BY ALISON RYAN
1. ‘72 Dolphins | NaiYaRa
For Chef Bee, who hails from Northern Thailand, it’s all about knowing your guest’s comfort zone and pushing juuust past it. One of the most unique (and stunning) items on his menu is the ‘72 Dolphins—a beautiful slice of miso-glazed salmon belly and toro (the most desirable part of the tuna), served with a dollop of sour cream and adorned with caviar and elegant gold flakes. “The name was inspired by Don Shula leading the 1972 Dolphins through the perfect season. We believe this dish is the perfect bite,” explains Bee. “It also has a visual homage to the team with the salmon and gold flakes.” His other favorite that you won’t see on most menus is the homemade beef jerky. “It’s softer than your normal jerky and melts in your mouth with flavors of coriander. The Burmese sticky rice is a sponge for the zesty Nahm Jim Jao sauce. It’s an addicting dish and a must-order,” he insists. But if Chef Bee really wants to turn heads? “We sometimes bring in shirako, which is codfish sperm. For those familiar with the delicacy, it’s well received. For the rest, it’s entertaining to see the look on their faces.” NaiYaRa, 1854 Bay Road, Miami Beach | 786.275.6005 | naiyara.com
2. Veal Brains Meunière| Pubbelly
Pubbelly is known as the most adventurous gastropub in town, and Chef Jose Mendin isn’t afraid to push the envelope with his veal brains dish. “I’ve been eating them since I was a kid,” he recalls. “My mom loves them and she used to order them at a restaurant back home in Puerto Rico, where they were pan-fried and served with a tartar sauce.” In Mendin’s version, the brains are poached in a court bouillon (water with mirepoix and herbs), then marinated in buttermilk, dusted in seasoned flour and pan-fried in butter and served atop blue crab tartar sauce and a bean sprout salad. “The taste is similar to a sweetbread, but is more strong in flavor and soft in texture,” he says. Mendin admits this dish is definitely for the brave. “I’ve never had anyone say they didn’t like it. In fact, 95 percent of the people love it and rave about it, but there is that 5 percent who are weirded out by the texture but not the flavor. I always tell customers, ‘They’ll make you smarter.’ It gets them every time!” Pubbelly, 1418 20th Street, Miami Beach | 305.532.7555 pubbellyboys.com.
3. Unicorn| Pao by Paul Qui
The moment you step into Pao by Paul Qui at the buzzy Faena Hotel, where a massive bronze unicorn sculpture sits centerstage, you know the meal is going to be anything but ordinary. Qui, who’s secured a James Beard Award, focuses on his Filipino roots, along with Japanese, Spanish and French styles of cooking, offering up rarely seen flavor combinations. One of the most unforgettable dishes on his eclectic menu is the Unicorn—think of it as uni + corn. In case you don’t know, uni is a sea urchin’s gonads. Stay with us. This creamy dish includes two small pieces of uni swathed in a frothy, sweet corn pudding that is beautifully presented in a sea urchin shell. It’s like comfort food that your mom would serve (if she had access to uni) and it’s so good, you’ll forget the fact that you’re eating gonads. Don’t skip the creative chilled Peanut Gazpacho or the Pork Adobo Rice, a ginger-jasmine rice with tender pork shoulder topped with a duck egg that you crack for a flavor finale. Not necessarily weird, but amazing! Pao by Paul Qui, 3201 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach, 786.655.5600 | faena.com.
