It’s the day before Vagabond Sushi opens for friends and family night, and Amir Ben-Zion is addressing the employees finishing a wine and food tasting as part of their training.
Ceramic cup of sake in hand, he tells the two dozen servers and bartenders sitting around the circular bar that he has confidence in them. “We all came from this background, so we all know what we’re doing. I’ve seen it all and we’re going to get through it together.”
Ben-Zion, who owned and operated some of the best-loved establishments in Miami including Gigi, Bardot, and Bond Street, is back. Just one year ago, he closed Bardot for renovations. Although that was the last of his hospitality ventures, Ben-Zion has his hand in many Miami ventures including III Points Music Festival along with working his “day job” as a prominent developer and hotelier.
Now, Ben-Zion has put his restaurateur hat back on with the opening of Vagabond Village at the Vagabond Hotel.
The project consists of one restaurant (Vagabond Sushi) and several bars and lounges. Ben-Zion says this is a fait accompli of sorts. “I had my eye on the property for a long time, but Avra Jain picked it up. She’s an amazing investor.” Jain lovingly restored the hotel in 2014, bringing renewed life to Miami’s MiMo District.
He said when Vagabond Kitchen & Bar closed at the hotel, he approached Jain with an idea: Instead of opening another restaurant, why not create a village?
The first part of Vagabond Village, the Oasis pool bar, opened about a month ago. Though the space was already lushly landscaped, Ben-Zion replaced the furniture and added a new sound system. It’s hidden in the greenery, making it feel as though the plants are serenading you as you sip your margarita.
Next up is Vagabond Sushi, set to open to the public on Saturday, October 27. The kitchen, led by executive chef Mike Hiraga, who worked for Blue Ribbon Sushi in Miami Beach, will churn out a menu of nigiri, sashimi, and other izakaya plates. About 35 different wines and 18 sakes will be offered.
Sliders at Vagabond Sushi
Photo by Laine Doss
At the staff wine and food tasting, Ben-Zion presents the eatery’s sliders to the group, each topped with a perfect fried quail egg. He takes a bite and pronounces it delicious. The restaurateur says he’s been tasting menu items and wines for the past few weeks to ensure everything is up to his standards.
Though a complete menu was not yet available, Ben-Zion says Vagabond Sushi is designed to be neighborhood friendly. “It’s top of the line quality with normal prices. In certain places in Miami, you can spend hundreds of dollars to eat fish. You will never leave here like that.” He says he prides himself in giving guests good value. “Mandolin Aegean Bistro is a good example of a place I look up to. Consistent quality and flawless service. It’s a great experience.”
Courtesy of the Vagabond
As workers rush to make finishing touches to the dining room, Ben-Zion inspects every inch of the space. He finds a small scratch on one of the black walls and points it out to a manager for a touchup. The restaurant, which Ben-Zion fully remodeled, includes plush bar stools and comfortable banquette seating in hues of ruby and sapphire. Pieces by local artist Juan Rozas are displayed on gilt-brushed walls. Every detail is meticulously thought through, from the sound system designed to enable diners to hold conversations without being drowned out to the temperature at a precise 69 degrees.
Inside the restaurant, Vagabond Market serves an incredibly clever purpose. Uber food delivery people and customers picking up to-go orders enter through a separate market entrance. While paying for their order, customers can pick up cold beer, sake, wine, Japanese candy, and snacks to accompany their sushi, making an emergency stop at a supermarket for beverages obsolete.
A tropical patio is accentuated by palms and succulents, welcoming diners to enjoy Miami’s delightful winter temperatures. As of now, the restaurant will be open nightly from 6 p.m. until late, with weekend brunch expected to launch in November.
Amir Ben-Zion at Brigitte’s vintage pool table.
Photo by Laine Doss
Before or after a meal at Vagabond Sushi, make your way to Brigitte. Also located inside the hotel, it offers an intimate bar and billiard lounge with a cocktail and spirits menu. Open nightly from 8 p.m. until late, the space was decorated by Ben-Zion with his personal art collection as well as a 1948 Brunswick-certified competition pool table. The chic, pink room can also be reserved for parties without an additional rental fee. Says the restaurateur, “I want people to enjoy themselves.”
In the coming months, Ben-Zion plans to turn the hotel’s underground bunker into a speakeasy. To access the lounge, guests must request a secret code via text. Once inside the intimate space, expect exclusive DJs and surprise guests.
Though comprised of many parts, Vagabond Village seems surprisingly intimate. Ben-Zion has displayed his personal art on the walls, installed blinds to shield diners from Biscayne Boulevard traffic, and divided the central restaurant space into smaller sections. “I didn’t feel romance in the space when I walked in for the first time,” he says. “Now I do.”
Vagabond Village. 7301 Biscayne Blvd., Miami; 786-332-4991; thevagabondhotelmiami.com.