Wood-Fired Delights — at Miami’s KYU

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Something new is going on amidst the spray-painted walls of Miami’s Wynwood Arts District — that area best known for its concentration of contemporary art galleries, cafes and eclectic bars.

Something I really care about — good food.

It’s happening thanks to a number of talented chefs who are showing up to join the dynamic neighborhood’s creative mix. And these adventuresome chefs are expressing themselves with just as much originality and fervor as the local grafitti artists whose striking work in the hood simply can’t be overlooked.

That’s certainly the case with Chef Michael Lewis. His restaurant, an inviting Asian inspired place with an open kitchen featuring smoky, wood-grilled delights, is called KYU. (Pronounced “Q”)

You guessed it, “Q” — as in barbecue. But to me, what Michel is doing is much more than Asian barbecue. He’s turning out nothing less than beautiful, nuaunced, sophisticated dishes.

Exactly what you’d expect from a CIA grad who’s trained under Chef David Bouley at Bouley Bakery in NYC and Chef Eric Ripert at NYC’s top-rated Le Bernedin. Michael was also Chef de Cuisine at Jean Georges, another iconic, award-winning NYC restaurant.

And it shows on the plate! My dinner at KYU a few weeks ago was one of the best meals I’ve had in Miami for a long time.

Of course, I’m partial to this kind of cuisine. Deceptively simple, artfully-conceived dishes with a remarkable blend of subtle smokiness, a hit of heat and the complex flavors of Asian spices.

Our table of four blissed out sharing bites of crispy softshell crabs on steamed buns, one-of-a-kind pork and shiitake gyoza taken to another level by smoked truffle ponzu sauce, luscious wood-charred octopus, and an elegant beef shank with sweet soy and garlic that may have changed my mind about eating meat.

Wow! What a dish it was. The shank’s killer presentation was so surpisingly original and seriously impressive — that it was only surpassed by the beef’s incredible, deeply-haunting taste.

The charred meat, succulent from a pre-grilling, 10-12 hour slow smoking, comes to the table atop its large bone, almost imperceptively sliced and ready to be lifted with chopsticks and placed, bite by bite, into bibb lettuce leaves along with fresh shiso and cilantro. Then just before you tuck the morsel into your mouth you drizzle on spicy sauces that have been waiting in tiny vials.

So simple. So engaging. So Japanese.

Aesthetics abound at KYU. You’re aware of them as you first walk into the restaurant’s hipster-cool, minimalist interior. Raw concrete walls are softened with a painterly patina. Stacks of wood appear curated and arranged just so waiting for the fire. Even the Parsons-like tables couldn’t be more appropriate.

Then there are the servers. Casual, professional and charming. They seem to be just as appropriate and appealing as the surroundings. Ours certainly was as he guided us seemlessly through what became a more-than-memorable Miami evening.

I’m jazzed! Now there’s another good reason to wind up in Miami’s Wynwood Arts District: The outstanding food at KYU.

KYU / 251 NW 25th Street, Miami, FL 33127 / 786-577-0150 / www.kyumiami.com

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Art Basel Miami — A Cypress Tavern Brunch

Tuna nisçoise

Finding a quiet place for a civilized brunch amidst the madness and bustle of Art Basel Miami is not an easy thing to do. It is, after all, the world’s largest art fair. And this year it set another attendance record.

Luckily, I decided to see if a small restaurant called Cypress Tavern was a possibility — a number of things about the place appealed to me. It’s owned by Chef Michael Schwartz. It’s in Miami’s Design District. And the dinner my wife, Trulee, and I had there last year was more than praise worthy. So was the service and the ambiance.

Calling for a reservation two weeks in advance is a must during art fair week. At least for the better tables in town. So that’s what I did.

Yes, brunch was being served on Saturday. And they had a table for us.

The Cypress Tavern was just what we needed after an intense morning immersing ourselves in the monumental art of Anselm Kiefer at the Margulies Collection, a short, cab ride away. Sitting in the Tavern’s cheery, club-like space was a welcome counterpoint to the dark, monochromatic tones of Kiefer’s beautiful, but unsettling, Neo-realist work.

Brightening things even more was the artful brunch menu. Wood-grilled mushroom salad. Lobster- avocado toast. Wood-grilled giant prawn. Soft polenta, grilled mushrooms and poached egg with truffles. Yellowfin tuna Nicoise. Buccatini carbonara with poached egg.

A James Beard Award-winng chef, Schwartz has been a favorite of mine ever since he opened one of the first restaurants in Miami’s Design District, Michael’s Genuine Food and Drink. His dishes are simple bistro-like fare — but a lot more. Carefully thought out and delicious.

As much as I wanted to try the buccatini carbonara with the poached egg, my choice on this drizzly, art-filled Saturday was the tuna Nicoise. I needed something “salad-light” after the crazy, multi-course meal with friends the night before that was way too rich for my taste.

Some Sancerre seemed to be the right thing to do while we waited to see if what we ordered would live up to our expectations. (Trulee had decided on the polenta, mushrooms and poached egg with truffles.)

Well, the Nicoise was a colorful rendition of the classic dish with perfectly seared tuna and a boiled egg that was possibly the best I’ve ever had — a soft, but not-too-soft, golden center begging to be eaten together with a bite of potato and haricots vert. Lightly dressed with a vinaigrette that must have been made with the best of olive oils, just the right amount of acid and a touch of Dijon, the salad would have satisfied the most demanding of Francophiles. It certainly satisfied moi!

And the poached egg on soft polenta, with mushrooms and truffles?
It was just as good as it sounded! Maybe better.

I guess we could have eaten at one of the uncomfotable, over-crowded, food venues conveniently tucked into Art Basel, itself. Lots of people do. But the more civilized experience at the Cypress made more sense. At least to us. And in addition to the first-rate food, it was quiet enough to eavesdrop on the table next to us where an art consultant discretely counseled a couple on investment opportunities and emerging artists.

Cypress Room 3620 NE Second Avenue / Design District – Miami
305-520-5197 / www.cypresstavern.com

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