The goods: The culinary colonization of Midtown continues with Gigi, a slick Asian diner in the up and coming area south of the Design District. This stylish eatery is the latest from restaurateur Amir Ben-Zion, who also owns Sra. Martinez, The Townhouse Hotel and Bond St. Lounge. He's opened this spot next to his music lounge/speakeasy Bardot, making it an ideal spot for dinner before or after catching a live band next door (the actress Juliette Lewis and her band were seen dining there on opening night before their gig at Bardot). Ben-Zion calls the spot a culinary laboratory for good food at a good value. "Now we're focusing on Asian food but a year from now it could be something else," he said. "We could be doing food of the American Heartland. We are not tied to one specific cuisine. Gigi is a woman of the world!" So far it seems to be attracting a Miami-specific mix of scruffy hipsters, dapper art collectors and young urban professionals who populate the condos nearby.
Ambience: The space is casual yet polished: floor-to-ceiling windows frame street views of North Miami Avenue, while a scuffed wood bar flanks an open kitchen that runs the length of most of the restaurant, offering plenty of dinner theater. There are communal counters where you can rub elbows with other diners while slurping steaming bowls of ramen or you can opt for a spot in the airy dining room where graffiti art adorns the walls.
The grub: Modern Asian cuisine by chef Jeff McInnis, who helmed a Mediterranean restaurant at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach and competed on Season Five of Top Chef. Prices are surprisingly low: starters are $3-$12, larger plates average $14 and draft beer like Sapporo is $3 a glass. Everything is assertively seasoned and generously portioned. There's plenty of seasonal produce on the menu as McInnis draws on his relationship with organic purveyor Paradise Farms and other sustainable sources.
Start off with a small plate of crispy chicken skins, their richness balanced by an Asian take on romanesco sauce. The Gigi buns are two steamed bread pockets stuffed with pulled chicken, roasted pork or shiitake mushrooms. The curry duck leg is a hearty bowl of braised meat over an edamame-flecked coconut risotto while the steak chow fun is a massive bowl of wok-fried beef over thick noodles in a cabbage broth. Lighter plates from the raw bar include a Florida snapper over sweet potato puree and a tuna and avocado roll wrapped in cucumber. Desserts, made in-house, include homey staples like peach pie and banana cream pie plus chocolate sesame soft serve.
Verdict: A stylish Asian food bar with barbecue and noodles for Midtown scenesters.