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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