Things are about to change for people who lament the lack of authentic Chinese cuisine in Miami. Da Tang Unique is set to open in early December in the north tower of the Four Ambassadors complex (801 Brickell Bay Dr. in the north tower). Restaurant founder Shan-Jie Li says his place will bring "an authentic representation of modern China, featuring a wide range of traditional Chinese dishes from the many distinctive regional cuisines of China."
Li's name might be familiar to those who read the business section of the newspaper. Li is the chief executive officer of American Da Tang Group Co. Ltd., which purchased a 2.4-acre site at 1430 S. Miami Ave. for $74.7 million in December 2015. According to the Miami Herald, Li has a plan to make Miami "a hospitable city for Chinese travelers and investors."
According to Stephanie Cheung, manager at Da Tang Unique, Li's goal for the restaurant is to create an authentic slice of China in Miami, with the dual purpose of having Miamians sample true Chinese cuisine and creating a place for his clients and colleagues to feel at home. As Cheung puts it: "Every weekend, I have to drive over to Sunrise or Pembroke Pines to get a little piece of home. Now I'll be able to walk to get the same experience."
The restaurant will feature recipes dating back 5,000 years and featuring foods eaten during the Tang Dynasty. Many of the recipes were served to royalty. Most of the dishes have stories attached to them that are centuries old, like the tale of the beggar's chicken, a bird wrapped in lotus leaves and cooked over a small fire for three hours. "The chicken tells the story of a king who, upon being carried from his carriage, smelled something wonderful. It was the delicious scent of food," Cheung says. "He was taken to a village where farmers were cooking this simple peasant dish of chicken. He was so enamored with it that he made it the national dish. Everything has such a great story behind it." Each dish will come with a little card that explains its origins.
Most of the dishes will be interpreted for a more modern palate. Cheung says, "We hired a top chef from Beijing who has been cooking for 30 years. He's going to adapt these recipes slightly for Miami's standards." Foods will be inspired more from the Canton region, with some influences from Beijing.
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In addition to serving dinner, Da Tang Unique will offer weekend dim sum and weekday lunch specials. There will also be tea. "Part of the dining experience in China has to do with tea," Cheung explains. "In China, tea is like wine. We drink different teas with different foods. For instance, we order green tea with seafood because we believe the tea will wash away the fish aroma. Black tea goes with meat because it helps with digestion." Teas at Da Tang will range from everyday varieties to rare selections. "I have some teas that are so precious I don't know if I should insure then," she says.
Also unique to the restaurant are cocktails containing baijiu, a spirit made with fermented sorghum. "This is a drink once only available to emperors, but now it's very popular." Cheung says it's like grappa, with a perfume-like soy scent. "It's very delicate and wonderful. It has character."
Diners will also be immersed in Chinese culture at Da Tang Unique. The restaurant plans to offer entertainment such as Chinese music performances and opera. There's also a Zen area with a prominent Buddha statue for a moment of tranquility in our increasingly busy city.