Drunken Dragon — South Beach’s first Korean barbecue restaurant — presents the rare-in-these-parts DIY method of tableside cooking paired with popular Asian-inspired fare courtesy of executive chef Xavier Torres (The Dutch, Nobu). It opens Tuesday, June 17 at 1424 Alton Rd.
The restaurant and late-night cocktail bar is from Foxhole owners Angel Febres and Conrad Gomez, who teamed with Jarred Grant, formerly of KNR Hospitality Group at the W Hotel South Beach, and Navin Chatani for this new venture not far from the ‘hole.
Drunken Dragon, joining the ranks of Gabose in Lauderhill and Shilla Korean BBQ in southwest Miami-Dade, boasts tables with communal grills for guests to roast their intensely flavored ingredients over an energetic flame till 6 a.m. on weekends and 3 a.m. weeknights.
But first, the cocktails: The tiki theme reigns here, and this translates into fanciful drinks brimming with tropical ingredients and exotic aromas. Word to the wise: These handcrafted cocktails are not like their island counterparts most commonly found in tourist traps. An inexperienced bar-goer may be deceived by their cheeriness.
Drunken Dragon’s Mai Tai is a must-try if you dare. It’s a slightly pumped-up version of the iconic tiki recipe from Trader Vic in the late 1940s: Jamaican rum, dry curacao, orgeat (almond syrup) and fresh lime served in a snifter over crushed ice with a rhum agricole float (rum distilled in the French West Indies from fresh sugarcane juice) and a sprig of mint.
To create some drama, reach for the Loca Linda, or “crazy beautiful” in Spanish, which is a combination of Jamaican rum, spiced rum, coffee tequila, orgeat (almond syrup), and pineapple shrub (tart syrup made from fruit, sugar, vinegar) served over crushed ice in a copper tin and topped with a flaming 151-soaked cherry.
One of the most serious (seriously good) drinks on the menu is the eponymous stirred cocktail featuring Nikka 12, yellow Chartreuse, green Chartreuse, Grand Marnier, pomegranate molasses, and served in a coupe with creole bitters and orange zest. The Nikka 12-year-old malt whisky was made by the “father of Japanese Whisky,” Masataka Taketsuru. It’s remarkably smooth and slightly sweet thanks to lush notes of plum jam, rhubarb pie and vanilla ice cream. Add this to the vegetal and herbaceous nature of Chartreuse (liqueur made by French monks) and the Grand Marnier (orange-flavored cognac liqueur), and you have a party.
The exterior of Drunken Dragon, a plain strip mall, is just foreplay for provocative and high-end interior design. The walls of the restaurant are decked with heavy ropes and steamy photography of Japanese bondage. A 300-pound slab of reclaimed Douglas Fir from Oregon is suspended from the ceiling, functioning as a communal table for large groups near the equally striking bar of the same sustainable wood.
At the stylish ondols, or Korean barbecue tables (powered by gas here, not charcoal due to permitting), proteins and sauces include NY Strip (bulgogi); skirt steak (chimichurri); beef tongue (sesame oil, salt, pepper); short rib (galbi); pork belly (ssamjang); chicken (lemon, soy, evoo, salt, pepper); shrimp (Old Bay); along with seasonal vegetables (soy garlic).
If you’re not in the mood for an in-table BBQ experience, there are more than a dozen regular tables where the kitchen will handle the cooking for you. Small plates such as dok boki (rice cakes, sesame, ssamjang, scallion, herbs); salt-roasted beets (hazelnut, blackberry, herbs, miso yogurt); Peking bao (chicken skin, scallion, cucumber, bun, hoisin); and, the D&D kurobuta dog (spicy pork, crispy shallots, herbs, spicy ketchup, pickles) should cover every inch of the surface. From the raw selections, tuna tataki pizza, a cold dish with layers of lightly seared tuna slices on a crispy flour tortilla with cucumber, jalapeno, avocado crema and cilantro, is great for summer as is the fluke with grapefruit, Thai basil (sweet), lime, cashews, and radish.
From the banchan section, the highlights are kimchee made with fermented Napa cabbage (aka Chinese cabbage) and cucumber; the pickled daikon and clear noodles; and Brussels sprouts with sweet soy, peanut and sudachi.
Say what? A guide to Korean BBQ
Bulgogi: most popular variety of Korean BBQ. The meat is marinated with a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, sesame oil, garlic, and pepper before cooking.
Galbi: rib in Korean. Rack of ribs is cut in thin slices across the bones for bite-sized pieces before marinating in a sauce made from Korean pear juice, rice wine, soy sauce, garlic, sesame seed oil and sugar.
Ssamjang: a thick and spicy red paste for meat in a lettuce wrap.
Hoisin: sweet and salty Chinese sauce.
Daikon: Asian white radish.
Banchan: side dishes served in a Korean meal, often with rice or soup.
Sudachi: small, green Japanese citrus. Similar to lime.