Chef With 2-Star Michelin Restaurant In Portugal Opens First U.S. Spot In Coconut Grove

When he first started visiting Miami in 2018, Portuguese chef Henrique Sá Pessoa noticed something surprising about the city’s dining landscape.

The acclaimed force behind the upscale Lisbon restaurant Alma, which was awarded two Michelin stars, saw many restaurants and ate in quite a few, too. But something was missing.

“I really wanted to understand what would work in Miami,” says Sá Pessoa, the internationally famous chef and also the owner of several other restaurants in Portugal and spots in Amsterdam, London and Macao. “Miami is such an amazing, vibrant city close to the ocean, but there’s not much emphasis on seafood aside from Japanese restaurants.”

Now, Sá Pessoa, who has been at the forefront of what he calls “Atlantic cuisine,” has opened Sereia, his first restaurant in the U.S., in Coconut Grove in partnership with Miami-based Sault Hospitality. Its mission: highlighting the treasures of the sea.

Located in the former Navé spot next door to Chef Michael Beltran’s Michelin-starred Ariete, Sereia offers some of the best dishes from the Iberian coast as well as bestowing a firm and loving nod to the classic dishes of Portugal.

“We’re not a traditional Portuguese restaurant,” explains Sá Pessoa, who once took the late Anthony Bourdain on a culinary tour of Lisbon on “No Reservations.” “But we still wanted to keep the rustic flavors of Portuguese cuisine.”

Jourdan Binder, who with partners Sven Vogtland and Alan Drummond runs Sault Hospitality, echoes Sá Pessoa’s desire to show off the best of the chef’s home country, especially at a time when Portugal has become a popular travel destination.

“When we set out to do this project, we didn’t set out to just do another restaurant in Miami,” Binder says. “We wanted to bring Henrique to us, bring his food and Portuguese food as a whole to Miami. It felt like there was a huge hole with little representation. This is a great opportunity to show people what Portuguese food is all about.”

Designed by Bishop Design, Sereia features indoor and outdoor dining rooms, a full bar at the front of the restaurant and an omakase-style bar for crudo inside. There’s a private dining room for events and, eventually, chef tasting experiences.

Led by chef de cuisine Miguel Massens, the kitchen serves a menu that’s about 60-70 percent seafood. This means there are also good choices for meat eaters, like the pica pau com pickles, a seared filet of beef with pickle, and an absolutely stunning arroz de pato or “ducked rice” with smoked bacon, chorizo and parsley aioli. Main courses run between $36 and $48. The ducked rice, Sá Pessoa says, is a traditional dish that he didn’t expect to be immediately loved — but it was.

“It’s the grandmother dish,” Sá Pessoa says. “At home, we take these recipes for granted. I’m not a particular fan of duck, but I really love that recipe. It’s really unique, a comfort food that the people of Miami seem to appreciate. It’s these type of dishes that bring me back home.”

The spectacular crudo menu, Sereia’s nod to the influence of Miami, is significantly different from the popular Peruvian-style ceviches or Japanese sashimis so well represented in South Florida. Instead, you’ll find unusual pairings on the plate, like the dazzling creamy marinated scallops with tomato, capers and caviar or the richly textured cured wahoo with sweet potato puree, lime and Salicornia (an herb).

There’s also a cold octopus salad with paprika potatoes and bell pepper vinaigrette. Entrees include Yorkshire milk-fed pork belly with pickled onions; red wine-braised beef cheeks with celery root puree, pickled turnip and broccolini; and a traditional fish stew. But one of the standouts is a deceptively simple signature Sá Pessoa dish: bacalau a brás, made with salted cod and fried string potatoes with an egg on top. It’s on the menu at several of Sá Pessoa’s restaurants, for good reason.

“Being Portuguese, salted cod is one of my passions,” Sá Pessoa says. “Funny enough, it’s always a favorite, and it’s such a basic recipe. It surprises me how much people love it. It’s just potatoes, eggs, onion and cod, but the combination really works. It’s always a favorite.”

Paying attention to simple things, though, is part of Sereia’s code. Even the bread service, an important part of Portuguese cuisine, has been well thought out. The Portuguese corn and rye bread, sourced from Majestic Portuguese Bakehouse on Coral Way, is served with olive oil and, at Sá Pessoa’s other restaurants, with smoked butter. Sereia didn’t have a smoker, but when Massens discovered the nearby Taurus restaurant did, he asked to use it.

“I was like, ‘What better way to get that smoked flavor?’” Sá Pessoa says. “We did it and got good results. A couple of days after I came in, they lit it up again, and we smoked it again and got an even better result. This past weekend the butter was delicious.”

The restaurant has not yet rolled out the full menu — Binder estimates only about 70 percent of it has been introduced so far — but plans to over the coming weeks. The restaurant also plans to introduce a tinned fish menu for the bar as well as a small bites menu that could include items like cod fritters or tempura cuttlefish, Massens says. There are also plans for crudo tastings. The idea, Sá Pessoa explains, is to have “layers of experiences” to accommodate diners who want a full-service meal and more casual visitors who want a craft cocktail and a snack at the bar. The gorgeous Mermaid Margarita, with strawberry, kombu (sea algae), tequila, dragonfruit, Aperol and lime is an excellent place to start drinking, although Sereia’s wine features a nice variety of Portuguese wines. As for Miami itself, Sá Pessoa is a fan and believes the Grove location is a great fit for his first U.S. restaurant.

“If I could choose another city or country to live in, I would only consider the U.S. and Miami,” Sá Pessoa says. “I have restaurants in other countries. I love London and Amsterdam, but I would never consider living there. . . . I fell in love with Miami the first time I went.”

Where: 3450 Main Hwy
Hours: 6-11 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday
More Information: or 305-967-8152


Source: Miami Herald

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