Michael Schwartz talks tourists, family night, martinis and The Raleigh…

Design District celeb chef Michael Schwartz is branching out from the mainland with the opening of Restaurant Michael Schwartz at The Raleigh. Sara Liss spoke with Schwartz about the new restaurant…

So what can we expect at the Raleigh?
The idea for the place is…the hotel. I feel like the hotel really sets the tone. We wanted to bring some of the elements of Michael’s Genuine so it’s not so formal – the small, medium and large plates – and people can share if they want to. The approach mimics Michael’s Genuine but the ambiance and the vibe are dictated by the space.

What is it about the Raleigh that you love?
It’s iconic. People are rooting for that property. There’s something magical about that place. It’s elegant in its simplicity – that’s what attracted me to it. It’s Miami from a different era.

How much involvement has SBE group had since they came on to the project?
Lots of involvement – which we love. They are seasoned operators and their people are passionate and enthusiastic. So we, as a hospitality company, have learned a lot from them and we’ve enjoyed working with them.

Talk a bit about the menu.
The “snacks” in particular are where you’ll see a lot of crossover with Michael’s Genuine. I think it gives people a first sight of something familiar. We’ve got the hominy, the chips, the falafel. But we’ve got some news ones – a shrimp toast, charred shishito peppers, beef jerky with grass-fed beef.  And our smoked fish dip with saltine crackers should become a Raleigh standard.

And what about some new things?
The menu will change everyday – especially the dinner menu based on the growing season in South Florida and the rest of the country.  But there will be lots of throwback dishes as well like Clams Casino, Oysters Rockerfeller and classic steak tartare – things that we think represent the Raleigh in its heyday.

How has it been to transition the Raleigh staff to the MGFD approach?
We’ve been working with Chef Danny Ganem (formerly of Kane Steakhouse) and his team in anticipation of this new opening. We’ve been ramping up to it and starting to influence the supply chain and starting to introduce our farmers to the property. And coaching Danny and his team on the culture so that he understands the mission and message and he can relay that to the staff.

Are you finding it’s harder now as you expand to new restaurants and increase your demand that it’s hard to source from local farms?
We have been such proponents of these farms which we call our partners that we’re a priority for them. We supported them back before it was popular to use local agriculture. So they’ve stepped up and supply us with the best product they grow. And I’m proud of them because it’s what we believe in. So we’re in a good place with our farmers.

What if you get tourists coming in demanding Caesar salad and Fettucine Alfredo?
We’re in the hospitality business and it’s our job to make the guest happy. So if that means we have to heat up baby food in the middle of dinner service or make pasta Carbonara or a Caesar salad, we’ll do it. That’s our job. Especially at a hotel where you have families traveling together.  We try to innovate and be clever and stay ahead of the trends but we also try to make people feel comfortable by offering things that are simple and easy to understand. We’ve always done that at Michael’s Genuine. A Caesar salad could be the best thing you ever ate or it could be uninspired.

Explain the family night meal.
That was inspired by the pop-up dinners we do at Harry’s Pizzeria. So it’ll be communal tables and family style menus and wine bottles on the tables. A much more relaxed feeling, the way you’d eat with your family.

How will the Martini Bar change?
It’s this great classic, comfortable place so we just wanted to enhance it. But nothing crazy. There won’t be ten-minute cocktails with seven different tinctures but they’ll be interesting cocktails thoughtfully created and carefully crafted. On Tuesday nights we’ll do “Martini Culture” where we’ll bring in mixologists in from around town to do guest bartending and create a specialty cocktail of the night.