Culinary cage match: croquetas

Stomachs, let's get ready to rumble!

When the adorable Michelle Bernstein opened Michy’s on Biscayne Boulevard, there were some doubters. What was this neighborhood called the Upper Eastside? What were “small plates?” All of these questions and more were swiftly answered by the cherubic Chef Bernstein with a success that has kept Michy’s packed from day one. And the other question that has also been answered many times over, is, will people pay $9 for croquetas — the Cuban staple that’s usually sold for a dollar or less each? Of course, Michy’s croquetas are not your typical greasy, leaden stomach-bombs, heavy on the starch and cheap ham. They’re stuffed with the classic Spanish ham known as Jamón Serrano, as well as blue cheese, and are so light and delicate that sometimes they seem to be stuffed with nothing at all. Almost like an essence of ham and cheese. Crispy and fresh, they elevate the Cuban-dive staple to haute cuisine, a feat that makes it hard to compare to another croqueta dish in Miami.

In fact, to get the Culinary Cage Match going, to really bring out the rumble, the only croquetas I could find to compare to Chef Bernstein’s, are…. Chef Bernstein’s, here in the guise of her other persona, Señora Martinez. She and husband David Martinez have taken over the Design District space formerly occupied by the short-lived Domo Japones and converted it into a homey Spanish tapas place called Sra. Martinez. They’ve eliminated the South Beach accoutrements (over-priced menu/wine list, spotty service, bored model wannabes) and added some nice mainland touches (reasonable prices, friendly and efficient service, ladies from Aventura). But on to the croquetas. At three for $9, they’re served, similarly to Michy’s, with a sweet marmalade — but you’re wasting your time if you don’t eat these fantastic little nubs all by themselves. At Sra. Martinez, they’re stuffed with wild mushrooms and melting manchego cheese. Each bite carries some earthy mushroom flavor, and they’re remarkably light, ungreasy and almost delicate. But they’re definitely more substantial than the ones served at Michy’s and seem maybe a little closer to the haute version of this dish that the chef has been trying for. In these new surroundings, perhaps the chef, along with her front-of-the-house-guru hubby, have found new inspiration, where classic Spanish tapas (Tortilla Española, Boquerones) mix with some modern touches (Roasted Bone Marrow, Sea Urchin “Sandwich”).

And who cooks the better of the two croquetas?

Well, the winner is, as you may have already guessed, Michelle Bernstein.

Published: 12/08

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