Follow your nose to No Name Chinese. There is no sign marking the restaurant that Uvaggio Wine Bar owners Heath Porter and Craig DeWald opened in late May near South Miami's Sunset Place. Instead, as you wander away from the teen-thronged shopping complex, the air fills with the scent of oyster sauce and beef. It's an unmistakable comfort, a reminder of the delights that once waited in a grease-stained box of takeout after a long day of work or a night out.
Soon, the source is clear: a white stucco and beige stone building that looks as if it might house a salon. Yet once the heavy glass doors swing open, it's obvious this is the place. There's the tinny thwack of metal spatulas against woks followed by the throaty hiss of flames streaming from burners. A maze of copper pipes running along the ceiling holds tiny light filaments inserted into test tube-size cylinders. A chalkboard filled with a map of Hong Kong and its surroundings hangs on a brick wall adjacent to an open kitchen. Overturned baskets double as ceiling and wall decorations.
In this 70-seater, the fun comes in how the kitchen, led by Pablo Zitzmann, balances the heady delights of takeout Chinese with clever ingredients and techniques that turn even predictable dishes like beef and broccoli ($19) into something to be devoured.
Such a place might seem unusual from a pair best known for serving unusual wines on Miracle Mile. But before he came to Miami, Porter was a fixture on the shores of Hawaii, where he ran high-end restaurants for 14 years before making the long haul to the mainland. Uvaggio opened in early 2014.
Yet when Porter, DeWald, and their partners started toying with the idea of opening what they called "fresh Chinese," it seemed to be the culmination of Porter's career. "People don't realize it, but Hawaii has some incredible Chinese restaurants, real grande dames," he says. "On the beverage side, everyone said you can't put wine or booze with Chinese food, and I said, 'To hell with that, sure I can.'"
Hence the wine list here is filled with bold varietals that are plush and dry enough to balance out the menu's fatty, spicy, and salty tendencies. There's red zinfandel by the glass, something Porter says he hasn't sold in years, along with Turkish rosé and a white from the Canary Islands.
The menu is split into five sections with three — appetizers, salads, and dim sum — that are starters. The remaining two — "old school classics" and house specialties — include entrées meant for sharing. Most of this is Chinese food, after all.
Begin with dim sum, particularly Mr. Lee's jiaozi ($14); the recipe comes from a famed Hawaii dumpling master who showed Zitzmann how to roll and twist unbelievably thin skins. They're filled with a glossy combination of pork shoulder plumped up with shredded cabbage, then perfumed with garlic and ginger. The pleated crescents are crisped up in a pan like Japanese gyoza, creating a smart contrast to the silky filling.
The angry dumpling was supposed to be the restaurant's name before an impasse among owners yielded its odd title. The dish itself ($15), says Zitzmann, is a "crunchy garlic bomb" of dried miso paste, crispy garlic and shallots, and annatto seeds with ground chicken thigh and breast, Fresno chilies, chives, fermented chili paste, ginger, and garlic. It's all stuffed inside puffed-up, pleated orbs. In some instances, the dumplings' skins are extremely thin, though they still manage to contain an airy, fragrant filling that's rich and plentiful without becoming tough or rubbery.
The classic, open-faced dumplings called siu mai include a similarly tender filling, this time made with sweet Dungeness crab and pink shrimp ground into a fine paste that, when steamed, fluffs up like a luxurious soufflé. In one I tried, though, fibrous bits of bamboo shoot couldn't be chewed (no matter how hard I tried) and had to be spit out.
From here. the meal rolled on flawlessly. Inspired by the overflow of produce he found while wandering a Hong Kong street market, Zitzmann turns tomatoes from Davie's Sun Fresh Farms into a barely sweet, nostril-cleansing salad ($12) with hefty doses of ginger, scallions, chili garlic oil, and fresh grated horseradish.
Later, classic dim sum's turnip cakes ($9) — starchy rectangles made of daikon radish pumped up with the umami of soy and a dehydrated konbu and mushroom powder — are combined with the Japanese izakaya staple called okonomiyaki. Once this is pan-crisped, the kitchen layers on shiitake mushrooms, the musty Chinese sausage lap cheong, a daub of sweet soy, and a ticker-tape parade of shaved, preserved tuna loin. It's a challenge not to claim all of this salty, savory goodness for yourself.
Beef and broccoli is legitimized with the Chinese green called gai lan, which boasts the same sweet florets as the more common variety with a more delicate stem and a nuanced, earthy flavor. The Black Angus beef is sliced thin and marinated in a blend of brown sugar, soy and oyster sauces, and baking soda in a technique called velveting that can turn bits of leathery meat into tender morsels. In this case, the beef becomes as supple as wagyu and is finished in a wok with soy, piquant black Chinkiang vinegar, and oyster sauce to conjure the final product that's sour and sweet with no hint of heaviness.
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The duck dish ($14) swaps the whole bird for just the breast, which is rendered until crisp. Slices are served in chewy moo shu pancakes that can include anything from pickled tomatoes or cucumbers to pickled cherries, onion, and shredded leeks. A dash of the house-made cherry hoisin, a vast improvement on the cloying stuff that often comes out of the bottle, adds fruitiness.
There's a similar nuance lingering in dessert. The kitchen combines the Cantonese walnut cookie and egg-custard tart ($10) into one. The result is reminiscent of pecan pie. Tiny cubes of compressed Asian pear lend an air of light refreshment. Combined with the surrounding globes of marshmallow fluff speckled with Chinese five spice powder, the otherwise straightforward dessert is transported into the ether. The combination of Sichuan peppercorns, star anise, cinnamon, cloves, and fennel adds a deep, earthy complexity to the sweet, eggy filling. It pushes the walnuts' hidden, flowery flavors to the foreground.
Where will Porter, Zitzmann, and the No Name go from here? Zitzmann says the kitchen is working on noodle and lamb dishes while also preparing to add Vietnamese fare to the menu. However it pans out, Porter will be on hand with a cleverly source bottle of wine to shorten the wait.
No Name Chinese. 7400 SW 57th Ct., South Miami; 786-577-0734; nonamechinese.com. Wednesday through Monday 5:30 to 10 p.m., Friday and Saturday 5:30 to 11 p.m.