First Bites

NIU Kitchen: Playful Catalan Cuisine in Downtown Miami

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Inside, the space is long and narrow, the interior rustic and stylized with high ceilings and low level lights (look closely and you'll notice books nailed to the ceiling). One wall is covered with found and refurbished wood, the other an oversized chalkboard. At the back overlooking it all is the kitchen, nestled behind a tiny wooden bar.

Co-owners Karina Iglesias, Deme Lomas, and Adam Hughes officially opened NIU Kitchen two weeks ago, relying primarily on word-of-mouth. When asked to describe the menu, Lomas says, "It's Spanish, but at the same time, not really. We don't have any fried food, and most of our dishes are cooked in the oven or grilled."

Choices are printed on a thick menu that lets us know we're "in the heart of downtown Miami" or "between Dali's moustache and Gaudi's Sagrada Familia." Food is sectioned into Per Comencar, "to start with," Per Compartir, "to share," Quelcom Mes, "something else," and the simple, Dolc, or "sweet."

We begin with a twist on a classic: Cold tomato soup ($6). A bowl appears, but instead of soup there's a ball of mustard "ice cream" sprinkled with micro greens. Iglesias holds out a sauce boat and slowly pours in the tomato and basil oil soup. Before she leaves, she explains the inspiration behind NIU.

"I wanted to open a restaurant for my daughter, really," Iglesias said. "And I picked this neighborhood because I thought it would be the next up-and-coming place, and it's much cheaper than Wynwood."

With that she takes a small bow and leaves us to figure out the rest. Bite the ball first and then sip the soup? Bad idea. Taken alone, the mustard overpowers the liquid. After mixing the mustard together with the soup, though, the combination of cold and cool, spicy and sweet, punctuaded with an occasional crunch of croutons, rivals some of the best Spanish gazpachos.

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Dana De Greff