NaiYaRa isn't even officially open to the public, and already there's a buzz about the place.
The restaurant by Piyarat Potha Arreeratn, known to most of Miami as Chef Bee, opens tomorrow, December 15, but all last week the chef hosted preview dinners with the dining room awash with fellow restaurateurs, media, and friends getting a first taste. Michael Pirolo and Jen Chaefsky of Bazi and Macchialina were seen ordering much of the menu, and Bee's old colleagues Jeff McInnis and Janine Booth were spotted at the bar. McInnis and Booth are planning a seafood concept right around the corner.
Bee first announced the restaurant, located at 1854 Bay Rd. in Miami Beach's Sunset Harbour neighborhood, two years ago. Delays, including major street renovations that had business owners and residents frustrated for over a year, kept the eatery from opening until now. Although the chef kept busy at his family restaurant, Oishi Thai in North Miami, Bee confided that he is more than eager to see diners in his SoBe location. "I can't believe I will actually have people eating my food," he whispered almost in disbelief before rushing back to the massive 2,000-square-foot open kitchen.
The restaurant is decorated in sepia tones with wood and industrial metal features. Miami artist Danny "Krave" Fila designed the restaurant's artwork, which features collages of old Thai posters and an elephant, the restaurant's mascot and namesake, on the far wall near the bar.
On Friday evening, the restaurant had turned into an impromptu party by 7 p.m., with a veritable who's who of the Miami dining scene in attendance. Chefs and bloggers exchanged air kisses over the restaurant's signature Killer Bee cocktail ($12)l, a gin-spiked lemonade slushy spiced with Thai chili peppers. Bar manager Tibor Vecsesi created the cocktail menu that uses teas, spices, and lemongrass as inspiration.
The dinner menu isn't the long, multi-page affair you'll find in so many Thai restaurants, but it's filled with an ample mixture of favorites from Bee's playbook from his tenure at Oishi Thai. Indeed, fans of the chef will find plenty to familiar dishes like his Burmese noodle wraps ($15). Thick noodles are wrapped around Thai chili paste, palm sugar, and peanuts, served with a sweet chili/soy dipping sauce. The dish, popular at Khong River House, is as good as remembered, and pretty much a must do starter.
Although the focus is on Thai food, NaiYaRa also has a good selection of sushi, sashimi, and raw items. Bee explains that he actually prefers to eat healthy fish dishes, which are also popular with his clientele. His goal, he says, is to serve guests seafood comparable in quality to heavy hitters like Nobu and Zuma at more affordable prices. His salmon demon slayer ($16) dish does just that. Delicate morsels of rich buttery salmon is lightly drizzled with a sweet-spicy glaze.I asked the chef why the demon slayer moniker for such a delicate plate and he just said he liked the name.
The most talked about dish is the lychee wrapped truffle white fish ($18) and this is where the chef shines brightest. Silky fish is joined with sweet, flowery lychee, and bathed in truffle oil. There's a lot of flavors going on in each spoon, but somehow it works against all odds to make a playful yet decadent bite.
Sea bass is served in a traditional miso soy glaze, but opt for the fish in a green curry ($24). Again, Bee tones down the heat to a medium pitch so as not to have the spices compete with the nuttiness of the seafood.
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For dessert, Thai doughnuts are shareable but were a little heavy.
Instead, opt for the restaurant's tropical parfait of yellow cake and banana custard, topped with shaved guava ice.
NaiYaRa opens tomorrow, December 15 for dinner. Dining room hours are Monday to Saturday from 6 to 11 p.m. and Sunday from 6 to 10 p.m.