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Floridian fugu
Floridian fugu
Photo by Juan Fernando Ayora / Courtesy of Kaido

Kaido and Secret Bar Ama Elevate the Humble Crab Rangoon and Pickleback

Kaido, the Design District cocktail lounge by chef Bradley Kilgore and mixologist Nico de Soto, opened in early December amid the back-to-back craziness that was Miami Art Week and the holiday season.

Now that the dust has settled, it's time to visit this lush den of food and drinks. Yes, the menu is filled with decadent items you would expect in a lounge situated above a Gucci boutique, such as grilled foie gras ($23) and Wagyu tataki ($95); however, it's Kilgore's take on old-school favorites that shine. Guilty pleasures, usually found in strip-mall restaurants and street-vendor stalls, are made elegant in the hands of Kilgore. New Times was invited to sample some bites and cocktails.

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Kaido and Secret Bar Ama Elevate the Humble Crab Rangoon and Pickleback (2)
Photo by Juan Fernando Ayora / Courtesy of Kaido

The uni fondue ($36), under the "issho-ni" ("together" in Japanese) section of the menu, might very well turn out to be Kilgore's signature dish.

Fondue, which most people associate with mall chains, has gotten a bad rap. But there's something about skewering a piece of bread and dipping it into a warm bowl of cheese that's the ultimate form of comfort. Kilgore, who calls his rendition "both nostalgic and modern," presents his blend of cheese and creamy uni in a sea-urchin-shaped bowl along with smaller dishes of vegetables, tiny bao buns, and assorted bits of shrimp, scallops, and calamari. Skip the caviar (an additional $20) — the dish is flavorful enough — and use that money for an additional item.

Kaido and Secret Bar Ama Elevate the Humble Crab Rangoon and Pickleback
Photo by Juan Fernando Ayora / Courtesy of Kaido

Crab rangoon is usually the dish your parents order as a starter to their chop suey at the restaurant they've been patronizing for the past 30 years. In Kilgore's expert hands, the humble puff of crab and cream cheese is made decadent by a crab-and-scallion mousse ($21). The dish is served with a creamy version of classic hot mustard and sweet chili sauce.

In the same vein, Kaido's dumplings are filled with Ibérico pork and shrimp ($17) instead of the usual ground meat, and the corn elote is topped with crème fraîche and dusted with miso powder ($13). Kilgore also turns the scourge of Florida's waters — the lionfish — into delicate sashimi, dubbed "Floridian fugu" ($27).

Kaido and Secret Bar Ama Elevate the Humble Crab Rangoon and Pickleback (3)
Photo by Juan Fernando Ayora / Courtesy of Kaido

Perhaps the most surprising twist is Kaido's take on a pickleback. The drink, usually downed in Brooklyn dive bars as a precursor to a long night of imbibing cheap beer and booze, is basically a shot of whiskey (usually Jameson) followed by a shot of pickle juice. Here, Nico de Soto chases Japanese whisky with chilled shiitake broth. The salty broth is much richer and more complex than a glass of brine, but the drink is still the perfect way to begin (or end) your evening.

By the way, be sure to make reservations for Ama, the little hidden bar inside Kaido. You won't find it without help, and even when you are escorted into a room, it's a secret. You won't find pictures of Ama online because guests are instructed to refrain from taking photos and using social media in the bar. That means you'll have to enjoy the company of friends and savor the food and drinks without your phone in your hand. What a novel concept.

Kaido and Ama. 151 NE 41st St., #217, Miami; 786-409-5591; kaidomiami.com.

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