In July, chef Alex Chang departed from Vagabond Restaurant & Bar, and the restaurant rebranded itself as Vagabond Kitchen & Bar. Chang went on to consult at River Yacht Club for its rotating chef program.
Now the driven 27-year-old is already working on a new project, and he gave Miami a sneak peek last week. Chang is returning to California to work on a new concept called Chinoko. At this point, Chang says, the restaurant is nothing more than a vision. “Chinoko is just an idea at this point. It's an idea that I would love to evolve into a restaurant. The idea is to use the format and structure of an izakaya with my flavors.”
An izakaya is a type of informal Japanese gastropub, and during his tenure at Vagabond, Chang introduced several of his takes on traditional izakaya and yakitori dishes, such as his tsukune sandwich, basically a chicken-meatball sub.
Chang, known for his creativity, recently previewed the concept at the Fooq's and Friends dinner series at Fooq's in downtown Miami. Fooq’s owner David Foulquier says of the evening: “When I saw Chinoko popping up in L.A., it was a no-brainer to have him cook.”
The izakaya-themed dinner was inspired by Chang’s Chinese, Japanese, and Mexican upbringing. Dishes were served family-style and paired with beverages chosen by Foulquier. Dishes included a tostada topped with mackerel, a lime-and-tomato-based salsa campechano, and avocado.
Chang then served a fig dengaku. Denaku is a Japanese cooking method that involves miso-glazing and grilling, followed by salt-and-pepper shrimp with corn-battered heads.
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Other dishes included a grilled chicken with leeks, lovage, rhubarb, and shiso and a potato salad made with German butterball potatoes from a Los Angeles farmers' market.
Chang, who grew up in Southern California, says he still loves Miami. And even though he's returning to his roots to fully realize his Chinoko concept, he says not to discount his return to South Florida at some point. “I think it is a really special place. There are so many things that are strictly unique to it that can’t really be compared to other places in America. It all just depends on timing and opportunity. But I love the idea of doing something in Miami.”
With Chang planning a restaurant and the Broken Shaker opening a Los Angeles outpost at the Freehand, it could be time to make plans for a West Coast vacation.