The eatery by Piyarat Potha Arreeratn, known to most of Miami as Chef Bee, was first announced about two years ago, but delays, including the massive street closures and construction in the Miami Beach neighborhood, kept popping up. Now the restaurant is on a forward track, with both front- and back-of-house staff training for opening night.
Chef Bee's Oishi Thai in North Miami has been open for about decade, but the chef rose to local fame at Khong River House. The chef helped open Khong in December 2012 but left about six months later. Bee plans to spend most of his time at NaiYaRa, at least in the beginning, and then will divide his time between the two restaurants.
The windows are still papered up, but inside awaits an inviting mixture of industrial metal and warm wood. Pictures of Bee's family and Thai royalty grace the walls.
The restaurant's elephant mascot is represented front and center in a hand-drawn mural alongside the bar. Miami artist Danny "Krave" Fila designed the peaceful pachyderm and did most of the restaurant's artwork, combining old Thai movie posters with stenciling.
The focal point of the room is the massive open kitchen. To put it into perspective, Chef Bee says the back of house takes up nearly 2,000 square feet of the restaurant's 3,400 square feet. He says that not only is this his dream kitchen, but also the size actually helps him in his efforts to be more efficient. "As a chef, I've worked in tight kitchens, and they're not functional. With this kitchen, everyone has space, so I'm positive food can be prepared faster," he says. The chef also plans to conduct cooking classes in the large, sparkling kitchen.
Chef Bee is trying to bring as much of his native Thailand to Miami as possible, down to the plates and bowls, many of which are enamel-coated metal. The chef explains that where he grew up, in the countryside along the Mekong river, plates that could break were a luxury. Instead, farming families would use metal plates and pots that also served double duty as containers. "These were our Tupperware," he says.
Over the weekend, the kitchen was fired up, with Bee and his staff testing recipes for front-of-the-house staff, who taste-tested each dish and discussed the flavors in a group setting.
Vietnamese prawns ($30) are lightly fried head-on with scallions, shallots, Thai chili, and five spices.
NaiYaRa will also feature a cocktail menu by bar manager Tibor Vecsesi. A dozen new cocktails include Tom Kha (coconut milk, lemongrass, ginger, palm sugar, galangal, shrimp paste, and Thai-chili-infused Black Grouse blended Scotch whisky, $16); Jerky NYC (jerky-infused Redemption rye, Cocchi Torino, and Hella smoked chili bitters $16); Tom Yum Killer Bee (Thai chili, kefir lime leaf, lemongrass infused syrup, Plymouth gin, Kelvin organic lemon, and spicy ginger $12); and Phraya Good Time (Phraya Thai rum, tamarind drinking vinegar, Barrows intense ginger liqueur, and a salted tamarind garnish $14).
When NaiYaRa opens, probably in mid-November, it will initially serve dinner seven days a week, with a weekend late-night menu. Lunch will soon follow.