There's a new Asian restaurant on South Beach that you don't know about yet. For just over a week now, Lantao Kitchen + Cocktails has been up, running, and serving a menu of gansig (snacks), bo ling (noodle bowls), shala (salads) zhuban (entrees), shuanfang (sides) -- and "British 'Pub' snacks (burgers, hot dogs, fish & chips). The executive chef is Ferdinand Ortiz Jr., who last headed up the kitchen at the Clevelander (but who worked a long time in Asian restaurants before that). After sampling quite a few dishes here I think we may have to start giving chef Ortiz his due.
The address is The Surfcomber at 1717 Collins Avenue, but if you walk through the door at that address, which says "Lantao," and note the dining tables outside and sleek bar and folks sitting around eating Asian snacks, and you assume you are in the restaurant, you will be wrong. And nobody will bother telling you that this is the Lantao "cocktail lounge"; Lantao restaurant, with no signage, is at the back end, beyond the pool; you won't see if from the hotel lobby. Note to Surfcomber management: You've gotta fix this or you'll lose a lot of business.
But back to the food:
Had some green papaya salad with slices of pork belly arranged on top -- not a traditional Thai match, but the fatty meat pairs well with the spicy salad ingredients -- jicama, celery root, carrot, daikon, chayote, mint and basil ($11). A blue crab spring roll ($2) is cleanly, crisply fried; the banh mi sandwich ($8) is delicious, though more in the manner of a great beef/pork sandwich with vinegared vegetables on baguette -- no pate or mint were present, and "spicy mayo" was not spicy.
Best bang for buck on menu (and a great deal anywhere) are four big, meaty BBQ pork ribs, slip-off-the-bone tender, juicy, jazzed with Korean barbecue glaze, sprinkled with chopped peanuts and scallions: $6 (10 pieces for $12).
We skipped main plates this visit (grilled chicken; grilled pork loin chop; and the only one that tempted, Singapore chili prawns and crispy kale -- another bargain at $15 or $21 for a larger plate.
This is the Lantao lounge -- not the restaurant.
Street noodles in spicy coconut broth ($11) came steaming in a large bowl chockablock with chicken, baby shrimp, mushrooms, water chestnuts, crisped shallots, and lots of ramen-like noodles. If you see this bowl and all that's in it for $11, and then take a look at a piddly cocktail served here for $12, it will make you want to stop drinking piddly cocktails.
Grab a Singha beer instead for $6. It goes better with this food anyway.
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So there you have it: New. Asian. Affordable. South Beach.
And you can be the first on your block to know about it.