From kitchens in Napa and Aspen to some face time on The Food Network, Chef Dena Marino is bubbling with excitement as the opening of her first Miami restaurant, MC Kitchen nears. Marino and partner Brandy Coletta (the 'M' and 'C' in MC) are bringing Italian warmth to the Design District in the former Fratelli Lyon space. Here, Marino talks with Eater about what the lengthy process has been like, the food and drink menus, her neighbors, and the first word on recent addition, Mercato.
So how does it feel to be opening your own place, seeing the project almost complete?
It's been challenging. It's been a bit of a longer time line than expected but it's exciting. It's been a growing project. We started off with a smaller space and a bit of a remodel, now we have double the space and have completely gutted it. But I think it's amazing and I'm so excited. I've been learning all the ins and outs of the new vendors and farmers, and getting to know a lot of people. Reaching out to a lot of purveyors, getting to know exactly what I'm going to use.
It was a lengthy process finding the right space for it, have you been pleased with how it's turned out?
100 percent. We spent almost six months looking for the right location. From South Beach, North Beach, Gables, Brickell, Downtown, everywhere... We love the neighborhood feeling, and the landlord is amazing. They care about us, all of their tenants, the area. It makes the process a lot easier. With all of the fashion, artists, and design aspect, it just fits what we're doing perfectly and the style of restaurant that we are. We just knew it was a good fit.
Do you feel that your experience on shows like Iron Chef has helped prepare you for a venture like opening your own place?
Maybe the cooking side a little, but not really. It humbles you. You realize how hard it is, and you learn a lot.
What have been some of the more fun aspects of the journey?
Choosing the furniture has been fun. We're going to be working with local companies like Flos, the lighting company from Italy. Zanotta and Vitra will be providing our chairs and tables, Arclinea is building our cabinets. Meeting our neighbors and being able to work with them is great.
Speaking of neighbors, what do you think about South Street?
I haven't had time to bring over a lasagna yet, but I plan to go over this weekend. I think it's exciting and something completely different than what we're all doing. They're bringing more of a club, lounge, music feel to the area that we don't really have, along with the neo-soul food.
What will people be able to expect from MC Kitchen?
I think it's important to have accessible price points in this area, so we have places that people can come to a couple nights a week, and we're all about that. The price points will be really reasonable so you can have lunch, come back for dinner, that kind of thing.
What are some of your favorite items on the menu?
I'm super excited about all of the pasta we're doing. There will be about nine homemade pastas ranging from simple with a genovese pesto to rabbit ragù to an oven-baked lasagne. We've got a lot of fish, a lot of proteins. For lunch I'm doing a 'pia-Dena', a baked flatbread made from pizza dough, topped with a spread and a salad that you fold up and eat like a sandwich. There will be about six of those on the lunch menu. It's so great- you get your pizza fix but you have some healthy salad in there as well. Lunch will have a lot of entrée salads with steak, shrimp, fish, and chicken. We'll have two soups a day. And a lot of homemade products- our cheeses like ricotta, mozzarella, and burrata. We'll also be curing our own duck prosciutto, bresaola, preserved olives, lemons.
What's the expected opening date?
Beginning of November.
Your husband, Marcus Wade, is involved in the beverage program, what's to be expected there?
We started working together at Tra Vigne in Napa. Before he was a line cook he always baked breads, so he moved to the bakery. In Aspen he was the pastry chef while I was the head chef at Ajax Tavern. After a few months of being on our own, I realized I need someone strong behind me to watch my back, so he was re-trained to front-of-house and loved it. His palette is ridiculous and amazing. So him taking on the knowledge of our beer, wine, and spirits is great because he gets to use that background in the kitchen and bring it to the beverage side. He's very much into it and loves to create. He's the director of operations here along with our other manager from Aspen, putting together the wine and spirits program. Sourcing a lot of boutique wine, craft spirits, craft beer, and concocting a lot of crazy stuff in new ways I don't think have been done before. We'll be doing some craft beer cocktails that are actually shaken to order, using hops, wheats, fresh citrus, herbs, and spices that play into the spirits to make the right cocktail. We'll also have a huge wines by the glass program, 22 of them, ranging from $9-15.
Can you share some of your concept behind the layout of the restaurant? We decided to do an exhibit kitchen, hence the 'Kitchen' in MC Kitchen, because I'm a working chef on the line. I love to be able to see the front door, who's coming in and who's enjoying the restaurant. It'll be interesting always being on display to the customers, with the kitchen counter they can sit at too.
What's this about a conjoined market?
Yes, it's called Mercato. We thought after being in the neighborhood and building all this time, we could use a sort of market/cantinetta take using products we have in the restaurant. We'll be selling our own salad dressings, olive oils, sauces. A lot of people in the area are looking for lunch and don't have an hour long lunch break, so we want to cater to that. They can grab a quick salad, sandwich, fresh cheese and similar menu items from the restaurant. We'll also have some sweets, housemade granola and yogurt, snacks, and pastries. Lavazza is doing our coffee program with a coffee bar and we're getting this incredible frozen espresso machine. There will be prepared foods to take home or back to the office; you can call in catering too. It has a separate entrance from the restaurant. I'm psyched for the market. This came about as we were building. It just fit and made sense. A late addition to the plan, but it'll be great.