Wednesday, July 9, 2014

first thoughts: Niu Kitchen - Downtown Miami

About a month ago I stumbled across a short blurb on Eater for a "new Catalan-inspired eatery" that had opened in downtown Miami: Niu Kitchen. "A little intriguing," I said. Then several good reports came back from folks who had visited. A couple weekends ago, I finally made made it in to see for myself.

(You can see all my pictures in this Niu Kitchen flickr set).

Niu Kitchen turns out to be a shoebox-sized restaurant squeezed into a small space in a central but nondescript stretch of downtown Miami, a block south of the Miami-Dade College campus. Seating maybe twenty five, it was clearly decorated on a tight budget but succeeds in feeling both homey and contemporary, with its reclaimed wood paneled walls and exposed bulbs hanging from the ceiling.

It also turns out to not just be "Catalan-inspired," but the actual real deal. Chef Deme Lomas was a chef in Barcelona (I believe this is the place) before making his way to Miami, where he first found work as a line cook at Barceloneta, then joined Niu Kitchen. His menu mixes traditional Catalan dishes like trinxat ($10), a potato and cabbage pancake bearing an uncanny similarity to the classic English "bubble and squeak," topped here with butifarra sausage and pancetta, with more extemporaneous items like his gamba tartare ($13), a mince of translucent, sweet shrimp over diced tomatoes and confited potatoes, presented with the shrimp's head so you can squeeze its juices onto the dish.

(continued ...)

Saturday, July 5, 2014

first thoughts: N by Naoe - Brickell Key, Miami

When Kevin Cory moved his omakase temple, Naoe, from Sunny Isles to Brickell Key two years ago, he also leased an adjoining space which he said was eventually going to be used for lunch service. That day has finally come. And this is a lunch like no other you'll find in Miami.

Let's open the box on N by Naoe. (You can see all my pictures in this N by Naoe flickr set; you can also read my thoughts on Naoe here).

A few minutes after you're seated, a three-tiered bento box is brought to your table. It's unpacked to reveal six compartments, each stocked with several different items – similar in style and quality to the elaborate bento that starts a meal at Naoe.

(continued ...)

first thoughts

Let's be honest: the pace of reviews of Miami restaurants here at food for thought has not exactly been breakneck lately. There are plenty of reasons for that.

The past year particularly, I've written much more often about meals outside of Miami, or special event dinners here in town, than the straightforward Miami restaurant "reviews" that started off being the focus of this blog. This has always been a passion project, and so I tend to write about what makes me passionate. I think many of our local chefs do some of their best work outside the constraints of a regular restaurant menu, so I write about our Cobaya dinners to turn a spotlight on what they are capable of doing. Earlier this year I had the incredibly good fortune to visit Japan for the first time, where I had several outstanding, perspective-altering meals. Four months later, and I've still only written about roughly half of them. The "to-write" list from recent excursions to New York and Los Angeles (and Seattle and Vancouver last summer!) is even longer.

That's not to stay I've lost interest in Miami – not even remotely. But much of my writing on local restaurants of late has either gone into Edible South Florida magazine (you can read all those pieces here), or straight to twitter, with no stops in between. And when I do get around to writing a "review" of a Miami restaurant here, my approach is usually pretty deliberate. (The words "slow" or "lazy" may also come to mind). Call it what you will, it usually takes me a while to figure out what I really want to say about a place – and sometimes, yes, to find places that are worth saying something about. (Though my Miami "to-write" list is already even longer than the out-of-town list, to say nothing of the "to-visit" list.) Still, whether it's intention or inertia, I'm not convinced that restaurants necessarily reveal their true selves in their first few months. Many get better – and plenty get worse. So I usually play the long game.

But the flipside is that plenty of places deserve attention in their first few months, and many of them may need it in order to get over the hump of opening. So I'm experimenting with doing something here I'll call "first thoughts." It's not going to be a full-blown review. It's also, hopefully, anyway, not going to be the typically breathless puff pieces you see on so many other sites (often the by-product of freebie media previews). I know this is hardly a new thing, but it's new for me. We'll see how this works, but right now, expect mostly a "just the facts, ma'am" approach and a good number of pictures. Let's see how this goes, first with N by Naoe.