The rhythms of Wynwood with its graffiti-covered façades, kids moving in and out on their skate boards or bikes and art spaces popping up, express an urban language about this area of Miami that speaks of possibilities no other community in the county does. In the midst of this hipster environment one arrives to an open concrete area flanked by a “green wall” covered with ferns and other plants across another with a mural by artists Andrew Antonaccio and Filio Galvez. The minimalist mix of concrete, wood and metal interior is the setting for the Asian fusion food space with a wood-burning grill open kitchen.
A graduate of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America (CIA), chef Michael Lewis trained with chefs David Bouley at Bouley Bakery and Market and Eric Ripert of Le Bernadin to later work under Jean-Georges at the Michelin three star Central Park West. Together with general manager Steven Haigh culinary excitement is infused at Kyu for local and visiting foodies. With affability Haigh balances his many duties keeping an overall view from the inviting bar with its tempting offerings such as the lovely Smoke & Mirrors ($16): Gracias a Dios mezcal combined with Aperol, Campari and fresh grapefruit juice. Like a missing piece of a puzzle Kyu fits perfectly in this area of urban possibilities.
The term Kyu has multiple meanings given the rich diversity of the Asian world most of us are not versed in. It mainly refers to the ranking system in modern martial arts where you are awarded another kyu for each level achieved. The accuracy with which karate movements are performed can be associated with the way each dish is carefully conceived, crafted and executed. Starting with the simple snacks: the elegant and crunchy kale siting on nam prik sauce ($7), crispy pork belly steamed bun ($12), fun to eat crispy-spicy hamachi tartare ($18) and the refreshing and delicate tuna tartare sitting on bib lettuce with a touch of yuzu sabayon ($16); one of the most popular veggie dishes is the roasted cauliflower and goat cheese with a shishito-herb vinaigrette ($14). Pairing the appetizers with the delicate Junmai Ginjo’s Rihaku Wandering Poet sake ($11) was a perfect decision. El Niño del Campilo, a 2013 tempranillo ($14) was the choice for an addictive, mouthwatering and flawlessly cooked butter braised chicory Korean fried chicken ($18) and the unforgettably melt-in-you-mouth black shichimi pepper wagyu beef brisket ($36).
Aside from their insistence on sustainable products, I appreciate how Lewis and Haigh live their social consciousness “for every tree we burn we replant 5”. Before opening in February, the restaurant partnered with Trees for the Future to donate 10,000 trees to be planted in Senegal, this was their way of compensating for the wood they would be burning; they also use an Orca composter to reduce the amount of waste going to landfill and diminishing Co2 emissions.
I enjoyed Kyu so much that I returned the following Sunday for brunch and tried the yummy soft shell crab on a steamed bun ($12) and the gorgeously stacked beef short rib cooked with a perfectly delectable sweet soy and garlic sauce ($38). On both occasions the ideal complement for me was the Thai fried rice ($20) finished table side on a heated stone pot so that a crust that balances the glutinous short grained rice regularly associated with sushi. On Sunday we tried it with crab meat ($24) but either ways this fragrant dish is worth coming back for time and time again. Yet the grand finale was mom’s scrumptious not-to-be-missed KYU coconut cake ($8).
As I walked out into the blazing hot Miami afternoon I immediately reminisced about the Raging Geisha ($17) I had enjoyed earlier. For a moment I felt inclined to run back for the coolness of the cucumber-basil topped concoction with IWAI Japanese whisky, St. Germain and yuzu. But in a zen-like moment I breathed deeply: one has to be patient and wait for future visits.
Kyu is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday to Sundays; closed on Mondays. For reservations: 786-577-0150 or kyumiami.com
251 Northwest 25th Street
Miami, Florida 33127