This week, a new restaurant seemingly straight out of Alice in Wonderland opened its doors at 23rd Street and Collins Avenue in Miami Beach. At Mandrake, sushi and sake are served inside a whimsical-looking dining room and garden patio, illuminated in fuchsia-colored lights and anchored by a life-size golden gorilla statue.
If you've dined at Kiki on the River in downtown Miami, you're probably familiar with Mandrake's owners, nightlife veterans Roman Jones and Aris Nanos, and designer Mark Lehmkuhl. The three, who also own the Greek restaurant on the Miami River, have had their eye on Mandrake's location for years. When
"The layout is unique, and the grand dining room and courtyard are magical," Jones says. "We have been working fast and furiously over the past several months to create a really special interior and to develop a crave-able menu that makes sense for the market."
Complete with a sushi bar and a lineup of izakaya-style plates, Mandrake features sashimi, nigiri, and maki rolls prepared by executive chef Jimmy Gallagher, who most recently helmed Chotto Matte on Lincoln Road.
Other menu items include shrimp and scallop wontons steamed in chili broth, duck gyozas, slow-cooked pork belly, pan-seared chicken in a ginger soy sauce, and sweet and sour whole fish tempura. Cocktails feature cheeky hip-hop-inspired names, including the Meek Dills, a vodka-based drink with lychee liquor, dill, and lime. Items range from $10 to $30.
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"Some locals may remember we earned our stripes with Asian cuisine," Jones says. "During our Opium Garden days, we had a rock-and-roll sushi spot called Opium in South of Fifth, and our friends actually still ask about it. Of course, the market and customers' tastes have changed since the early 2000s. Mandrake is a different concept, but we always held a candle for Asian cuisine and we were lucky to connect with chef Jimmy Gallagher, who has helmed the kitchens of many esteemed Asian eateries like Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar and Chotto Matte."
Hidden behind velvet drapes, Mandrake's dining room features numerous tables with a large bar, as well as an oversized faux rhino head sculpture with the phrase "Me So Horny." In addition to serving dinner, Mandrake hopes to position itself as an upbeat evening lounge with small bites and Asian-inspired cocktails.
"There are so many incredible Asian spots in Miami and we see their success as a testament to the enduring popularity of the cuisine," Jones says. "That said, we approach food and design a bit differently. We encourage our chefs to exercise their creative license. I also tapped my partner Mark Lehmkuhl, who designed Kiki on the River, to create an innovative space. He always pushes the envelope to make the vibe sexy and exciting. We're all about a lively atmosphere and a good party."
Mandrake. 210 23rd St., Miami Beach; 305-397-8036; mandrakemiami.com. Dinner is served Monday through Saturday 6 p.m. to midnight.