The New Chefs of Coral Gables

Coral Gables’ foodie scene has been booming lately, so it’s no wonder the city has become a hot spot for critically acclaimed chefs. By the end of next year, five new chef-driven restaurants will have opened in Coral Gables, headed up by Chefs Michelle Bernstein (Sra. Martinez), Thomas Keller (Bouchon), Shingo Akikuni (Shingo), Donatella Arpaia (Noma Beach), and Jeremy Ford (Beauty and the Butcher). We spoke with three of them about the visions for their new restaurants and the Coral Gables fine dining scene as 2023 approaches.

Chef Michelle Bernstein

While we know most true Gableites tend to stay within the bounds of the City Beautiful, we would’ve made an exception in the early 2010s for a visit to Sra. Martinez, Chef Michelle Bernstein’s former Spanish eatery in the Design District. The restaurant closed in 2012 but is now re-opening a new iteration in the Gables.

Sra. Martinez is destined to be a Gables mainstay, with a 15-year lease at the site of the former Open Stage Club (2325 Galiano St.) and two five-year extension options. Bernstein and her business partner husband, David Martinez, are currently in the middle of renovations, including installation of sliding glass doors along the length of the space. Details about the menu and price points are still under wraps, but for fans of the former Sra. Martinez, know that you can expect changes.

“It’s 10 years later,” the chef says. “We’ve changed, dining has changed, as have our consumers. I’ve always loved Coral Gables… and I’m thrilled to be back! The residents love to eat and enjoy a good cocktail and a night out [and] the community has already embraced us.” She describes the cuisine as “cocina de autor” with an emphasis on the “creative, fun, tasty, and ever-changing.” And there will be live music.

Bernstein is a Miami native who arrives with a plethora of accolades, including a James Beard Award for Best Chef in the South in 2008. She’s the host of two televi- sion shows, “Check, Please! South Florida” on PBS and “SoFlo Taste” on Channel 10. You might also remember the time she beat Chef Bobby Flay in a competition on an episode of the Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” back in 2005.

She and Martinez have opened a host of restaurants in Miami, including Azul at the Mandarin Oriental, Michy’s on Biscayne Blvd., Crumb on Parchment in the Design District, Seagrape at the Thompson Hotel, Sweet Liberty on Miami Beach, La Cañita at Bayside Marketplace, and Café La Trova on Calle Ocho. She has two new concepts – Michy’s Chicken Shack and Lunchería – set to open at Julia & Henry’s, the highly anticipated Downtown Miami food hall. And, of course, her crowning achievement – at least, we like to think so – the new Sra. Martinez, slated to open in the first half of 2023 with the famous tapas and cocktails that made it so popular a decade ago.

Chef Shingo Akikuni

New Chefs of Coral Gables

If you’ve ever wanted to visit an authentic sushi bar in Japan, now’s your chance – or as close as you can get without leaving Coral Gables. Shingo, a 14-seat sushi bar headed up by Michelin-starred Chef Shingo Akikuni, will open early next year in the La Palma building at 116 Alhambra Circle.

The small 850-square-foot space will look like a typical Japanese sushi bar. The restaurant is being designed and constructed by Kyoto-based company Yoshiharagumi in Japan before being deconstructed, shipped to the Gables, and reconstructed at La Palma. The space will include a 32-foot counter made of Japanese hinoki wood, which has a specific scent that pays homage to its country of origin.

Why go to all this trouble? “In construction in the States, the industry standard is a plus-minus variance of half an inch,” explains Shingo’s managing partner Kenzie Motai. “In Japan, half an inch would be unacceptable. It’s really very precise.” It’s also about the look and feel of the space. “We don’t want you to feel like you’ve been to somewhere like this before,” Motai says. “We want people to feel transported.”

Motai is Akikuni’s business partner and translator. Both men are young for their success, in their 30s, and refreshingly animated as they talk about Shingo. Akikuni comes from a line of sushi chefs that began with his grandfather. His family owns a restaurant in Osaka, and Akikuni himself studied the art of sushi for five years in Japan. Last year, he joined Hiden, the Wynwood-based omakase pop-up restaurant that earned him a Michelin star, as executive chef. Now his real dream is being realized as he opens his eponymous restaurant in Coral Gables.

Shingo will feature a menu with regular sashimi and nigiri items, as well as a $180 “Chef ’s Omakase” menu with appetizers, hot dishes, desserts, etc. Akikuni explains there will be a modern twist to his dishes, using newer techniques and ingredients while maintaining the traditional Japanese experience. That’s also why the space will be so small. “It’s very common in Japan for there to be smaller restaurants because of the limited space,” he says. “That’s why the restaurant is only 14 seats. It’s intimate, and we’re able to serve one guest a time and affect [each] person’s experience one at a time.” Shingo is expected to open in February of 2023.

Chef Donatella Arpaia

Under Chef Adrianne, Redfish Grill was the spot for seafood with a waterfront view – some say the best view in Coral Gables. Under Chef Donatella Arpaia, who is taking over the popular Matheson Hammock spot and rebranding it as Noma Beach, the restaurant will be reinvented to serve Arpaia’s specialty: Italian.

You may have heard of Chef Donatella. She’s judged more episodes of “Iron Chef America” and “Next Iron Chef ” on the Food Network than anyone else. She’s also headed up several restaurants in New York and one in Miami (Eos in the Viceroy Hotel). She’s been named one of the top 50 Most Powerful Women in New York City by the New York Post, received a Michelin Star for her Greek restaurant Anthos, and been nominated for a James Beard Award. Simply put: Chef Donatella is a big deal. And now, she’s going to be a big deal in Coral Gables.

Chef Donatella was at a soccer game when she heard about the opening at Redfish Grill. Chef Adrianne exited in July, and Rodney Barreto, the Coral Gables entrepreneur who owns the lease, was looking for someone to take over. The chef, who owns a property in Pinecrest just minutes from the restaurant, was ready for a new project. “I just fell in love with the location,” she says. “It’s a passion project for me.”

Chef Donatella’s forte is Italian food. Her childhood summers were spent in southern Italy cooking with her grandpar- ents, and her father, an Italian immigrant, owned a restaurant in New York while she was growing up. She’s known as “the meatball queen” for the recipe that won her the New York Food and Wine Festival’s Meatball Madness two years in a row. She also studied in Naples under pizza master Enzo Cocci, learning to create the perfect Neapolitan. Noma Beach, expected to open this month, will have it all – meatballs, pizza, and the modern twist that makes Chef Donatella’s Italian cuisine unique.

“I’m expanding the kitchen and [making] the inside look prettier with my own style,” says the Chef. She plans to serve food on the beach as well as keep the rooftop open for private events. She’s also adding a wood-burning oven, not only for her special pizzas, but for a variety of other menu items. And yes, she’ll still have fish – fresh and caught locally.