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Siena Tavern’s Coming to Miami’s China Grill Space

Chef Fabio Viviani Says He'll Succeed Where Others Haven't Dared to Try

Fabio Viviani is certain he can put a white elephant into the black.

The charismatic 2-time runner-up on Top Chef is bringing his runaway Chicago hit restaurant Siena Tavern to South Beach, trying to bring back to life the cavernous China Grill spot on 5th and Washington this coming Fall. The restaurant is inspired by a Siena, Italy spot called “La Taverna” which made every dish fresh to order – including breads, pastas and desserts, and has a months-long list to get in, A concept that doesn’t fly in restaurant-saturated Miami.

So how is this crazy Italian going to fill 400 seats a night in some of the most expensive real estate in South Beach without charging Miamians more than they can afford? And how is he going to keep them coming back? And, seriously, is he FINALLY going to open a restaurant with good service?

He told us, with a few four-letter words peppered in, and we’re excited.

A lot of bigshot chefs come down here thinking they’re gonna take Miami by storm. What makes you different?
I’m not a big shot, I’m really not.  I didn’t even win the show….I lost twice.

In Chicago, a lot of people didn’t do well there because Chicago people are loyal to Chicago chefs.  Big groups came from New York and said “Let me show you how we do it in New York” and they got kicked out to the curb.

So instead of saying hey, let me show you how I do things, I said hey, I’ m here, let me know what I can do for you. I did all the charities, I did all the events, I did stuff in the community, and after a year and a half you can’t get a reservation a month ahead. So I’m gonna do the same thing in Miami.

This market’s different than anywhere else in the US. How are you adapting your concept for Miami?
No city is like any other one in the world. So the way you approach food, the way you serve it, the way you greet the customer, changes. The experience you’re gonna get at Siena Tavern Chicago, is not gonna apply to Miami.

How so?
Think about a pizza recipe. Humidity in Miami is gonna fuck everything up. I’m not kidding you man, we’re measuring the humidity every day over the course of a month to figure it out. Our pizza isn’t just gonna be pizza, it’s gonna be a chemistry experiment well done.

Just outsourcing the ingredients from 100 miles from the restaurant to support the local community, it will make drastic, drastic change to the way you think about the menu to how you approach putting it together.

How have you gone about putting together this menu?
All my chefs sit down and create 100 dishes we think could be good. The first round we eliminate 25, then we sit down again, 2 days after, we walk about flaws out of the 75, we fix them, send them out again, then we chose 50. Then out of those 50 we say maybe 35-40 of them are gonna be the “cravers” we have in our menu.

Some dishes you go, like, holy shit this is really good, some of them you’re like, this is a good dish, I wouldn’t order again.  If it’s not like a Holy Shit dish for 75% of the people, it doesn’t go on the menu.

A big complaint about restaurants in Miami now is that they’ve gotten so overpriced. How are you addressing that?
A lot of people are milking that, “Miami is known to be expensive so I’m gonna charge them.” But look, if my rent is $80 sq. ft, it will reflect on the food.  But the good news is because we manage our costs well, and because every dish we have is gonna have great volume. You’re not gonna spend $100 a person. If you come for dinner for 2, you can walk away for $30-$40 per person, easily.

We’re not trying to kill anybody, we just want to be priced enough to scare away the kind of people we don’t like, which is the people that go places for $2 tequila shot to get hammered and cause a disaster. We want people to come here and not worry about somebody elbowing you in the face while you’re eating dinner.

Another big knock on Miami is bad service. Every restaurateur who comes here complains about the ability to find good, dependable people. How are you dealing with that?
In Italy we have an expression: If you pay peanuts, you get monkeys.

The concept of investing in human resources isn’t something that’s caught on in Miami. But we’re gonna take care of our employees if they’re taking care of our guests.

The same way we do with our menu, we do with our staff. We hire 100 to keep 75 to choose 50 to open with 35.  And we’re gonna go through a lot of training. 

In 80% of Miami the usual budget for opening a restaurant is 2 weeks, and hopefully out of that you get a good bartender, a good server, you get cute girls and cute guys behind the bar.

We’re not in the business of beauty. We’re in the business of service. Server training is 2 months.

Ok, everybody wants to know how you plan to fill this old China Grill space with 400 seats every night.

If you please the locals you’re gonna survive. Because Miamians don’t go to South Beach, because you don’t fit in. Everywhere you go it’s like “Untz untz untz” and they’re taking shots of tequila and its dirty.

No, that’s not Miami. Miami’s good, Miami’s nice, there’s good fucking people in Miami.

So if you’re coming to Siena Tavern and somebody is like hey buddy, what’s up, did you make a reservation? No? Ok give me 15 minutes, go have a glass of wine on me at the bar and I’ll make it happen.
We’re not gonna kick you out because you’re 15 minutes late for your reservation. We’re not gonna make you stand there for 3 hours without looking at you because we’ve got the hottest place in town . If you make your reservation at 8 and you’re not sitting down at 8:05, you’re drinking and getting an app at the bar on us. That’s the kinda kids we are.

Also, I’m not in the “no” business. You know when you go out and you ask oh, can you leave this out, and they say, no, you can’t modify it. Well, great, if you can’t modify, you’re probably gonna be out of business. Those are what I call the 6 month restaurants.

You’ve got La Locanda and Frutali la Bufala across the street. How do you plan to compete with them since they’re so established?
I think you should go there.  Then give us a chance, then pick which one you like. If my service and my pizza you prefer to across the street , then great. If not, go eat there. I want everybody to be successful, I’d hate to be the only restaurant on the street. It’s like the Hunger Games, except we don’t have to kill to be alive, we just have to be good at what we do. All I ask is you give me the same chance you’d give any other restaurant that opens in Miami.

And the most Miami response to that, obviously, is “Why should we?”
We care. Why should we give you a chance ahead of everyone else? Because I care. Because I’m committed. Because I give a shit.

Related Categories: Miami: Local News, Miami: Food & Restaurant News,

About the Author: Matt Meltzer is a featured columnist at Miami Beach 411.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer.

See more articles by Matt Meltzer

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