Siena Tavern Miami: Tuscany by way of Chicago

It is 8 degrees in Chicago today ” said Siena Tavern co-owner and DineAmic Principal David Rekhson, as we sat overlooking the ample bar area from one of the “surfboard” seating areas.

"Top Chef", Fabio Viviani’s Siena Tavern in Chicago is one of the hottest reservations to get with a coveted Saturday night at 8 pm booked out to April.

So it is indeed fortunate that Miami Beach has a new tenant in Siena Tavern in the former China Grill location on the corner of 5th and Washington.

Siena Tavern Miami is clearly modeled after the Chicago flagship offering both an intimate and social feel.  Wood touches and low lighting abound, and the minimalist China Grill earmarks are nowhere to be found.  The oval bar is a focal point, with communal tables and tiered dining areas creating a space welcoming to both couples and groups.  A large wood burning pizza oven is along one wall. Outdoor seating is also offered on a well-landscaped terrace on Washington.

But it is both the food and the concept that makes Siena Tavern a wonderful new stop for diners in Miami Beach.  Small plates and cicchetti anchor the menu, with such Tuscan classics as Coccoli, a crispy popover-like dough stuffed with stracchino cheese, prosciutto di parma, with truffle honey, Grilled Octopus with crispy duck fat, potatoes, red chilies, celery, and dribbled aged balsamic. 

Homemade Pastas include Gnocchi in a rich truffle cream, fried sage, crispy pancetta and a simple but delicious Spaghetti with jumbo lump crab, charred grape tomato, red chilies, and charred lemon.  Main dishes include Osso Bucco, Short Rib Ravioli, Lamb Chops and Scallops and are all worthy of the heartiest of appetites. 

But it is the pizzas that are worth a paragraph on their own, with favorites including a decadent Truffle Mushroom dotted with roasted wild mushrooms, roasted garlic, mozzarella, white truffle oil, a colorful and well balanced Prosciutto Pear with roasted garlic, taleggio, mozzarella, and piled high with bright green baby arugula.  And a flavorful Margherita and a Burnt Pepperoni for the pizza snob.   Crusts were light, crisp and cooked perfectly.

I asked David, while savoring the Prosciutto Pear and Arugula pizza about Siena and what opening in food-obsessed Miami means today:

MIAbites: Tell me a bit about Fabio and how you met and when,  and why you decided on Miami. 

DR: Fabio, Luke( co-owner, Lucas Stoioff ), and I met in Chicago years ago.  Fabio is very active in trade and cooking shows and loved to frequent Public House (one of our other restaurants) during his visits to Chicago.  He really loved the burger.  During one of those visits we met, chatted, and instantly became friends.  It was evident that although we are from different parts of the world, we share many commonalities in personality, work ethic, and general ideology as it pertains to the restaurant business.  We knew we wanted to do a project together but just needed the right opportunity to present itself.  When we were approached with what is now our current location in Chicago, we knew it would be a fit for Siena Tavern and our first collaboration with Fabio.

MIAbitesWhat are the major differences between Chicago and Miami...diners, menu, etc.

DR: Both Chicago and Miami are influenced primarily by their climates and demographics, which are key drivers in creating taste.  In Chicago, single digit temps, record snow falls and blistering winds, are not uncommon, and needless to say that makes you want to eat something hot, comforting, and filling.  On the contrary , whenever I am in Miami, I somehow end up wanting to eat only seafood and lighter options. Adding plenty of fresh seafood and lighter options was very important to our menu development in Miami.  Additionally, easing up on the heavier brown spirit driven trends of the North and focusing more on Vodka and tequila cocktails was a priority.  Lastly, Miami’s vibrant international clientele has catapulted our wine sales into an arena we never thought possible.  Adapting to that demand and beefing up our wine list was major.  In the end, it is vital to have your finger on the pulse of the needs and interests of your clientele.  Often times, groups try to fit what worked well for them in other markets into new ones without really understanding what the locals are after.  We never want to be one of those groups.

MIAbites: How has the show "Top Chef" changed since Fabio was on?  Good or bad? What do you think of TV Reality Food shows in general? 

DR: Top Chef is an amazing springboard for young chefs to get their name out there.  But it is only that, a springboard.  From there, it is up to the chefs to capitalize on their success and keep the ball rolling.  It sounds cliché, but Fabio is the hardest working guy in show business.  He works on the business and marketing our brands 24/7.  He’s very impressive. 

MIAbites: What do you think is the biggest challenge running Siena Tavern in Miami?

DR: The biggest challenge is throwing yourself into the Miami culinary scene and truly becoming a local.  We never underestimate our competition and what others are doing well in the marketplace.  A major factor in our success in Chicago is being hands on and personally getting to know our clientele.  The goal has always been to do the same in Miami.  Constantly jetting back and forth between two cities can be challenging.  But when its 3 degrees in Chicago it definitely makes it easier. 

MIAbites: Tell me a bit about the inspiration for Siena Tavern and it's transformation in Miami. 

DR:  Siena Tavern Miami took the DNA of Siena Tavern Chicago and infused elements of Miami in the same proportion as our menu and all other elements of the concept.  The original inspiration for Siena Tavern was a small taverna we stumbled upon in the Tuscan town of Siena.  Edgy interesting decor, exposed lighting and industrial elements, a hip yet accommodating staff, and rock star food.  We wanted to bring those same fundamentals back to the states.  Siena Tavern Miami adds a whole layer of art, lighter colors, and majestic al fresco dining.  Elements that we thought would jive well with Miami. 

MIAbites: What is one message you want to share about Siena Tavern. 

DR: Many restaurants have either a great scene or great food, but it is sometimes difficult to have both.  Our mission every day is to cultivate both of those aspects for a well-rounded and truly unforgettable dining experience. 

Go now, before getting a reservation becomes as difficult as getting one in Chicago!

And just in… Siena Tavern is now hosting Happy Hour from 6-8 pm every day including antipasti plates for $7-, pizzas $9,  House Cocktails $7- and Peroni for $4-.

Siena Tavern

404 Washington Ave.

Miami Beach, FL

(305) 534-5577