My teenager has a T-shirt that proclaims, “Killin’ it.” I’d like to buy one for everybody who works at KYU.
For the barbecue that brings out the smoky best of Asian-American wood grilling.
For thoughtful presentations that make eating fun.
For knowledgeable servers and chefs who are excited about the food and don’t hesitate to sit and chat with diners about it.
Open since February, KYU (pronounced “Q” like the last syllable in “barbeque”) has easily become one of Wynwood’s best restaurants.
Run by Zuma alums general manager Steven Haigh and Culinary Institute of America-trained executive chef Michael Lewis (Jean-Georges in New York), KYU combines a pedigree chef with well-trained, attentive service. The menu’s meaty stars — ribs, duck and brisket — are the product of live-fire cooking married with mouthwatering Japanese and Korean flavors. Soy, miso, kimchi, ponzu and the seven-spice mixture shichimi dominate dishes.
Lewis sports a hipster beard, but everything about KYU screams that Miami has entered what Mashable blogger David Infante christens the age of the “yuccie” — young urban creatives who combine their social awareness with shrewd business savvy, replacing hipsters as the millennials of the moment.
Along with Instagram-ready plates, there’s an earth-loving ORCA composter that transforms food waste into water in 24 hours. The menu claims that five trees are planted for every one burned. The restaurant’s trademark mule cocktail, permeated with smoked pineapple, comes in recycled tin cans. Single-stall bathrooms are gender neutral. (Heads up, N.C. visitors.)
KYU eschews formality. The young wait staff, in jeans and brown bib aprons, is polite and smart, but relaxed enough to plunk down on the bench next to you to intensely describe options. Silverware is stored en masse in a wooden box on each table. The menu encourages casual sharing. Small plates and larger entrees are divided into categories with names like “snacky snacks” and “crispy-crunchy.”
With dishes coming out as prepared and an emphasis on family-style sharing, those who favor more traditional dining may find KYU frustrating and haphazard. Be prepared for random timing and sampling.
Occupying the former square space of the short-lived Shikany, KYU has removed what little barriers remain between today’s kitchen and dining room. A waist-high, steel-wrapped counter separates diners and the open kitchen. Lewis and other chefs in baseball caps easily slide around the island to greet visitors and friends in between hustling dishes.
A Miami sense of place pervades. KYU’s entrance is framed by a selfie-friendly vertical garden and a linear mural by Miami-based artists Andrew Antonaccio and Filio Galvez. Haitian Barbancourt Rhum is the base for Cuban mojitos. A non-alcoholic strawberry-basil drink makes refreshing use of South Florida’s berry bounty.
With stone gray walls and polished concrete floors, the interior is modern and utilitarian, as if you’re eating at Google headquarters. Blond wood tables are separated from the bar and bathrooms by open, metal bookcases stocked with potted succulents and modern cookbooks. A back patio, yet to open, leads to Wynwood Walls.
Hot and cold starters are small, but plentiful enough for two to share. Make the most of Florida’s soft-shell crab season, which runs May through November, with Lewis’ crunchy fried crustacean, a two-bite blast of sweet, warm brine crammed into a cloud-like steamed bun. Sliced hamachi fish, piled upon small, fried rice cake bricks smeared with wasabi mayo, is another excellent beginning.
Pork and shiitake gyoza with a smoked truffle ponzu are respectable, if not repeat-worthy. Our tuna tataki came with a bracing sauce of fire-roasted peppers, fermented chili and citrus that came in a chipped bowl. (Yuccies believe in living dangerously?)
Roasted cauliflower, cabbage salad, tomato salad, grilled asparagus and broccoli rabe are offered as veggie choices, but the rest of the menu worships at the altar of flesh and fire.
Beef brisket with black shichimi pepper claims the crown, causing Miami’s own “Primal Grill” master Steven Raichlen to recently tweet, “At the amazing new KYU .<TH>.<TH>. Not your usual brisket!”
Cut in thick slices, the oak-smoked Wagyu brisket is served with large lettuce leaves for wrapping the meat and its dressings, all artfully displayed on a cross-cut wood stump. The array includes pickled cucumbers and red onions, shiso and cilantro herbs, and three small glass beakers of thin bbq sauce, ranging from sweet and smoky to an orange habanero that should come with a flashing caution sign.
A slab of baby-back ribs, charred and crispy on the outside, was sticky and sweet, served with fresh cilantro and lime. Korean fried chicken is pleasingly crunchy on the outside. Our breast meat came out slightly dry, but the butter-braised chicory underneath softened the blow. A small nest of julienned seaweed on top was a nice touch; however, the dish was drowning in a deep, overwhelming pool of spicy kimchi yogurt sauce.
Not to be ignored from the seafood side, the Florida red snapper, soaked in brown butter and white miso with a slightly charred exterior, melted on the tongue. We only wish the filet had been larger because it disappeared quickly.
Four creative desserts add exclamation marks to the meal. Must-try status goes to the coconut cake with four cream-cheese separated layers, served with a small scoop of coconut ice cream on top of toasted coconut flakes. The dark chocolate s’mores cake with a toasted marshmallow topping is also paired with a brilliant ice cream combo: a scoop of banana-bourbon resting in a crunchy cradle of brown sugar and graham cracker crumbs.
Many of the best dinner entrees are repeated for lunch and a Sunday brunch, which also features sublime crispy banana-bourbon French toast and Eggs Benedict on a buttermilk biscuit with yuzu hollandaise and your choice of meats or crunchy, nam prik kale.
Pick the kale. It kills it.
Critics dine anonymously at the Miami Herald’s expense. Follow Jodi Mailander Farrell on Twitter: @JodiMailander.