First Bites

Vagabond Restaurant: Jerk Chicken Wings, Iberico Skirt Steak, and Pistachio Cake (Photos)

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Chang's Mexican-Chinese background has led the talented toque to work a myriad of kitchens around the globe. At Vagabond Restaurant, Chang has combined his life experiences in Tokyo and Belgium and at famed Los Angeles eatery Animal and Pujol in Mexico City. "A vagabond is someone who travels the world and is nomadic," he says. "We're trying to incorporate that into the food."

Chang also earned notoriety at the University of Southern California when he and a fellow student ran an underground restaurant on campus that became the subject of Gil Freston's documentary, Paladar. While Vagabond Restaurant is anything but underground, it is Chang and partner/general manager Chris Wang's first solo endeavor, and an exotic one at that. The menu features items like beef heart, grasshoppers, and buttermilk-fried quail.

Polaroid-photo coasters of the staff are one of the many quirky, charming touches at this casual yet stylish 120-seater. While you sink into one of the most comfortable restaurant chairs you've ever experienced, be sure to look up at the hand-drawn constellations connecting the intergalactic light fixtures. If the Jetsons had a favorite restaurant, this would be it.

A full bar offers classic cocktails with a modern twist such as the milk punch (vanilla-and-cinnamon-infused Rittenhouse Rye, lemon, orange, and clarified milk) and East of the Tracks (Tequila Ocho Reposado, smoked pineapple, and Ancho Reyes). Cocktails are priced between $12 and $15.

Despite the restaurant's name, much of the food here is locally sourced. "We're definitely trying to see what Florida is made of," Chang says, "so we're using all local ingredients. There are no apples that grow in Florida, so there will be nothing with apples on the menu." Chang is so serious about the local mantra that he purchased 30 pounds of key limes to freeze for the summer. "Harvest here is backwards than most places, and not a lot of things grow in summer, so we want to prepare now."

As for the menu, it's divided into three sections: small, medium, and large. Diners are encouraged to order all items at once so the meal can be properly served.

Start with the stracciatella ($11). Dressed with leek oil, garnished with watercress, and accompanied by country bread it's a delightful precursor to your meal.

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Carla Torres found her inner gourmand voice while writing for Miami New Times in 2012. She has also worked with Travel & Leisure and Ocean Drive. She balances passions for wine, sweets, yoga, and kayaking.