Ralph Pagano is getting Naked again. The celebrity chef's Naked Tiki, the third in his Naked restaurant series, opens today, February 11, at the Stiles Hotel (1120 Collins Ave., Miami Beach). Pagano is also chef/owner of Naked Taco — a taco and tequila concept at the Dream South Beach hotel — and Naked Lunch, a classic deli/coffee shop at the University of Miami Life Science & Technology Park.
This time, Pagano is paying tribute to tiki culture with a multilevel restaurant/bar/lounge. The chef says this spot is the culmination of a lifetime love of tiki culture instilled in him at an early age from an unlikely source: Disney. "My lifelong love affair started when I was a kid and my family visited the Disney Polynesian Resort. I never saw anything like it."
As Pagano grew up, he expanded to more adult passions. "I have a borderline obsession with rum and tropical drinks. I've taken basically all that I love and put it under one roof."
Naked Tiki consists of the main Coconut Room, the Bamboo Lounge (named lovingly after the retro Polynesian bar in the classic movie Goodfellas), the Shark Bar, and the patio facing Collins Ave. The restaurant also features a lanai area where you can enjoy your drinks outside. The restaurant's working title was Naked Burger, but as construction went on, Pagano decided to go all in on his Hawaii-meets-Miami Beach fantasy.
All of Naked Tiki's rooms and lounges are decorated in what Pagano calls "elegant tiki." There's a distinct vacation vibe to the setting — tiki gods greet you at the entrance. Inside the Coconut Room, vintage photos of pinup icon Bettie Page posing on Miami Beach share wall space with surfboards and tiki memorabilia. Pagano says he wants tourists and locals alike to feel like they're on an island getaway — at least for a few hours. "This is a fun, groovy spot. It's escapism at its best."
As with Naked Taco, just across the street at the Dream Hotel, Pagano is less concerned about authenticity in the cuisine than the quality and fun factor. The menu at Naked Tiki, what the chef calls "vacation cuisine," features classics such as bang bang rice ($25) made with lobster, steak, and shrimp; dumplings (fried or steamed, $10 each portion) filled with chicken, pork and ginger, shrimp, or lobster and chive (additional $4); crab rangoon ($12); and bacon-wrapped rumaki ($14). There's even a pu pu platter — a classic shared dish that features a mountain of chicken wings, barbecued spare ribs, tuna poke, crab rangoon, and steak negimaki surrounding a flaming pot for heating your goodies ($25).
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Of course, if you're doing a tiki concept, you'd better throw down some killer drinks. Head bartender Alex Von Tiki has curated a collection of classic and new libations. The Barrel of Monkeys, a play on the classic painkiller, comes in three strengths: I ($13), II ($21), and III ($29). The BBC ($16), a Baileys banana colada, is a cocktail made famous at Montauk's The End bar, and a #88 is a tequila-based drink made with orgeat, orange curaçao, and lime. The showstopper is the flaming scorpion bowl ($36). The now-famous drink, which got its start in Honolulu in the 1930s and has been served everywhere from Trader Vic's to "seedy Chinese joints around the world," serves two to four drinkers.
Pagano says that while tiki drinks are playful and colorful, they're really both a slice of Americana and a nod to serious cocktail culture. "Here's the thing. Tiki bars were really the first true American craft cocktail bars." Indeed, the cocktails invented by tiki masters Victor Jules Bergeron (AKA Trader Vic) and Don the Beachcomber are strong, well-balanced classics that have stood the test of time.
Naked Tiki opens today at 11 a.m. and is open for lunch and dinner from 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to midnight Friday and Saturday. Today, February 11, mention Miami New Times and you'll get two-for-one drinks.