Sunday, December 24, 2017

first thoughts: No Name Chinese | South Miami

2017 has been the year of the "to-do list" for me. The agenda of new restaurants I've been meaning to try continues to grow, and unlike the past several years, the usual forces of attrition (i.e., closures) haven't whittled it down quite as much as usual. Making it even more challenging, those openings haven't been limited to the ever-popular trifecta of Wynwood, South Beach and Brickell. It's good news for the residents of the outer bands of Greater Miami; it's a challenge for those trying to keep up with all the latest additions.

Witness, for example, No Name Chinese, which opened late this spring in South Miami, on a quiet corner behind the Shops at Sunset Place. No Name[1] is the second spot from the team of wine buff Heath Porter and manager Craig DeWald (their first is Uvaggio wine bar in Coral Gables), who decided they wanted to open a place serving contemporary Chinese cuisine using local ingredients paired with unusual wines.[2] They brought in Pablo Zitzmann to run the kitchen, who was last seen at the now-closed Trust & Co. in the Gables, and before that worked with Jean-Georges Vongerichten and Jeremy Ford at Matador Room, Ricky Sauri at Nobu and then Bloom in Wynwood, and Michelle Bernstein at Sra. Martinez, among others.

(You can see all my pictures in this No Name Chinese flickr set.)

Zitmann's menu at No Name is inspired by traditional Chinese dishes and flavors, but takes plenty of liberties. So there's a crispy turnip cake (law bok gow), a Chinese dim sum standard, but it's done in the style of a Japanese okonomiyaki topped with lap cheong sausage, shiitake mushrooms, Kewpie mayo and katsuobushi, the shavings of smoked, dried skipjack tuna wriggling in the heat. Turnip cake and okonomiyaki are a couple of my favorite things, so this makes me very happy.

Shrimp toast, usually a greasy fried indulgence, here comes on as healthy-ish as avocado toast: house-made shao bing bread topped with a clean, bright minced shrimp salad, its flavors amplified with a squeeze of lime and a dusting of "crunchy garlic bomb."

Smashed cucumber salad, another Chinese staple which everyone is riffing on lately, sees the cukes marinated in soy sauce and chianking vinegar, then plated over a creamy sesame sauce and topped with a shower of sesame seeds and a bouquet of fresh herbs. It's the kind of thing you keep going back for more bites of as you eat the rest of your meal.

There's an abbreviated selection of about a half-dozen dumplings – not quite enough to start supplying a fleet of carts, but enough to satisfy some dim sum cravings. No Name's shu mai are nearly bursting with a juicy paste of Key West pink shrimp and crab, topped with trout roe for a little pop and contrast. The "angry dumplings" are filled with spicy minced chicken, and dressed with a zippy chili garlic sauce, crispy shallots, more of that "crunchy garlic bomb," and a last minute dusting of orange zest to perk up all those flavors.

(continued ...)

Larger format dishes are divided on the menu between "Old School Classics" and "House Specialties," and from the former we sampled a salt and pepper shrimp that still showed some new school flair. The puffy, crisp-edged shrimp didn't bring much Sichuan peppercorn tingle, but still had plenty of flavor from a bright ginger-scallion sauce (with a nod in the direction of David Chang) plus a dressing of fresh lime juice and slivered jalapeños (thanks, JGV).

Michael Lewis, the chef at Kyu who ran several restaurants for Jean-Georges Vongerichten, told me that back in the day, his old boss used to walk around with a lime and a fresh chile in his pocket, ready to fix any dish that needed it. And I don't at all mean to denigrate any of the chefs who have trained under Jean-Georges to say that you can always taste it in their food when they've learned that lesson of calibrating salt, acid and heat. There's an almost electric freshness and brightness when that balance is right, and it was there in nearly every dish we tried at No Name.

They've done a good job making use of a somewhat awkward long space, which is effectively divided into two dining rooms with a handsome open kitchen as you walk in. The marble counter lining it provides a front row seat where you can feel the flames and smell the chiles and smoke coming off the woks. Just don't wear anything that requires dry cleaning.

The wine selection, like at No Name's sibling Uvaggio, is about as interesting as you'll find in Miami, and mostly tailored to work with the cuisine, leaning towards aromatic whites and juicy, softer-structured reds. The approach is more carefully curated than encyclopedic, but not lacking for variety: there's more than a dozen by-the-glass selections, which include a Turkish rosé, a Finger Lakes riesling, a Canadian gewurztraminer, and a California sangiovese. There's pretty much nothing on that list that I wouldn't be curious to try.

It took me a while to get to No Name Chinese. It won't be nearly as long before I go back.

No Name Chinese
7400 SW 57th Court, South Miami, Florida

[1] The partners couldn't agree on a name for the restaurant; thus, "No Name." Consistent with the absence of a name, there's also no signage outside for the restaurant, which is nestled into what otherwise appears to be a two-story residential building.

[2] Take out the wine part, and it is actually remarkably similar in both concept and execution to BlackBrick, which Richard Hales opened in Midtown Miami in 2014.

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