KYU (pronounced "Q"), from former Zuma teammates chef Michael Lewis and GM Steven Haigh, is pretty much the buzziest new restaurant in Miami right now. The industrial-styled Asian eatery, specializing in wood fired food, is located in the hip Wynwood area and is receiving raves from diners, critics, and even fellow chefs.
But does the restaurant live up to the hype? The best way to answer that question is simply to share the exclamations I made during my recent dinner there. Declarations such as, "I didn't even know I liked whiskey," "I'm so relieved to see a bao bun with something other than pork on it," "I've always said fried chicken would be better with a sauce," "that brisket is seriously temping me to eat meat again," and, lastly, "every bite of this coconut cake just makes me want more bites of this coconut cake," really summarized the expertly crafted yet wonderfully comfortable menu from chef Lewis.
The delivery of masterful cooking skills and knowledgeable, yet daring dish formation comes as no surprise from Lewis, who studied under world-renowned chefs like Eric Ripert, David Bouley and Jean Georges (who appointed him Chef de Cuisine at the young age of 25). His confidence in the kitchen shines directly into the food, without even a trace of ego.
Plates like the aforementioned soft shell crab steamed bun with a delicious spicy lime aioli (as a Baltimore native, it's no surprise Lewis utilized crab), the roasted cauliflower with goat cheese and a shisito herb vinaigrette, and the sliced Hamachi with white ponzu sauce over a bed of mint offer novel twists on the current dishes people are already craving. The Korean fried chicken is a perfect example of this new-meets-new approach – not only is the perfectly crunchy and flavorful skin double fried in the current (and less greasy) Korean fashion, but the accompanying bright orange, sauce made of Thai fermented chili pastes, kombu dashi and butter; is exactly what you never knew fried chicken was missing.
The dish receiving the most talk is the wood fired, smoked Wagyu beef brisket with black shichimi pepper. I could barely get my husband to respond to me as he devoured his aromatic, pull-apart plate, and yes, the aroma almost ended my hiatus from red meat.
KYU is being lauded for more than its food, though. Haigh, whose adorable British accent and natural charm naturally earn him bonus points from customers, has taken the service needs of his restaurant very seriously. Miami is not a town known for its welcoming service – a fact Haigh was not OK with. "I was really sick of the approach of, ' who do I need to be nice to?' from a service point of view. You need to be nice to everyone!" he says of his previous experience at certain snobby outposts.
Thus, he instructed his servers to sit down and get eye-to-eye with patrons and to encourage them to ask questions about the menu. This friendly approach seems to be translating from the bottom up – one need only peek at the line to see the cooks laughing and joking with each other throughout the evening. "I don't know if we necessarily have the best service in town," says the humble co-owner, "but I do think we have the friendliest."
Creative and well-paired cocktails like the perfectly sweet Pink Puppy (vodka, fresh lychee juice, yuzu and bitters) and the bold Spicy Shiso Sour (tequila, shiso, fresh muddled cucumber, elderflower, Serrano pepper, and egg white) round out the slam-dunk culinary experience.