Salon Canton Restaurant makes Chinese food by way of Venezuela in Miami Beach and Doral

Chef Bobby Acon at Salon Canton in Miami Beach. Photos by Linda Bladholm for the Miami Herald.

Chinese people adapt to the flavors of the countries they immigrate to while bringing their palate for stir-fries to wherever they go. 

In the ’60s and ’70s, many Chinese left Canton in southern China for Hong Kong to escape the communist regime. Many of them wound up in Venezuela to open grocery stores and restaurants that served fried rice, lo mein noodles, spring rolls and roast duck. In recent years, the decline of the Venezuelan economy has brought many Venezuelan Chinese to Miami to seek a better life.

Bobby Acon’s parents left China for Costa Rica in the ’50s, and after 20 years there they moved to Caracas and opened Chinese restaurants. 

The family brought its Salon Canton Restaurant to Doral (9668 NW 25th St.) last year, and about two months ago they opened a second location on 71st Street in Miami Beach. Salon Canton on the beach is a small, no-frills place with red- and white-patterned wall panels and a communal roundtable. 

Acon will likely come out of the kitchen to say hello. He grew up in his family’s restaurants in Costa Rica, Panama and Venezuela, where Salon has a dozen locations. As he says, “Venezuelan food is not mainstream like burgers and tacos,” so his restaurant caters mostly to homesick Venezuelans and curious Americans.

Start with barbecue pork spare ribs marinated for 24 hours in a mixture of soy sauce, mustard, peanut butter, brown sugar and tomato paste, then roasted until slightly charred and crispy at the edges, good for gnawing with your teeth. 

Or try lettuce wraps in a cup of iceberg with stir-fried duck, water chestnuts, sesame seeds and crunchy carrots and celery. There’s also Kowloon-style fried rice with shrimp and scrambled egg bits, named for the mainland of northern Hong Kong. Or, for a sort of hot salad, get the fried rice with pork and shrimp or beef with lettuce and peas. 

Singapore-style rice vermicelli is tossed with shrimp and pork in curry sauce tinted yellow from turmeric. Pan-fried egg noodles are good for slurping with a choice of chicken, shrimp, pork or beef. 

Entrees include salt-and-pepper pork chops; Mongolian chile and garlic beef; Peking duck served two ways — wrapped in paper-thin crepes and sautéed with vegetables. 

There’s also pungent Sichuan-style shrimp, beef or chicken from southwestern China with the heat coming from the lemony and slightly lip-numbing ground powder of hua jiao, also known as prickly ash or Chinese coriander. 

Another classic served here is mapo tofu with ground beef “pocking” the bean curd, according to the legend of a Ma Po in Sichuan who first cooked the dish and had a pock-marked face. Pak cheng is an herbal soup made with eight treasures (the herbs) with chicken and vegetables that is said to be a type of Viagra for both men and women and is also believed to increase blood circulation. 

Not trying to boost your libido? Get the cream of corn and chicken or wonton soup. Or order by your choice of sauce from ginger and scallion; honey and garlic; curry; black bean or sweet and sour with a protein of choice or the Buddha (vegetables). 

There’s no dessert, but you can always go next door to Rouge French and Moroccan for a chocolate and Nutella soufflé or vanilla creme brulee to round out your global dining adventure.

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