and appreciated.
When you come in, I recommend ordering a cocktail rather than wine. The cocktails are very tasty and creative. My favourite was an award-winning number named, Buena Vista, made with Bombay Sapphire gin, cucumber, mint, elderflower liqueur, lime juice and sugar, it was yum. Another good one is called, La Chancleta, served on sandal, it contains Yaguara Ouro cachaça, ginger-honey syrup and lime juice.
Cafe La Trova has a small but well-edited menu that raises the bar on Cuban food. Here you’ll find a contemporary take on Cuban classics. Chef Michelle pays attention to the history and flavours of the Islands, and intertwines them with some Miami style and culture.
The place is hopping with a crowd of all ages who come not only for a good time, with servers who are engaged, but for a fresh take on some traditional Cuban food.
You can park on the street or use the valet adjacent to the restaurant for $10.