Yatai Street Food, chef Leonardo Cascitelli's first restaurant, is inspired by the popular layers of Asian flavors and aromas found at yatai, the Japanese food stalls that dish out fast, filling meals. But the menu also incorporates the authentic street heritage of China and Korea and gives a taste of how these different culinary traditions can blend together.
To set up Yatai, Cascitelli bought a 200-square-foot spot in Upper Buena Vista, joining the cluster of restaurants, shops, and boutiques that make up the commercial complex on NE Second Avenue at 50th Terrace. There's a fun feeling to the space: an open kitchen with bright red walls and an interactive, pop-art mural inspired by "the Bride," Uma Thurman's character in the Kill Bill movies.
"Upper Buena Vista is a place that makes you feel like you've traveled outside of Miami," the 34-year-old chef says. "The outdoor seating is a perfect place to eat, hang out, and enjoy the fresh air we all need right now."
To elevate the simple dishes, the Venezuelan-born Cascitelli tells New Times, he employs the techniques he picked up while working as a chef in Italy, Belgium, and London and uses international ingredients and seasonings to give his take on Asian street food what he describes as "a Latin and approachable swagger."
"It's supposed to be fun and flavorful, and most dishes can be eaten with your hands," explains the chef, whose restaurant-industry experience includes stints as general manager for the Piola pizza chain and Graziano's Argentinean gourmet market in Doral. "Everything is composed to match Miami's palate profile."
Yatai's all-day menu features vegetable gyozas ($5), steamed pork shumai ($5), and peeled edamame drizzled with extra-virgin olive oil and kosher salt ($5). A smoked pork belly bao partners the meat with fresh wakame, pickled carrot, and sweet ponzu barbecue sauce ($7), while a big-eye tuna version is accented by tobiko, togarashi, and spicy mayo ($8).
There's a selection of sushi burritos, including a vegetable option made with falafel and sweet potato mixed with carrot, cucumber, lettuce, and tahini sauce ($13); and customizable poke bowls that combine mains like baked Scottish salmon ($18) or kani salad ($14) with various toppings, sauces, and garnishes.
Yatai offers Japanese and Belgian beers as well as wines and a variety of seasonal bubble tea made with honey-flavored tapioca ($6).
Cascitelli believes elevated comfort foods will continue to increase in popularity even after the pandemic passes. Yatai, he says, is only a test-drive for what he aims to do with Asian street food in Miami.
"For now, I'm focusing on taking care with the products we're using and testing the balance of flavors while keeping everything affordable. But the idea is to do something bigger," he says. "I think this is a concept that is going to be very productive. It's a nice new brand that can expand and multiply."
Yatai Street Food. Inside the Upper Buena Vista complex, 5026 NE Second Ave. Ste. 308, Miami; 786-353-2978; instagram.com/yatai.us. Open Sunday, and Tuesday through Thursday noon to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday noon to 10 p.m. (closed Monday).
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