After weathering a hurricane and a massive renovation, rebirth under a new chef and her abrupt departure two years later, the only waterfront restaurant in Coral Gables has reopened with a new chef, a new look and new menu — and an entirely new philosophy.
The former Redfish Grill in Matheson Hammock Park has opened again as Noma Beach at Redfish, with attorney-turned-celebrity chef Donatella Arpaia steering the restaurant in a different, upscale direction.
Famous for such restaurants as davidburke & donatella, Anthos, Mia Dona and Keli and as the head judge of Food Network’s “Iron Chef America” and “Next Iron Chef,” Arpaia moved to Miami five years ago. She was looking for the right spot for a new restaurant, then the pandemic hit and delayed her search.
But she knew she was looking for a gem.
“For me to do something new, I needed it to be special,” she says. “I didn’t want to be that typical New Yorker who’s like ‘I’m from New York and I know what I’m doing.’ I consider myself a Miami girl now. . . . I understand what the neighborhood needs and what’s lacking. I know Miami is about the scene, but what about consistently great food? I’m not a club girl, but I do know Italian food and good service.”
Built in 1938, the original Redfish opened as a restaurant in 1996, its opening delayed by Hurricane Andrew in 1992. It was shut down again in 2017 by Hurricane Irma, when a six-foot storm surge damaged everything in the building, including the coral rock walls.
The waterfront property was resurrected and reopened in 2020 by Kendall’s favorite chef, Adrianne Calvo, and partner Rodney Barreto. Earlier this year, Calvo announced she would no longer be affiliated with the restaurant.
Enter Arpaia, who opened her first restaurant Bellini in the male-dominated New York culinary world of 1998. The daughter of two Italian-born parents, she grew up in her father’s New York City restaurant, sleeping in a crib next to the dishwasher.
Law school never really had a chance. Culinary school — specifically the French Culinary Institute and the Italian Culinary Academy — soon lured her into the restaurant industry.
Arpaia wanted the menu at Noma Beach to reflect her roots while still fitting the beachfront location.
“I thought the food should reflect the environment,” she says. “This is a historical location. It’s hot, and it’s outside. You want food that matches the environment.”
But before she could consider the menu, she and partner Barreto, who is also chairman of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, had other issues to confront. The kitchen was still tiny, limiting what could be served. Because the restaurant is located in a county park, electricity is limited. Even securing active WiFi was a challenge.
Now, after a total gutting, the kitchen has doubled in size, and there’s a wood-burning oven outside — “so that I have more fire power!” Arpaia says. The indoor seating area in the restaurant, generally only used when the weather turned bad, has been redecorated and, Arpaia hopes, is more inviting. She changed the restaurant’s name to signal a new beginning while still paying tribute to the spot’s history (“Noma” references her twins, Noah and Emma).
Her menu highlights coastal Italian cuisine, which to Arpaia means eating what’s in season, an emphasis on local fish and fresh ingredients.
“There’s a preconceived notion when people come in,” she says. “They expect a lot of fried food and large portions. But that’s not my food.”
Gone is the old branzino, which seems to find its way onto every mediocre menu in Miami. Say hello to crudo: Oysters, scallops, Miami wahoo, sea urchin, yellowfin tuna tartare, snapper from the Florida Keys. The restaurant also serves a variety of house-made pastas, including a lobster pappardelle with braised short rib and Arapaia’s famous veal meatballs as well as jamon Iberico, plus entrees like coriander-crusted swordfish and lamb chops.
Perhaps the best indication of Noma Beach’s new direction is the intriguing sea urchin and Burrata pizza. Arpaia, who studied the art of Neapolitan Pizza under Chef Enzo Coccia in Naples, where her father is from, says the combination is addicting.
“Pizza reflects so much of my heritage,” she says, adding she was inspired by a crudo of sea urchin and Burrata at Anthos. “It’s such an interesting combination, the fatty Burrata with the urchin. And I see dough as a beautiful palate.”
But don’t worry, timid folk: there’s also a margherita pizza on the menu as well as a clam and sausage pizza. There’s also a kids’ menu carefully curated by the chef’s three children, who are more than happy to let her know if the chicken tenders are weird or the mac and cheese is too fancy.
It’s that dichotomy of comfort and upscale dining that she hopes to create at the restaurant, which will be adding lunch service soon as well as gelato service on the beach.
“I see Noma as an extension of my home,” says Arpaia, who’s married to heart surgeon Allan Stewart. “My fondest memories were in the kitchen of my dad’s restaurant and being at home on the holidays. It makes me happy to make people feel welcome. I’m the customer, too. I live in this neighborhood. You can come for pizza, but if you want sea urchin and truffles you can have that, too. I want that sense you can have both.”
Noma Beach at Redfish
Where: 9610 Old Cutler Road, Coral Gables
Hours: 5-10 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 5-11 p.m. Friday; noon-midnight Saturday; noon-10 p.m. Sunday
Reservations: noma-beach.com, OpenTable; 305-668-8788