4. California Funnel Cake | Bazaar Mar by José Andrés
Chef José Andrés is the king of bizarre—but in the best possible way. Known for presenting chicken croquetas in a glass shoe or designing a Foie Gras PB&J at The Bazaar, his latest menu at the new Bazaar Mar on Brickell also features a dizzying array of inventive dishes. The most coveted? The California “Funnel Cake,” made of seaweed funnel cake and topped with avocado, cucumber and fresh blue crab that’s been seasoned with Japanese mayo and finished with flying fish roe and micro sea lettuces. “This dish was inspired by the classic California Roll, but we reinvented those familiar flavors in a completely new way,” says Chef de Cuisine Manuel Echeverri of the dish that’s presented on a striking silver octopus stand. “The funnel cake is made of sea lettuce powder emulating the flavors of the nori sheet and the rest is compiled from all the flavors of the best-ever California Roll.” With 67 dishes on the menu, there are plenty of creative dishes to choose from, including those that use the parts of seafood that are usually tossed out. “One dish that is totally crazy is the Callos de Mar, which is salted cod bladder with blood sausage and potato. This is a dish that very few try, but those who do, love it.” The dish is not always on the menu, so ask your server if it’s available. Bazaar Mar, 1300 S. Miami Avenue, Miami | 305.239.1320 | sbe.com.
5. Cheesesteak Eggroll | The Continental Miami
This Stephen Starr restaurant manages to put the “fun” in food, taking an eclectic approach to popular dishes from around the globe, while dragging willing diners on an unforgettable culinary journey. The most distinct plate on the menu is a melting pot of iconic American goodness and Asian fame: the crispy Cheesesteak Eggrolls, made of cherry peppers, American cheese and sriracha ketchup. “The Cheesesteak Eggrolls actually originated in The Continental’s sister restaurant in Philadelphia, which opened 20 years prior, and were created to pay homage to the city’s famous sandwich. The dish tastes like a genuine cheesesteak you’d find in Philly,” explains General Manager Stephanie Hart. While she says many of the restaurant’s dishes, like the Pastrami Fried Rice with brussels sprouts and egg, are adventurous, they don’t stray too far from the familiar. “The Rad Na is probably the most unique item, with chow fun noodles, chicken, peanuts and crispy romaine lettuce. It’s really beloved and people come back for this.” The Continental Miami, 2360 Collins Avenue, Miami Beach 305.604.2000 | continentalmiami.com.
6. Spam Musubi | SUGARCANE raw bar grill
For most, the canned meat known as Spam doesn’t exactly conjure up appetizing thoughts—that is until, Chef Timon Baloo takes over with his Spam Musubi dish, which features the contrasting duo of Spam and seared foie gras. “The dish is an ode to my upbringing in California, where there was a ban on foie gras at the time. I thought, what better way to elevate a perceived inexpensive meat like Spam than with a luxurious one? We don’t use canned spam, but rather make a charcuterie-style, homemade version,” explains Baloo, who grew up in San Francisco, where Spam was readily available and eaten in many of the Asian communities. So, what’s been the response from diners? “Surprisingly, quite a few South Floridians have grown up eating Spam, so they can appreciate the story behind it.” His daring culinary experiments continue, with Foie Gras Fried Rice, Beef Tongue Carpaccio and Pig Ears, none of which Baloo considers strange so much as “items that may no longer be in fashion.” Even though he’s won the trust of diners, he admits there have been a few menu flops. Examples? “Definitely, the Crispy Parmesan Chicken Feet and the Chicken Necks.” You win some, you lose some, Chef. Sugarcane, 3252 Northeast First Avenue, Miami 786.369.0353 | sugarcanerawbargrill.com.
7. Peschiola al Tartufo | Toscana Divino
Truffles and peaches? Yes, please! Chef Andrea Marchesin is the brains behind this unconventional flavor combination that kicks off the Italian restaurant’s decadent, six-course truffle experience. The Peschiola al Tartufo features dwarf peaches (which are raw small peaches that have been preserved in oil and truffle), served over a grated layer of Burgundy black truffle. The bite-sized dish is playfully presented in a Champagne glass lying on its side, and after you take a nice sniff, you throw it back like a shot. “I was inspired during a wine tasting held by a great Italian sommelier, who was explaining the intense scents of an amazing wine. I thought ‘Why can’t we bring this same experience to food?’ I immediately thought of truffle and the little peschiola, which fits perfectly in a flute to enhance the aromatic experience,” explains Marchesin. “The hearty scent of truffle hits the nose, then the crunchiness and acidity of the peschiola creates an explosion of flavors.” End the experience with another extreme showstopper, an Ecuadorian Chocolate lollipop with a cherry syrup center that’s coated in black truffles. Toscana Divino, 900 South Miami Avenue, Brickell 305.930.8052 | toscanadivino.com.
