When chef Joshua Marcus opened Chow Down Grill in Surfside about a year ago, people marveled at two things: the size of the restaurant (small) and the size of the flavor (large).
And when Marcus announced he was opening a second Chow Down Grill in South Beach, at a former laundromat, we got excited. When he announced the South Beach location would be open until 5 a.m. daily, we were elated. That meant that after-hours cravings, which were usually only sated by the surprisingly small choice of late-serving restaurants like Jerry's Famous Deli and Maxine's Bistro, could be sated with freshly-made dumplings, lo-mein, and fried rice.
We recently had dinner at Chow Down Grill's new SoBe digs and sat down for a quick chat with chef Marcus. When asked what made him renovate a former laundromat into a restaurant, he said he got a good deal on the space. Also, it allowed him to create his kitchen from scratch, to his specifications.
Marcus pointed out that, like the original Chow Down, five of the six sauces offered (soy, duck, hot mustard, peanut, sriracha, and hoisin) are house-made (the sriracha being the only sauce brought in because it's "perfect as it is"). The food is also the same, meaning Chinatown-inspired healthy dishes that contain no added sugar, MSG or corn starch. Ingredients are also sourced as locally as possible.
The meal was light and fresh, accompanied by a crisp Chardonnay. The only disappointment was the lack of a wine or beer list, because had we been made aware of some of the interesting ales available, we would have chosen them to pair with our food.
Fried shrimp wontons ($6.95) were served with a red chili sauce. They managed to be everything you want but can't normally get in a fried dish - crispy, flavorful, and not greasy. The chili sauce had the right amount of heat (spicy!!!). The faint of heart can opt for the wontons with a less bold peanut sauce. Poultry fans can choose chicken wontons, as well.
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Vegetable dumplings ($6.95) , wrapped in beet dumpling wrappers, resembled little kidneys. Filled with carrot and soy beans, they were a great vegan snack.
Chicken chow fun ($11.95) with onion, Orientak kale, pepper, garlic, and ginger were mild and flavorful. Chow fun can be doughy because of the size of the noodles, but these were light. Not a fan of chicken? Opt for pork, shrimp, beef, vegetable, wild mushroom, tofu or XO sauce instead.
Sauteed shrimp with spicy Szechuan sauce ($16.95) were served with white asparagus, peppers and almonds. The spiciest dish on the menu, it didn't disappoint with the heat, though not enough to overpower the delicate shrimp and asparagus. If you're not a fan of spice, try the shrimp (or any other protein) prepared with one of Chow Down's other sauces including Mongolian bbq, sweet and sour, garlic-herb, orange chili, spicy green curry, or black bean.