Cheap Eats

Soi Chinese Kitchen: Duck Buns, Short-Rib Dumplings, and a Chinese Prayer

Imagine you want to open a Chinese restaurant.

The idea is to take standard, Americanized Chinese food; add a few epicurean ingredients like foie gras, pork belly (a Chinese favorite for centuries), and yuzu; and offer it all in a graffiti-covered, mostly take-away building that straddles Wynwood, Overtown, and the Health District.

You'll also want to boast about not using MSG, the flavor-enhancing chemical that's a trademark of our bastardized Chinese food and a source of endless debate. You'll definitely want to use Juan Rochaix and Elke Zabinski's Seriously Organic produce to fill those classic white take-out boxes.

Your only problem would be that Oscar Ferreira, the owner of Soï Chinese Kitchen, might have you served with a lawsuit for ripping off his concept.

Like the restaurant's location, Soï's fare straddles the utility Chinese take-out and the trendy Asian food found at places such as Amir Ben-Zion's Gigi.

Duck buns ($9) were flavorful and avoided the chewy texture and gamey flavor from undercooking. Unfortunately, they also lacked the foie gras promised on the menu. A $7.99 lunch special featured Soï's chow fun -- fettuccine-width noodles wok-fried in a soy ginger sauce with mixed vegetables. It came with a half-dozen passable dumplings filled with 48-hour braised short rib that was tender but woefully underseasoned. The version filled with kimchee was better, with a good balance of the fermented cabbage's spice and funk.

Ferreira, whose background is in marketing and web development, recently moved back to Miami after three years in San Francisco, where he says he developed a deep appreciation for Asian cuisine.

Upon returning, he says, he had a rough time finding good Chinese.

"I would always want to order delivery," he says, "but it was just very standard: frozen deep-fried egg rolls and MSG-filled fried rice."

When Ferreira decided to open a restaurant, his uncle, who owns the Chinese restaurant Mekong in Kendall, helped. One of Soï's three chefs, Erick Lluong, came from there.

The other two are Angel Vergara and Isramil Almonte, formerly of Micah Edelstein's Nemesis Urban Bistro.

The team is onto something. Soï is a good-looking place with an attractive menu. Plus there's a dearth of good Chinese food beyond the cluster of restaurants and markets along 163rd Street in North Miami Beach. The thousands of people moving to the city's center will no doubt have an appetite for more than deep-fried, pre-frozen egg rolls.

Ferreira has set the bar high for himself and his team. Chinese-food lovers all over town should hope these guys clear it.

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