8. La Lucuma y El Chocolate | La Mar by Gaston Acurio
Quinoa is having a moment (even though many still can’t pronounce it correctly), and just when you thought you’d accepted the grain as a complementary side dish like rice, the folks at La Mar used their imaginations and created a signature dessert around it. “The origin of quinoa is Peru and Bolivia,” says Executive Chef Diego Oka, who is known for pushing Peruvian food way out of the ceviche box. “For our chocolate mousse, we wanted to incorporate something crispy, and because we use Peruvian chocolate and lucuma, we needed to use another Peruvian component. And quinoa worked very well.” While you may think cooking stovetop quinoa is easy-breezy, their process is much more complicated. The chefs first boil the grain, then dry it in the oven, fry it and finally caramelized it for a crispy finish. While it may sound weird, the chef says diners crave it! “We can’t take it off the menu. Our customers and team would be mad at me,” Oka jokes. The chef points out that guests do think the Veal Heart Anticucho (grilled veal hearts) roams into “strange” territory. La Mar, 500 Brickell Key Drive, Miami | 305.913.8288 mandarinoriental.com.
9. Black Sesame Panna Cotta | Kuro
While a creamy panna cotta seems to be a safe staple on many restaurant’s dessert menus, we promise, you’ve never had one like this. Made with ginger gelée, cucumber pearl, pomegranate foam and nari sponge crumble, this bizarre-looking (and tasting) dessert literally explodes in your mouth. “I was asked to conduct a tasting for the pastry chef job at Kuro and I made a version of the Black Sesame Panna Cotta that probably single-handedly landed me the job,” recalls Chef James “Ross” Evans. “The first step was to think about the flavors that are staples of Japanese cuisine like sesame, cucumber, seaweed and ginger. Then, what in the world can I do with seaweed? The vision came. Make a cake! I put the seaweed in the dehydrator, and bam, the result was a beautiful crunchy component.” Evans admits his panna cotta is often a “misunderstood” dish, and while sales were very low the first year, the team refused to take it off the menu. “There is a clear divide between those who love it and those who don’t understand its profile, but its success grows every day,” he says. “Knowing that something we worked so hard to make right is finally receiving the attention we hoped for makes the efforts all worth it. The struggles, the failures, the achievements. This was one.” Kuro, 1 Seminole Way, Hollywood | 954.327.7625 seminolehardrockhollywood.com.
10. Raspado Relleno Raspados Loly’s
If you’ve lived in Miami long enough, you know there are many hole-in-the-wall places serving foods from different cultures that you’ve probably never heard of, much less tasted. One of those spots is Raspados Loly’s, a family-run restaurant in Sweetwater that makes a Nicaraguan dessert so unique it’s garnered the attention of the popular show Bizarre Foods America. Loly’s attention-grabber is the Relleno — a cup of shaved ice with layers of dulce de leche and scrumptious pound cake. “My grandmother, Eloisa, saw a regular snow cone and thought, ‘What if I create a thick, caramel-like syrup instead of flavored syrup?’ So she devised her own homemade recipe for dulce de leche,” says owner Michael Guatemala about the dessert that his grandmother founded in Nicaragua 50 years ago, when she wanted to find a way to help with the family’s finances. “It took her seven years to perfect.” While the Relleno is the most popular flavor, the restaurant also offers other unique flavors like yellow cherry or the Mega Loly, which is a mix of all the fruit flavors. “The only problem is that most like the original so much that they won’t try anything else.” Raspados Loly’s, 10404 W. Flagler Street, Miami | 305.227.0488 raspadoslolys.com.